This article contains major spoilers for the DMZ ending. You can check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.
HBO Max’s adaptation of the Vertigo comic DMZ is a mixed bag hampered by its miniseries format, but it also raises some interesting questions, toys with some worthwhile themes, and delivers a fair helping of twists, turns, and developments. As such, it’s worth unpacking and explaining to some extent, if not to explain what happened then at least why (beyond, of course, that the script simply needed it to.) So, let’s do that.
Naturally, major plot spoilers follow.
Anyway, the overarching premise is as follows. The Second American Civil War has divided the U.S. into the United States and the secessionist Free States of America, and right in the middle of the two sides is the island of Manhattan, which has become a lawless, isolated demilitarized zone to be squabbled over by various local factions and their self-appointed leaders. After eight years of relative chaos in which the strong and ruthless have risen to the top while the disenfranchised have fallen further and further into a state of ruin, the DMZ is due to host its first gubernatorial election between Wilson, a candidate flush with gold bullion operating out of Chinatown and pushing for a free-for-all system of governance completely devoid of traditional bureaucracy, and Parco Delgado, a charismatic gang boss who wants to consolidate power within the Spanish Harlem Kings.
Our protagonist is Alma, a medic separated from her teenage son Christian during the original evacuation of New York City, who has returned to the DMZ to try and find him there after years of fruitless searching elsewhere. Quite by chance, she knows both Wilson and Parco personally – the former is someone she used to work with, and the latter is Christian’s father.
What this means (all of the major twists come in the first episode and were predictable) is that Parco’s much-feared right-hand man and enforcer, Skel, is Alma’s son. In the years since their separation, Christian/Skel reconnected with his father and morphed from a budding graffiti artist to a ruthless killer. He also doesn’t like his mother very much, claiming to have fled from her in the first place rather than being accidentally separated – he blamed her for his father’s incarceration after she told the police that he was in possession of illegal weapons, a fact she learned from Skel. Skel interpreted Alma being protective as her holding him back (teenagers, am I right?) and gravitated to his father and the potential power that he could offer to the Crown Prince of Spanish Harlem.
Once Alma realizes all this, she decides a change of tactics is in order. To “rescue” Skel, she also has to take down Parco, which means defeating him in the upcoming election. At first, she helps to endorse Wilson, but once he reveals his true colors, she instead runs for governor herself under the moniker of “Zee”, given to her by Odi, a street kid who talks to the imagined ghost of his dead grandfather and likes grilled cheese sandwiches.
In fairness, it’s really the support of Oona, the woman who controls the city’s water supply, that allows Alma to win the favor of the DMZ. It also helps that Parco digs his own grave by getting in bed with the U.S. Army in a misguided attempt at securing his own government by ending the ceasefire. This being a gross betrayal of the people Parco purportedly represents makes it easy to ruin his reputation, though he doesn’t go down without a fight.
DMZ ending explained
In amongst all this, Alma continues to try and undo Parco’s brainwashing of Skel by exposing his self-serving agenda and highlighting how he manipulates people in much the same manner as he has manipulated Skel over the years. This includes tricking Odi into delivering a bomb, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Skel. Eventually, and rather predictably, he decides to help Alma, which results in a bloody, topless fistfight with his father – a mirror of an earlier scene in which Parco won loyalty from a rival faction by having Skel fistfight its leader. Skel wins, and Parco is turned over to the authorities. Alma also secures Skel and his girlfriend safe passage out of the DMZ, but in a touching farewell, explains how she can’t go with them since she has found her new calling.
And what’s that calling? Well, Alma becomes the governor of the DMZ. With the U.S. Army having withdrawn after realizing it was no longer getting the foothold that Parco was offering, the place is free to govern itself under Alma’s leadership, with Odi, of all people, becoming its new voice.
You can stream DMZ exclusively on HBO Max. Do you have any thoughts about the DMZ ending? Let us know in the comments below.