Last week’s mid-season return of The Last Man on Earth featured none of the core cast members, but it still managed to tie up loose ends and move the story forward. After his improbable flight back to earth, Astronaut Mike Miller (Jason Sudeikis) is (after a run-in with a deranged paranoiac) alive and on his way to Tucson, Arizona, where he hopes to meet another living human. Will he learn the whereabouts of his brother, Tandy?
It’s an interesting question, if only because the return of the show is awash in questions about brotherhood. Now that we’ve returned to our little commune of survivors, we’re made to remember that New Phil died of appendicitis (in last season’s finale). It was a rare moment of drama, one that opened viewers to the vulnerability of a life in a barren world without practical science or health care. Even if the colonists tend to reproduce ways of living that worked before the virus struck, the reality is that they’re alone in the world. What was once a relatively routine medical problem can now mean certain death.
At the beginning of the episode, our colonists are giving New Phil his funeral. Todd sings Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping.” Gail, as usual, plays the accordion. Tandy, in a tuxedo, suggests that it might well have been one of New Phil’s favorite songs. He then announces that they will send him off “in the only way that truly makes sense: a Viking funeral.” His casket is set on a boat with some kind of piñata attached to the mast. Tandy struggles to push the boat while singing a custom version of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” In the aftermath of New Phil’s death and burial, it seems that the minds of the colonists are as deranged and damaged as ever — perhaps a bit more so.
Dejected by his performance at New Phil’s funeral, where he was unable to fire a flaming arrow to torch the casket-at-sea, Tandy confides in Carol that New Phil was like a brother to him — a strange proposition given that New Phil hated him, tried to steal his wife, and punched him in the face. Carol explains to Tandy that because he never got the chance to say goodbye to his own brother (who, again, is alive and headed to Tucson), that he might be projecting his feelings onto the now-dead New Phil.
Meanwhile, Todd has to deal with his refusal of Melissa’s marriage proposal. The problem, as Tandy explains to Carol, is that “Todd and Gail are boning.” Carol wants to intervene. (“Melissa’s my best friend, and she is getting boned against!”). She promises not to. When Todd explains to Gail that he’s not ready to tell Melissa about their affair, she’s annoyed but eventually relents. To mask the affair, Todd has taken to calling her “bub.” After her rejection, Melissa is worse for the wear. Carol finds her tee-balling holiday ornaments in the yard. She appears to have lost her mind. Later in the episode, Todd finds her unbedazzling her costume-jeweled boots with her teeth.
In yet another memorial scene, Tandy plays a song in New Phil’s honor, much to everyone’s consternation. The choice lyric: “You gotta say goodbye to your friends / because you never know when their life is gonna end.” For the most part, it seems that everyone has moved on from New Phil’s death, except for Tandy and Erica, who is pregnant with New Phil’s child. After putting on New Phil’s clothing and discovering that his middle name was Stacey, Tandy runs into Erica. He explains that he wants to be the father of her child. Erica reveals that New Phil’s last words, in fact, were instructions for the opposite: “Don’t let Tandy raise our baby.” Once this sets in, the characteristically volatile Tandy shoots arrows at a dummy version of Phil. “You’re not a viking,” he pouts. “You’re a sucking.” Later he burns his stuff.
In a fit of desperation, Melissa invites Todd to watch a motocross championship on TV. She nuzzles him. They kiss. The romantic back-and-forth between the two is not one of the show’s more engaging plot lines, but it does work as a kind of plainsong — a mundane bit that distracts us from inevitable craziness. And the craziness comes. After a touching a scene between Erica and Tandy, Carol confronts Todd about his two-timing of Melissa and Gail. And then she kisses him on the mouth. Does it mean anything? It’s hard to say. What is for certain, though, is that in the wake of New Phil’s death, they have all lost their minds.