Rant: “Z Nation” (S2)


Pisay Pao as ‘Cassandra’ in “Z Nation” (S1)Gah! I can’t believe I let Z Nation screw me over again… and in the exact same way it screwed me over the first time around! To recap (from my bitter/biased perspective), the first season premiere (2014) introduced the character of ‘Cassandra’ (Pisay Pao) in an intriguingly enigmatic way, with the ragtag crew of zombie-apocalypse survivors finding her crouched in the middle of a large metal cage surrounded by noisy/grasping zombies, seemingly asleep but uncoiling into an attack as soon as she’s “woken” by one of the heroes, then appearing disoriented about how and when she got there… all of which suggested to me that she might be some sort of wacky military experiment with secret super-powers, who’d just been “activated”… but when we finally learned her origin story in ep #1.3, it turned out she was just a civilian runaway from a lame cannibal cult with zero bio-mechanical enhancements. Meh. Fast-forward to the season finale, where she’s dying in battle and gets “saved” by ‘Murphy’ (Keith Allan), who actually *is* a wacky scientific experiment with secret super-powers (specifically, he’s a half-human-half-zombie hybrid with psychic control over base-level Zees), infecting/preserving her with a bite to the cheek.

Pisay Pao as 'Cassandra' in “Z Nation” (S2) (2015)At the start of the second season (2015), the main cast had been dispersed by a nuclear explosion, but Cassie tracked Murphy down, and defended him against a bounty-hunter. At this point she’s a feral creature, barely able to do more than grunt, and following/adoring her saviour like a loyal (super-strong) puppy. Although it’s not even implied that he’s having sex with her, he does choose to dress her in tight/skimpy “hooker-wear”, and welcomes (or possibly even commands?) her physical affection. This isn’t a very deep, smart, or brave show, so they never really explore this “relationship” and the icky questions of consent/coercion that it presents, preferring to focus on the question of how “human” Cassandra still is. I guess acting like a “primitive” cave-woman might’ve been a fun acting-exercise for Pao, but personally I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry/angry for her in those early episodes. Ep #2.3 brought a break-through of sorts, introducing “Z-Weed”, a powerful new strain of marijuana grown in composted zombies, which actually seemed to revive her former intelligence and personality, allowing her to speak proper words again, and maybe even remember her old life…?* And that, dear reader, was where I fell into the trap of giving the writers waaay too much benefit-of-the-doubt. Her depiction up to that point had been extremely degrading and sexist/racist**, so the suggestion that there might be a “cure” for her mental decline, and that she might regain her agency to become a powerful player in the post-apocalyptic world, suckered me into getting my hopes up again…

Keith Allan as 'Murphy' in “Z Nation” and Pisay Pao as 'Cassandra' in “Z Nation” (S2) (2015)Then, in ep #2.6, she got into a stupid tussle with ‘10K’ (Nat Zang) (a young male character who’d had a crush on her when she was human), and wound up dead and buried in a shallow grave. Needless to say, she was devotedly protecting her alpha at the time, and it’s obvious that 10K was motivated as much by incel-style jealousy as he was by his intense hatred of zombies-in-general… but I don’t have the energy to unpack all of that misogyny, or the message it sends. Aside from a later flashback episode (#3.1) that added nothing to her story (beyond an exploitative shot of her nursing a zombaby), this was Cassie’s last stand, while Murphy and 10K – her slave-master and murderer respectively – got to carry on being “heroes” for the rest of the show’s run (five seasons in all).*** Feh!!! I’m officially done with this show.

P.S. As “research” for this post, I watched an interview that Pao gave after her final episode aired, and she seemed to have a very different take on it, suggesting that Cassie *wanted* 10K to euthanize her, which is why she let the fight go on so long… and overall, she seemed pretty chipper about exiting the series, so maybe I’m way off base here…?


* When Murphy deigned to deliver it to her, via a “blow-back”, natch.

** TBF, ‘Roberta’ (Kellita Smith) and ‘Addy’ (Anastasia Baranova) were still being actively badass, so I’m not calling the show as a whole sexist or racist.

*** FTR, I do actually like both these actors, and don’t begrudge either of them a paycheque…

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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