Channel Zero season 3, episode 6: Debt collection

CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "Sacrifice Zone" Episode 206 -- Pictured: Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods -- (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from the NBCUniversal Media Room)
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "Sacrifice Zone" Episode 206 -- Pictured: Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods -- (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from the NBCUniversal Media Room) /

The finale of Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block was boundary-pushing, majestic and surprisingly life-affirming.

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Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block was different from the series’ preceding two seasons in a few different ways. It was set in an urban environment, featured considerably more gore than in prior years and had a rather notable political subtext. It was the show’s best season to date, improving on its previous iterations in terms of directing, writing, acting, scoring and editing. And while the show was never a standard television horror series in a traditional sense, Butcher’s Block felt more like an unforgettable independent horror film than something that airs on weekly basic cable. This was the season in which Channel Zero stopping being a really, really good TV show and became one that is truly great.

“Sacrifice Zone” began with battle lines being drawn. Izzy (Linden Porco) made her way to Louise’s (Kirsha Fairchild) and Alice (Olivia Luccardi) arrived soon afterward to tell everyone that the Peaches would be coming for the child. Zoe (Holland Roden) refused but Joseph (Rutger Hauer) and his remaining offspring took her anyway. The Peaches prepared Izzy for their god, but moments before it arrived, she was spirited away. Displeased with the lack of an offering, God annihilated the Peaches and irrevocably shattered Alice’s mind. A year later, Luke (Brandon Scott), Zoe, Izzy, and Louise live together in reality and in harmony while Alice was with her mother, lost in an asylum.

Syfy, Channel Zero
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER’S BLOCK — “Sacrifice Zone” Episode 206 — Pictured: Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods — (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from the NBCUniversal Media Room) /

As if we were only mouths to feed

I imagine that in today’s rapidly moving, intensely scrutinized TV landscape, it must be incredibly difficult to craft a satisfying series finale. On the one hand, showrunners must want to bring their stories to an end in way rewards the audience for their investment in the work, but not in a way that’s too predictable. There’s probably also an awareness that if you end your story with too much ambiguity, the audience might turn on you in the belief that you wasted their time on a story that never had a definitive ending. Especially since the internet has greatly accelerated the cycle in which media is consumed, discussed and discarded. Taken together, those two elements must make genuine artistic expression via television exceedingly difficult.

I make this observation because of my legitimate astonishment that Channel Zero creator Nick Antosca, his co-writers Harley Peyton and Angela LaManna, director Arkasha Stevenson gave Butcher’s Block an ending that was unexpected, inevitable, and satisfying. It was unexpected in how quiet and inspirational it was. Given the amount of graphic violent present in the season, I expected an explosive confrontation between the people of Butcher’s Block and the Peach family. Instead, the Peaches easily overpowered Louise’s group and God easily destroyed the Peaches. Ultimately though, this was the right way to go. As the episodes preceding that finale set the stage for divine intervention, a big gunfight wouldn’t’ve felt right.

Another thing I didn’t expect was for most of this season’s protagonists to make it out alive. With horror stories, you can’t expect good people to win out in the end and Channel Zero is particularly good at killing characters when you least expect it. But most everybody survived contact with the great and terrible this year. That’s not to say they were left unscathed; Luke lost his father, Izzy lost her mother, Zoe lost Alice and Alice lost everything. But as this episode’s concluding scenes showed, in a world dictated by forces of unimaginable power and cruelty, being able to share a meal with people you care about is a transcendent victory.

Syfy, Channel Zero
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER’S BLOCK — “Sacrifice Zone” Episode 206 — Pictured: (l-r) Krisha Fairchild as Louise Lispector, Annelise Pollman as Izzy — (Photo by: Allen Fraser/Syfy, Acquired from the NBCUniversal Media Room) /

I know no matter what you say

Another thing I hoped for with Butcher’s Block but didn’t necessarily expect was for it to bring all of its themes together in a satisfying fashion. And I’m grateful and surprised that it did.  My trepidation didn’t come from doubting the show’s ability to tell an ambitious story but rather from the difficulty of the themes it chose to tackle. In addition to its series-long concerns with nostalgia and familial obligation, this season also dealt with economic insecurity and mental illness with bracing directness. When dealing with topics that affect so many people so personally, it’s easy to get things wrong. But Channel Zero’s creators really stuck the landing.

The Peach family acted as fine avatars for the worst excesses of capitalism. Their rapaciousness and utter lack of empathy led them to turn Butcher’s Block into a sacrifice zone, an area that had been permanently damaged by economic forces. After the Peach meatpacking plant closed, the area financial devastated. Its wealthiest family then spent years literally feeding off on those residents who had been too poor to escape. As a result, the city became haunted, literally by the cannibalistic Peaches and metaphorically by the sense of purpose that died with its former economic engine. While Peaches were dispatched at the end the finale, the fact that real life sacrifice zones are becoming increasingly prevalent in this country gave this season a chilling undertone that even providence couldn’t banish.

The program took a similarly multifaceted approach to mental illness. Even though Zoe and Alice were offered a cure for their schizophrenia, but it proved to be worse than the disease. Though she initially fell for Joseph’s sales pitch, Zoe found that she would rather cut herself to shreds rather than slice into another else. Conversely, the tragically overburdened Alice succumbed to temptation and was damned as a result. In the end, she failed to realize that her illness was a much a part of as her lungs and that she couldn’t truly live without either. I can understand why some might find the notion bringing a very real illness into the realm of the fantastic, but I can’t think of another piece of media that has dealt with mental illness with the same clarity and insight as Butcher’s Block.

There are some debts you’ll never pay    

Just as the modern era presents new challenges for creators, it has created new hurdles for those who analyze and comment on media. With the sheer glut of content now available, it’s difficult if not impossible to give everything that looks interesting the time and attention it deserves.

And as the television medium has become increasingly stratified, more and more creators are producing complex, idiomatic shows that more accurately meet the definition of art rather than entertainment. As a result, I think critics can have a tendency to be overly conservative with their praise for fear of commending works that evoke a profound response in the moment but feels less significant in retrospect. But in doing so, I believe we risk letting the truly extraordinary get lost in the shuffle.

To that end, I want to state that Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block is truly extraordinary. It exists in that liminal space between film and television that other recent series like Twin Peaks: The Return, The Girlfriend Experience and The Young Pope occupy. It’s thematically rich, visually and aurally stunning and phenomenally well-acted. And it’s legitimately terrifying, both existentially and viscerally. It’s immensely satisfying as both a six-episode series and in discrete 40+ minute chunks. “Sacrifice Zone” alone produced a half-dozen moments that if they appeared in a movie, would land it a place on a slew of critics’ top ten lists.

Next: Channel Zero season 3, episode 5 recap: Answered prayers

My hope is that in the future writers, directors, actors, editors, cinematographers and musicians who want to work only in film will see Butcher’s Block and understand that it is now possible to produce the kind of indelible work that is more commonly associated with cinema on TV. And that anyone reading this that hasn’t seen the series will do now via Syfy’s website, Amazon or iTunes. Because this show is genuinely great and unlikely anything else on TV and it deserves your time and attention.

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block airs on Syfy Wednesdays at 10 pm.