George Romero, the father of the zombie genre, famously hated The Walking Dead, essentially writing it off as a soap opera and blaming it (and World War Z) on his inability to finance smaller, zombie-driven movies with sociopolitical messages like his Night of the Living Dead trilogy. The no-frills, minimalist Black Summer from John Hyams and Karl Schaefer, however, is the perfect antidote, and precisely the kind of zombie television series George Romero would appreciate.
Black Summer is light on plot, but heavy on action, although there’s also a surprising amount of depth to its characters, even if most of them aren’t long for this world. There are no lurching, shambling walkers who are deadly only in hordes. In Black Summer, the zombies are rabid, ferocious, fast-moving, and lethal. They can’t be corraled and led over cliffs to their demise. They’re heat-seeking and unrelenting. In a war between the Black Summer zombies and those in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, I’d take the Black Summer zombies in a heartbeat. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common with zombies of The Walking Dead is an inability to turn a doorknob. No matter; they just beat down the door and rip their prey to bloody pieces.
The zombie apocalypse of Black Summer is bleak, and there are certainly no communities that have banded together to take on the undead threat. In Black Summer, everyone has turned on each other because safe spaces and supplies are limited, so in addition to taking on the empties, the entire world has been pitted against each other. To wit: One of the major storylines in Season 2 of Black Summer centers on a crate of supplies that has been dropped from a plane in the sky. It seems like a humanitarian mission, but it’s just one more thing to give the remaining survivors something to kill each other over, and that is precisely what they do. Not that it matters who comes out on top because in Black Summer, victory is fleeting, and death is around every corner.
Season 2 picks up several months from where the first season ended. When we last saw Rose (Jamie King) she had finally found her daughter, although we were left uncertain as to whether it was real or a hallucination. The second season answers that question: Rose is accompanied by her teenage daughter, Anna (Zoe Marlett), and the two of them are a formidable duo. Anna is great with a shotgun, while Rose dispenses parental advice as needed, things like, “Never let them take you alive.” There aren’t, however, a lot of conversations in Black Summer. Most people speak in nods, grunts, and shotgun blasts, at least when they’re not letting out their final piercing screams.
That is even more true for Sun (Christine Lee), who speaks Korean and has to navigate the apocalypse with the additional challenge of a language barrier. She gets caught up in the factions warring over the crate of supplies, although she’s largely used as a pawn or a human shield. That she has survived as long as she has is purely a testament to luck. That, plus the fact that she doesn’t pose much of a threat, so she’s usually the last target. In Black Summer, characters are rarely alive long enough to take out their last targets, and so Sun is passed around from one faction to the next, surviving almost by accident.
Spears (Justin Chu Cary) is the third holdover from the first season, and he is a mess. He may be alive, but in his condition, it’s hard to see the point. That, however, is the nature of Black Summer. In true Romero fashion, it’s hard to imagine the long-term prospects of any of the characters. They’re living not for the future, but for their next meal.
If that sounds grim, it’s because it is. There aren’t any laughs or romantic pairings or meet-cutes. There’s no exposition, either. The series just drops us into these stories and asks us to orient ourselves and figure out where we are. Black Summer, which is told in a series of short vignettes, is pure, unending horror. It is intense, and certainly not a show for everyone. For those who like their zombie shows pure, uncut, and undiluted, however, Black Summer continues to do the trick in season two.
Season 2 of ‘Black Summer’ is currently streaming on Netflix.