Last night was the season finale episode of Z Nation, entitled "Doctor of the Dead", on SyFy. SPOILERS AHOY after the break!

Let's do a quick recap of what's gone down: It's 3 years after the outbreak of a massive zombie plague. We've got a scruffy band of survivors attempting to transport a guy named Murphy (a white collar criminal) who has been inject with a type of vaccine that made him (mostly) immune to zombie bites. The group has taken on the mission to get Murphy from the NYC area all the way across the US to California where a 'safe zone' supposedly exists, and where surviving medical professionals can hopefully work up a vaccine from Murphy's blood.

For a full run-down of who's who in the cast (past and present) check out this write up I did about a month ago when I got surprisingly hooked on this show:

We're at episode 13 of season 1, and as it stands now we're down to 5 people left in the group that started with 10:

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Warren, 10K, Doc, Cassandra, and Murphy.

M.I.A. about 2 episodes ago are Mack and Addy.

We lost two soldiers: Hammond by episode 2, and Garnett by episode 7.

Citizen Z is still perched at the top of the world in the NSA base, doing his super-hacker-eye-in-the-sky thing with his rescued companion dog.

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There's a lot that has happened since that post I did a month or so ago, but the basic summary is that the group has continued its trek across the USA, facing every silly zombie trope there is: zombie baby, Amish zombies, a zombie tornado (the show is produced by The Asylum, the same lovely folks that have brought us the Sharknado films…), a stomping chain-swarm herd of zombies (a virtual tidal wave of Z's which gets nicknamed a 'zunami'), irradiated zombies at a power plant, zombie grizzly bear (yep!), zombies hopped up on speed (and a few that have ingested Viagra, which was a brilliant comedic moment in last week's episode).

They lost Mack and Addy to an all-women-and-kids cult in Utah (status unknown) two episodes ago: Addy has sort of cracked after getting past the mental block about killing her zombie mom and zombie little brother, and this cult has taken her in. Of course, Mack won't let her go, and we heard off-screen shooting as he charged back towards the compound to get her...

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Other important points: Warren took a bit to recover emotionally after the death of Charles Garnett, with whom she was falling in love. Doc is still, well… Doc, the aging hippie semi-doctor of the group. 10K has had some development about why he's the way he is (had to 'give mercy' to his dad who he was very close with), and Cassandra, who I've been on the fence about as a character, has developed into a workable character that I kind of like. She is now, however, fighting a leg injury from last episode, which we assume (by last night's ep) has become infected or something. All we know is that last night she was weak and possibly dying. During all of this, Citizen Z is doing better at keeping track of the group and giving them peripheral help where he can.

Murphy, meanwhile, is finding all sorts of new side effects to the vaccine: zombies don't attack him, some even 'fear' him, he can almost sort of command them, his skin is starting to peel off, his hair mostly fell out, he's lost a few teeth, his eyes have a slight tinge of zombie-eye to them. He's basically become a zombie/human hybrid.

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He has episodes, if you will, of zombie behavior surfacing here and there. Oh, and if he bites someone, or even (ew!) spits in their canteen and they ingest the spit, he can mentally control them.

Weird, but there was a scene that may explain this in the finale episode. Also, if you get bitten by him, there's a hint that you might be immune from turning zombie. Perhaps you will turn into a hybrid like him?

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Last night wasn't so much a 'game changer' episode as it was a "how are they going to survive this ending?" episode. We find the group being redirected by Citizen Z to Fort Collins, CO, to a medical facility that supposedly houses the doctor (Doctor Merch) who first injected Murphy with the pseudo-vaccine. They get there and, of course, zombies everywhere, but Murphy is able to get them safely inside with his zombie-power engaged.

