Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
I first learned of iZombie at San Diego Comic Con in 2014. The CW Network promoted the show heavily, but when I spoke to other attendees they only mentioned its problems. The pilot had to be reshot last minute, a main cast member left, and the marketing was off putting. The assumption was that it would barely last a season.
Out of curiosity I decided to watch the show in the fall and was in shock that something titled iZombie was… actually good? Co-creators Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame) and Diane Ruggiero-Wright’s loose adaptation of the Vertigo comic book managed to create a truly odd and special series. I kept waiting for the moment when the show would become stupid, but iZombie was always delightfully aware of its own insanity. A police procedural about a morgue assistant/new zombie who eats brains to view the memories of dead people and solve their murders? I don’t think many writers could pull that off.
iZombie became my go-to dark horse recommendation. I would plead “yes, the title sucks, but it’s surprisingly fun!” I quickly got my sister onboard and we would wait all week to watch the episodes together. It’s a series filled to the brim with puns and inside jokes that become even better when watching with someone else. We often paused to appreciate the level of detail in iZombie. The (evil) private military organization run by zombies is called Fillmore Graves, the funeral home used as cover for the series’ main antagonist is called Shady Plots. Hell, the main zombie character’s name is Liv Moore! It’s just that kind of show.
Loving iZombie felt like being in one of TV’s best kept secrets. For five seasons I got to watch a funny show that played with genre conventions in an original way. iZombie actually had the brains to back up its premise and wasn’t afraid to tackle big plots and changes to the status quo over its run. Add in Rose McIver’s amazing lead performance and one of the best supporting casts on TV with some truly enviable chemistry, and suddenly you have a series you love to root for.
Which is why it hurt so much when iZombie’s final season aired and suddenly it became the show everyone at Comic Con thought it would be. The first half was bumpy, but I held out hope it might stick the landing. Maybe there were just a couple of issues, but Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright had a plan and it would all come together in the end!
The finale of iZombie was one of the worst TV viewing experiences I have ever had. As the minutes unfolded I became filled with horror watching everything fall apart. The characters I had loved for five seasons turned into strangers. And when the credits finally rolled, I found myself questioning all the love I had put into it.
“All’s Well That Ends Well” can be summed up in one word: messy. It’s like the creators forgot they had to end the show. Long-running threads are resolved in a second in ways that are disconnected from everything the series had built. Furthermore, the finale uses a strange framing device, where the main cast are all interviewed in the future, that reads as a cheap gimmick. The scene even takes place in a white void. It looks like they forgot to build a set.
But let’s talk about the well. The worst scene of the finale still haunts me. Peyton Charles (Aly Michalka), one of the last remaining human characters, is turned into a zombie. When she eats her first brain she learns about one of the biggest secrets in the season: that the villain Blaine (David Anders) had murdered his henchman/partner Don E.’s (Bryce Hodgson) soulmate. It’s a moment the narrative has been building up, the final breaking point between Don E. and Blaine, who’s fraught relationship was one of the best of the series. So the truth is revealed and Don E. pushes Blaine in a well, where he will rot as a zombie. But just when it feels like that moment is deserved, Liv arrives and pushes Don E. in the same well. The two characters are doomed to rot together.
This unfolding of events made me want to scream. Throughout iZombie’s five seasons Don E. was one of the most interesting characters. While he had always been a villain, the show always had sympathy for him; he was never entirely evil. All signs led to the building of a grand arc that would end with him finally killing Blaine and embracing the humanity he was always hinted at having. The fact that he received the same fate as Blaine, a supremely evil character who ruined everyone’s lives, felt almost insulting. The character nuances that made iZombie so interesting were tossed aside.
The moment with the well (the source of the series’ final episode title pun) is just one example of a finale that was a disservice to everything iZombie built. I never felt like I got that last satisfying moment with the characters, because there was so much meandering plot to get through. In needing to be final, iZombie robbed us of a proper finale.
Unlike some series with inexplicably bad last episodes, the source of “All’s Well That Ends Well’s” problems is very identifiable. While the last season was being developed, Rob Thomas was splitting his time with the Veronica Mars reboot for Hulu. The unfinished and messy nature of Season 5, and especially the last episode, feels exactly like a show where the creator isn’t putting all their heart into it.
iZombie’s bad finale hurt me more than I thought it would. If Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that a poor ending can ruin an audience’s goodwill for a show. But iZombie’s finale made me feel something else: betrayed. Watching the final episode made me feel like I was watching the bad show I always promised everyone iZombie wasn’t. “Trust me, it’s really smart” I would say. But all I was left with was a finale that was insultingly stupid.
I fear this poor finale has doomed iZombie. I haven’t recommended it to anyone since and I struggle to imagine rewatching it. iZombie can only thrive on word of mouth, because everything about it on the outside seems unappealing. You have to give it a shot to see just how great it can be. But knowing the last episode (and even the last season) is utterly devoid of the fun and wit the rest of the show had makes it hard to ask people to take that leap.
At the very least, it was a fun ride while it lasted. And I can’t understate how incredible it has been to see iZombie’s breakout star Rahul Kohli, who played Ravi with hilarity and heart for five seasons, become Mike Flanagan’s muse in The Haunting of Bly Manor and Midnight Mass. There are still lines from the series I will always want to quote with my sister (my personal favorite: “You don’t need to have body fat to have a fat idea”). I can still appreciate the time when I got to convince people that yes, a series called iZombie is incredible.
One day, iZombie will disappear from streaming services. And when it does, the few of us who entered its pun-filled world will be the only people who remembered it. We can remember it at its smartest, or at its stupidest. I want to think of the good, and I try to keep it in mind. But when I think of the show I also can’t forget that garish white room, with all the characters I love standing in a circle waiting for the writers to put them out of their misery. I don’t want anyone else to have to endure the disappointment I felt. While there is still time to rediscover iZombie, perhaps it’s best to leave it buried.
Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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