After Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidency to Donald Trump in 2016, certain corners of liberal Twitter were flooded with viral tweets and memes about how different the country would have been if a woman were running it. It’s difficult not to think about those scenarios while watching Y: The Last Man’s second episode, “Would The World Be Kind.” We’re now in a world (nearly) entirely without men. Women are in charge of everything: Jennifer Brown holds the presidency, she has a council of advisors, military leaders are trying to maintain order, scientists are trying to get the power back on. And there is a tricky question here: If women are now the only people still alive, does it matter that they are women? With the male/female binary removed, to what degree, and why, does that designation still exist?
When Y: The Last Man was running in comic book form, its writers grew to consider questions about gender identity over time as criticisms from the trans community rightfully received attention. But in TV series form, “Would The World Be Kind” jumps right in by introducing characters who are trans men and who are navigating how to live in this new world. There are considerations of identity and belonging that the series is using Sam to explore, and I think they are making Y: The Last Man a fuller, more well-rounded show. As showrunner Eliza Clark, who also wrote this episode, told Variety in August, “Gender is diverse and chromosomes are not equal to gender. And so, in our world—in the world of the television show—every living mammal with a Y chromosome dies. Tragically, that includes many women; it includes non-binary people; it includes intersex people. … We are making a show that affirms that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are non-binary, and that is part of the richness of the world we get to play with.”
I think “Would The World Be Kind” is beginning to communicate the wide tragedy of this event, and the confusion and uncertainty it raises. Jennifer and her team are doing the best they can, but things are still going very wrong. Paranoia and waterborne illnesses are spreading, and protestors are growing in number every day outside the White House. People are hungry, and suffering, and need help. So much is in flux, especially in fields or industries that were dominated by men. Can the survivors get the power grid back up, and keep it on? Can they avoid a nuclear meltdown? What relationships do the Americans still have with the rest of the world? And at the center of this all, Yorick. Why Yorick?
Like premiere episode “The Day Before,” “Would The World Be Kind” again jumps around with time as it cycles through its characters. If everyone was unhappy before the “Event,” well, things have only gotten worse! The episode begins with Agent 355/Sarah (who I’ll refer to as only Sarah moving forward, since that is what she requested of Jennifer), who tries to connect with her organization Culper Ring. On Day 8, she ventures to the middle of nowhere, opens PO Box 355, shimmies behind a secret door, and gains access to what seems to have been her personal handling team, all dead in their hidden office full of computer monitors, tracking devices, and files. The way she touched these men’s bodies, and arranged them on the floor with their arms crossed and their eyes closed, seemed melancholy and intimate. No one in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Omaha picks up, suggesting that perhaps Sarah is all that remains of the Culper Ring. (Unless there are other female agents whom she doesn’t know, of course.) And in that cardboard box, just a few ephemera in the form of knitting needles and yarn, a floral glass paperweight, a locket necklace—and a Massachusetts address. What, or who, is there?
While Sarah briefly looks toward the past before being sent by Jennifer to New York City to find Hero and bring her back to Washington, D.C., everyone else is already firmly in a future they can’t escape. Jennifer is now president, now knows who Sarah works for (although no one really seems to grasp what Culper Ring does), and is now unconcerned by trivial things like the security and the sanctity of the White House. Who cares if protestors overrun it? They’re in a time of rebuilding anyway. And when Y: The Last Man jumps forward to Day 63, it seems like two steps forward, one step back. After abandoning the White House, Jennifer has focused on providing emergency aid to survivors in big cities, but camps are rife with sickness. Militia groups and conspiracy theories about a biological weapon are gaining traction. And the evacuation plan for New York City, in which 80,000 people still are, becomes severely compressed because of rising water. One week to leave is now one day to leave, and people are growing frantic.
Maybe this could all be an opportunity for Kim, who lost her president father, her husband, and her four sons in the “Event” and is now responsible for caring for her scattered mother, former First Lady Marla (Paris Jefferson). Kim is still clinging onto her “We need men, wah!” ideology (“Without men, there is no future”), and I could see people being drawn to this. Marla, whose sole motivation right now is burying her son (not her husband?), probably would side with her daughter against Jennifer. And I think that maybe Nora would back Kim too, since no one invited her back to the White House, she gets turned away by the guards, and not one person—not Jennifer, not any of her assistants—has even thought of Nora since her boss’s death. “I am essential personnel, Jesus Christ,” Nora insists, but … is she?
