It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017, and 2018.

After the relative normalcy of “Diner,” Black Summer is back to its minimalist storytelling with the next episode, “Heist.” As usual, we get very little background info, literally no info dumps or dialogue, and the titular heist is all about the performances and the narrative action. And that’s fucking great.

This storytelling approach is really the thing that is driving a wedge between fans and haters of this show. Black Summer has zero fucks to give for your desire to have characters spell out what’s happening and what’s going to happen. This is immersive, visual storytelling that you have to pay attention to if you want to catch the nuances of the actual narrative. The most important nuance to catch in this episode is the role that Carmen (Erika Hau) plays.  

Since knowledge of the weapons stash is coming from Carmen and Manny (Edsson Morales), we can infer that they’ve been there before and know what’s what inside that combo crack house/dance club/survivalist bunker. That they’ve come up with a detailed plan for how to rob them, means that there’s bad blood. We don’t need somebody standing around talking about it. Hell, we don’t need to know what caused the bad blood.

What we do know, is that when Carmen goes up to that big dude and shanks him, setting off a zombie killfest, it was personal. Why? Because the title of that sequence was “Not Part of the Plan.” She went off book and because of that, nearly everybody dies. That Manny is the only one of our crew who actually gets turned is the narrative irony and again, we don’t need a lecture on it. We just see it play across her face when she realizes that he didn’t make it.

That’s fantastic storytelling and excellent acting, right there.

Episode 7, “The Tunnel,” introduces us to the two soldiers who appeared briefly at the beginning of the previous episode. They save our heroes from zombies that have them trapped, and then offer to get them across town to the Stadium. Here’s where we get a more traditional info dump, but it’s all plot and no character. According to them, they’ve got plenty of time to get to the stadium where there will be airlifts out to safe places in Alaska and Cuba for a full twenty-four hours.

The question then becomes, do we trust these guys? They say all the right things about responsibility and duty and represent authority. But they talk a lot. And in Black Summer, people who do a lot of talking (I’m looking back at you, Phil), are not good people.

So when Rose (Jaime King) wakes up in the middle of the night to find the soldiers and Spears (Justin Chu Cary) missing, she takes her gun and goes looking. What she finds is what we could have expected, based on the body language and stares of the soldiers while they were mouthing off about duty. They know Spears isn’t who he says he is, and they’re taking him away, leaving the other survivors behind.

Sure, they say that they’ll send help, but they can’t be trusted. Spears, whose real name is Julius James, claims that they’re taking him to find some sort of treasure trove, but they claim that he’s a liar, thief, and murderer. They make it sound like he’s a serial killer, to be honest, and laying it on that thick is another narrative signpost for the viewer – and for Rose, as she puts bullets in the soldiers’ heads.

Actions, man. Actions are key. Not words.

So when they tell the others that the soldiers “didn’t make it,” there are some alarmed glances, but everybody arms up and heads out to make their way to the Stadium.

Except for Earl (Nyren B. Evelyn), that is. Once outside, he whistles, his dog – the dog Lance (Kelsey Flower) saw wandering around during his flight from death – appears from out of nowhere, and the two of them walk off into the distance without a single word. I don’t think Earl spoke the entire time he was in the show.

And that is awesome. Given my new thesis about action vs. language, he might be only truly heroic character in Black Summer. He’s unselfish. He’s reliable. And he’s got a dog. Clearly he’s a great guy and made sure to get these people to within spitting distance of their goal, but now he’s off to walk the earth. You know, like Caine in Kung Fu. Just walk from town to town, meet people, get in adventures.

This sets up for the finale, “The Stadium,” and get ready for some non-stop, video game action. As our heroes approach the Stadium, they are joined by dozens upon dozens of other survivors trying to get to salvation. Everybody’s got guns, and I assume everybody’s got stories in case we get a Season 2. As they all get closer and closer to their goal, more and more zombies begin showing up, and as one would expect with all the bullets that start flying, friendly fire ends up taking its toll.

People are dropping right and left, machines guns are indiscriminately spraying bullets all around, and before too long, Carmen is turned, Lance is separated and is last seen running off toward the horizon with a horde of zombies chasing him (damn is his cardio on point!), and when William (Sal Velez Jr.) can’t run anymore due to a bum leg, Rose fucking puts a bullet in his head with hardly any hesitation.

This leaves Rose, Spears, and Sun (Christine Lee) as our only survivors, who just barely get inside the stadium, blocking off the entrance and barely keeping out the zombie masses. It’s all a bit surreal and unbelievable, which I’ll discuss more in a minute.

Once inside, we discover that the stadium is empty. There is no sign of an evacuation. There’s literally only silence. The trio slowly walk down to the middle of the football field when at one end, a single man with a rifle emerges from a doorway. They silently face off for a moment, then Rose’s daughter appears from behind the man, makes her way down the stairs, runs to Rose, arms outstretched. Rose cries and is reunited with her daughter. The end.

Or is it?

The surreality of the entire climax of Black Summer raises the question of whether any of it is real and did any of them actually survive. This ambiguity is possible mainly because of the stylistic choices the writers and directors have made throughout the show. All we can really trust is the action we see before us, and it’s already been established that Rose has hallucinated seeing her daughter before. So, we the viewers, get the opportunity to interpret the conclusion of this season however we see fit. If you want a happy ending, they did reunite, although that leaves open the question of what next?

If Rose’s daughter is real, then there’s no help coming and while she has reached her ultimate goal, they are still royally screwed in the end. Although the appearance of the other man hints that there may be another way out for them.

My own personal preference is for the daughter to be a dream, and that Rose has lost her mind upon realizing that the Stadium is a dead end. I’d prefer that to be the limit of the hallucination, though, because if there is a second season, I’d like to see these characters move on. Again, in this scenario, the other man becomes a possible out for them.

And then there’s the possibility that none of them really made it at all. The fact that there’s simply nobody left at the gate to the Stadium, and how easy it was to block the chain link fencing and keep out the masses of undead, could signal a shift to a fantasy where our heroes make it through alive and well. I don’t really buy into this, but it could be argued that they all died, and what we see at the end is simply Rose’s dying wishes fulfilled. She was our original entry point to Black Summer, in the first place, so it would make sense to have her be our closing perspective.

I almost don’t want a second season at this point. I’m perfectly happy with Black Summer standing alone as a 4 hour and 40 minute long zombie epic. Sure, I’d watch a season two, but it’s totally unnecessary for me. Unless it’s a whole new cast with a whole new story, but told in the same narrative style. Maybe follow the daughter on her journey? That might be the way to go.

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