Friday, April 20, 2018

iZombie 4x07 Review: “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Brain” (Middle of the Road) [Guest Poster: Chloe]


“Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Brain” 
Original Airdate: April 16, 2018 

This episode, while decent enough, feels really out of place with the rest of the season. After a fast-paced and narratively ambitious first half of season four, “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Brain” feels largely inconsequential from both a narrative and tonal perspective. While I do appreciate that these middle of the season episodes have taken the time to slow things down and refocus, this episode feels a little too simplified. With the exception of two important plot elements, everything else about this episode feels like it could have been found as a plot in a previous season. And who knows, maybe it was intentional on the part of the writers to give us something easily digestible before moving on to what is bound to be an intense conclusion to the season. However, in a series that has to cover a lot of material in such a short time frame, this unfortunately feels a little like a waste of space. Despite some of my own misgivings about it, the episode still manages to have some trademark iZombie humor, thanks to the case of the week and our core characters.

The case itself is pretty standard — which is partly why the episode feels like something we have seen before. An egotistical “player” is killed essentially for being a giant tool. Liv eats his brains and takes on the personality of the “sleaze ball,” to the annoyance of everyone around her. While the brain itself lacks dimension beyond being that of a truly repulsive person, Rose McIver manages to play the character with a lot more humor and warmth than just pure sleaze. The case itself is only interesting because it turns out that a newly-turned zombie is the murderer. Before this season, zombies (other than Blaine) weren’t the perpetrators of crime. So to have a murder be the direct result of the fraught relationship between humans and the undead was an interesting perspective for the show to tackle.

Liv eats the brains in order to solve the case as per usual, but more than anything, being on “player” brain allows Liv to cultivate a personality where she feels like she can help Clive with his relationship. Clive’s relationship woes become an integral aspect of this week’s episode, as they take an unfortunately somber turn. I discussed in my previous posts that regardless of what happens with his relationship, I want Clive to be happy. I also expressed concern that Dale was asking too much of him from their current arrangement, and this episode confirms that. Clive is the one who has always been reluctant about the idea of having an open relationship, but he agrees because he loves Dale.

But when he finally puts himself out there (and goes home with someone) Dale immediately has a negative reaction. It doesn’t surprise me that she responds this way, but her comments were still enough to make me want to scream at her. She is hypocritical, passive-aggressive, and unkind in her response to Clive’s actions. She fails to acknowledge how much guilt, pain, and confusion their entire arrangement has caused Clive. Their emotional disconnect, coupled with her anger and resentment, will only lead to further complications in their relationship. It is disheartening to watch because again, I just want to see Clive happy and right now he isn’t. Compared to some of the other plot threads of the season, this one might not seem as vital to the overall plot, but it is still an important element to explore because it serves to further Clive’s characterization. I don’t know what else I hope to see out of this plot line moving forward, but I hope that it results in Clive eventually finding a way to be happy — even if it means his relationship with Dale has to end.

Elsewhere in the episode, the focus is split between Liv, Chase, Major, and Peyton. The Renegade storyline takes a backseat for most of the episode, and the only significant development is that Liv finds a way to make zombie I.D. cards for anyone new who gets smuggled into the city. It does not make for the most exciting of plot developments, but it does allow for important elements to come together. In the search for a supplier of brains, Liv finally has the opportunity to meet Angus at his church. I guess it never occurred to me that Liv and Angus had never met, because she didn’t even make the connection that Blaine was his son. I understand that it is a necessary meeting, so that everyone can now be aware of each other. Understanding who Angus is, and knowing about his connection to Blaine will undoubtedly become important later in the season. But for now, the plot point feels very incomplete and out of place with everything else happening in the episode.

The connection that the show is trying to establish between Liv and Levon feels additionally out of place, and quite frankly a little forced. Every time Liv gets a new love interest, it feels like they are used as a distraction on her road back to Major. While I have genuinely liked some of her boyfriends from past seasons, they either end up dead or caught up in Liv’s hijinks, and it is frustrating to watch. By making Levon part of Renegade’s crew, it is clear that he can keep up with some of Liv’s more elaborate and dangerous plans, but that is not enough to justify putting them together romantically.

We currently do not know enough about Levon to understand his motivations or his personality, so making him a love interest for Liv feels too convenient and contrived. Based on how she has handled her last two relationships, Liv is not in a good position to be dating anyone right now. But more than anything, I am not a fan of the relationship because it feels unnecessary. We know that she is capable of having platonic relationships with her co-workers, so why should this be any different?

As Chase continues to struggle with how to manage the mounting problems in New Seattle, he begins to lean on Major to assist him in his nefarious endeavors — a role that Major unquestionably assumes. It is evident that despite publicly claiming he is satisfied with how things in New Seattle have been running (and that everything he has done so far has been intentional) Chase’s emotional responses continue to indicate the exact opposite. He feels threatened by bad press and is exhibiting symptoms of paranoia. He checks his office for bugs and has Major shut down Seattle’s alt-weekly, citing it as “fake news” because it reports on issues that run in contradiction to the Fillmore Graves agenda. It is a plot line that makes me recoil in disgust because of its real-world connotations.

However, despite season four’s socio-politically charged narrative, I am reluctant to make any further comparisons between in-universe events as they relate to our current political climate. I understand why comparisons might be drawn, but doing so gets us too far away from the shows actual intent, (plus it makes me depressed) so I am not going to use this space for that. The real purpose of this plot line is to show how pressure is affecting Chase and how he is choosing to wield his power. Peyton realizes that through his actions, Chase has established an autocracy in New Seattle — a fact he doesn’t deny. He thinks he understands what is best for the citizens of the city he created, but it is increasingly apparent that it is his limited perspective on how change manifests — and his poorly-masked vulnerabilities — that will lead to his imminent downfall. It will also likely lead to Major’s downfall too.

Major has made it very clear this season where his allegiances are, so if Chase is eventually taken out of power, the responsibility for the destruction of Seattle will become Major’s fault too. It is still difficult to interpret the motivation behind some of Major’s actions, but it is evident that the show will continue to address the moral implications for every decision he has made. The look of simultaneous disbelief and disgust that Peyton gives Major during the episode when she realizes the full extent of his actions should serve as yet another wake-up call that he is making poor choices.

Unfortunately, it might be too late for Major to extract himself from Fillmore Graves, and emotionally and morally reconcile the damage he has caused. The rest of the season will undoubtedly determine what ultimately happens to him as the result of being on the “wrong” side of history.

Ultimately, “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Brain” is a decent, but frustrating viewing experience. It skillfully weaves humor with aggression and chaos, but it still fails to move the plot forward in any significant way. However, knowing what the show is capable of, I am not too concerned by one mediocre middle episode. I am confident that next week’s episode will be more plot propelling and exciting. Tune in next week for my coverage of “Chivalry is Dead.”

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