It’s telling that The Last Man on Earth has its Christmas episode one week before its fall finale. Normally in comedies, a Christmas episode wraps up the first half of the season, and makes for a touching fall finale. But The Last Man on Earth has never hid the fact that, while it’s a comedy, it’s also a tale about surviving in an empty world.
The first 29 minutes of “Secret Santa” is a hilarious send-up of Christmas traditions and a way to display the uneasy peace between the Tucson crew. They might still have grievances with one another – Melissa is trying to deal with her breakup, Gail is still angry at Phil 2 – but everyone’s calm enough to the point of letting Phil move back into the house. It’s nice, after so many episodes of bickering and anger, to see the crew try to get along with each other.
Even though no one else in the gang is really excited about Christmas, they allow Carol to put up her Christmas decorations, partly because of keeping the peace, and partly because it’s Carol, and resistance is futile. It’s completely in Carol’s character that she would adore a holiday that celebrates good will, kindness, and putting up tons of elaborate decorations. However, because this is The Last Man on Earth, Secret Santa has a billion dollar spending limit, and various presents include the Hope Diamond, an Oprah’s studio audience chair, and Pitbull’s yacht. One of my favorite parts of The Last Man on Earth is that while it’s about survival, it’s also about a group of people kicking back and taking whatever they want. If you were one of the last people on Earth, why wouldn’t you want to live in fancy mansion, and amuse yourself by owning a ZZ Top Car?
The sweetest part about “Secret Santa” though, was seeing just how well the group can get along when they try. Erica’s genuine excitement at giving Carol the perfect present, Melissa wearing Carol’s sequined rainbow boots, and everyone joining together to witness Erica’s first sonogram (a perfect present by Phil). It’s a touching moment, as the group sees the first baby of their new world, and you suddenly realize that these people might actually be able to rebuild humanity. It’s capped by a perfect moment between Tandy and Phil, as Phil takes Tandy out for a beer to thank him for all he’s done. It’s awkward for both, mainly because their personalities are so different, but it’s a touching gesture nonetheless. Phil knows how much Tandy has done for him, and although they might never truly see eye-to-eye, Phil does want to do something nice for Tandy.
The episode could have closed out there, and been a fairly happy one. Sure, Mike’s still floating in space and has lost his last worm friend, but for the most part this was a fairly cheerful episode. Everyone’s getting along, sitting in front of the Christmas tree and singing with Gail’s accordion. The proposal of Melissa to Todd, while he’s trying to romance Gail, would have been the big suspense moment.
But this is The Last Man on Earth, and it likes to kick us in the teeth.
Because The Last Man on Earth isn’t a normal comedy, because it’s about a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, because it’s about a world where survival is touch and go, Phil collapses.
It’s a stark reality – no matter how cheerful and warm the Tucson crew might be, hanging out in their Malibu mansion, they’re still very much at the whim of a world where they don’t have the services or resources they need. They can give each other ZZ Top cars and the Hope Diamond, but they don’t have anyone that can actually help them when Phil collapses. It’s just the Tucson crew, and it’s up to them to help Phil. Christmas is nice, but survival is the most important thing to the crew.
If that wasn’t enough, the episode has one last gut punch to remind us that survival is never certain for these characters. Mike, having given up all hope, decides to kill himself by going into space. He engages the airlock and just as he’s about to go out, he sees one more worm alive. He changes his mind, aborts the airlock…but it doesn’t work. He goes spinning out into space, fate unknown.
Notes and Observations
- If Mike was planning to kill himself, why didn’t he at least try to take the escape pod back down to Earth? It’s been mentioned that he doesn’t know how to pilot it, but what’s he got to lose?
- I was sad that the last words Terry ever heard from Mike were mean, and then I remembered Terry was a worm. This show is way too good at making you feel for sports balls and space worms.
- Tandy and Carol continue to be an adorable couple, as Tandy helps Carol decorate for the holidays to the point of dressing up as a Christmas tree. They also get really excited seeing how happy everyone gets from their Secret Santa presents.
- I don’t get why everyone was so irritated at Tandy blowing up Pitbull’s yacht. I mean, they’re in Malibu, there have got to be dozens of fancy yachts lying around.
- Do I think Phil and Mike will survive? Honestly, I’m not sure. But Mike might have a better chance then Phil, especially if the Tucson crew has to operate on him. I mean, we all saw what a disaster it was when Melissa just cut her finger.