This Last Man on Earth review contains spoilers.
The Last Man on Earth Season 2 Episode 3
“Carol, this isn’t a ‘saying people are dead’ competition.”
As the cold open of this week’s episode unspools, the scene is certainly played for laughs as Carol Mad Libs her way through Gordon Vanderkruk’s funeral (not Dordon, as some of you might have jumped to the conclusion of thinking, since we all lived next to a Dordon at some point in our lives…).
Make no mistake, it is a very funny scene, but for Melissa, Gail, Erica, Other Phil and the rest of these Malibuians, it’s also a deeply sad one. This is the funeral for someone that they all (particularly Gail, considering he was her lover) seemed to have very much grown to love in the few months that they got to know him. Todd struggles to get through his moving gesture of song at the ceremony, while everyone else is brought to tears as Carol continues to tug at her metaphorical collar.
The opening scene is a great breakdown of the series as a whole as the show consistently plays seesaw with the extremes of the emotional scale. It wants us to be laughing hard, but also never to forget the dire situation and extreme loss that all of these people have faced (“Oodles and kaboodles of death. Just heaps and piles,” as Carol elegantly puts it). That’s why when Phil’s brother inevitably returns and Phil is given someone back, while everyone else is losing, it should make for a very interesting karmic development when we get to that point.
Also, isn’t it crazy how much mileage the show got out of Will Ferrell by simply having photos of him peppered throughout the episode? I had to keep reminding myself that we never saw additional footage of Gordon from what we got last week yet it really does feel like we’ve gotten to see a good deal of the character by the clever coverage they apply.
Carol playing coy and hiding the fact that she’s still with Phil isn’t my favorite direction for the show to be going in. It’s a little too sitcom-y and Three’s Company for a show of this caliber and dimension, but it doesn’t meander at least. Carol’s “mole” status feels even more contrived due to the way it clunkily antagonizes her for the sake of an obstacle. Other Phil’s sights are suddenly on her since before they parted ways the two of them were very much an item. He’s since courted Erica, who’s now, naturally, spitting venom at Carol.
While this isn’t the most sophisticated direction for the show to go in, it does start an interesting discussion on how people can move on without you, how much we’re able to change, and the idea of trying to reintegrate yourself back into someone’s life. Acceptance has always been a big theme for the show and as we watch those beats get negotiated through, it will no doubt be a similar experience—albeit through entirely different means—when Phil’s brother comes back and the lost time will need to be addressed. At least Last Man is having all of its disparate threads connect on the same level thematically.
It also feels like the show is being pretty transparent when everyone heaps their hatred towards Phil at Carol and she has to pretend that she not only doesn’t like the guy either, but that he’s dead (although Todd’s dismissive claim of him being “human garbage” was wonderful). Simplicity aside though, this material does move the series to the necessary next place that it has to go as bygones are finally made bygones between everyone. For an episode that spends so much time on death and the idea of losing the people in our lives (Phil’s shirt even poetically shows the seeds of a dandelion blowing away like so much dust in the wind), it’s quite the significant decision when Carol chooses to cute these people out of her life when she thinks they’re unable to accept Phil.
The final act really brings all of this together quite well and sticks the landing in such a manner that can forgive some of the earlier sloppiness. Phil getting hopeful that he might once again be welcomed in by these people, only to get completely dressed down, is devastating to see the toll that it takes on him. What’s even more brutal though is rather than watching Phil lash out, write some hate speech in the sand, or try to set Gordon’s beyond-beautiful house on fire, he instead takes it out on himself. He laments to his ball friends, “They’re good people and I don’t deserve them. I just wish they knew how sorry I was.” And as Carol simultaneously tells these people that the old Phil/Tandy is no more, this introspective breakdown of his only confirms the fact, and it’s a super touching moment that Forte just nails.
The scene that follows this is the perfect counterpoint to the opening of the episode. Phil’s “apologies at gunpoint” moment completely marries the two radical sensibilities that make this show work so well, and honestly, it might be Forte’s finest performance from the entire series so far (which is more than saying something). It’s beautiful and hilarious for every single second it lasts and it’s the perfect set piece to conclude what seems to be “phase one” of this show.
I’m still not entirely sure of where Last Man on Earth is going, with these first three episodes still very much feeling like they’ve been wrapping stuff up from last year. In spite of any precarious footing though, the show is certainly flying through these stories, not wasting any time at all. So at least if you’re not in love with this stuff it’s not taking several episodes to play out. The show has learned to get more economical in its storytelling, it just needs to embrace the bigger side of this sandbox that it wasn’t afraid to indulge in before. This show can literally do nearly anything that it wants and being reminded of that more wouldn’t be a bad thing.
In spite of any growing pains that the series might be showing, it’s still delivering those heavy Brad Garrett belly laughs that you’ve come to expect from it.