SpoilerTV - TV Spoilers

Black Summer - Season 2 Review - Winter is Coming



Back when Black Summer Season 1 aired, it became a sort of quiet hit for Netflix. Ostensibly, it is a spinoff of SyFy's Z Nation but it couldn't be more different. You won't see any gigantic balls of zombies rolling through the countryside on Black Summer, that's for sure and none of the characters are likely to share weed with a zombie while stuck in an elevator shaft.

Instead, Black Summer takes a more introspective and serious look at the zombie outbreak in one of the most intimate and authentic zombie shows out there. Its main blessing is it has only had two seasons so far and isn't falling into a mire of tedious and repetitive character drama. Of course, it's also avoiding character drama by simply killing all the characters.

 

Season 2 opens with the death of Lance, one of the main characters of the previous season. The sequence of him running around as a zombie is a striking parallel to his first and last scenes of Season 1 though in the wider context of the season, it feels a little unnecessary like they're getting him out of the way. It might have been better for them to simply wrap up his storyline last season.

Weirdly, I found myself on his side when he was a zombie and started chasing the man who killed him. In fact there were several instances this season where I found myself rooting for the zombies. I think it's mostly because I couldn't understand the motivations behind the new groups of people introduced this season. They all seemed hellbent on killing each other for no good reason. I slightly understand why the group in the final episode wanted to beat up Nazeri but they weren't much better than him in the first place.

In fact, this season introduces a lot of new characters and so we don't get to spend enough time with any group to actually grow to care about the characters and it also meant we didn't get much time with the characters from season 1, especially Sun who didn't seem to do much of anything for the whole eight episodes.



Trying to care about any of the new characters was pointless as well considering that they were all being killed off left, right and center so that when we get to the end of the season there's only 3 people each in Nazeri and Mance's groups. It's a lot more manageable and it begs the question why they didn't just have three-a-piece in the first place. It would have made the horror more effective and the stakes higher as we would actually be emotionally invested.

As it is, the only death that held any meaning and weight in the season was Spears' and even that was marred by the fact that he was the only character with an interesting arc and development. His solo episode was the high point of the season. I've always liked the introspective solo outings in zombie shows; the writers have a knack of giving them to the most interesting characters in the ensembles. 10k's episode in season 3 of Z Nation was one of the best episodes that show ever did and Nick's in Fear the Walking Dead was equally impressive.

 

Spears' solo episode was like a breath of fresh air after the inane and pointless episodes that came before which involved a whole lot of people dying seemingly for the sake of it. The plot has no meat on its bones. All these different groups of people - Mance's, Nazeri's, Rose's, Freddy's, the random people Nazeri fights over the crate of supplies with - are looking for an airstrip where a plane is coming in to land. I don't think the plot would hold up under a microscope but then if you've watched the whole season, it's unlikely you're watching it for the plot.

 

As character snapshots, the show works extremely well. But the cohesive overall plot is uninteresting at best and so are Rose and Anna. Neither of them showed much personality or nuance till episode 7. Rose's primary personality trait was ruthless and Anna's stony and blank. Admittedly, Rose had merit as the scariest part of the season, her cold and ruthless personality so far removed from the woman she was in Season 1. But it wore thin after a while with the same repeated scenario of someone trying to help her and Rose having the same attitude and facial expression for each encounter, though a glimpse of who she was before did come through in her tense reunion with Spears.

It's indicative of a larger problem with the season as a whole. It knows one of its strengths is its intimate and atmospherically shot format but it leans into this too much and it affects the pacing. Episode 7, 'The Lodge', has two back-to-back sequences of Anna walking around the ski lodge alone investigating noises which takes up about twelve minutes of the episode's runtime. And I don't believe they needed to dedicate a whole episode to Freddy and his family who all died pretty quickly anyway. That episode could have been better spent getting to know some of the new major players better.

 

We got a slight sneak peek at Nazeri's backstory but that's it on development for any of the new characters. It ends up meaning that the various groups in this season make no sense. Nazeri executes one of his men for no reason partway through and then two more beat him up in the final episode, so it's not clear why any of them ended up working together in the first place. We could have done with more backstory on Mance and his group as well. Their dynamic was confusing at the best of times and occasionally it felt like the only thing that bonded the groups together was that Nazeri's wore bulletproof vests and Mance's wore brightly coloured coats.

I don't want to come across as too critical of Mance though. He did have the single most impressive scene of the whole season when he killed all of the zombies at the airstrip by himself. But I would have cared more about his survival if I'd actually known anything about him.

But for every thinly explored character, nonsensical shootout and half-hearted step towards advancing the plot, there is a stunning piece of scenery. I was excited for the season because of the winter and snow aesthetic and I was not disappointed. My jaw dropped at every snowy vista and the cinematography celebrated every setting. Though it is a shame to be watching a show for the scenery and not the plot or the characters.



It is a genuinely chilling show as well, regardless whether you're on the side of the zombies or the humans. The chases are terrifying and claustrophobic and when a zombie rocks up on screen, there's a certain sense of inevitability and dread. The season is worth it to see the zombies versus the humans and the atmosphere the show generates in every shot makes the apocalypse seem more real and plausible than a lot of shows in its calibre.

Really though, considering how obsessed they all are with shooting each other, you'd think they'd have learned how to do head shots by now. They're just creating more problems for themselves.

What do you think? Did you find yourself caring more about the atmosphere and the scenery than the plot and characters? Sound off in the comments below!


Recommendations