How 'The Santa Clarita Diet' Turns Sheila's Zombie Life Into A Tool For Women's Empowerment
When it comes to revealing its big twist, The Santa Clarita Diet didn't waste much time. In fact, revealing that The Santa Clarita Diet protagonist Sheila is a zombie only takes one episode (the premiere) to do so. From there, the show focuses on primarily on how the Hammond family deals with Sheila's new lifestyle in sleepy suburbia. Keeping a low profile is easier said than done, especially when Sheila becomes an empowered female zombie, which totally subverts ingrained zombie tropes to brilliant effect.
What ends up happening — in showing Sheila not as a rotting corpse, but rather as a vibrant, renewed life force — is that The Santa Clarita Diet becomes a new kind of zombie tale. The show's ability to not demonize Sheila (at least not traditionally), to not pathologize her flesh-eating ways as some sort of psychological or emotional trauma manifesting itself, and to not make her the object of horror for her husband Joel and daughter Abby, is a huge step forward.
The Santa Clarita Diet goes one step further in suggesting that not only is living life as a functional zombie possible for Sheila (You can have sex! You can maintain friendships! You can have a successful career!), but it might actually be the one thing that saved her from imploding in on herself like a dying star. In short, becoming a zombie empowered Sheila to become the hero of her own story.
In the first episode, as Sheila and Joel prepare breakfast, she wistfully remarks that she wishes she could be at least 20-80 percent bolder, like Jennifer Lawrence. It's the show's shorthand for expressing her insecurities at the beginning of the show; by the end of Season 1, Sheila is unrecognizable in more than one way.
While we still don't know exactly how Sheila contracted the virus which turned her into a member of the living dead, we do know that she now feels freakin' fantastic and don't you dare try to bring her down. No way, no how. Unlike the zombies in George Romero films or The Walking Dead, Sheila is present in mind, body, and spirit. She sleeps for two hours a night. All that protein is equating to more energy and that means she can accomplish more in her life. Becoming a zombie not only made Sheila's life better, it made her a better version of herself — a version that was allowed to succeed, rule the roost, and make her into the woman she yearned to be.
Sheila is unlike any other zombie I've seen before. Perhaps the closest version would be those zombies in that Nicholas Hoult rom-com Warm Bodies, but even then Hoult's zombie protagonist is pretty ghoulish-looking. Sheila is the 2.0 version of herself. She's kicked the beta version she was testing out for the entirety of her life. To some extent, you could argue she was always meant to be a zombie because of how much it changes her life for the better.
In fact, this "Live your best life" phrase becomes a mantra she regularly throws at people. If she is feeling like her most empowered self — living in the moment, doing what she wants, eating what, ahem, who she wants, and so forth — then why shouldn't everyone else feel the same way? She's a motivational force her friends and family flock toward. She is truly a force to be reckoned with.
And sure, there's a bit of a fly in the ointment every time she needs to feed. But hey, we all have our burdens, right? The Santa Clarita Diet manages to subvert some of the most ingrained zombie stereotypes in order to tell the story of a woman whose life was made better by a monster virus. It's twisted, it's weird, and it's pretty damn wonderful.