The Last Man On Earth demonstrates time and time again that denial is one of the most powerful drugs at our disposal. Though undoubtedly a self-defensive measure to protect oneself from the world, LMOE presents it as an effective short-term solution. It’s a way of putting on rose-colored glasses just to get out of bed in the morning, to be comfortable with the confines of one’s existence. In a post-apocalyptic world where limited resources, deadly diseases, unidentified flying objects exist in tandem with few survivors, sometimes denial is important. Sometimes it’s even necessary.
However, if there’s a master of denial, it’s Phil, a man who’s arguably been abusing that drug for his entire life. It’s not just how he coped with his pre-virus life—a temp with no girlfriend living in a studio apartment paid for by his parents—but it’s also how he frequently deals with obstacles in the post-virus world. Phil is a guy who believed that he didn’t human connection to survive that he could subsist entirely on communicating with inanimate objects. He’s the guy who was convinced that Phil 2.0 wanted to be his best friend despite all the evidence to the contrary. He’s the guy who insisted Mike only had a cold. Phil excels at lying to himself so as not to confront the utter shittiness of his life, not to mention the catastrophic world in which he resides.
In LMOE’s season finale “30 Years of Science Down The Tubes,” Phil sets out to go find his brother and keep him company. He finds him back in Tucson at their parents’ place where they reconnect over childhood knick-knacks and jars filled with decades-old farts. At first, Mike is polite and ingratiating, but it becomes clear he doesn’t want Phil anywhere near him; he doesn’t want to put his brother through the pain of watching him die. Phil tries to take his mind off the inevitably through wise cracks and cruel pranks, but Mike isn’t having any of it. “Everything’s a friggin’ joke to you,” Mike says despairingly, believing Phil won’t be able to handle the reality in front of his eyes.
Meanwhile, the Malibu gang finally catches a glimpse of the unidentified flying object that Gail saw in “Falling Slowly.” Though most of the group finds the drone-like device a symbol of more survivors, Melissa believes it’s another portent of doom, another unexplained variable that will compromise their way of life. So naturally, Melissa shoots it with a gun claiming that it’s trouble and she’s trying to keep the survivors alive, even though the rest of them believe the object was just another person trying to reach out to them.
Credited writers Edward Voccola and Maxwell R. Kessler dovetail these two stories wonderfully around the difficulty of reconciling the truth of one’s situation and the outlook they have to adopt to keep moving forward. Both stories involve people trying to wring optimism out of hopeless situations, and both also feature people who only see darkness where others see light. Melissa isn’t wrong to suggest that the world they live in isn’t safe, and that their numbers are getting fewer and fewer, so there’s no reason to trust an ominous sky camera. She sees a threat and wants to neutralize it immediately. Mike can’t handle his brother’s relentlessly annoying attempts to cheer him up when he knows for a fact that his days are numbered. He tries to tell him nicely that he didn’t want him to follow him, but he did anyway, so now he’s stuck with a guy who doesn’t admit that his brother is sick but will admit that he hates his haircut.
Yet in both stories, Phil and Carol are the two people who represent hope, those who refuse to give up in the face of all odds. Since Carol became pregnant, they have become the people most committed to making their new world home, and some of that means accepting reality without letting it overwhelm you. When Melissa accidentally shoots a window next to Carol’s head believing it’s an intruder, she expresses doubts about the stability of their lives, but it’s Carol who grabs hold of her hand and places it on her stomach to illustrate what’s at stake: “There’s a life in there. It’s a life that’s never gonna know the pre-virus world we lived in. Only this world. And this world can’t suck. I won’t stand for it.” In just three sentences, Carol entirely repositions the collective sense of dread, arguing that it’s shared misery that will be the biggest impediment to rebuilding society. It’s a project that not only requires everything from you, but also a borderline-deluded sense of optimism, a sincere belief that things will work out for the best even when the odds are stacked against you.
