America—or at least the tiny slice of America that keeps up with Phil Miller’s weekly exploits—seems to agree: you can make a TV lead too unlikable. I’ve admired the extent to which The Last Man on Earth has gone to make us hate Will Forte’s character, but the repetitive ways in which it has reinforced that hatred have been a drag. Thankfully last night the show finally worked past its central hang-up, blowing up the dynamic between Phil, Carol (Kristen Schaal) and Melissa (January Jones). Phil and Carol are no longer married, and Phil is no longer desperate to sleep with Melissa. He’s now desperate to sleep with Melissa or maybe Gail (Mary Steenburgen) or perhaps Erica (Cleopatra Coleman), those last two at maybe the same time.
Yes, two more survivors join the fold this week, and they’re both attractive women. Attractive, desperate women, who have so missed the company of men that they’re apparently willing to share Phil almost on sight.
Before they arrive, the show hints back to earlier episodes, with Phil being endlessly annoyed by Carol, who has now moved into his house. Carol’s made Phil’s house her own, moving around his stuff and adding a happy little poodle to the Monet in Phil’s living room. (It’s new title: “Dog Bridge.”) This opening act was a nice change from the last few episodes and Phil’s obsession with Melissa, reminding us that Carol is as crazy as Phil and letting Schaal and Forte’s absurd characters bounce off each other for a few minutes.
When an exasperated Phil tells Carol he’s leaving to run errands, she gives him a shopping list full of household necessities. He’s in the middle of burning everything on her list in a parking lot, angrily arguing with God over making him think Carol was the last woman on Earth before sending Melissa his way, and pleading for a do-over, when Gail and Erica suddenly pull up in their SUV. Phil, the desperate creep that he is, sees his do-over in reach, and tells Gail and Erica they’re the first people he’s seen in years. His goal is to set up a secret second life, like a husband from a Lifetime movie or a Donahue guest.
Complications arise when Erica sees Phil’s wedding ring, which leads to an interesting aside. Phil surprisingly seems to feel guilty when Erica asks about his wife. A guy who has spent several episodes openly loathing his stranger wife and lusting after the only other woman in sight hesitates on the cusp of living out one of the most common fantasies found in the pile of dirty magazines he used to keep in his dining room. He even heads back home, bringing Carol everything she asked for, before telling her he was going camping for the night and heading straight back to Gail and Erica’s mansion.
Basically the first of last night’s episodes was Phil telling another long string of lies in hopes of getting laid. The biggest lie, obviously, is when he tells Gail and Erica that nobody else is alive. The second biggest lie comes when he returns to Gail and Erica and makes up a story about his ex-wife Carol dying before whatever virus depopulated the world. Even with these lies he almost ruins his chances by unintentionally insulting both women, pointing out Gail’s age and Erica’s race and saying both were on his bucket list. He’s able to smooth things over, though, and eventually the three decide to drive out to the hot springs to go skinny dipping. And on the way there they pass by a car full of Carol, Melissa and Todd, on their way to the party store to get balloons to surprise Phil with, because Todd and Carol think Phil is such a great guy. Once again, right as Phil is about to fulfill his sexual fantasies, a car pulls up to ruin it.
This is the most cringe-worthy moment the show has set up yet, with Phil pathetically trying to hide in the back of Gail and Erica’s SUV. When he finally comes out he tells another huge lie, about how he wasn’t trying to keep Gail and Erica away from the others, but was actually setting up an elaborate prank. Every word buries Phil deeper, and even Todd turns on him. Seeing through his pathetic excuses, the five abandon Phil on the side of the road as they all drive together back to the cul de sac to get to know one another.
The second episode deals with the fall-out from Phil’s lies. Melissa and Todd are friendly to Gail and Erica, but Carol basically calls them sluts and refuses to eat the “hussy pie” that Gail bakes her as an apology. Phil slowly walks back to his house in a montage that’s shot and edited like a spaghetti western, but is kicked out by Carol, who goes on a hilariously angry rant where she compares him to like eight different animals at once.
The crucial moment in the second episode comes when Phil realizes he needs to genuinely apologize for his lies. (Of course this comes after he shows up at Carol’s door with a perm, claiming to be Phil’s twin brother Mike.) Drunk on top of the pool table back at O’Rozco’s, Phil comes to terms with his horrible behavior, and returns to the cul de sac to apologize. He admits all his lies to the other five survivors—yes, he didn’t co-write Sting’s “Fields of Gold”, and yes, he never should’ve married Carol, because he lied when he said “I do.”
Coming clean earns Phil at least a bit of respect, and Carol actually responds in a rational, mature way, agreeing that they should get divorced. She writes up an agreement, makes Phil sign and initial at various spots, notarizes it herself, and it’s official: they’re just friends, and no longer man and wife.
It makes sense that the show didn’t want to add too many characters too quickly, but the end result here should’ve happened two or three episodes ago. If the Phil / Melissa thing had run its course in half the time, the show wouldn’t have felt like it was spinning its wheels so much. I don’t expect Phil to immediately become a better person now that he’s finally acknowledged how awful he is, but hopefully they can find new ways to make us hate him that don’t involve sex. Of course now that there are two more single women in the world, I’m sure we’ll see Phil’s desires lead him into sad and embarrassing situations again. Let’s just hope that it’s not the sole focus anymore—I think we’ve all had our fill of the weird post-apocalyptic Three’s Company this show turned into for a few weeks.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. Follow him on Twitter @grmartin.