Zoo, the show about mysterious animal attacks around the globe, has shown signs of taking itself too seriously—but deep down, this show knows it’s ridiculous. Exhibit A: the punny title of last night’s episode (“Blame It on Leo”), along with its somewhat lighter tone.
The search for clues is onnnn, as “Leo” dedicates most of its screen time to the human animals on the show, rather than angry lions, wolves, etc. (In fact, there aren’t any major animal attacks in this one.) Mitch sneaks into a high-school science lab to borrow a microscope for a hot minute; he discovers that the wolf blood the team collected last week is tainted with “alcanavorix bacteria,” the stuff that’s used to clean up oil spills ... and it’s a distinctively human-made chemical. Waiting outside, Chloe and Jackson page through Evan Lee’s discarded Bible and wonder why, in addition to underlining every animal-related passage, and keeping an old snapshot of himself with Jackson’s father, Robert Oz, tucked between the pages, he’s scrawled the name “Leo Butler” throughout.
The team convenes in a bar to compare notes. Abe suggests, quite logically, that they should track down whoever created the chemical, but Mitch admits that even though whoever made it “signed it,” it’s “like a graffiti tag.” He has no idea how to identify the person from a signature, but fortunately, he’s contacted someone at M.I.T. who might be able to. Chloe bursts in, as she does: “Pack your bags. We’re going to Rio!” (Abe chuckles: “I love this job!”) Seems Rio, the setting for the 1984 cheesy Michael Caine rom-com Blame it on Rio, has a bit of a bat problem at the moment—and as we saw in Japan and Antarctica in previous weeks, that means all kinds of trouble.
But WAIT. Mitch’s buddy from MIT is on the line, and he’s got a bombshell bit of info: the dude who made the bacteria’s name is LEO BUTLER and he used to work for EVIL REIDEN GLOBAL. That’s why we gotta BLAME IT ON LEO! (Get the pun yet?)
Ahem. Jackson and Jamie, who is thrilled that her Reiden obsession is finally bearing fruit, stay behind to find this Mr. Butler, while everyone else heads to Brazil, “entertained” along the way by Mitch and his tablet full o’ illustrated bat facts. When they arrive, they see how bad the bat problem really is, thanks to swirls of CGI black dots swirling through the lower atmosphere. “It’s worse than we thought,” Mitch deduces, though it’s hard to imagine the group’s not prepared for all manner of crazy at this point.
Just as Jamie is downloading all of her info on Butler (gleaned from “bloggers, hacktivists, people under the stairs;” the short of it is that the ex-Reiden employee has turned on the company and is blackmailing them for money he then sends to those who’ve suffered from Reiden poisons he helped invent) into Jackson’s eager brain, there’s a knock. It’s Agent Shafer, who’s tracked them down with help from Chloe (whom he assured he’d keep in the loop on the Evan Lee manhunt) and ... the FBI’s cyber crime division, which has tracked ill-gotten documents from Reiden Global to Jamie’s e-mail. His subterfuge game is tight.
Before we get out on a speedboat in Alabama with this fun trio, though, we get a glimpse of one animal that hasn’t gone bad ... at least, not yet: a service dog that warns a young girl she’s about to have a seizure. As the episode progresses, the dog runs out of its yard and is hit by a car, and the little girl’s parents worry about paying for its recovery. But the woman flat-out refuses to entertain any talk of calling the girl’s long-absent father for help. (Who’s the little girl? Well, which character on this show has a daughter that he’s reluctant to talk about? Mmm-hmm.)
Then, we’re speeding through a swamp; Agent Shafer, who’s helped track down Butler, is planning to arrest the team’s best/only lead for the crime of blackmailing Reiden. Jackson pleads for 15 minutes before the guy’s put in cuffs; Butler could be their best/only chance to find out what can be done to stop the animal attacks. Shafer scoffs ...
... As does Chloe’s connect in Rio, who’d sure like to know why the French government has taken such a keen-yet-secret interest in all these animal attacks. (You know, I’ve been wondering that myself. Who’s funding this top-secret operation, and why? Still got eight eps to go, and no doubt that’ll be explored.) Anyway, the team learns that the tentative plan is to wipe out all the Rio bats with a chemical that will also unfortunately harm everything else in its path; before that happens, though, Chloe, Mitch, and Abe will have a chance to puzzle over the creatures’ strange behavior. For instance: why, exactly, are they clustered over one specific part of town? What’s the endgame there?
