This week’s episode of The Last Man on Earth is a relative letdown following last week’s note perfect installment. While it hits many of the beats I like in Last Man episodes, many of them felt stale or too low key for the situation.
One of the best parts of “Mama’s Hideaway” was its structure, with a Gail and Carol A-plot that splits into two and won’t be resolved until next episode. However, this plot seems hackneyed for most of its run-time and doesn’t get interesting until the show’s last minutes. Gail wants a quiet space to herself, but because of her recent, reluctant “adoption” of Carol, she is unable to get any due to her new “family”‘s relentless optimism. Gail’s lack of interest leads to an angry argument atop the building, and Carol doesn’t realize she’s wrong until it’s too late. Gail has moved into another building in the complex without telling anyone. When a now buddy-buddy Tandy and Lewis cut the power to the rest of the complex to conserve power in the main building, Gail winds up stranded in an elevator.
It’s a no-brainer that they’ll eventually find Gail, but it was a strangely bleak ending to such a silly plot. The best part of this episode was how information was increasingly divulged by the characters leading up to Gail’s fate. At first, we’re lead to assume that she’s in the same building – we don’t even know there are others until Lewis mentions it. Then, we are led to assume that they accidentally cut out the power to the elevator column for their building when they shut off the rest of the switches, as scenes with Gail are intercut with scenes with other members of the gang doing random loud things, as if there were drowning out her cries for help. Finally, we discover she’s not in the same building at all – all she heard was a still-active Roomba. This is a good reveal, and its subtle enough not to notice the way it increases until its revealed. It’s a uniquely clever bit of writing in an otherwise middling episode.
Compare this this episode’s solid B-plot between Todd and Melissa, which finally gives an episode-long focus to a story that has become increasing darker as the season has progressed. Melissa, who has long been the trigger-happy survivalist of the group, has gone certifiably off-the-deep-end after killing one of Pat Brown’s crew in the season premiere. The show had let her decreasing sanity simmer in the background until the past few episodes in the new building.
This week, Melissa turns on a concerned Todd and asks both Tandy and Lewis to impregnate her. Here, we get an interesting spin of the first season’s dynamic. Then, Tandy was a horndog asshole with his only objective for several episodes being boinking a suspicious, disinterested Melissa (it also serves as a reminder how much better this show has gotten than that tired, increasingly obnoxious arc). Now a much better person in a loving relationship, he is worryingly befuddled by Melissa’s proposition and never seriously takes her up on it before she forces him out of the room. His only concern was that she asked Lewis, who is gay, before him. Considering the way both characters have gone, this was probably intended as a throwback to the Tuscon days and won’t go any further. Good.
Speaking of Lewis, his improved relationship with Tandy and the rest of the group is a good sign here, and hopefully he sticks around longer that I think he will be. That he and Tandy have developed an understanding and a rapport is a good sign for a character that was teetering close to being a Frank Grimes clone.
At the end of the episode, we discover that Melissa has left the group at the same time the discover Gail is missing. When the show returns from its Thanksgiving break, the ensuing search episode seems like it will be a turning point for this show. The show should use this opportunity to resolve Melissa’s arc and do something with Gail’s relationship with Carol, which still seems a little distant. The “wacky family” plot between Tandy and Carol and Gail only seems funny once.
In all, the episode’s best parts lay in not only how its structured, but also with great turns from January Jones and Mary Steenburgen. I didn’t watch Mad Men, but I have heard that Jones’ acting was not well liked by that show’s fans. On Last Man on Earth however, Jones has been impressive as Melissa, putting in superbly acted performances as her character has grown increasingly unhinged.
“Mama’s Hideaway” has a lot of moving parts, but it seems like its two plots only set up another more interesting episode instead of creating a story that stands up on its own. In the episode defense, we’ve had a lot of episodes just like it during The Last Man on Earth‘s run, and they always seem more satisfying after that second episode airs. Hopefully we’ll see if that’s the case with this one.