When Stephen King praises a series, you watch it. Called “existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone” by the author, ‘Black Summer’ is set six weeks into a zombie apocalypse and follows the story of survival. It is a prequel to another zombie series, ‘Z Nation’, but takes a very different tone from it. With minimal dialogues and a tense atmosphere, it is somewhat fresh, if not entirely unique, take on a familiar genre. If you haven’t yet seen it, you should head over to Netflix. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Summary of the Plot
It has been six weeks since the world went to hell, all the characters in ‘Black Summer’ have only experienced the first circle of it. The city is rife with confusion and chaos and there is only one thought on everyone’s mind now — to make it to the evacuation point. In this mayhem, Rose is separated from her daughter, and the rest of the season follows her struggle to find her while meeting all sorts of people along the way.
Zombies of Black Summer
With ten seasons of ‘The Walking Dead’ and five of ‘Z Nation’, the audience has theoretically mastered the art of surviving a zombie apocalypse. Every new entry in the genre, be it a TV show or a film, has a limited scope of what they can do with the story because the premise is almost always the same. There are two villains in this story- zombies and humans. You can get creative with the latter, but there is only so much you can do with the framework of a zombie. The basic structure should stay the same because if you make too many changes you stray from the ground rules and might create a new monster altogether. ‘Black Summer’ mixes a couple of things from here and there, all of which we have already seen in one form or the other.
Starting from the root cause of zombification, we can take an intelligent guess (in case you haven’t seen the sister series) that it is a virus. Where it came from and how it took such a drastic shape isn’t explored here. What we do know is that it doesn’t take much time for humans to turn into zombies. There is the golden rule of not getting bitten, but that is not the only thing you need to be smart about if you don’t want to turn into your flesh-eating version.
The virus is already inside each and every person, so even if you survive and live to the age of 70, you will turn into a zombie the moment you die. Once that happens, your memory is gone. You don’t remember your family or friends. Basically, the only thing in your mind for the rest of your days will be flesh, an insatiable need for it. The upside is that you have a lot of stamina. Even if you haven’t done cardio a single in your human life, you will be able to chase the hell of a dog as a zombie.
The undead in ‘Black Summer’ seem very strong. They break through doors and glasses pretty easily. We can credit this trait to the fact that their brains are, now, driven entirely by their hunger, which makes them extra frenzied when they see their prey. But that doesn’t make them entirely dumb. Yes, you can distract them (as people often do in ‘Black Summer’ by offering someone else as bait) but they are smarter than the zombies you have gotten used to in ‘The Walking Dead’. They try to use their sense of smell to locate the prey, but their sense isn’t so acutely developed yet. Also, if you can stay really quiet, they won’t be able to find you.
However, once they have got their eyes on you, they will respond very quickly. They will chase you, and you might think that you can tire them out by running in circles. But they are smarter than that. They’ll quickly find alternate ways to get their hands on you. And this is where their intelligence comes to a screeching halt. Beyond this, they are dumb. They don’t know how to open doors, so a simple lock can go a long way in saving your life. Their ability to find paths is limited to the horizontal. They don’t, or rather, can’t climb. So, get yourself on the other side of the wall and you are safe. However, they can mimic your action.
For example, in one of the scenes, when Lance is running from a zombie, he climbs on the top of a bus. The zombie doesn’t see how he got there so it just pounds on the side of the bus and tries to jump up. It waits for Lance to come down, but can’t see a very simple route right in front of it. This makes us think that Lance is safe. The problem arises we he thinks about coming down. He does so very quietly, but the zombie quickly runs towards him. When Lance gets back on the top, the zombie follows him. This time it can climb because it has just seen Lance do it. But does it have the ability to remember and use it for the next victim? Most likely not.
The Breakdown of Society
In any story that focuses on a catastrophic event for humanity, the central focus is rarely on the event itself. The emphasis is on how humans react to it. How long does it take for them to give up the façade of morality and turn to the philosophy of survival of the fittest? Sooner than we would like to imagine!
What we see in ‘Black Summer’ is the early days of the apocalypse. It has only been six weeks since the breakout and all the major cities have already been destroyed. It is every man for himself. Even when they know that there is strength in numbers, people are sticking to the philosophy of “every man for himself”. They are willing to kill each other, sometimes just for fun, which makes them even worse than zombies. Even if there are good Samaritans, they fall for the ruse of the others and meet an early end.
A very disturbing example of this comes in the third episode when Rose, Spears, Vance and Ryan take refuge in a school. They see a kid running around and think that he might need help. As it turns out, the kid is not alone. The school is full of a bunch of them and they are prepared for the apocalypse. They must have been there since the outbreak because they seem to know what they are doing. Hardened by the experience, they have become cruel and cold-blooded (if they weren’t so already). They have collected weapons, made arrangements for food, and are sharp about handling the strangers. They have a strategy and don’t hesitate to kill. It would’ve been fine if it was just about survival. The problem is that they are all psychopaths.
