This week’s episode of The Last Man on Earth has two solid plots, but neither has a satisfactory ending. It feels like another instance of the show having an episode that does not stand on its own and needs a second (or maybe third) to feel complete. That’s fine for some shows, but with Last Man, some of its best work as been with stand-alone pieces.
First, the best news of the episode: Gail is back, having survived ten days in that elevator despite severe dehydration and an accidental gunshot wound to the leg. It’s good thing that they dispensed with two hackneyed comedy tropes fairly quickly. First, the group just assumes she’s been on a bender in Napa and doesn’t understand the extent of her ordeal until she has some fluid in her system. If they kept that for the rest of the episode, it would have seemed extremely predictable, but it’s over with here in under five minutes. The second is that Tandy lies about Lewis’ death, but Gail being Gail, she sees through it immediately. This turns something that could have extremely lame to great in-character moment for much missed part of the cast.
The return of Mary Steenburgen to the cast after several episodes either isolated or out of the picture is extremely welcome. She’s the best part of an otherwise rudimental plot about her recovery and reunion with a concerned Carol. The plot wraps up with the two making up with one another, as Carol tries to take a “family picture” at long last.
It’s second plot that’s the more intriguing of the two, but it has the least satisfactory finale. Todd believes that heading to Melissa’s native Akron would answer some questions about her deteriorating mental state. Some of the show’s best work is when it uses the big, empty United States they have at their disposal, and the site of an empty Akron is a fun one. Todd discovers that he knows very little of Melissa’s life before the virus, like her success as a real estate agent or her charity work in Uganda. Their biggest clue comes from yet another one of Melissa’s oddball routines. After discovering her sleeping in her own bed, they wake up the next morning to discover her getting ready for work, putting out food for her dead dog, and popping a mystery pill. They believe this is the key to managing her symptoms, but she only has one left and doesn’t remember what it is.
This plot element is an intriguing one, as it seems to signify that Melissa’s descent into mental instability is not caused by the killing of Darrell in the season premiere but has been slowly building since her first appearance. Her slight paranoia and trigger happy nature in season 2 is definitely a sign of this. Much like the Gail-in-the-elevator plot, the Melissa-goes-crazy one is starting to wear thin. It’s lasted for the entire season, and while an arc like it in a show this is welcome, they’ve pretty much exhausted everything they can do with it. Then they just return to San Jose. It doesn’t really properly wrap up and I hope we get a few more clues down the road.
The hook for next week’s episode is an intriguing one. Carol has spotted someone moving in the background of her pictures with Gail, and the group must decide what do about the shadowy figure. There’s two options as to who this could be. The obvious answer is Pamela (Kristen Wiig), who we met in the mid-season premiere, but she’s only seen the group’s Malibu compound and they didn’t exactly leave clues as to their whereabouts when they left. But they also didn’t do the same when they left Tuscon, and Mike found them just fine. The other option is that it’s a completely new character, which would be the most interesting choice. It’s always been really neat when Last Man drops in a new character out of nowhere.
Overall, “Hair of the Dog” isn’t a bad episode, but it feels more like the connecting tissue between two considerably more interesting ones. It doesn’t really do anything to distinguish itself other than being “the episode where Gail comes back”. That’s extremely nto