“Living together’s pretty fun, huh?”
So, according to Andy Bobrow’s season “outline” that he posted on Twitter, these two episodes place us firmly between the rock and hard place of the “Oh shit” and “Why would they…Whoa. Huh?” phases of the show, and no argument there. Stuff certainly blows up this week, doesn’t it?
Last episode ended with the notion that perhaps, in spite of his darker tendencies, Phil is actually the best person left alive. Even if he’s been consciously trying to sabotage the only remaining lives left around him. If his actions are resulting in positivity and reform, isn’t that still a good thing? That idea is pretty much put up in front of a firing squad and executed as the Phil we see here is far from the model citizen. It makes you think back to the first episode when Carol has Phil at gunpoint and asks him if he’s a good person. He responds with “yes,” but now more than ever do we really see that he was just answering out of necessity to stay alive, rather than speaking truthfully.
Phil and Carol are finally living together and, unsurprisingly, the pressures of their mis-matched living styles are felt immediately. The emotional kind on Phil’s part and the physical kind in the case of Carol’s sores due to her sleep apnea mask being worn too tightly. It honestly feels like Phil is in hell in that cold open as he simply tries to share a bed with his wife. We’ve never seen him more miserable.
It’s more than just the sleeping situation though, as Phil and Carol bristle against each other in a number of ways as their opposing styles clash under one roof. Carol’s additions to Phil’s carefully collected classic paintings are one of many brilliant fracture points, after she turns a Monet into a “Monet and Carol” entitled, “Dog Bridge.” She continues to police Phil and does a pretty great job at doling out chores for him. Meanwhile Phil watches the blissful image of Todd and Melissa next door and his descent into madness only gains further fuel.
Watching Phil and Carol try to find a middle ground and compromise is effortlessly entertaining. The fact that Carol clings to this arbitrary (or is it?) title of marriage as a way of justifying their grief has a great twisted logic to it. Chris Miller has gone as far as saying “Phil and Carol are the original Adam and Eve of the show, and the real beating heart. Their dynamic is the soul of the show, and will continue to be, as it goes on.” So watching the two of them learn to love each other is just the beginning here. They’re truly put to the test in the second episode, and knowing that they’re somewhat tethered together makes this “break-up” all the more dynamic.
So all of this becomes extremely interesting when Phil literally complains to God over the developments of the series and pleads for a second chance. It gets even more bonkers when God seems to answer Phil’s prayer in the form of Erica (Cleopatra Coleman) and Gail (Mary Steenburgen), two comely women who think he’s (once again) the last man on Earth. It’s funny that just after Melissa was complaining about how the game would be changed yet again, the game changes yet again in the biggest way yet.
It’s kind of fantastic that Phil just gets up and abandons the series to follow these women and just start over; to follow his smile, so to speak (and Billy Crystal would agree). He continues to get opportunities to back out of sleeping with them, or at least tell them the truth, but Phil’s plummet into darkness continues as he doesn’t let up. He even manages to have Carol “order” him to go back to them for the night, in a truly painful scene of Phil manipulating his wife.
Lord and Miller have said that one of the larger themes of the series is that if you remove all the pressures of society, how are people going to interact and behave? Is a moral center still fundamental? And what I think is so amazing about this show is that Phil is the only one operating without rules anymore because, honestly, there aren’t any anymore without a society to hold them up. He’s not wrong necessarily, but as Carol, Melissa, and Todd continue to hold up the tentpoles of justice and order, Phil’s behavior is the one that’s seen as destructive.
So off Phil goes into a blissful other world where raisin-balls don’t exist, tequila flows like water, and he is the charming, fun, cute Phil Cormanue. But it’s only a matter of time until Phil’s true colors catch up with him and this beautiful bizarre world crumbles away at his stammering feet. He tries to claw it back by using the death of Carol to prop himself up on a pedestal—as Carol simultaneously pleads that Phil is a good man, and plans a party for him with Todd—and we get ever more conviction that Phil is the antagonist of the series. He’s seriously an asshole, at least for the moment. He’s a lying, egotistical, sociopathic man that now thinks he’s got God on his side, too. This culminates in the most satisfying ending the show’s done yet, and one that rivals the best tags of Curb Your Enthusiasm in terms of excruciating awkwardness.
To see Phil try to pass all this off as a prank is pretty wonderful and offensive to everyone involved (although he’s mostly concerned about the respect of his fictitious dead wife, Carol). It’s a gesture so blind it even makes Todd abandon him, as Phil continues to cling to this empty idea of his monstrous behavior being a fun jape. It’s this behavior that more or less renders Phil into being a solitary man once more as he’s given the silent treatment by the rest of humanity, turning him invisible, as much as he may weirdly stare in their faces.
Phil eventually comes to the realization that “people are under-rated” and is ready to change his ways, and naturally, it takes him hitting rock bottom and breaking his baddest (as well as an effective supercut of all of his lies thus far), to turn around and re-invent himself. Quite literally. And when that pale attempt doesn’t work, actual change takes place.
That speech and its gushing display of honesty are really something and one of Forte’s finer moments on the show. This scene wouldn’t work earlier in the series either. It’s necessary to take Phil (and the audience) to this extreme in order to rebuild. It’s a risky move, and one that tempts the audience of turning their backs on Phil Miller before this change has taken place, but obviously this isn’t a show that’s concerned with playing it safe.
Only now, after learning everything that he has so far, is Phil capable of starting over and being seen for his true self. Now that he’s moved out of the villain role, we can finally begin to view him for the hero (albeit a very, very flawed one) that he is. These first ten episodes feel like a that Phil Miller is assemblling before our eyes, and with that first chapter being finished, we can enjoy that quilt and move forward with getting this end of the world thing sorted out.
May we all find our smiles in the process.