While Carol reminds the group that they’ll soon be saying hello to a new life, Phil accepts that he has to say goodbye to another. After Mike gives Phil a haircut, he asks him to go back home, but when Phil insists he stays, Mike loses it and cruelly throws his wasted life and no accomplishments back in his face. “The only time you even came close to actually being special was when everyone died but you,” he sneers with palpable contempt, but because Phil is Phil, he doesn’t leave his brother on that note. He just goes outside and accepts Mike’s words as another truth that he so desperately wants to ignore. Mike eventually apologizes and sees that Phil was the one who had to bury their parents and “bury” him because he didn’t think he was coming back. Sudeikis communicates a lot in some crucial reaction shots and choked-up line readings during the graveyard scene. Mike finally realizes his brother was forced to do things that he couldn’t begin to imagine, and that he’s more honest about the world they live in than he lets on. When he tells Phil that it’s his dying wish that he not be forced to do this again, Phil finally gets the message.
Phil and Mike’s goodbye is the emotional highpoint of the episode and illustrates the power of Forte and Sudeikis’ nuanced chemistry. The hug that they give each other after Mike gifts Phil another jar of farts captures the tenderness of their relationship while underlines its awkwardness. These are brothers who bond over fart jokes, prank wars, and nut punches. They don’t hug. Yet they both know it’s officially the last time they’ll ever see each other, so they make this one count. But the real gut punch was when Phil gives Mike the sports balls that kept him company when he had no one else. “These are my buddies. They got me through some hard times,” Phil says, knowing that he’s never going to let Mike die completely alone. It’s a gesture that underscore Phil’s own forethought as well as the depth of feeling he has to the last blood relative he’ll ever know.
LMOE’s second season continued the series’ commitment to telling stories that preach the value of community, and how disparate people can share the strongest bonds when forced to interact with one another. The series has always been about the value of human connection, and how it’s the one of the few things necessary for growth. It shifted to an ensemble comedy gracefully, and punctuated its broad humor with quiet drama as it treated the reality of their world with sober sincerity. LMOE hardly gets enough credit for walking to the beat of its own drum, how it deftly moves between various modes of comedy and an abiding sense of existential despair. If there’s anything the second season proved, it’s the potential for the series’ longevity, how it can mine dramatic storylines not just out of its setting but also in the shifting nature of the established relationships. While the first season was a self-contained beast about abandoning selfish desire in favor of communal development, the second season was about the daily struggles of living in that community, and how best to keep it thriving amidst the myriad problems a post-virus world produces.
Case in point: Just when Phil and Carol were experiencing a moment of domestic bliss, Gail sees Pat Brown (Mark Boone Junior) and two other survivors heading their way with guns. But don’t worry. It’s nothing that LMOE can’t handle. As for the Malibu gang, that’s a different story.
- Phil drives the Delorean from Back To The Future to Tucson! A sample of Alan Silvestri’s theme from the film plays over the shot of Phil entering Tucson.
- Another sweet moment from the episode: Phil despondently feeding the calf milk from the bottle after Carol tried and failed to do it during the episode.
- Erica hopes that the flying object brings an OBGYN to the gang. I cannot blame her.
- The Sriracha/blood joke Phil played was well conceived, but especially cruel given the circumstances.
- “Falling Slowly” plays yet again when Mike gives Phil a haircut. Don’t know if I can ever hear that song without chuckling a little bit.
- “Nice? No, a nice person says, ‘Hey, guys! I’m alive! Here’s a pound cake!’ They don’t plant a freakin’ camera at our front door doing re-con on us.”
- “He suckles on everything but this bottle: Melissa’s shotgun, spatulas, doorknobs, Gail had some sort of vibrating massage finger he was a big fan of that.”
- Thank you guys for reading these reviews and commenting along during the season. I’m glad LMOE is coming back for another year and can’t wait to see what they have in store. Chances are that it’ll be pretty good.
- Season grade: A-
- One last thing: Melissa with the shotgun only reminded me of one thing. Take a look.