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Gail returns and Melissa takes a road trip on a tense Last Man On Earth

“I’m starting to lose hope, bud.”

B+
B+

The Last Man On Earth

"Hair of the Dog"

Season 3 , Episode 12

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“Hair of the Dog” acutely focuses on two parallel stories: The aftermath of Gail’s return to the group following her escape from the elevator, and Tandy and Todd’s road trip to Melissa’s home town of Akron, Ohio to potentially help her recover from her mental break. Though credited writer Edward Voccola indulges in some patented Last Man On Earth silliness and exaggeration, both stories mostly stay grounded in the reality of the situation, a nice tonal continuation from last week’s stellar downer episode. Gail was trapped in a metal box for ten days with a gunshot wound, left to wonder if she will die alone. Melissa has almost completely detached from reality and has been quarantined for her own safety. For better and occasionally worse, “Hair of the Dog” stares down those dark truths and often doesn’t look away.

Though the weaker of the two, the Gail storyline is wholly sweet and warm, and aided by the most welcome return of Mary Steenburgen. When Gail hobbles her way back to the gang’s office building, everyone still assumes she’s been partying in Napa and they react the way one does when they haven’t seen a friend for a long time. Then, Gail informs them of her whereabouts and expresses gratitude for everyone she missed, even Tandy who inadvertently saved her life. Here’s the wrinkle: Carol has become especially skittish around Gail since she feels guilty for driving her away and doesn’t know how to control her classically uptight personality.

If there’s any one problem with the plot, it’s that Kristen Schaal’s heighted performance as Carol very quickly becomes repetitive. From the get-go, it’s clear that she’s overcompensating for her guilt and pretending she’s this relaxed, go-with-the-flow type person. So it grates when Schaal keeps going back to that well for as long as the plot dictates, a consistent problem with LMOE episodes in general. It’s an unusual sight mostly because Schaal has such a strong handle on her character and her performance is one of the most reliably effective elements of the series. Nevertheless, the heart-to-heart between Carol and Gail near the end ties a lot of the weak strands together, particularly when Gail admits that she missed all of Carol’s most annoying character traits. The whole “Gail adopts Carol because Carol just needs a mother and a grandmother for her impending child” arc never really washed for me, but it somewhat pays off with the absurd family photo scene.

The Melissa story is much more compact but it succeeds precisely because LMOE doesn’t deliver any of the answers one would expect from this sort of plotline. Todd’s admirable idea that a trip to Akron might shed some light on Melissa’s current condition sounds good in theory, but it’s much more thorny in practice. Melissa continues to lash out at Tandy on the ride down and refuses to tell either of them her address. When they arrive, she takes them to a random person’s house, and the next morning she takes off without a trace. Suddenly, Tandy and Todd are searching for a missing Melissa once again, but this time they also find snapshots of her past life, something that neither of them ever knew about.

The central tensions filters through Todd’s frustration and sadness that none of this new information helps their current situation. Melissa was a successful real estate agent. She minored in graphic design. She did missionary work in Uganda. She skydived. She owned a Pomeranian. Todd mourns that he didn’t seek this information out for himself but also that he might not get a chance to know Melissa ever again given her current mental state. “I’m starting to lose hope, bud,” Todd sadly tells Tandy, and his feelings aren’t assuaged by Melissa’s strange behavior the morning before they return home. She casually dresses in her old real estate blazer, pours not assuaged by Melissa casually dressing in her red real estate blazer, pours dog food for a dog that no longer exists, and takes an unknown pill from a pillbox. When Todd asks her what she took, she can’t answer. In other words, things aren’t going great and it’s not clear that they’ll turn around anytime soon.

The two stories this week neatly complement each other: One group member returns to the fold while another continues to alienate herself from everyone else. Gail, humbled by her experience, feels closer to the idiots with whom she has chosen to surround herself. Meanwhile, Melissa has regressed further, refusing or unable to accept the help and anxiety of her closest friends. On top of everything else, the gang might have a new friend lurking in the area as well. In LMOE, the world presents more and more challenges while the gang struggles to keep up, but in a post-virus landscape, viable options are few and far between, and the only people they can rely on are each other. The tension pervades but continues to take on new shapes each week.

Stray observations

  • I’m no genius, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Wiig’s character is the secret person hiding in the background of Carol’s photos.
  • Carol pops and locks for its therapeutic qualities.
  • Tandy falsely assumes that Melissa was adopted by a black family just because she brought them to a stranger’s house. “I mean, first of all, she’s dealing with the pain of adoption, and then they don’t let her into any of their family pictures. Brutal. Look what you made, you monsters!”
  • When they finally arrive at Melissa’s place, Tandy nods his head. “Whites.”
  • The bowling pin sight gag was a little half-baked. They’ve done better.
  • Todd breaking down when they find Melissa in her own home was a nice acting moment for Mel Rodriguez. Just a subtle moment of sincere emotion.
  • “By the way, my penis is way larger than 1/6 of an inch. Well, larger than 1/6 of an inch.”
  • “I never thought I was gonna see your idiot face again. Come in here, you turd.”