I have just started watching the second season of Zoo. This Netflix series has an interesting premise – what if animals would band together to take revenge of millennia of domination and destruction by mankind? With not-too-bad special effects, the first season was interesting enough to follow up to the end. The only problem is a very bad scientific basis.
The “scientific” reasons behind the animal rebellion in the series is a certain mutation that, like Marvel’s X-factor, gives superpowers to animals: among other things, they now can communicate telepathically with one another and also think and plot with human-like intelligence.
Too be honest, most shows (and also most people) get evolution wrong. It’s understandable as people associate the word ‘evolution’ with getting better somehow, which is not true. Evolution is not about getting better, but about getting more able to survive in a certain environment. No wonder Wallace (the co-discoverer of the process) preferred the term ‘survival of the fittest’. Of course ‘evolution’ is catchier – from a marketing point of view.
Mutations are little mistakes when DNA is copied from one generation to another. It works like a poem being printed many times. Once in a while, there’s a typo. Most typos will make the poem worse, but it might happen that a certain mistake will actually change a certain word that will make it more beautiful. However, it might also make it less beautiful, but funnier and, then, more commercial. The latter mutation does not make the poem ‘better’ in a aesthetic sense, but makes it more adapted to survive the editorial market. However, small typos won’t change a poem overnight to an epic novel. That might happen, but would take, as evolution usually does, thousands of years.
So, a single mutation would not bring about all those wonderful features portrayed in Zoo. It is also very unlikely that it would affect all animals except humans. Including insects. There is nothing fundamentally different in humans, except our way of thinking, but that hardly would influence a mutation. I can excuse the fact that the mutation spreads by thinking about it as being transmitted by cells or viruses, but why they avoid only humans is strange. Still, I was waiting for some explanation and keeping an open mind.
Just one more observation about the mutation: where do you put the line? I mean, why can’t the mutation affect also bacteria or protozoans? Because they don’t have a nervous system, maybe? But then it should affect also worms, especially human parasites. The final answer is, of course, artistic licence.
So, I gave it a chance and, in the beginning of season 2, it seems that the “mutation” actually spreads to human. However, they start to talk about some “level 2 mutation”. Okay, whatever that means in the series, that is far from actual science. There is no such a thing as a level 2 mutation, because there are no levels of mutations. Mutations are random. When gene changes are not, they are genetic engineering, not mutations. And then finally I gave up. The science became too weird to forgive. It’s a pity, as I really liked the central idea. I understand that writers like freedom, but once you decide to give scientific explanations to fantasy, you give up some of that freedom, at least a bit.