Liv: “Clive, I need this. This is my one thing.”
In the early days of iZombie, one of my absolute favorite things about the show was how existential and pathos-laden it was underneath the comedic elements. It was always fun and joyful, but when Liv was first figuring out how to deal with her freshly-undead status, she spent a lot of time wondering what exactly the point of it all was. The pilot saw her in a depressed haze before finding a new purpose in detective work, and subsequent episodes continued to ask how she’d make sense of her relationships, what the implications of her new life were, if it would be easier to just turn all of her feelings off. It was affecting and sincere and real, and it made a lighthearted little freshman zombie show more philosophical than a viewer might expect on initially tuning in.
As the season one continued, the show gently set aside those questions for a tighter, more plot-focused method of storytelling – which was no less thought-provoking and engaging, just the result of rising tension and conflicting character agendas. It was less about Liv dealing with her new identity in and of itself, and more about her reactions to the chaotic chain reaction of events around her. Recent season two episodes have started looking at the results of zombie life again with Liv and Major’s relationship, but the focus has still been on expanding the serialized arcs and the universe’s mythos – until “Cape Town.” The midseason finale has upended the status quo in a beautiful way, and the result has brought us back to the question Liv asked herself in the very first episode: what kind of person can I possibly be now?
From the start, Liv was established as a character who defined herself by what she had to offer other people. She was going to be a surgeon who regularly saved lives, and she proceeded to crash and burn when that option was taken from her. Once she figured out how to help people again, things started looking up. Liv sees herself in terms of how she can support society and the greater good. Take that away from her and she falls apart, which is why it was so incredibly heartbreaking when Clive decided it was time for their crime-fighting arrangement to end. After the writers have enjoyed a relatively long stretch with the procedural format, they’re leaving it behind for the time being in the name of re-exploring the fundamentals of Liv as a character.
It’s easy for us as viewers to take the episodic mystery-solving aspect of the show for granted, as we’re distracted by the overarching plots with recurring antagonists, but Cape Town reminded us that this would be a mistake. Liv’s work with Clive isn’t just a device to fill the spaces between bigger events; it’s something that genuinely matters to her and defines her confidence. It’s how she remade herself in the aftermath of trauma and how she realized her life didn’t have to be a miserable stretch of putting up with her weird new existence. She asked herself what it meant to be a zombie, and found an answer she could be happy with — but even that can’t be counted on to last for the rest of her unlife. The story has brought her full circle, having done everything she could to make things work, and finding out that it’s still not enough.
The episode closes with Ravi questioning what zombies have to hope for, now that the chance of a cure is seemingly gone. On a thematic level, this idea is about more than just the possibility of becoming human again: it’s also about where someone like Liv can find meaning, now that serving the greater good is no longer an option. Whether alive or dead, she’s hung herself on external causes, and that’s left her with little to stand on when circumstances break down. There are many things to be excited about for the back half of iZombie’s second season, but I’m most interested in learning how Liv will rebuild herself this time. At heart, this story is about her negotiating her identity, her sense of purpose, and her own self-worth — and it’s become one of the most compelling character arcs on television.
(On that note: man, is Rose McIver great at playing “utterly devastated” or what?)