Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 25/06/2021

BLACK SUMMER Season Two

The first season of the all-out zombie kill-fest Black Summer surprised many viewers. It turned out to be a more exciting, more thoughtful and more carefully constructed drama than a spin-off from the unprepossessing source material of Z-Nation had any right to be.

The zombie action - visceral, heart-pounding and relentless - was impressive and imaginatively staged. And importantly the sense of jeopardy remained palpable throughout, as characters in the series’ large ensemble fell victim to the unstoppable zombie hordes in alarming numbers. All of this was given additional energy by the fact that the animated undead of Black Summer are amped-up, howling predators rather than mutely shuffling cadavers.

Season two improves on the action elements of the first season on pretty much every front. The signature elements of season one are all on show: the pulsating chase sequences, the lengthy single-shot zombie battle choreography, the short ‘vignette’ narrative structure, and the fractured back-and-forth timeline that reveals events in an out-of-order sequence.

Season two opens with a time shift, as months on from the arrival at the city stadium in the season one finale, people are desperate to get out of the cities. In the rural hinterlands, refugees have banded into militias and groups of scavengers, fending off the zombie threat and fighting amongst each other with equal ferocity. All of them are mesmerised by the sight of a plane sweeping through the skies above, and most are trying to make their way to a distant landing strip in the hope of securing passage to some sort of salvation.

Few of the remaining first season characters have made it through. Rose and her daughter Anna have survived, as has Spears and Sun - but all of them are in dire straits and adrift amongst a sea of new survivors, not all of whom have their best interests at heart. Outside the city, the season has turned and winter has arrived - which provides for some striking locations and haunting backdrops for all the bloody mayhem.

There are some innovations too. More attention is paid to the need to give texture to the drama, so that the eruptions of death and violence have greater impact. The visual and sound design is stronger too: the complex one-shot set pieces continue to impress, but two of the most impactful moments deliver a sense of dread through some far simpler conceits. Two survivors fleeing a wave of the undead through the pitch-black of a seemingly endless forest is heart-stopping stuff. Another scene in which a character investigates a booming sound reverberating through an abandoned ski-lodge in the middle of the night is unbearably tense. Great value is made of the simple, but hugely effective, technique of framing a character in mid-shot as they face the camera, so that the viewer cannot see who or what is in front of them.

The heart of the drama remains the relationship between Rose (Jaime King) and daughter Anna (Zoe Marlett). King is excellent as the battle-hardened mother, a warrior who will stop at nothing to get her child to safety. Marlett brings to life the conflicted temperament of an adolescent who’s determined to be independent but who also wants to keep Rose’s single-minded mercilessness in check. The development in the dynamic between the two of them over the course of the season is well crafted.

It would be difficult to argue that the writers of Black Summer have an overly-optimistic view of how human beings would behave in conditions of extreme peril. But for all of that apparent cynicism, the quality of this second season is lifted by the recognition of the importance of developing characters whose fate the audience can care about. Fifth episode “White Horse” is an exceptional and unpredictable two-hander in which two men have to confront the uncomfortable realities of an association they shared in the time before the apocalypse. It’s a thoroughly intriguing drama that would not have made its way out of the writers’ room during season one. More accomplished and more confident, Black Summer ends with enough mysteries and unanswered questions to merit a third season.

Season two of BLACK SUMMER is available now on Netflix