CBS’s Zoo—about a team of globe-trotting experts battling a catastrophic animal uprising and its aftermath—might be the most insane show on network TV, and it’s only gotten crazier in its current third season. Here are Zoo’s most WTF moments... so far.
Look, we’re telling you there are spoilers. But, that said, this show is so gloriously weird and off-the-wall nuts that, even if you hadn’t watched Zoo, you should read this list and see what you have been missing.
Biologist turned psycho Evan Lee Hartley stabs an entire hunting party to death because the animals told him to—not exactly a defense that holds up in a court of law, especially since at this point in the show, nearly everyone is still in denial that something funky is going on with the world’s animals. Luckily for Evan Lee, he’s sprung from prison by a pack of helpful/vicious wolves, who rip out the throats of guards and prisoners alike, and set the place on fire for good measure.
Imagine this scenario: home from a long day at work, you pour yourself a glass of wine and start preparing a meal, until... BEAR! BEAR IN THE KITCHEN! And, by the way, you don’t live in a cabin in the mountains. No, you live in a très chic apartment in the middle of Paris. Where the hell did that bear even come from? We learn more in the next episode, but Zoo is totally fine with letting the bizarre encounter weave throughout this episode without any explanation.
This episode has more horror-movie elements than usual, as the team pokes around in an abandoned hotel looking for rats that have developed a taste for human flesh. There are homages to Jaws, The Shining, Willard, and The Thing, as well as the absolutely bonkers sight of a “rat queen,” the giant rodent equivalent of a queen bee that can only be exterminated using a flamethrower backpack. Zoo loves to acknowledge its influences—other season one episodes wink at movies like The Birds and Deep Blue Sea—but the hat tips in the rat episode are by far the best.
Season one of Zoo always kept one foot in the real world. But in season two, which picks up a year after the animal uprising began, the show began to truly embrace its batshit craziness. While the world’s governments plot mass animal murder (with an iffy plan for rebirth) via the poison gas-dropping “Noah Initiative,” the Zoo team becomes ever-more obsessed with finding a cure, a quest that gets them into many, many tight spots. Like, say, battling the world’s first human mutant—or having to outrun a very pissed-off stampeding elephant and drive into the cargo hold of a plane as it’s about to take off. Classic.
The Zoo crew’s crucial government ally, Eleanor, meets a horrible end in her Geneva hotel room when she’s scorched from within by a horde of electrified ants. This is a highly unpleasant way to die, but these very determined Swiss ants have a much bigger plan in mind: making the nearby Large Hadron Collider go boom. In thwarting that attack, a Zoo crew member accidentally swallows one of the little buggers (how? it’s Zoo, that’s how), so everyone else rigs up a DIY electric chair of sorts to zap the ant before it can zap her first.
In the world of Zoo, there’s a cute li’l sloth capable of emitting a potent sound that’s just the right frequency to cause earthquakes. (Note: specific animals that are mixed up in the rage-causing mutation have a genetic code that causes environmental disturbances; we also meet jellyfish that can cause hurricanes, a lizard that stays frozen in Miami, and a big cat that can make an island expand its land mass, among others. As with all things Zoo, you must accept this at face value and move on.) Somehow, this turns into the team crawling through tunnels carved by cunningly coordinated teams of moles—only to come face-to-face with the snapping jaws of an alligator, because of course there’s also an angry alligator roaming around for no apparent reason.
“Hi! I’m a snake who seems to have lost its way, popping out of this otherwise kindly character’s windpipe to provide Zoo’s most terrifying image to date!”
The show’s uncharacteristically tedious “lost in the woods” subplot finally pays off when wayward Zoo team member Jamie Campbell finally stumbles her way to civilization—only to realize the seemingly nice people who’ve taken her in plan to sacrifice her to the local bears as part of their weird, Wicker Man-ish protection ritual.
Though this episode contains an extremely creepy-crawly sequence in which the team battles a barrage of highly venomous spiders (after striking a deal with a sleazy “venom dealer,” as you do), its most shocking moment comes at the very end. Zoo team member Jackson Oz’s father, Dr. Robert Oz—a brilliant-yet-mad scientist who had a big hand in the animal uprising, and whom everyone believes committed suicide two years ago—is alive. ALIIIIIVE! And he’s been working up some even weirder science in his absence.
Soon after we learn that Jackson’s dad has been continuing his morally murky research after faking his death, we learn the fate of Jackson’s mother: she’s become a bloodthirsty mutant. Though Zoo first showed us a human mutant in season two’s second episode, this instance is far more sinister, foreshadowing what’ll also happen to Jackson unless the team can find a way to cure him. Also, the show makes the (formerly kindly) Dr. Elizabeth Oz look and act way scarier than the dude we met in episode two. She’s basically a superhuman zombie, with apex predator vibes so powerful that entire prides of lions sprint to get out of her way.
In which Zoo crew members Abraham Kenyatta and Mitch Morgan track down the increasingly erratic Jackson, by, uh, speeding the way they think he went and making hairpin turns based on the directional squawks of a freaked-out pet canary. “He’s trying to fly left, so... we’ll go right!” Does it work? Of course it does. It’s Zoo.
At this point in the show, rogue animal attacks have become pretty uncommon as humankind has gotten wiser about what it’s up against. But all bets are off when a sinister military leader needs to sabotage a crucial vote by unleashing a furious beast that’s only slightly smaller than King Kong.
Logan—the sorta-hottie that Jamie meets in the wilderness, who is actually a back-stabbing mercenary targeting the Zoo crew, and who survives falling out of a plane before redeeming himself in the end—isn’t really named Logan, but he calls himself that because he’s obsessed with Wolverine. (You just know that a Zoo writer somewhere was like, “Get it? Because Wolverine is a mutant!” and everyone thought that was a terribly clever idea.)
In the exposition-heavy season finale, the team endures some massive ups and downs. Mostly downs. Though they’ve managed to formulate a cure (saving Jackson from his mother’s fate), they fail to prevent the Noah Initiative gas from being released. The cure saves the beasts from mass extinction just in time, but there are still a pair of “fuck yous” from beyond the grave from Dr. Robert Oz—who’s really dead this time—and his scientific posse, known as the Shepherds. First, they’ve created a population of hulking, venomous hybrid animals seemingly bred only to kill humans. And also... thanks to that gas, humankind is now infertile.
We learned at the very end of season two that Zoo’s sarcastic scientist (and, let’s face it, best character) Mitch may have survived the hybrid attack he suffered while being a hero and saving the rest of the team amid all that Noah Initiative crap. In this episode—which picks up right where season two left off, 10 years into a dystopian future where regular animals are normal again, but no human babies are born and hybrids have infiltrated North America—we get proof. He’s alive, but barely, and his circumstances are rather grim: he’s in Siberia floating in a stasis tank, covered in scars, and rocking a seriously epic beard.
Turns out the brave new terrifying world still has a place for biotech company Reiden Global, the key foe of season one, which somehow made it through the PR disaster of nearly causing the apocalypse. And it hasn’t gotten any less evil over the past decade; its latest scheme involves trying to cure the world’s fertility crisis by rounding up the few remaining children—including Abe’s son, Isaac, one of the last babies born in the wake of the mass sterilization. What is Reiden gonna do to the kids? It’s safe to say nothing good.
After he’s rescued by his now-adult daughter Clementine and his sorta-flame Jamie, Mitch can tell something’s not right in his head—so he guides the women through a little in-flight DIY brain surgery. (A power drill is involved.) Things get even freakier when they discover he’s got a “bio-drive” implanted in his grey matter. Even working at a diminished capacity, Mitch is immediately ready for what’s next: “Land the plane, and I need you to get me four items: a car battery, some commercial-grade velcro, lollipops, and a pig.” Unfortunately, they learn that removing the drive will erase Mitch’s memory... but leaving it in will eventually kill him.
The season three big bad is Abigail, the sister Jackson never knew he had. Sure. She inherited all of Dr. Robert Oz’s fuck-humankind tendencies, with an extra helping of violence; we learn she’s the diabolical terrorist who’s been setting off not only bombs, but also beacons that attract slaughter-happy hybrids to populated areas. When confronted by Mitch as she’s about to summon a hoard of flying monsters (which are, by the by, capable of creating exploding volcanoes) to the middle of New York City, they have this exchange:
Abigail: “You’re bound by the edicts of the old order, but I’m going beyond. Beyond the constraints of this planet, beyond the regime of humanity, beyond the concept of life as you understand it. I’m going to create a new world, and I’m bringing my hybrids with me.”
Mitch: “So, you’re like an evil queen in a cartoon movie.”
Pretty much, Mitch. Pretty much.
The most recent episode saw Jamie’s secret prisoner escape from his cell on the Zoo team’s plane and run to the cargo bay, where he has the very bad fortune to hide in the exact vehicle that the team decides they need to fling into one of those hybrid-created volcanos. (It’s... a long story.) This could be the craziest thing that has ever happened on Zoo, in an episode which also reveals yet another new kind of hybrid that can not only speak, but also psychically intuit Jackson’s name—but it’s only episode five. At this point, literally anything is possible.
Zoo airs Thursday nights on CBS.