“God, I hate the apocalypse.”

The opening chords and the "Have MERCY" catchphrase are stuck in my head, and I am gleeful.
The opening chords and the “Have MERCY” catchphrase are in my head, and I am gleeful.

It’s been a frustrating sort of day, so I am accentuating the positive. (This is me, so I am doing so by discussing Z Nation.)

God, I love that show.

I’ve basically dropped The Walking Dead, which I’m sure continues to be a well-acted depiction of desperate people driven to cruelty and making harsh decisions as kindness is slowly eroded from a dying world that they have no hope of salvaging.

I don’t think Z Nation is as good, in terms of narrative consistency or pacing, as TWD. I’m okay with that. It’s cheesy in its simplistic approach; it openly says that anyone still around three years into the zombie apocalypse is some kind of pulp-action-adventure badass, and then uses that as a reason to eschew grinding subsistence-level misery and proceeds to give a group of flawed, hopeful, mostly well-intentioned and kind characters a chance to actually do something that might save the world.

It has dark humour. It’s fun. It’s hopeful, in the game grim way apocalyptic settings can be if you give the characters an actual chance to achieve something. And there are moments–when Murphy leaves the door open–when I am actually shocked and horrified by the bad things people do. I like that. I appreciate the hell out of a post-apocalyptic story that can still make cruel things upsetting instead of allowing them to fade into a background slurry of mean-desperate-selfish-mean.

I think it really hit its stride with episode 6 (“Resurrection Blues”). Episode 5 (“Home Sweet Zombie”) is well-acted and interesting (and features a zombie tornado), but a bit slow; on the other hand, I watched episode 6 and it felt like they’d dropped a small nuke on my biggest complaint about episode 1. That’s followed up by episode 7 (“Welcome to the FU-Bar”), which contains possibly the most kick-ass depiction of working through the grieving process that I have ever seen. And from then on, except ep 9, it’s zombie-apocalypse giddy silly-serious occasionally-sloppy pulp gold until the season finale.

(Episode 9 was, IMHO, pretty awful and pointless. You can safely skip it; nothing happens with anyone except two characters, and nothing really changes with them.)

But anyway. One of the things I decided I liked early on–during the pilot, even as rocky as pilots usually are–was the concept of giving mercy. It’s a kind of touchstone, not elaborately formal but clearly ritualized:

If you can–if you are not currently fighting for your life, if you have a second to breathe, if the zombie or about-to-be zombie is restrained or co-operating–you aim for their head, calmly as you can.

Then you say their name, if you know it, and you say “I give you mercy.”

Then you kill them.

And I like this because it’s the kind of thing people would do. People are actually[1] among the most social primates, and react badly to killing other people, especially other people they’ve formed attachments to. People would ritualize it, to make it clear that it is A Thing Which Is Not Murder. People would share this explanation for why it’s not murder, because the bigger the group that agrees that those kills are A Thing Which Is Not Murder, the truer it becomes, and the less you are shattered.

Z Nation isn’t about people who don’t care they’re in a zombie apocalypse. It’s about people who care, and are coping with it in a pretty functional way. There are days when this kind of show is exactly what will make me happy, and they’re pretty frequent. So I’m glad it’s on the air, and coming back in 2015.

[1] Possibly that should be “depressingly”, when you consider how people sometimes treat each other, but anyway.

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