Watching others struggle for their life is an enjoyment to them. They cheer when Rose and Spears are attacked by a zombie. When Lance somehow finds a way out, they throw a prisoner down the roof, just so he can turn into a zombie and kill Lance. Moreover, there are dead bodies in the locker room. The command has been taken over a couple of teenagers who seem to be the oldest of the bunch, and also the cruellest. I don’t think it’d be a long stretch if we guess that the bodies in the locker room are other kids they have killed- the ones who tried to be the leaders but the psycho ones killed them, not just to remove the competition but also to assert dominance.
What further attests to this theory is that they aren’t trying to keep people out of the school. Rather, they leave the door ajar, just in case a survivor comes along. If The Asylum (the production company of the series) decides to work up another spin-off, they could focus on the story of the school. It has the potential to be far scarier than ‘Z Nation’ and ‘Black Summer’ combined.
The Ending: What Happened at the Stadium?
The whole point of running and fighting and surviving in ‘Black Summer’ is to get to the stadium. In the first episode, we see that they are evacuating the city taking everyone to the stadium, from where they’ll be airlifted. Every character is focused on getting there and is ready to do whatever it takes. In the final episode, the survivors- Rose, Spears, Lance, Sun, William and Carmen- make it to the stadium and discover that there are a lot of other people who have come there with the same hope. However, zombies follow them and the situation soon goes out of hand and everyone turns into a zombie.
Carmen is hit by a stray bullet (another example of the amateur behaviour of the survivors) while William gives in due to his wounded leg. In an act of mercy and some very quick thinking, Rose shoots him in the head. In the chaos, Lance is separated from the group, once again, and the last time we see him, he is being chased back into town by a bunch of zombies. Somehow, Rose, Spears and Sun make it inside, but find it empty. There is no one in sight; no civilians, no soldiers. And then a man emerges from the other end, followed by a girl who turns out to be Rose’s daughter. As she runs towards her, the scene cuts to black.
For an episode of just twenty minutes, the finale of this season is a lot to take in. ‘Black Summer’ showed early on that it will not hesitate to kill off its characters, no matter how important you think they are. William Velez quickly becomes a favourite, which is what makes his death so shocking and heart-breaking. The quick and unanticipated death of the supposedly “main” characters is attuned to the kind of world ‘Black Summer’ wants to portray. No one is guaranteed to survive because no one is the hero, per se. Everyone is fair game.
Now, the question of why the stadium was empty? The soldiers whom the group had met in the penultimate episode told them that the evacuation will begin in the next 18 hours and will continue for another 24 hours with an interval of one hour. Since we don’t have a way to know exactly how much time has passed, one guess is that one sweep of evacuation is already done. Whatever people were there have been taken away and another airlift will come in the next hour. But if everyone is gone, why is there that man with Rose’s daughter, Anna, still there? Well, Anna is a child and in the first episode, she was separated from her mother, who promised to find her at the stadium. When everyone was being taken away, Anna wanted to stay behind for her parents. The man took pity and decided to stay back to look after her, at least until the next turn.
Another theory is that the evacuation never happened. Some zombie found its way inside, or maybe, someone just died in the mayhem and turned into a zombie. As we know by now, all it takes is one. Exactly when this happened, we don’t know, but it must have been some time ago because the whole place is empty now. Somehow Anna survived with the help of the man. Or did she? In the episode where Rose’s group joins Sun’s group, she has a hallucination of her daughter. At that time, she was fatigued and dehydrated, which makes us somewhat sceptic of this theory. But there is a chance that Anna, in the end, was just a figment of her imagination. As the girl runs down the stairs, the man doesn’t seem to be looking at her. In fact, no one but Rose reacts to her presence. Is it really an illusion, then?
Black Summer Season 2: What to Expect?
The first season has some great points that can be elaborated on in the second season of ‘Black Summer’. There are a lot of cliff-hangers and some confusing moments that we’d like to resolve. While, for the sake of Rose, we hope it is really Anna, we need to have that confirmed. Also, will another turn of evacuation come for them, or has the city been declared a black zone? There is also the chance that a connection with ‘Z World’ could be explored, if not with the active storyline, then just in passing. There are still a lot of people inside the city. What happens to them? What about the man who left the group as soon as he found his dog? And what about Lance? He has been an odd-ball survivor throughout the series and we don’t really see him die. The chances of his survival this time are pretty slim, but we are betting in favour of them.