“iZombie” wrapped up a really entertaining first season tonight, and I have a few thoughts on the finale, followed by a lot of thoughts from executive producers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, coming up just as soon as I am to serotonin what Milton Hershey was to chocolate…
“iZombie” is a show with a lot of moving parts, and “Blaine's World” was no different in that regard. It not only gave us a pretty thorough accounting of the Case of the Week – albeit one connected to all the business with Max Rager, which looks to be the main thrust of season 2 – but had to leave room for Major to go full-on Travis Bickel with the zombies at Meat Cute (scored to '80s synth classic “Der Komissar”), and for several reversals in terms of who would stay a zombie, who would be cured, and who might just die. Liv giving half the cure to Blaine was an elegant work-around for a show that couldn't allow him to continue his reign of terror but didn't want to lose such a fun character, but having Liv turn Major into a zombie and then cure him within a few minutes of screen time was perhaps a bit more whiplash-y than intended.
At the same time, I appreciated that it was Liv who ultimately stopped Blaine, and not Major. With “Veronica Mars,” these writers were acutely aware of not turning Veronica too often into a damsel in need of saving, and it would have rung false here if Major solved the Blaine problem without any involvement from Liv at all. Instead, he takes out the army (including tossing Chekhov's Grenade at the Candyman), while she makes the choice about how to deal with the big bad. That's as it should be.
So there's a lot to talk about with the season, and here's my conversation with Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright (the latter of whom was under the weather and let her co-creator do most of the talking).
Let's start with the use of the cure. At what point in the season did you decide that the cure would work, and who to use it on?
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: I think halfway through the year, we wanted to give Liv that moment of choice.
Rob Thomas: Probably about halfway through the season, we realized we wanted to do something with that. Interesting, the ending, where Major goes “Taxi Driver,” that we knew the whole season. In fact, when we cast Robert Buckley, and he said, “I'm not just going to be the boy that she pines for, am I?,” I actually pitched Buckley that sequence pretty much note-for-note that we aired in the finale. But the cure thing probably evolved a bunch over the season, and probably around midseason we crystallized how to use it at the end of the year.
Did you seriously think about letting Major stay a zombie, or was the half-cure always intended for him?
Rob Thomas: Yeah, it was much-discussed, but we liked what Major being human gave us in terms of story lines moving forward.
Ravi notes that this may be the one sample they'll have. Was it important that you take it off the table as an option for Liv anytime soon?
Rob Thomas: We didn't want to go into season 2 with, “There's a cure, and you can take it, and everything's going to be alright!” We are going to play a season 2 quest for more of the tainted utopium, that key ingredient in this. While Ravi in particular is searching for that, we still have this canary in a coal mine with the rat, or more closely, the “Flowers for Algernon” story, because that zombie cure isn't going to be as easy, and it worked perfectly, where Major and Blaine are human for good, with no side effects. They're going to have some pretty serious side effects in season 2.
Considering how much trouble Blaine had caused, did you ever think seriously about killing him off? Or was David too much fun to get rid of?
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: David is too much fun.
Rob Thomas: Yeah, David is too much fun. It's funny, because he's been around the block many times as a villain. He has done so many things in which he realizes the lifespan of your big bad is never all that great. Maybe if season 1 would have been a 22-episode season rather than a 13, we might have considered it before we fell in love with him. Now, we spend a good deal of our time in the writer's room wondering, “How can we keep reinventing him and making him interesting?” His business will definitely go away at the end of season 1, but we think we've got him in a fun place for season 2.
Certain people have now found out about Liv's secret, and certain haven't. How do you decide who's going to know, and when they should find out about it?
Rob Thomas: I just read Twitter, and whenever fans say we should do something, I react accordingly. No, I'm kidding. The fans want everyone to know the secret right now, immediately, episodes ago. We're going to play that Liv is not keen to share that secret to anyone. Honestly, it hurts me a little bit every time someone new learns that, because you have to play that. It's funny. On the one side, Superman kept his secret identity secret for a long long long time, for decades, but on “Buffy,” pretty quickly, everyone knew and they were just kind of a gang all working together. We're a little bit in the middle now, where some do and some don't. I want to keep making it a big deal when people find out that secret.
Major raises some good points, and ones that had occurred to me throughout the season: Liv was really endangering him and causing him all sorts of problems by not telling him.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: She thought she was protecting him, though. In her mind, she thought that she was trying to keep him safe.
