Black Summer: Season 2 arrives Thursday, June 17 on Netflix.
Black Summer is back, baby, and much like its harrowing, adrenaline-filled first season, it’s still chock full of white-knuckle, bare-bones undead terror. In an era where The Walking Dead is unsteadily pushing past its 10th season, Black Summer has stealthily kept zombie TV ferociously fresh. It’s no-frills, immersive fear, and anxiety. Minimalist without losing any spectacle. Impressive in both its fury and its quiet.
From director John Hyams (2020’s Alone) and Karl Schaefer (the showrunner for Syfy’s tongue-in-cheek Z Nation), Black Summer’s skillful style — which utilizes a “small bites” mini-sodes format combined with some of the absolute best action-filled long takes in the business — drops you inside a crazed and cruel world experiencing the first initial pains of a zombie outbreak. And these zombies are fast and formidable. They’re triple tough and usually bearing down on people who are not experts at headshots (which is sort of an acceptable cheat many zombie projects employ). These bastards are brutal and never tire, and it’s often on the show that you’ll come to know a character as human and then, in sort of a perverse rebirth, know them again as a rampaging ghoul making their former friends’ lives a living hell.
For the most part, Black Summer is better under-sold to audiences, because just getting to experience with unaware, fresh eyes is the best recipe. That being said, it’s also a shame that it’s gotten buried under Netflix’s intimidatingly massive catalog to the point where Season 2 is happening and many have never even heard of it. If you’re a fan of zombie horror, then it’s a must-watch. Even if you just enjoy lean intense storytelling, this is an extremely well-put-together saga that uses a handful of nifty narrative tricks to make you feel the cutting savagery of the story even more.
Black Summer: Season 2 Gallery
While the first season followed people a week or so into the zombie apocalypse (aka the part Rick Grimes slept through), Season 2 is free-for-all carnage. While many zombie projects postulate that it’ll be a few years before humans start truly turning on each other — you know, the true blue “the real monsters are us” theme — Black Summer asserts, quite brutally, that this will happen almost immediately out of the gate. Mere months after Season 1, now in the dead of an unyielding winter, survivors are at each other’s throats. Gangs and factions have been formed, and those roaming the snowy wasteland are killing each other over supply drops coming from a mystery plane – drops that feel humane in nature but in reality are causing those on the ground to go to war with each other.
Cast members Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, and Christine Lee return as Season 1 survivors Rose, “Spears,” and Sun (plus, maybe one more character surprise). Joining the cast as a full member, having had only a few scenes in Season 1, is Zoe Marlett’s Anna, Rose’s daughter. Yes, there’s something to be said about Season 1’s ending and its near-perfect ambiguity. Black Summer getting a Season 2 is a wild and wonderful thing but if Season 1 had been the end for the show, it would have been hauntingly excellent. Because we didn’t know if Rose was hallucinating or not. Was Anna real or had Rose totally lost it as she had earlier in the season?
With Season 2, we get a full answer. It was Anna. But with the shuttering of that “up for interpretation” finale comes a sharp, wonderful look at Rose and Anna’s new apocalyptic dynamic and the sinister sourness of Anna having to grow up in this world. Anna is growing up tremendously “not okay.” She is slowly being turned into a monster by a mother who is trying her best to absorb all of the sin for both of them. As they roam from gruesome scenes to sketchy shelters, using a card game to silently communicate with each other, you’d think they were a rock-solid mother-daughter duo, ready to kick ass and meet all obstacles on their way to a rumored air strip containing an escape plane. But they’re fundamentally broken, both individually and as a unit.
Black Summer can be easily lauded for its action, as it’s fierce and unrelenting. The use of impeccably staged one-shots fills you with dread, inserting you into the panicked frenzies that make your heart race. But, as it showed with Season 1, the series is also incredible with calm. Whether it’s an episode like “White Horse” that’s mostly dialogue or moments featuring characters creeping around and observing (the Ghosts segment from the episode “Lodge” is phenomenal), Black Summer is able to coat you with dread from any angle. It’s also still as shocking and wickedly contemptuous as ever, never being precious with any of its characters. We learned this back in Season 1, anyone can be taken off the board quickly no matter how many episodes we’ve been following them. It really does create an environment where you feel like anything can happen and no one’s safe. Which is exactly what you want from zombie horror.