That’s more like it.
Last week, we saw a marked improvement in The Last Man on Earth following a series of uninspired episodes with state plots. For this week’s season finale, the show has turned in two of its best episodes in a long time, besting even the strong “Got Milk?” and “Spirit of St. Louis” from March.
The first episode of the double-header, “When The Going Gets Tough”, address the birth of Erica’s child, which has been the most pressing matter that has affected the group since their move to San Jose. The entire episode, up to the successful delivery, deals on serious tension from every angle. Even Tandy’s goofy antics like wearing a paper mask of Phil II (where did he get that in a post-apocalyptic world?) seem more like desperate attempts to cut through a cloud of anxiety than just him being his regular obnoxious self.
The Last Man on Earth has always worked best when its plots are grimly aware of when the show is set, and the dark overtones that run through the entirety of “When the Going Gets Tough” make for a compelling watch. Carol, meanwhile, is terrified by the sounds of Erica’s rough labor, and is growing increasingly concerned about her own mortality as a pregnant woman in a world without doctors. Kristen Schaal plays these scenes wonderfully, perfectly integrating Carol’s zany personality into the character’s deep, anxious fear.
One of the best little things about both episodes is how Melissa bluntly describes several horrifying concepts in a matter of fact detail. January Jones’ delivery is great in these scenes and adds a touch of humor without sacrificing the mood in order to make a joke.
Another solid is touch is how most of the interior shots in “When the Going Gets Tough” have a washed out, clinical color palette that matches both the mood and the gang’s makeshift hospital room. The show has used these subtle lighting effects before, but never to such great effect.
The entire episode builds on the uncertainty of Erica’s pregnancy ending successfully. At this point, it’s hard to ignore how little Erica has been developed as a character over the past three seasons – out of all the main characters, she’s the only one whose last name hasn’t been revealed. Yet, any other option than the one we got – Gail and Todd successfully delivering Erica’s baby daughter – would have been a weirdly sad way to end the season and a bad story decision.
Aftermath of the delivery is the brightest spot of the show’s darkest season, but the good feelings don’t last very long. While all of that is going on, Tandy and Jasper spot a huge fire in the distance and subsequently discover that a nearly nuclear power plant has melted down.
“Nature’s Horchata”, the season finale proper, begins with a weirdly lovely long shot of Tandy showing the group the fire and its billowing smoke cloud from the distance. In one of his increasingly rare good decisions, he suggests that they leave their home and find somewhere else to live.
Throughout the episode, the group is constantly reminded of the harsh realities of living in a world after people have disappeared. Tandy remarks that due to the fallout, they can never return to Northern California, dooming their cow, which they had accidentally left behind. When they search a library for a new place to live, Melissa notes that there are nuclear reactors all around the country, which could go at any minute just like the one in San Jose. Owing to Todd and Melissa’s love of The Shawshank Redemption, the group opts to head out of the United States entirely to Zihuatanejo in Mexico. Sadly, on the way out of the country by road, Tandy’s Geiger counter sadly picks up another nuclear incident.
The last scenes of the episode are an incredible series of coincidences that would be ridiculous if not how well all of them are executed in row, but also how the fit the show’s general mood and how its plots have worked. The group decides that their only way of getting out of the country is by sea, and the only way they can really do so is by heading to Los Angeles and taking a boat.
The group, however, is worried that Pat is still alive and around the LA area. The fact that he is indeed both in this episode is a little fanciful, but this is a show where these same characters found each other in the first place and later stumbled upon a magic solar powered office building. Pat only finds the group because Tandy and Carol’s house, which they’ve been pulling behind them in a trailer, catches on fire creating a slightly unrealistically huge smoke plume. The pacing is all there, as is the possibility that that this could all be Pamela – Kristin Wiig’s character – instead.
Tandy hesitates to leave, and in the middle of his big speech, he’s interrupted by Pat bursting into their boat. However, before Pat can kill the group, he’s shot and killed by Pamela. The fact that she found them (probably though the same way Pat did) is a pretty fun callback to the standalone “Got Milk?” and excellent pay-off for building that character in that episode. As mentioned before, the whole episode relies on a series of absurd coincidences, of which there are so many, that they kind roll into a weird sort of sense.
Overall, “When the Going Gets Tough” and “Nature’s Horchata” are superb season cappers, and a great way to end a shaky second half of the season. As of this writing, The Last Man on Earth is one of several live action comedies (the others being New Girl, Brooklyn Nine Nine and newcomer Making History) that have yet to be renewed by FOX. If Last Man is canceled (and I’m leaning toward it sticking around for at least one more season), this would be an okay pair of episodes to go out on. The surprise appearance of Pamela works now as a fun standalone ending, but it would be a bit of a shame to not see Kristen Wiig interact with Will Forte or Kristen Schaal on a half-hour sitcom (and hopefully they don’t kill her character like they have with so many other seventh/eighth members).There’s also the tantalizing possibility of Jason Sudekis returning to the cast as Mike, who’s fate has largely been left open, if implausible (although the show has made bigger breaks with reality, most of which have worked out fine).
Last Man on Earth only needs one more season to reach the 65 episode count that’s so important to lucrative syndication deals (which, yes, still matter in the age of streaming if the success of Parks and Recreation repeats is anything to go by). And four seasons sounds like it’s about the right amount of time for a show like this to run.
Hopefully FOX gives them that. Otherwise, this week’s finale would serve as a solid, if bittersweet, farewell to one of the most intriguing high concept comedy shows of the past decade.