On the surface, the addition of Dr Sun Mei (played by Sydney Viengluang) to the main cast of Syfy’s post-apocalyptic zombie TV series Z Nation in episode 3 of season 3 (“A New Mission”) seemed like a positive step for Asian American representation on TV.
Prior to this, the only Asian character in the series’ main cast was the hypersexualized and subservient Cassandra, who was played by Cambodian-American actress Pisay Pao. Cassandra’s role prior to the zombie apocalypse is unknown, but before joining the Westward-bound survivor group she served as a ‘lure’ for a rival survivor group, attracting other male survivors with the promise of sex and then incapacitating them so that they can be robbed and cannibalized.
While Sydney Viengluang is Laotian-American, her character, Dr Sun Mei, is ‘pan-Asian’: ‘A virologist from Laos, trained in Beijing’. At the beginning of the episode, her team of 5 Chinese male soldiers incapacitate the core members of the Operation Bitemark gang: Lt. Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith); Addison “Addy” Carver (Anastasia Baranova); Doc (Russell Hodgkinson); Hector “Escorpion” Alvarez (Emilio Rivera).
She reveals that the “the best scientists and leaders from all over Asia”, now secluded in the Forbidden City, have failed to develop a vaccine. Her team has thus been sent to the United States to harvest antibodies and platelets from ‘the Murphy’ (a human-zombie hybrid who is immune to the zombie virus as a result of a scientific experiment) to develop a cure for the zombie virus.
Sun Mei’s 5-man team from Beijing prove to be coordinated and competent, demonstrating skilled marksmanship and high-tech weaponry like the ‘Anti-Zombie Grenade’, which uses multiple green lasers to take out several zombies at once. After establishing a truce with the Operation Bitemark members in the process of defending themselves from several zombies, they all head to the supplies that have been parachuted by Dr Sun Mei’s aircraft.
Naturally, the trail to the supply drop is littered with multiple zombies. And in the tradition of semi-anonymous Asian men getting killed off on-screen, all five male troop members are taken out when the Enders (insane, starving and feral humans) fling their ‘Anti-Zombie Grenade’ back at them.
While everyone else has fast-enough reflexes to duck, four of them are killed immediately. Lt. Mong manages to duck, taking the nail-like projectile in his chest instead of his forehead.
Lt. Mong does not survive long, however. After being mauled by a large zombie, Dr Sun Mei is forced to kill him off via gunshot.
Dr Sun Mei: I have failed. My ancestors will never know peace.
Dr Sun Mei: Why? I don’t deserve to live, when my failure have caused so many to die. My mission is over.
Roberta: Okay. Your mission failed. Fine. Get up. You’re part of my mission now.
Dr Sun Mei: What about the Murphy?
Roberta: We’re going to find Murphy. And when we do, you’re going to use his blood to make a vaccine to save this sorry-ass world. You’re my scientist now.
While Dr Sun Mei is a generally positive representation of a female Asian character in the series – especially when compared to the hypersexualized and subservient Cassandra – her ‘pan-Asian’ character is initially presented as conforming to rather one-dimensional and stereotypical notions of ancestor worship and collectivism. The abrupt way in which she loses her agency and original mission is also discouraging.
Z Nation was renewed for a 13-episode fourth season last November – one can only hope that there are plans to fill in the void of Asian male representation in a zombie TV series after the death of Steven Yuen’s Glenn on Walking Dead.
CATEGORY OF OFFENSE: Denigration ( Asians are Not Leaders)
MEDIA TYPE: TX Show
OFFENSE DATE: January 1, 2016