What the team finds is a facility that's not at all safe and secure: after a fun scene of naked decontamination (Warren chastises 10k for accidentally glancing at her…then blatantly takes a good look at him when his back is turned), they get inside to find all the personnel dead or zombied, and have to kill a few to continue (another great scene ensues with a half-eaten birthday cake). At one point the team finds individual cells with people in varying states of infection, injury, decay, zombification, etc (one really gross one is a woman who is still alive but being slowly eaten by a swarm of ravenous flies. YUCK!). It becomes obvious that these people have been experimented on. Cue the emergence of two freaky 'mutant' zombies that don't fall for Murphy's zombie-lulling ability. A very visually well-executed fight scene ensues which ends with Murphy going Hulk on the two mutants and tearing both of their heads off (another new side of Murphy we haven't seen).

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All the while Cassandra is getting weaker, finally collapsing. The gang puts her on a gurney in a secured room, promising to find antibiotics and return. 10K, who is obviously in love with her, has a very tender moment with her before leaving, but it's Murphy who sees her last... this is important as we see little of what happens when he's in there.

Murphy leads the team deeper into the facility, wherein they find what's left of the 'Patient Zero' med tech who has survived the virus due to Doctor Merch's initial vaccine, one similar to the one she gave Murphy. There's very little of his body left: a decaying upper torso slumped by a computer. But the med tech is still mentally human, and shows them a vid of his initial infection and the vaccine injection. We also get a sense that this could in fact be how Murphy will eventually wind up…

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During the whole episode we see inter-cut flashback scenes of a bald doctor going around the world doing horrible things to people infected with various diseases, ultimately killing people in order to extract brain fluid through (yuck) a big needle up the nose, all in T-minus 3 years leading up to the zombie outbreak.

This doctor, who we find out is named Doctor Kurian, has been in the business pre-apocalypse of selling bio-weapons to bad guys around the world. All of these experiments, killings, etc, are (we assume) so that this doctor can develop bio-weapons. The last patient he sees in Haiti is one who is mentally broken and is alive but has no will of his own. He responds, however, to verbal commands from other people ("Lift your arm, sit up, turn your head" etc). The plot thickens.

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As the gang sadly watches the decayed med tech, Citizen Z pops up on the monitor screen to tell them that Doctor and two others are approaching their position. In walks 3 people in HAZMAT gear: one doctor and two soldiers (armed, of course). The doctor removes the gear and it's NOT Doctor Merch, but rather Doctor Kurian, who lies about who he is claiming to be another of the facility's doctors. He claims that Doctor Merch "didn't make it" (whatever that means) and he states he's going to take Murphy the rest of the way to California so that they can develop a vaccine from his blood.

The team talks with the doctor while Murphy opts to give the med tech mercy (aka: kill him and put him out of his misery). As Murphy leans over him, the med tech manages to whisper "Don't trust him" referring to Doctor Kurian. Murphy gives the guy mercy, and then refuses to go with the doctor for testing. As the scene gets tense, Citizen Z pops up on the monitor with a sign "KILL THE DOCTOR!" indicating it's an obvious trap. Gunfire cuts loose, with the team low on ammo and pinned down. Murphy makes a break for it, angry at having been a lab rat, and panicking a bit, escaping the room.

Suddenly, the doors behind the guards and the doctor open, and it's Cassandra! But… more like super semi-zombie Cassandra hybrid, who is up and about and somehow still retains her humanity, mostly. (note the bite mark on her face. Thanks, Murphy!)

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She proceeds to kick some serious ass, giving the team time to escape; as the soldiers are getting their butts handed to them by super-Cassandra (is it wrong that she now seems 10x hotter to me as a super-ass-kicking hybrid? I need therapy…), Doctor Kurian bolts out after Murphy. Unfortunately, during all of this Doc manages to get shot and need CPR resuscitation. He finally wakes up, but is weak. Warren and 10k support him, and they set off in hot pursuit after Murphy, leaving Cassandra behind (I'll address this in a moment).

The facility is a DEFCON-1 facility, as Citizen Z states earlier in the episode. As such, you have to do full decontamination before exiting; otherwise, the facility will set off alarms that will launch a nuke from nearby to annihilate the facility and supposedly any viral agent that may have breached quarantine. Murphy, in his anger and panicking, breaks this quarantine and here comes the missile! The doctor is minutes behind him, however, and Warren, Doc, and 10K are minutes behind that guy….

