Netflix Review: Santa Clarita Diet Season 3

ATTENTION: Spoilers Ahead

 

Season 2 of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet ended with a bang - literally, with Eric and Abby blowing up a fracking site in protest. Meanwhile, Joel and Sheila are trying to kill and bury Gary for good. This plan is complicated by the arrival of Anne, their neighbor - and a cop. The explosion convinces hyper-religious Anne that Sheila is God’s instrument on earth.

 

So you would think that season 3 would pick up immediately after that high-stakes cliffhanger - but no. The opening scene of Season 3 introduces a completely new character; judging by the military uniform and vaguely Russian  accent, he is meant to be a villain. His name is Poplovic and he does turn out to be the season’s main villain. But of course, his connection to the Hammonds and Santa Clarita takes the whole season to come to fruition.

 

In the meantime, several other plotlines play out. Eric and Abby are investigated by the FBI for the fracking explosion. Abby makes a new friend. Anne tells her church group about Sheila. Joel and Sheila continue to feud with Chris and Christa. Joel and Sheila also continue to kill, with mixed results. Ron, Joel’s buddy from the psych ward, becomes a zombie and wreaks several kinds of havoc that Sheila and Joel must clean up. And, crucially, the Knights of Serbia - the group dedicated to hunting and killing zombies - get a new knight for the Santa Clarita area.

 

All of this together means that the Hammonds’ lives are not, as Joel says in Episode 1, back to normal. But normal is a very fluid concept. All of the chaos allows the actors to explore their characters, deepening their arcs and fleshing out the dynamics of their relationships. These family dynamics are the best part of the show.

 

Season 3 really sees Joel and Sheila discuss the implications of zombie-hood for their future. Timothy Olyphant is so spectacular in this role - he switches between comedy and authenticity so well, and his reactions in times of crisis are precisely what you would expect from a suburban dad. Sheila’s character arc this season revolves around her figuring out the purpose behind her transformation - and what she should do now. Of course, that spirals wildly out of control, but the season finale ties her growth in nicely to the show’s theme of relationships.

 

Abby’s arc in Season 3 feels the most natural. The past two seasons, she’s been fighting for her parents to include her in zombie stuff and this season, they finally do. Joel and Sheila are reluctant, of course, but it’s easy to see that Abby is naturally suited to it. When Joel names her as his heir as knight, the role fits. It combines her rebel-with-a-cause personality with the deep ties she has to her family.  I was happy to see her take on a more active role this season; it gives Liv Hewson a chance to display a more emotional range.

 

Much of that emotion came from her evolving relationship with Eric. She steers their evasion of the FBI, which is a high pressure situation for the both of them. The pressure, and her growing friendship with new character Winter, push Abby to acknowledge her feelings for Eric. It takes until the final episode for the pair to couple up - but when they do, the scene is surprisingly sweet.

 

On first watch, it felt anti-climactic. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the way the writers put it together. The scene is so bare bones - Abby comes into Eric’s room and climbs into his bed. It’s very simple, which makes it clear that Eric and Abby are coming together just as they are - Eric as Eric, and Abby as Abby. Their distinct personalities are highlighted, showing they are comfortable being themselves. They don’t try to change themselves, or each other, for the sake of their friendship. They trust each other enough to be their true selves - which is important considering the secrets they must keep from the outside world. In fact, the only time Eric is really Eric and Abby is really Abby is when they are together. A dramatic reveal would have overplayed the tension and wouldn’t have been true to the characters. This slow burn conclusion felt much more realistic and showed Abby taking a chance on her feelings and being more in tune with herself, befitting her character’s arc throughout Season 3.

 

Overall, Season 3 stays true to the characters while expanding convincing arcs. The zombie-verse is expanded, adding more mythology and background. The show continues to be both funny and insightful, absurd and warm-hearted. My only objection would be the ending.

 

With the chaos over, Joel and Sheila have one of their normal husband/wife scenes - but it quickly becomes abnormal. Sheila’s Mr. Ball Legs crawls into Joel’s ear and Joel has a seizure? Stroke? And falls to the floor, potentially dead - so Sheila bites him. This might have been an inevitable conclusion to the season, as Joel and Sheila spent much of their time - in between Nazi stakeouts and realtor duels - bickering over Joel becoming immortal. Inevitable or not, it doesn’t feel quite right. Joel had agreed to let Sheila bite him after Abby moves out. But, when Mr. Ball Legs invades Joel’s brain, Sheila moves up that timeline.

 

To me, the scene itself felt a bit rushed. The two Mr. Ball Legs have shown some suspicious activity throughout the season, so the attack wasn’t unexpected. However, Sheila resorts to biting very quickly. Less than 30 seconds pass between Joel’s seizure and her biting him; she doesn’t check his pulse or try CPR to see if he’s dead, either. The scene itself feels thrown together - Joel falls to the floor, Sheila panics unconvincingly, then gives Joel a stilted kiss before biting him. All in all, the rapid progression from grief, to kiss, to zombie attack felt unnatural. It felt like a reach to give viewers a more dramatic ending; since all the other plot lines were wrapped up, something had to be done to maintain the intrigue. The fact that the other plot lines were satisfied is unusual itself. While the mixing of plot lines is signature to the show, the previous two season finales were not as decisive as this one. Loose strings were everywhere. But at the end of Season 3, the strings are all tied-up. Sure, Joel is bitten, but the Hammonds already know how to be zombies. It’s a low-stakes conclusion.

 

The showrunners played it safe, likely as a safeguard against cancellation. If the show gets canceled, this is an acceptable ending. But if Santa Clarita Diet does get picked up for a fourth season, they can take it any way they want.