TV Review: The Last Man on Earth (2×10): “Pitch Black”

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When we last left The Last Man on Earth in December, the show ended on a double cliffhanger. the other Phil Miller (Boris Kodjoe) flatlined during a bungled appendix removal — a routine procedure he would have survived if life on Earth hadn’t been almost entirely wiped out and the cutting wasn’t done by a former chef. Meanwhile, Mike Miller (Jason Sudeikis) finally left the International Space Station for Earth and his re-entry wasn’t going as well as he planned.

Quite the dramatic cliffhanger for a show whose second season began with Will Forte and Kristen Schaal lounging in a margarita-filled kiddie pool in the middle of the Oval Office, no?

The season so far has been an improvement over its solid but flawed first season. The characters seem more likeable, Tandy and Carol act like a real couple and every episode isn’t about Tandy’s libido. Best of all, the show has found a balance of being riotously funny and more nuanced and dramatic with moments that directly reflect the show’s setting. That winning streak continues with the midseason premiere “Pitch Black,” an episode that answers Mike’s cliffhanger.

While fans of the show may be disappointed that the regular cast is absent from the episode and Other Phil’s story will have to wait until next week, the focus on Mike allows the show the ability to use its unique empty world setting that kind of sits unused for episodes at a time. I like that the show has built itself around its post-apocalyptic setting and limitations, but it’s even better to see it dive right into it.

After Mike splashes down on a cruise ship (that promptly sinks), he uses a ridiculous water tricycle to make it to land. He hallucinates a young version of his brother (played by should-have-been-an-Oscar-nominee Jacob Tremblay) before he stumbles upon a yacht in the middle of the ocean.

He soon discovers that he’s not alone on that yacht, as he eventually comes face to face with Pat (played by Mark Boone Junior of Sons of Anarchy fame) who believes he’s the last human on Earth. He has good reason to believe that too: sometimes he’ll moor his yacht on the coast of a major city. He never sees any lights.

Mike convinces Pat to take him to the surface for supplies, but Pat is apprehensive — he still believes the virus is out there even if there are no people left, and doesn’t want to quite lose the first human he’s seen in however many years. Eventually though, they’re in Miami Beach. The “where are all the bodies?” question that hangs over the series finally gets a bit of an answer (there are camps in every major city filled with CDC or EPA tents and body bags). Pat is eager to get back on the water, but then Mike sees one of Tandy’s Alive in Tuscon billboards and gets excited … until Pat beans him in the head with a wrench.

It seems Pat believes that Tandy’s signs are part of some sort of government conspiracy to lure people to Tucson for … reasons and threatens to shoot Mike if he leaves. He doesn’t get that far when he rips Mike’s hazmat suit. He believes he’s exposed him to the virus and promptly dumps him at the CDC camp. Mike’s  still alive of course, and he heads to Tuscon in the first vehicle he sees as The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” plays the episode out.

The early scenes with Pat and Mike alone are some wonderful nuanced character building. None of it is played as comedy and they have an earnest gravity to them. Pat isn’t an antagonistic character, either. He comes off as lonely, desperate for human contact and concerned about a virus he’s pretty sure wiped out all of civilization aside from him and a guy who just fell from the International Space Station. I do hope we get to see him again one of these days.

It’s also great to spend a whole episode with Mike. Jason Sudeikis plays him as absolutely Tandy’s brother (e.g. “oh farts” while cycling away from that cruise ship), but he comes off as his own person instead of a smartypants photocopy of Tandy. Mike is smart and clever, and probably has ideas of how to survive on his own that Tandy’s “drive around the country and blow stuff up” idea. It’s only time before he joins the survivors, and it will be interesting to see what he adds to the group, especially if Other Phil doesn’t make it.

“Pitch Black” is a tremendous but starkly different episode of The Last Man on Earth. It retains the format that we’ve come to know from the show, but the structure and tone are very different. It makes it difficult to compare to other episodes of the show that aren’t the first episode. It has a different tone from the regular episodes with the whole group and the episodes with just Tandy and Carol — my favorite episodes the show has produced yet. Even so, it’s a tremendous episode, one that plays to the show’s strengths and setting, and its ability to do stuff that’s a little more serious and nuanced. 

I’d really like to see more with Mike travelling the country continuing with the tone established here. It would certainly be putting the show’s access to the talents of Sudeikis to good use.

Now our attention moves on to the other survivors. Surely Other Phil couldn’t have survived the operation. It serves as a stark reminder of the world the characters find themselves in, and his death would ground the show back into its setting. I was just starting to like that character again, too.

Rating: 9/10

 

Ryan Gibbs is the music editor for The Young Folks. He is based in Newport, Rhode Island.