Rob Thomas: She thought that she could get rid of Blaine while he was in the mental hospital, that the mental hospital might actually be the safest place for him. Knowing there were zombies in the world would make him more apt to put himself in danger.
How will his relationship with Liv be after this discovery?
Rob Thomas: They're going to start off season 2 on the outs. Major is still wounded by the decision that Liv made, still resentful of them.
One of the people who found out the secret was Peyton, and Aly Michalka wasn't in the finale. She wasn't a regular in the cast this year; was this her ticket out of town, or will she be back?
Rob Thomas: No, we hope she will be. Part of the reason is that she booked a pilot, and we tried to write her in such a way that if we never got her back, we would at least have a reason she was no longer on the show, but her pilot didn't get picked up, so we will have the opportunity to bring her back It's tricky with guest stars, because you don't control them. I've emailed with Aly and she seems pretty keen on doing more episodes. We love her. We think the show is better with her on screen. It's just so hard finding the real estate in our episodes. They just fill up so quickly that there's very little space left for other storylines. But with season 2, we do have a place for her in the zombie mythology storyline. So we're hopeful we can get her and afford her, and that she has those windows of time for us.
As you say, there's not a lot of real estate. You're dealing with mythology, and Cases of the Week, and people who do and don't know her secret. Over the course of making these 13, what did you two figure out about how to balance these different elements, and which need more prominence at different times?
Rob Thomas: The evolution of the show over the course of the season is we began taking more and more pages away from the Case of the Week and giving them to the zombie mythology stories. We recognize that that is the fun stuff, that fans in particular want to know what happens next in the zombie mythology. It's been a learning experience for us. On “Veronica Mars,” so much of it was about the detective angle on it, the gumshoe-ness. We worked very hard to create these mysteries that you could almost play at home. It was sort of its reason for existence. With “iZombie,” because we have these visions, they can give us shortcuts, it's less of a play at home game, and the fun we have with the cases is less the solving of it. With the cases of the week, we don't tend to start with, “What is the most compelling murder we can think of?” We start with “What brain would be fun to have Liv occupy?” I keep thinking about “The Big Lebowski.” The first time I ever watched “The Big Lebowski,” I came away from it a little unsatisfied that the mystery didn't play out the way I wanted. Upon my next 56 viewings of it, it occurred to me that the mystery was not really the point. It was the fun ride we were watching.
Along those lines, have you gotten a larger sense yet of what bigger types of brains are either good for you guys to play with, or that Rose is particularly good at playing?
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: I think she's good at archetypes. In 12, when she was the cheerleader and the stoner, things that are big and familiar, she does really great with. The darker stuff, she does a great job, too. But the more subtle stuff, it's hard. She has so many balls in the air. You're trying to be Liv, and be a subtle version of this other brain. It becomes a little murky.
Rob Thomas: It's almost like the further we can get from her, or the more we as a society have an idea of what that brain should be, the easier it is to play. The subtler differences, it becomes very murky. Is she channeling a brain now, is she not?
What was interesting about episode 12 was that she seemed a little more taken over by those personalities than she had been at other times in the season. Was there something about those brains, or was it just that she got high?
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: I think that's what it was. She was a stoner who got stoned. That's why she was more that personality.
So there aren't certain kinds of brains more apt to take her over?
Rob Thomas: I think there are brains that are going to be easier to demonstrate how much they have taken over her. When she eats the brain of a psychopath, and is being uncommunicative, is that the brain taking over, or is she just being quiet? Sometimes, it's less fun to play when she doesn't have a bigger take on it.
Might she at some point eat the brain of a person from New Zealand?
Rob Thomas: We have discussed that many times. I think that is on our to-do list. It could be very fun.
You said Major's vigilante rampage was planned from the start. Buckley is a funny and charming actor, and you took him down a dark path this year. He was good at that too, but is there going to be more of an opportunity for him to show off his lighter side next year, or having gone down this direction, that's where he has to be?
Rob Thomas: I think we learned a lesson. We were writing and shooting, and I said, “Ugh, I've taken this charming, fun, funny actor and I've stripped him of all that. What am I doing?” But I had a feeling that once we got past the mopey stage in episodes 4, 5, 6, when he became a man of action, that the fans would respond to him. I've been really pleased with the reaction that I've read. But to answer your question, I think we're more conscious of wanting to let Rob use his fastball as much as possible.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: I also think in the finale, Rob did a great job of mixing the humor with the action hero stuff. If there was a moment to give him a joke, or some comedy to play, that was in there, so he got to do everything. I thought that was a good template for what he could do.
