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When forever love means forever on Santa Clarita Diet

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May 9, 2019

"‘Til death do us part" marriage vows and the notion of spending an eternity together takes on a whole new meaning when immortality comes into play, particularly when only one half of the couple is still human. Loving someone in the regular world is a concept that has an expiration date; it can feel like forever and also live on after someone has died in numerous ways, but there is a reason why these traditional vows have a death disclaimer.

Dynamics change when supernatural transformations are thrown into the mix, which leads to an inevitable talk about what the future means when one person's lifespan could be infinite. In Season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet, Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore) grapple with what her undead status means for their long-term plans and what the next step might entail. There isn’t exactly a wealth of self-help or instructional material discussing what to do if one half of a couple is never going to get old and die. They are pretty much on their own here.  

Spoilers ahead for Season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet

Santa Clarita Diet

Credit: Netflix 

It has only been a month since Sheila became a zombie; so far the Hammonds have survived everything that has been thrown at them including Knights of Serbia, suspicious neighbors, Nazis, and pervy co-workers. This has been an adjustment period for the couple — who have been together since high school — as they are learning to navigate a world in which Sheila’s diet has changed drastically and danger lurks at every corner. One of those dangers is Sheila herself, as she is experiencing new impulse control issues relating to her id being in command. Joel has shown he will do anything for his wife including being an accessory to her crimes and dealing with some very grizzly scenes. But will he be like Meatloaf? Will he do anything for love, but maybe not that?

The “that” in question is whether Joel can commit to Sheila for longer than the average marriage because what happens if forever truly means forever? In the second episode of Season 3, Shelia becomes aware of her immortality; spinning her into an existential crisis. Sheila raises the question of Joel becoming a zombie in “We Let People Die Every Day,” a point of contention that threads its way throughout this season. Joel’s concern is the immediate dangers stacking up against them, for Shelia, the notion of living for eternity is weighing on her mind. Compromise is a cornerstone of any successful relationship, but what is the compromise when one side is forever and the other is... not? 

Santa Clarita Diet

Credit: Netflix 

Santa Clarita Diet is far from the first television show or movie to explore this particular relationship challenge as plenty of vampires, zombies, deities, and werewolves have been through this predicament. But what makes Joel and Sheila’s situation less than typical is the change occurred after their union. This is not a lusty teen hook-up that turns into something all-consuming (although it should be noted that Shelia's transformation does lead to excellent sex).

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, the central couple fall in love when one half is human, which poses a different set of topics to negotiate. Children or what becomes of the ability to have children is not an issue for Joel and Sheila as they already have Abby (Liv Hewson). This isn’t a fling or a relationship with a short span, of course, they could still split up (anyone can) but they have put the years in and have a pretty good idea about who they are — both together and as individuals.

Age difference is often an issue, but Sheila and Joel don’t have this problem. Or at least they didn’t; now Sheila’s body is frozen in time, whereas Joel continues to age. Their life experience is the same and they have successfully navigated marriage, business, and raising a child together. Sheila becoming a zombie was not part of their plan, nevertheless, despite many hurdles, they are also becoming relatively adept at factors related to the undead.

Santa Clarita Diet

Credit: Netflix

Sheila didn’t get a choice in her zombie transformation, there was no weighing up the pros and cons. Instead, it was something that happened to her when she ate clams infected with the zombie virus from Japopo's. Joel doesn’t get the same "luxury" with Sheila’s proposal; if he says no, then he is essentially rejecting not only his wife, but the person she has become. He can stall for time because they have other pressing concerns — however, this is a question that needs answering. It is only going to eat away (no pun intended) at what is one of the most functional marriages on television.

Santa Clarita Diet

Credit: Netflix 

One major concern for Joel is his id, or rather what the zombie virus will do to his id. Shelia gained confidence, but he has witnessed the extremes other people have gone to after this change. Sheila thinks this is a convenient excuse, pointing out Joel's commitment issue track record; he freaked out about marriage and having children too, this is just another example in a long line of him getting cold feet. Having kids and getting married is forever bonding, but becoming a zombie with the potential of living for over 1000 years is painting a picture so vast, it is hard to comprehend the enormity of it all. Not to mention how much Joel loves food. There will be no more Soup ‘N Salad ‘N Such, instead, it will be ears for a snack. His wife is potentially going to face eternity by herself, Joel’s eating habits might be a low priority.

Love or rather the reasons why we are capable of love is high on Joel's list of concerns. In the season finale, “The Cult of Sheila,” he posits, “What if love is only possible because life is fleeting? That knowing it’s going to end is the reason why people cling to each other.” Sheila takes this personally, suggesting his issue with becoming a zombie is because he has doubts about them as a couple. Joel tries to clarify his point by mentioning that maybe unconditional love and the certainty of death are inextricably linked; maybe you can’t have one without the other. Joel seems to be forgetting the undead can still die. 

Santa Clarita Diet

Credit: Netflix 

As this is a working theory, Joel gets to put it to the test with a firsthand near-death experience. This is enough to convince him that a life without Sheila isn’t a life; never seeing her again is far more terrifying than becoming undead, he tells her, “I never want to live or die without you.” He doesn’t even care that a peaceful death is out of the question when you are a zombie, there is no falling asleep surrounded by loved ones, only a violent end. The idea is to wait until Abby goes to college before Joel becomes a zombie, however, nothing ever goes according to plan for this family. Circumstances always conspire against them and this time that circumstance has eight legs. Sheila’s Mr. Ball Legs climbs into Joel's ear (and likely his brain), which means Sheila has to act fast.

Joel did consent to this particular course of action, the schedule just got bumped up. The cruelest blow, however, comes from Netflix as the streaming platform chose not to renew Santa Clarita Diet for a fourth season. Not only is this disappointing considering the (now) final episode cliffhanger, but as well as being funny af, it is also one of the best portrayals of marriage and family on television. Timothy Olyphant was already delightfully skittish as Joel, so it is a shame we will never get to see what being undead would bring to this performance. Joel’s philosophizing on love was about to get put to the test; death did not part them, it kept them together. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the show.     

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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