Like most Netflix series, Black Summer has a short first season order. Though Netflix’s zombies series has shined briefly for moments, it’s definitely suffering from an overarching sense of aimlessness. And there’s only eight episodes! As we dive into Episode 5, Diner, can Black Summer set some stakes and distinguishing itself from the zombie horde?
William and Sun Kill Time in a Diner
After catching up with Lance in Alone, Black Summer’s fifth episode re-visits William and Sun. Recall that our friends were stranded in an abandoned diner with the same people who tried to run them off the road at the end of Episode 3, Drive. Now they’re making bedfellows with redneck Phil along with Carmen and her boyfriend, Manny. Not surprisingly, these three new characters are various degrees of awful. William has little patience for them, and you’ll likely empathize with him.
Somehow this plan fails miserably.
For most of the episode, two zombies circle the diner while Phil gets under William’s skin. Carmen mentions something about an outpost that’s heavily armed. But the two circling zombies are enough to keep the surivors holed up in the diner. Meanwhile Phil chips away at William, trying to convince him to use poor Sun as bait while they make a run for it. When William breaks down, he convinces Sun to distract the zombies with some window tapping while the others try a sneak attack. Somehow this plan fails miserably.
But when Phil tries to throw Sun ‘under the bus’, she proves to be more resourceful than expected. After she points out that Phil was bitten during their last escape attempt, the others mercilessly beat him and then drag him outside for the zombies. Oh and Spears and company arrive at the diner, bringing all our survivors again. Except Lance.
Diner Feels Like Empty Zombie Calories
If Alone earned Black Summer a temporary reprieve, Diner fully exposes the series’ problems. First, the episode itself has self-contained problems with pacing. We’re stuck in a diner for 30 minutes or so with two characters we barely know and three new characters you’re sure to instantly dislike. It’s a dull episode for long stretches. Yet regardless of the episode’s problems, Diner suffers because of bigger problems with the series.
And too much of the series overlaps with The Walking Dead and other zombie shows.
It doesn’t matter how much suspense and tension you can infuse into a situation if audiences don’t care about the characters. We’re five episodes into Black Summer, and we still don’t really know these people. Aside from a stadium evacuation site, Black Summer hasn’t introduced any overall stakes. Even with faster, tougher zombies, the series’ undead still don’t feel like much of a threat. And too much overlaps with The Walking Dead and other zombie shows. When our Diner survivors figure out that anyone who dies will re-animate, you’ll slap yourself in the forehead and think, ‘Duh’.
Black Summer Needs To Introduce Some Urgency
With Black Summer bringing more of its characters together, perhaps the zombie series will lurch forward a little. Unfortunately, as Diner slowed things down, it exposed too much of the series’ shortcomings. Undeveloped chararacters, lack of narrative drive, and too little zombie carnage – all major concerns. The mysterious ‘Spears’ may offer Black Summer an opportunity to distinguish itself. But the series definitely needs something to make it anything other than what it is so far – The Walking Dead-lite.