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Murphy hops in the elevator headed to freedom…then notices a lot of skin on his forehead is peeling, and begins a full shedding of his skin (we only see it start, and the resulting skin later on in the elevator). What is he now? Was there snake DNA in that vaccine?

Murphy gets topside, and we see he's shed his clothes as well as some skin. The image is blurry enough that we don't get a full look, but he is now fully bald (the rest of his hair went with the shedding) He hops in the van they arrived in, and speeds off solo. Perhaps the last of his humanity leaves with his shed skin, as he now seems to no longer care about the welfare of his comrades.

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As if things couldn't get worse, the launch of the single nuke sets off some sort of dead-man's switch which launches several more nukes, including one straight for Citizen Z's supposedly secret base. Uh oh. Citizen Z sprints outside (sans his trusty canine Husky companion… I'll address that in a minute.) to see a missile incoming. He's screwed, and he knows it.

Warren, 10k, and the injured Doc get to ground level only to see the missile incoming. They grab another vehicle and speed away, but how do you outrun a detonated nuke with only 3 minutes to spare? We also get a quickly glimpse of Mack and Addy, who may be nearby (they see missile rocket trails overhead) or who may still be at or near the cult compound (Addy looks to be dressed more like the cult members). Actually, it's not clear if the two are even together, though they both seem to be seeing the same missiles. We also see Doctor Kurian hightailing it away on foot (really? He's gonna outrun a nuclear blast??)

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And thus the first season of Z Nation ends. The show has been renewed for a second season so…. How are they getting out of this one? I have some theories about what may happen next, but first two issues I had with the episode:

  • 1) Leaving Cassandra behind: OK, sure, she's kind of gone hybrid bad-ass, but she seemed to be retaining her humanity. I can't believe 10K left without her. Though you hear him say her name as he, Doc, and Warren speed away.
  • 2) Same goes for Citizen Z's dog. Did they run out of puppy budget by the end of the season. I don't think the dog was even in the episode. I mention this because he and the dog have been inseparable since about episode 2 or 3.

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A few theories on what has happened this episode, and how the show will pick up the story next season:

  • 1) Cassandra: either she's inhaled some airborne mutation of the virus which made her super-hybrid, or (more likely) Murphy did something to her before he left the room. She seemed a little more like Murphy when we see her again. UPDATE: the bite mark on her face is likely from Murphy. It would explain her hybrid status.
  • 2) The virus itself: The team decides that this guy isn't working on a cure; he's likely the bastard who created the virus in the first place. We saw in the flashback scenes where he was sampling brain fluid from an ebola patient (Africa), a man dying of a released bio-weapon (Kazakhstan), a guy wasting away from something that looked like a variation of the skin rot the zombies have (New York), and a guy who can be commanded by others (Haiti). All of this can be seen in the current zombies running around, and with Murphy's emerging abilities as a hybrid.
  • 3) It seems pretty obvious that Doctor Kurian wants Murphy for nefarious purposes, but I do think it is to develop a vaccine… just not one that will be freely distributed to the world's remaining survivors
  • 4) Lastly, three possible theories on how next season will start: A) Citizen Z figures out a way, via his NSA tech wizardry, to keep the nukes from detonating. B) The nukes are all duds for some other as-yet-unexplained reason, or… C) Most of this season's cast aren't coming back next season! Seriously, they've only set it up that Murphy, maybe Doctor Kurian, and Mack & Addy could potentially survive this. Doc, 10k, and Warren are too close to the blast area, Cassandra is in the facility targeted, and Citizen Z has a nuke coming straight at him.

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I'm leaning towards the final option: a 'clean-slate' of sorts for next season. This show isn't afraid to kill off or do crazy stuff to the core cast, so why not kill off 4 of the main ones right here? I wouldn't put it past them.

All in all, the show is campy fun, but has developed characters and a plot I find I actually care about. We'll see what season 2 brings us sometime next year, and if the cast survives to fight on.