While D.C. remains a mess, New York City, well, also remains a mess. Hero and Yorick still haven’t crossed paths, and separately, they’re struggling. Hero is overwhelmed by her guilt over killing Mike, and then her remorse becomes even more acute when she recognizes his widow and baby at an overrun FEMA center. I must admit that the widow’s subdued reaction to Hero’s admission of the affair via returned driver’s license was certainly more anticlimactic than I initially anticipated, but maybe it’s an indication of the kind of storytelling Y: The Last Man wants to pursue. We’ve already had a few gigantic shocks, so is it worthwhile to keep layering shock after shock after shock, especially in person-to-person interactions that might not require them? I suppose not. This was still a moment of growth for Hero that Olivia Thirlby played evocatively and wistfully, and it led to a nice moment between Hero and Elliot Fletcher’s Sam, too.
Hero was acting selfishly by failing to pull her weight on the supply runs that Sam and the other trans men were going on, and she did hurt Sam by failing to show up at their predetermined departure time. Fletcher’s delivery of “Do you have any idea what it’s like out there for me? Questions I have to answer? Shit I have to explain, all over again?” was restrained and anguished, and spoke directly to the themes a more inclusive version of the Y: The Last Man needed to consider. And Sam having only one two-week vial of testosterone left is the kind of thing that Hero—as Sam’s best friend!—should seriously care about. So sure, it probably is another knock to Hero’s pride to reach out to Jennifer. But how long did Hero really think she could survive without needing Jennifer’s help? And is that fair to a mother? (Jennifer’s “World ended, and she’s still stubborn as hell” description of her daughter is quite right.) Massive catastrophes can shift priorities, and whatever Jennifer did to cause such a schism between herself and Hero, maybe it’s time to heal that wound.
I have similar questions for Yorick, though. It’s been two months, and all he’s done is look for Beth? Did he look for Hero? Did he try to contact his mother? His phone still works, as we know because he keeps watching videos of Beth. Maybe it’s not really possible to just call the White House… but did Yorick try? I can appreciate all the work he’s doing within NYC to find Beth; all those X marks on his map signify endless dedication. And I can appreciate his selflessness toward Amp, and his fear when those three women pull the gun on him at the dry cleaners, and his shock when Sarah showed up at his door, and his elation and exhaustion when Jennifer gathered him up in that reunion hug. But what hit me hardest was his half-sobbed “I’d give anything to just go home.” So would any of these people. Home doesn’t exist anymore, though, not with families destroyed and identities altered. “I think it’s going to get worse—maybe a lot—before it gets better,” Jennifer had said in her attempt at a rousing speech early in the episode. I would swap that “maybe” out for a “definitely.”
- Again, I ask: Where’s Beth? I don’t know if I have a theory yet, but I would be surprised if she just passed away offscreen and that was the end of the character.
- Was that a fun-size Snickers? I buy this as a post-apocalypse detail; I too would raid all the full-size Snickers first.
- Worth mentioning, I think, that Y: The Last Man, even with its changes from the source text, is still receiving some thoughtful criticism about its inclusion of trans characters. As Mey Rude wrote for Out, the fact that the show might not include trans women seems like an oversight: “What are women without trans women?” Worth reading.
- Maybe I am overthinking this, but: If everyone with a Y chromosome disappears, doesn’t that mean there are fewer people to eat food and to use various resources? I don’t understand the widespread lack of food shortages being discussed as an emergency concern. I can grasp worrying about food production and the supply chain as a long-term issue. But with fewer people, wouldn’t there still be enough canned food, shelf-stable food, and preserved items to last the survivors a fair amount of time?
- That “woman in Israel” who was actually in the line of succession to be president—there is no way that’s the last we hear or see of her.
- How did Yorick’s cellphone still work? Do we really trust that Yorick would be responsible enough to carry around a charger?
- Diane Lane’s huffy line delivery of “Fuck the art!” was a delight.
- As was Thirlby’s very dry “You’re not the first person to think of looting an REI.”
- I had this issue with The Stand, too, but why isn’t every single person wearing a mask? My assumption is that all these dead bodies reek, and we see the characters react to that smell every so often. But it’s a real failure of the suspension-of-disbelief to just accept that these characters wouldn’t be protecting themselves from widespread decay, caused by an illness they don’t understand.
- When the woman at the dry cleaners thought they could “trade” Yorick—trade him to who?