This The Last Man on Earth review contains spoilers.
The Last Man on Earth: Season 2, Episode 11
“You beefed it so hard.”
This is just bliss, isn’t it?
We’re at the point now that whenever Last Man on Earth returns from some prolonged hiatus it is safe to assume that the premiere is going to be some ambitious, challenging piece of television that harkens back to the series’ staggering original pilot. We got a taste of it this season with the premiere, “Is There Anybody Out There?” where we basically saw a redux of the pilot, but with Tandy and Carol approaching their isolating reality together. This time, we navigate through this broken husk of a world again, once more alone, but this time through the eyes of Sudeikis’ Mike Miller.
Before Last Man on Earth returned, I spent a lot of time thinking about the circumstances that would inform the premiere. I also conducted an extensive Last Man on Earth walkthrough that catches us up to this episode. It’s a tremendous resource and if you’re even marginally interested in the show or how the production of a season of television works, it’s worth giving a look. But upon thinking about how the cliffhanger of “Christmas” would be followed up, I actually thought that focusing solely on Mike—with him being convinced that he’s the “last man on Earth”—would be a very solid premise to open up on.
It makes sense on a number of levels; due to the devastation that the Malibu Crew has witnessed with Phil’s death, giving them a bit of a breather is understandable. While Mike Miller is the biggest question mark for the show, getting to spend an entire episode In his head is deeply appealing. In that sense, “Pitch Black” swiftly deals with these two birds with one stone, shifting the focus to this supporting player (who’s likely on his way to becoming a much bigger part of the series), while allowing everyone else’s catharsis to believably happen off screen.
So the situation that Mike finds himself in—in what’s such a beautiful “what the fuck” cold open—is that after miraculously surviving his descent from space, he immediately has to navigate his way out of a sinking ship situation. He ricochets from one disaster to another and right from the start of things this feels distinctly different than the other “solo” entries of the series that we’ve seen so far.
I was thinking—perhaps too much—on the wild implausibility of Mike landing in America due to the sheer size of the world, and how there could perhaps be a lot of potential in him crashing into China or Russia, or some sort of extreme. What I didn’t even consider though is that since so much of the Earth is water, it makes a lot more sense that Mike would find himself in the middle of the ocean. And so, in classic Last Man on Earth fashion, we get an episode that’s almost entirely set at sea—something so incredulous that I can’t help but smile at merely thinking of the idea. The only time I can think of this thing being done before in television is in a too-ambitious episode of Magnum P.I. (talk to Jason Mantzoukas about it), but this just continues the tradition of Last Man thinking outside of the box and trying to be as anti-sitcom as possible. I spoke a lot about how gorgeous the cinematography in space looked, but this ocean stuff is on a whole other level. I’ve been told that this episode was $800,000 over budget and a big contention point for FOX, so please appreciate the incredible cinematography and grandeur you’re getting here. It’s not for lack of effort.
I’m sorry to just gush here, but every beat of this episode is so terrific. From moving to Mike feeling like he’s going to die in the endless blue, to his short-lived joy over thinking he’s found rescue, to him slowly learning the grim situation that’s taken over the planet, it all works. It’s hard to believe that at this point in the show we’ve taken for granted—or gotten used to, rather—the fact that a virus has decimated the population. To get to experience that tragedy again, fresh, through Mike, is a whole lot of fun.
Not long ago news also broke that Jacob Tremblay would be playing a young version of Phil, with many people understandably jumping to the conclusion that we’d be getting some flashbacks soon to flesh out this brotherly relationship. I’m all for finding out more about these characters’ backstories (and the way that Mike reuniting with Tandy is going to shatter the status quo is so, so exciting), but the show has done a very good job of resisting flashbacks. Bobrow speaks specifically about them not wanting to turn to that well, and some worthwhile characters flashbacks are even deleted from the pilot episode to avoid setting a precedent for this cliché. That’s why I was so excited to see that Jacob Tremblay’s appearance comes in the form of a hallucination of Mike’s. It’s a much better use of him, as well as giving Sudeikis someone to bounce off of here (although originally I thought young Phil’s voice was going to be coming from Worm Phil, with his madness going in a whole other direction).
Just when it seems like we’re going to be getting some complimentary scenes of Mike goofing off to parallel what we saw with Tandy (although seeing shades of Tandy in Mike’s vocabulary and sense of humor are subtle touches), the episode goes in another direction entirely. “Pitch Black” introduces a wonderful idea to the series that there are probably in fact a lot more people alive on the Earth than we think there are. Mike finds himself shacked up with Pat Brown (Mark Boone Junior), “last man on Earth,” and it’s not hard to picture this situation being replicated all over the planet. Everyone is in the dark here, but if at a fifth or sixth season of the show, all of these disparate survivor groups united and met up, some wonderful world building will have already been done. It’s strange to say, but this almost feels like Lost (and Pat Brown’s appearance doesn’t shake the comparison), where we’re spending time with the other half of the plane, and it’s a strategy that seems to work even better here due to its implications.
Also, I’ve appreciated how the show has held off on telling us too much about the virus, but we get just the right amount of hints towards it here, not to mention the answer towards where all the bodies have gone. Learning that it’s also possibly only affected the land, and that everyone at sea seems to be safe is certainly an interesting revelation which may or may not lead to something bigger for the series, too.
Most of this episode deals with Mike trying to overcome Pat’s crushing pessimism towards them being the only survivors left. Mike is eager to get to land, but at every opportunity Pat shuts him down, and soon a rift appears between these grateful companions. Rather than some slow sort of build here, it feels like Pat quickly shifts into Annie Wilkes’ final stage of depression/madness from Misery, with it appearing like some sort of murder-suicide pact could be on the table. The way the episode keeps playing with your perception of who Pat is (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not even his real name), only knowing as much as Mike does, keeps you continually guessing and injects the episode with just enough suspense. It’s great that it’s ultimately his own ignorance that saves Mike’s life in the end.
Amongst all the depression that this episode wallows in, it still manages to show the beauty in the mundane. Surviving a disaster like this isn’t all about chugging bottles of 1939 McClellan. Sometimes it’s just having someone to play a game of tennis with. The visual of these two people in full hazmat suits as this haunting melody plays over their match is such an intrinsically Last Man image.
While it might be a little convenient that Pat happens to pick Miami to dock in, which is where Tandy has happened to tag some landmarks, it’s such a powerful moment when these two characters’ paths even somewhat collide that I’m able to look past its shortcomings. There’s such weight in seeing people being able to make contact in a place that is so infinitely large. Besides, even after following the sign’s advice, Mike has a long way to go. He’ll find his childhood home burned down, presumably stumble upon Melissa’s note to Carol, and then finally be back on route to Malibu. A convoluted journey, to say the least, but one that’s laid the necessary pipe.
There’s such a strong energy driving the end of the episode home, and I can’t wait to see if we continue to watch Mike on his journey or if we’re just going to return to Tandy and the gang, with Mike’s appearance being an inevitable cliffhanger to come. At this point though, all of these characters, wherever they are, are in the midst of crises where it’s impossible to give up. They need to keep trying, because lest we forget, quitters get peed on. And nobody wants that.