‘The Last Man on Earth’ Season 2 Episode 9 Recap: Secret Santa

Perhaps in an attempt to grow the shrinking hearts of her fellow colonists — the last episode, which ended with the butchering of a bull, was bleak — Carol Pilbasian-Miller has covered their entire compound, wall-to-wall, in Christmas decorations. With the exception of Tandy, who is dressed in camouflage as a Christmas tree, no one cares. Still, when he unveils himself, much  to the surprise of the colonists, and sings “Tandybaum, O Tandybaum,” they seem genuinely pleased — especially Todd, who we now know is sleeping with Gail.

Meanwhile, it’s time for the group to choose their Secret Santa recipients. But when Phil, who is still living outside of the house, on the margins of this tiny society, walks by outside, Tandy invites him in to choose a name. In a show that is so given over to the ebb and flow of behavioral patterns — ways of living that crumble with the slightest societal pressure — it’s worthwhile to note here that Tandy has (by now) more than redeemed himself with his persistent near-selflessness. But can Tandy really be expected to sustain his goodwill in the face of total indifference?

There are signs that Tandy is beginning to crack, especially when he talks to Phil. (If you need a refresher, Phil tried to leave the colony and Erica, who is pregnant.) After Tandy convinces Erica to let Phil move back into the house, he goes to deliver the good news.

“Santa’s arrived early this year,” Tandy says to an unimpressed Phil, “and he’s got two big lumps in his big ol’ Christmas sack.” He spits his Secret Santa paper into Phil’s hand. He means to give Erica’s name to Phil so that he can use the gift exchange as a mea culpa. Phil accepts, but he seems weirdly stoic. Outside the house, Tandy fumes. It’s not the first time he will buckle in the face of indifference.

Now, I’ve spent nearly ever recap this season exasperated by the subplot of Mike Miller, astronaut and brother to Tandy, who is trapped alone on a space station in orbit around the Earth. Even if we don’t know whether Mike Miller’s timeline will ever cross with his brother’s — although that question may have been answered on this episode — we do know that his best friend is a worm named Terry. In this episode, we find him at the tail end of a meltdown (his radio played tricks on him, so he broke it), only to regain his cool when it counts. Or maybe. First, he apologizes to Terry for yelling at him…

Back on Earth, Carol is still bothering everyone with her Christmas decorations, but she does discover that Todd and Melissa have split up. Unsurprisingly, we next find Todd making out with Gail. It’s fair to say, at this point, that this subplot is kind of senseless, given that Gail can’t have kids (or doesn’t want them), and the reason Todd and Melissa broke up was because of a disagreement whether to have children.

Speaking of children, though, Phil ignores Tandy’s advice that he should give Erica the Hope Diamond, choosing instead to install ultrasound equipment so that she can see their baby. (Luckily, Gail is a nurse). It comes down to a sweet moment in a show that is becoming relentlessly if comically bleak — especially for network television. But if you’re wondering what the other colonists got for Christmas, here goes: Carol received (from Erica) a chair from Oprah’s studio under which is J-Lo’s green dress; Todd gets Gayle “the actual ZZ Top car; Carol bedazzles gets Melissa some bedazzled boots; Tandy buys himself a yacht, which promptly blows up; and Melissa christens Todd “prom king,” because he was bullied at school. He’s receptive to the gift but not all that impressed. Oh, and Gail gives Phil a wicker ball.

Next we find Tandy venting to Carol about how Phil won’t accept any of his help, but just when he’s about to smear him, Phil walks up and asks Tandy if he wants to go get a drink. (Of course he says yes.) They just sit there in the dark, drinking — as I probably would if it were the end of the world — saying nothing.

When they return to the house, Melissa, wearing her bedazzled boots, attempts to win back Todd’s affection (in front the group), but she is thwarted when Phil collapses onto the ground holding his stomach. It’s a rare moment that shows how truly alone and fragile the colonists are in the world. They simply lack the basic structures and comforts of society. Without doctors, even appendicitis could mean death.

You have to give it to The Last Man on Earth: few network television shows would allow a holiday episode to end so bleakly — we never find out what happens to Phil. But it gets worse. When we cut back to the space station, astronaut Mike Miller, who has now lost his best friend and worm Terry, has decided to end it all. He puts his own name by the list of the dead, and proceeds to jettison himself into space through the airlock, only to realize, a moment too late, that Terry is alive after all.