Will Liv going after Max Rager be the big thrust of season 2?
Rob Thomas: Yeah. In the finale, we announce what season 2 is going to be. Steven Weber says “We're going to eliminate all zombies.” So expect that to be a big storyline in season 2. Part of the fun of that will be it will force Liv and Blaine to work together. They will have a common enemy, a very dangerous common enemy. One of the things we wanted more of was Blaine and Liv on screen together. Season 2 will have more fun opportunities to do that.
Clive is working with Liv on the investigations every week, but he's one of the few prominent characters left who's out of the zombie loop. Was it ever difficult using him as a result?
Rob Thomas: He's built into the case every episode. We are never in the writers room thinking, “How can we work Clive into the story?” He's always built in in a prominent way in that A-story. There are things we want to do with him next year besides seeing him be detective on case. We have a few ideas about whether seeing a little of his home life, that we want to open him up a bit more. Malcolm's a very funny actor, and we made him play straight man all year, which he's great at. He can be very funny. We want to find opportunities for that in year two. And Clive is going to be like a dog on a bone with the Meat Cute murder, the butchery at the butcher shop. While the rest of the police will be very happy to present Lieutenant Suzuki as the hero of that shootout, and very quickly close the case, he's going to be looking deeper into it.
Why does Suzuki sacrifice himself like that? Just the realization that with Meat Cute out of business, he's likely to go full-on zombie soon, anyway?
Rob Thomas: No. We have scenes on the board, and scenes that were written, and we wanted to really get the idea across that Suzuki was a good cop at one point, forced to do very bad things, and that he did not like his life anymore. He was a noble character forced to do things that he did not want to do. He wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, as a hero, and that was his way of doing so.
Do your particular zombie rules allow for the Candyman's survival in heavily-scarred form, or did the grenade definitely kill him?
Rob Thomas: No, he's gone. Everyone in Vancouver loves that actor. All the regular cast of the show have asked that same question because they loved working with him.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: I went out for drinks with Rahul (Kohli) on Friday, and hungover pitched Rob that the Candyman would be like Swearengen's Indian (on “Deadwood”). He goes, “Are you really pitching this? Do you expect the head to talk back? This is the worst pitch ever.” And I go, “No, no, I was just kidding!”
Will Steven Weber's character have an identical Armenian gangster cousin?
Rob Thomas: No, but I like imagining that.
What did you learn this season about finding the balance between comedy and drama and horror and investigation, and where it's okay to laugh and not laugh about these really grotesque and tragic things that Liv is experiencing?
Rob Thomas: Strangely, one of the reasons Diane and I have worked so much together, and so well together is that that is our sweet spot. I don't think either of us would quite feel comfortable working in a half-hour writers room where it's joke-joke-joke. Nor would either of us feel at home on some grim drama. The thing we have in common is liking this balance of tone. The tone of “iZombie,” I know there are other reasons that people can compare it to “Veronica Mars” – petite blonde crime fighters – but the thing that stitches them together is that tone. That's in our wheelhouse. The thing we really added this year that we've never done before is this monster action. And by that, I mean “monster, comma, action.” That's been weird, and a learning experience, but less about the writing than about production. A bunch of things we'd never done that we found ourselves doing. On “Veronica Mars,” there was never a question of “How much blood can you show?”
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: “How much of a dead body can we see?”
Well, I couldn't help noticing that during Major's massacre, every violent thing happens just a half-step off-camera.
Rob Thomas: Yes, which is a shame. It's why we'll never be able to out-“Walking Dead” “The Walking Dead.” They get to show everything; we have to slightly cut away from everything.
Did you have to have big conversations with Standards and Practices, or by that point in the season, did you pretty much know what they would let you show?
Rob Thomas: We had massive, huge, drawn-out, painful conversations with Standards and Practices. However, the finale was not so bad. I don't know that it's that we had fought every battle, and knew where things could land by then. The level of what we got to show in the finale, I'm probably satisfied with. Our big fight in the finale was what we could show of Major pissing.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: True. You could show him shooting (zombies), but you couldn't imply that he was peeing on the floor.
Rob Thomas: There could be no sound. And for a while, they didn't even want us to give the look of relief.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: You couldn't hear the zipper, either.
Rob Thomas: It was a very bizarre thing in a world where we got to show a guy with his brains scooped out.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org