“Come to Rio, jewel of South America,” Mitch mutters wryly as they stroll beneath a terrifying number of you-know-whats; he’s got a Tupperware (??) clutched in his hand to use as a bat conveyance. But the bats simply won’t be plucked for study; nah, they’re just gonna descend en masse on the nearest jerry-rigged power source and blow out all the electricity in the neighborhood. And, in turn, they’re gonna make the trio of human outsiders the target of the rough block’s heavily-armed gangster contingent while they’re at it, too, though Abe’s street smarts (and wallet full o’ cash) get them out of that bind, thankfully. Mitch scoops up a dead bat for further study.
Back at Leo Butler’s hideout, where he lives each day fearing that Reiden will track him down and execute him, and which has a giant cage for some reason, the freaked-out young chemist sputters that he doesn’t know who Robert Oz is, or Evan Lee for that matter (whose Bible-scrawl of his name he dubs “suitably eerie”. Yep, gonna go ahead and agree with you there, Leo.) He refuses to tell them anything about Reiden until Jamie volunteers she’s from one of the poisoned Louisiana towns he’s helped, via one of his “donations.” He softens, and though Agent Shafer almost ruins everything by calling him “Loopy Leo” and announcing he’ll be taking him to jail, he does end up sharing some important information.
The bacteria he invented couldn’t have changed the wolves’ behavior, he says, because the problem goes deeper than that. The reason Reiden is so successful, he reveals, is because it has a superior vector. (“A vector is a DNA molecule used to manipulate cellular material on a genetic level ... it means they have a molecule that allows them to be faster, better, and cheaper,” he explains to Agent Shafter, who’s standing in for all the science-challenged viewers at home. Thanks, dude.)
So they call this mysterious and powerful vector THE MOTHER CELL, and by the time Reiden realized how destructive it was, it was too late; they’d invested too much dough to back out. And it’s in every single one of their products. It’s everywhere, Leo intones. And it can’t be stopped.
Leo agrees to retrieve his personal Mother Cell stash if Jamie will accompany him, so they speed off into the night. (It takes Shafer, who’s more capable at secret agent-ing than he prefers to let on, like 30 seconds to hack into the guy’s computer, triangulate his GPS, and see where they went.)
In the hotel in Rio, Abe is once again yet the only person on this show interested in having any sort of cultural experience while traveling around the world. While he’s out getting a snack, Chloe becomes the latest person on Zoo to ask Mitch how he got to be such a prickly pear, because this is the kind of show that can’t just let a character be a sarcastic jerk, it has to make sure everyone else comments on it, too, just in case viewers haven’t yet caught on. (More evidence that this show doesn’t have much faith in the intelligence of its audience.) Anyway, personal chatter ends when Mitch pokes the “dead” bat, which has something abnormal about its eyes, and it screeches back to life.
Chloe and Jackson connect via cell phone to update each other on their progress, but as soon as the small talk ends and Chloe asks if he’s found Leo Butler, a bat that’s just sorta been casually hanging out nearby swoops down and attacks her phone. Instead of continuing what was shaping up to be a pretty crucial conversation indoors, she hangs up, runs back inside, and asks Mitch and Abe if it’s possible the bats are attracted to technology. Mitch offers up yet another lesson for viewers, explaining what the “trophic scale” is: an index of where every animal falls on the food chain. Humans aren’t very high, but we behave like we are, because we have 1) the ability to reason and 2) technology. Chloe wonders if the bats have realized they can knock people down even more pegs by taking out their tech. Abe shakes his head: “Whether they know it or not, this mission of our just got a lot less amusing.”
Gonna disagree with ya, Abe. While the Rio team comes up with a wacky scheme to use the cellular antenna in the favela ... yeah, the place where they were just threatened by machine gun-toting tough guys ... to test their technology theory, Jamie journeys with wild-eyed Leo to the darkened swamp, where he’s hidden the Mother Cell.
Yep, none of this is gonna end well. Chloe and Mitch travel back to the exact spot where they encountered the gangsters before, while Abe (the only team member who speaks “gangster”) steals a truck for getaway purposes. Naturally, the same group of thugs appears, and responds to Mitch’s reassurance that they’re simply there to help with the bat problem ... by clobbering him with a (baseball) bat.
And just as Leo and Jamie are starting to become pals, he realizes that the GPS on his cell phone has been turned on, and he starts yelling that she’s tricked him. But before his paranoia causes Jamie harm, something else does ... a bright light that smashes into the car. In the aftermath of the accident, a grinning face: EVAN LEE, who plucks the mother cell from the smashed front seat and saunters off into the night. Ohhhh boy. That is NOT GOOD.
Oh, and that little girl? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s Mitch’s daughter, Clementine. The camera lingers on a snapshot of Mitch holding Clem’s dog as a puppy, then pulls over to show a medicine bottle, clearly marked with an “R” for Reiden Global. The dog has a broken leg but is going to be OK ... as long as it takes its medicine. Dun-dun-dunnnn!