We’ve finally reached the end of Netflix’s short-order zombie series, Black Summer. Penultimate episode, Tunnel, clocks in at a mere 20 minutes or so. As such, I’ve opted to review these final two episodes together. Both episodes exemplify all the series’ recurrent problems that have bothered me. Neither episode does much to convince me that Black Summer needs a second season. But does Black Summer at least finally deliver some full zombie carnage?
Stuff Happening To People Whose Names You Can’t Remember
All the problems I’ve moaned about in reviews of earlier episodes coalesce in Black Summer’s final two episodes. An ill-defined overarching narrative, a lack of clear stakes, poor characterization – they’re all front row and centre in Tunnel and Stadium. For instance, our mysterious soldiers re-surface pushing the Spears’ back onto the radar. The show runners don’t so much resolve this mystery as they just lazily discard it. Rose saves Spears (or Julius James) and kills the soldiers. Spears mentions military corruption and mystery ‘loot’, but the episode does nothing with these ideas. Oh, and while the soldiers mention ‘black zones’, Tunnel never explicitly connects this to the threat of ‘hordes’ Phil referred to in Diner.
Like the overall series, neither Tunnel nor Stadium give us story or characters, just ideas connected by some suspense.
This isn’t so much lazy storytelling as it is a lack of storytelling. That is, Black Summer seems to have no overarching direction other than to have its survivors scramble for several episodes. Neither Tunnel nor Stadium give us story or characters, just ideas connected by some suspense. It’s hard to care when William dies or Lance disappears because we don’t know anything about these characters. Even Rose’s reunion with her daughter falls flat. Much of this problem stems from the absence of any characterization of Rose beyond what Human Flow accomplished. But director John Hyams doesn’t even film the moment in a way that’s a likely to tug on your heart strings. And it doesn’t help that Rose finding her daughter is completely improbable given how the episode concludes. It’s another indictment of the series’ poor storytelling.
It’s All Been Done Before …
In its final two episodes, Black Summer can boast that it maintains almost constant momentum. There continues to be decent levels of suspense spread out across the economically paced episodes. It’s zombie finale outside the stadium is appropriately chaotic. Is it as good as anything you’ve seen in The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead? No. Not even close. And here’s Black Summer’s problem. The series offers unconventional storytelling (or lack thereof) wrapped in average zombie action.
It’s all been done before, and done much better. Specifically, Black Summer doesn’t unload maximum zombie action until its final episode, Stadium. What it delivers is average at best. There’s a lack of zombie gore, which is kind of a prerequisite for this type of series. Though the series has taken a different approach to its material, what it sets up in the finale calls for a little more grisly action.
Black Summer Makes a Poor Case for Season 2
At the time of writing this review, Netflix hadn’t announced whether a second season was in the works. But Black Summer’s final two episodes don’t make much of case for it. Series fans may argue that the show took a different approach to zombies. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it work. Unconventional storytelling doesn’t mean no storytelling. If there’s a Season 2, the show-runners should consider uniformly longer epsisodes to allow for characterization and some world-building. Black Summer wasn’t bad zombie television, but it did little to justify its existence.