I’m not really sure if we can classify The Last Man on Earth as strictly a comedy anymore. It’s possibly one of the most game-changing comedies on television right now (which is a lot to say about a show where one of the recurring jokes is “Let’s see what gross food gets caught in Tandy’s beard!”). But last night’s episode, where the show demonstrated just how seriously the writers wanted to build their world, proved it.
This episode was mostly serious, to match the situation at hand. Sure, there were a few jokes about Todd’s dancing, and Tandy attempting to cheer Phil up, but most of the episode focused on the dire situation that all of the characters were in. Phil was dying, Melissa and Todd were having emotional breakdowns, and poor, poor Gail had all the responsibly heaped on her shoulders. Gail’s adventures as nurse earlier in the season meant that everyone looked to her to fix Phil. It’s a sad joke, really: in this world, if you drunkenly stitch up a finger then you’re expected to remove a ruptured appendix. The only good news is that we got some stellar acting from Mary Steenburgen, who showcased all of Gail’s hesitance and fear.
Gail perfectly summed up the group’s downfall when she screamed that she wasn’t a doctor, she was simply a cook. Things got even darker when she admitted to Erica that their best move would be to simply drug Phil and wait for death to claim him. “We’ve all been through this before,” she admitted, reminding the audience that these characters have lost all their loved ones, probably in most cases (and definitely in Gail’s) right in front of their eyes. Every character on the show has watched as the people they loved have helplessly suffered and died right in front of them, with nothing they could do to help. Maybe they thought, once they found the other survivors, that they’d never have to go through that again. Unfortunately, they were wrong.
The new world they live in is just as merciless as their old one. Only the ways of dying are different – before it was a virus, now it’s a ruptured appendix. However, this way might be worse. At least in their old world people could have helped Phil with his appendix, and probably would have healed him easily. Gail has books telling her what to do, a surgical dummy to practice on, and is surrounded by hospital supplies to help her. It’s a heartbreaking moment as she starts to lose Phil – she has all the resources at hand, she should be able to help Phil, but she can’t. She doesn’t have the experience.
It’s a horrifying moment, especially once you realize what this means for Erica. Not only does she have to raise her child without Phil, but she has to give birth. She just watched the father of her child bleed out on an operating table while her best friend tried and failed to save him. In a few months, that might be Erica. If anything complicates her pregnancy, it might be a death sentence. Erica has just witnessed one of the most horrifying things that a pregnant woman could witness, and I’m guessing the consequences of that will be severe.
Gail is also going to be in pain when we come back from the break. She’s been one of the more emotionally traumatized characters throughout the season – she lost the man she loved, which sent her into a tailspin of grief and loneliness. How will she react when she failed to save Phil? Was there anything Gail really could have done? No. She tried her best, but the circumstances were just too much. It’s not her fault, but I’m not sure if she’ll believe that. What’s worse is if this hurts Gail’s support system – Erica and Todd. Gail might not want to associate with Todd out of guilty memories of doing the failed surgery together, and her relationship with Erica will probably never be the same. Even if they don’t blame one another (Erica blaming Gail for losing Phil, Gail blaming Erica for making her do the surgery), it’ll be hard for them to move past the images of Phil dying on the table, while Gail failed to save him.
The Last Man on Earth is one of my favorite depictions of a post apocalyptic world, simply because of how realistic it is. A lost world doesn’t have to be one of constant killings, of corrupt governments, of twisted monsters coming after our heroes. It can be one where human beings just try to survive, and maybe have a little fun living in mansions and sitting in tequila pools. Where loneliness can be just as awful as any monster. And where a ruptured appendix can be the biggest and most dangerous threat yet.
Notes and Observations
- I didn’t have a chance to talk about Mike Miller, but I’m really pleased with how his plot turned out. Right when I was beginning to wonder how many episodes they would drag out his indecisiveness for, he chose to try to get back to Earth. I hope he and Phil the worm survived.
- We haven’t gotten many scenes of just Gail and Erica talking, so I loved the scene between them tonight. It was odd though, as normally their scenes have Phil or Carol with them (something that the show jokingly alluded to, as Phil attempted to talk Gail into the surgery right after Erica did).
- While Tandy was slightly annoying, with his constant attempts to comfort Phil, I could relate to him. In such a dire situation, everyone wants to feel like they’re helping.
- Tandy and Carol are really the most stable members of the group, as they were both able to pull Todd and Melissa out of their emotional tailspins to help with Phil’s surgery. They are the true power couple of 2015.
- That being said, while I love Tandy and Carol, if the show wanted to do a few episodes surrounding Gail and the events of this episode, I would be all for that because Mary Steenburgen is incredible and has made Gail into one of my favorite characters.
- I am so, so glad that Todd and Tandy never revealed to Gail that they wanted her to practice on Gordon’s body, because honestly, didn’t poor Gail suffer enough this episode?
- Fare thee well, Phil. I didn’t always like you, because, well, you once shoved Tandy in a shed with an electrocuting dog collar on him. But you did try to be a good father to your unborn child, and supportive to Erica during the pregnancy. In the end, you even tried to patch things up with Tandy. You were a good man.
- One of the most heartbreaking shots of the episode was the rest of the group standing behind the plastic tarp, watching as Gail and Todd tried to save Phil. In the last minute, everyone knows that it’s not going to work, and you can just see all the devastation passing their faces as Gail and Todd still try to save Phil, even though they all know he’s going to die in the next few seconds.
- And on that extremely depressing note, that’s the first half of the second season of The Last Man on Earth. I really hope you guys enjoyed watching these episodes as much as I did. I will see you all in the spring. If you feel like sharing your opinions on the episode, I’d love to read what you thought in the comment section.