The Last Man on Earth’s first season strayed a bit in the middle, with the seemingly unending tale of Phil Miller’s obsession with Melissa Shart. When viewers signed on after that amazing pilot, they probably didn’t expect the show to turn into a weekly half hour of Will Forte cringingly trying to make it with January Jones. It never lost its unique comedic voice, but it definitely lost its direction, before recovering nicely in its final episode.
Thankfully season two starts as strongly as the first one did. Melissa, Todd, the other Phil Miller and the rest are out of the picture as Phil and his wife Carol (Kristen Schaal) travel America together on an ersatz honeymoon. They cruise through DC in a stealth bomber, parking in a strip mall as Carol uses Phil’s patented gunshot method to break into a Shop Plus and grab some tequila. After some equivocation throughout that first season, after trying to break Phil’s worst habits and turn him into a respectable husband, Carol has fully embraced the almost nihilistic freedom of living in a world without a society. And to remind us things are back to how they were before they tried to recreate some semblance of the past world in Tucson, Phil’s face is one again coated in an unruly beard.
Carol and Phil’s sojourn in the White House isn’t just another funny glimpse at living in a world without rules. As irresponsible as they might act, it’s kind of sweet to see how well their relationship works now. After a tumultuous first season, Carol and Phil feel like a true couple, and that might be worth Carol giving herself over to Phil’s darker impulses. And we still see the sentimental Carol of old, the woman who loves craft time and cares about her friends, and who regularly makes little art pieces about her exploits with Phil and the group they left behind in Tucson.
The only thing Phil and Carol really fight over at this point is finding a home. It’s still important to Carol to lay down roots, even in a wasteland, and Phil’s tried to find a place they can agree on. They even wind up back in Delaware, where we get a look at both Carol’s pre-virus life and how people tried to deal with the virus as it made its way through the population. It might be best for the show to not answer too many questions about what happened to everybody—a virus doesn’t explain where their bodies went, what happened to animals, or why every store and house seems perfectly preserved as if everybody disappeared in a hurry—but for those who care about such questions we now know that there were tools and plans to prevent catching the disease. They just didn’t work for Carol’s roommates, who are almost as fleshed out as any of the Tucson crew despite only being mentioned in a few lines of dialogue from Carol.
It almost feels like Forte and the other folks behind the show are rewinding back to when Phil and Carol were first married and exploring a possible first season that could have been. It might have been a more wayward show had it immediately struck out in this direction, but it probably would’ve been a more charming one without the constant focus on Phil’s libido.
This show’s greatest strength is the rapport between both Forte and Schaal and between Phil and Carol. The performers aren’t just on the same page, but the same sentence, both exploring the kind of absurdity they’re known for while still creating two relatively grounded and believable people. And Phil and Carol might not be an ideal couple—he still seems surly at times, she’s still aiming for a semblance of normalcy that he seems to reject—but they feel like a real couple, two people with clear flaws trying to make each other work better. So it’s legitimately sad when Phil accidentally abandons Carol at a gas station.
The four characters left behind in Tucson don’t make an appearance, Phil and Carol aren’t the only people we see this episode. At the end of last season we learned that Phil’s brother is an astronaut who’s alive up in space. He’s played by Jason Sudeikis and we get a better look into his life this episode. He’s performing experiments alone with two worms, who he talks to just like Phil talks to his sportsball friends. He knows there’s a virus and that everybody is dead, and that’s the crux of his dilemma: does he return to a dead Earth and potentially catch the virus himself, or dwindle away in space with only worms to kill the boredom? It’s bad to be the last man on Earth: it’s probably worse to be the last man alive and not even be on Earth.
This episode returns the loneliness that was at the heart of that amazing pilot to the front and center of the show. Phil drives to Tucson, hoping Carol made her way there, and finds the old neighborhood abandoned, his old house burned down. Carol sits alone at a gas station somewhere in America. Phil’s brother is alone in space, steeling himself for a return to a possibly lethal planet. Phil is alone in Tucson, without his only friend, and without even the community that exiled him. The Last Man on Earth is a hilarious show, but also one of the saddest.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections.