The last time The Last Man On Earth gave us a glimpse of the pre-virus era was in “Got Milk?” the third season episode that followed socialite Pamela as she struggled with isolation in an underground bunker. It was a way to introduce a new character and to break from the ensemble for a week, possibly to avoid retreading material or falling into stagnant rhythms. This week’s episode, “La Abuela,” employs a somewhat similar function, even if it also incorporates the main gang as well. It offers a parallel one-off story that comments and reflects upon the group’s present day struggles. In this case, it’s the story of a drug cartel led by a dangerous, powerful leader colloquially named “La Abuela,” i.e. “The Grandmother.”
In 2017, La Abuela (Alma Martinez) faces attacks from rival gangs in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. She kills her head enforcer after her compound suffers another attack, but gives him an opportunity to save himself if he could solve a Rubik’s Cube in ten seconds. After he fails, two other cartel members (Frank Gallegos and Jack Guzman) worry that they might be her next victims.
Meanwhile, the gang decides to settle in the large mansion formerly owned by La Abuela. Though Carol insists the house has “great energy,” credited writer Kira Kalush and director David Noel keep cutting back to a time when that house was under siege by violence. Kalush and Noel indicate that the mansion has ghosts in the walls, and that the ground that Tandy, Carol, and everyone else walks (or, in the case of Todd, wheels) on might be haunted by the spirits of yore.
As the gang settles into their new home, they face some problems. In the wake of Todd’s recent heart episode, Melissa forces Todd to take certain measures to maintain his health, like using a wheelchair to get around and to wear a helmet in case he falls. Carol goes overboard trying to baby-proof the house to prepare for the impending birth, which mostly amounts to bubble wrapping everything in sight and filling the staircase with packing peanuts. Finally, Erica and Gail struggle with Dawn when she won’t stop crying as soon as they move in.
Kalush resolves these problems in a mostly predictable manner. Todd confronts Melissa about her overbearing nature but softens when she expresses genuine worry that she might lose him. Gail discovers that Dawn is an “adrenaline junkie” who gets off on being driven around in a speeding car. Carol eventually cracks and admits to Tandy that her obsessive baby proofing is a way to channel her fears that the virus might infect their newborn. The individual climaxes of these stories have potency, but they’re mitigated by their obvious conclusions.
Yet, “La Abuela” works because it mildly underplays its larger thematic interest: No one can predict the future, and accepting that fact is the only real way to prepare for it. Back in 2017, the two cartel members conspire to plant a bomb during La Abuela’s birthday party. Noel lingers on a piñata as the source of the bomb, but before anyone can find out, another gang attacks the party. La Abuela and her underlings hide out in her office where she relays the famous Chinese Farmer parable (also known as the Zen Master parable, at least in Charlie Wilson’s War) before her death. In the parable, good news and bad news affect the farmer and his son in successive waves, but the farmer never treats the events as “good” or “bad.” Instead, he reacts the same way: “Who’s to say?” Some events that initially seem bad might later present themselves as good and vice versa.
The final montage in “La Abuela” neatly captures that feeling. Carol and Tandy work together to baby proof the house even if it’s ultimately for naught. Todd acquiesces and uses the wheelchair, but Melissa takes off his helmet for him. Erica and Gail use a life-sized stuffed bear to woo Dawn to sleep. No one knows what’s coming down the pipeline, especially in trying times, so the best thing to do is to live in the moment and love the people around you.
Oh, and there was no bomb in the piñata, but it might be in the Rubik’s Cube that Tandy fiddles with in the final scene. Sometimes it’s Chekov’s gun, other times it’s La Abuela’s Rubik’s Cube. Let’s hope the future doesn’t have a big bang on the horizon.
- Carol worries that the staircases poses a threat of SIFILISS (Sudden Infant Falling Into Large Indoor Spaces Syndrome) to their unborn child. After filling it with packing peanuts, Tandy assures her that their child will most likely contract HERPESS (High Elevation Rugrat Positively Evades Staircase Syndrome).
- The packing peanuts staircase does indeed look like fun.
- Jasper gets candy instead of an explosion for all his piñata trouble!
- “Shark Tanks have great energy, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna walk into that room without a great business plan.”