Three seasons in, and The Last Man on Earth finally has its first real antagonist, albeit one who does not move on camera for the entirety of this week’s episode.
The promos for “The Wild Guess Express” were intentionally vague on the fate of Pat (Mark Boone Junoir), who was run over by Todd (Mel Rodriguez) in the A-Team van at the end of last episode. After our gang is safely in Cher’s mansion (Carol discovering the body of the Oscar-winner), Tandy (Will Forte) checks in on Pat and there’s every indication that he is dead. Naturally, poor, sweet Todd is wracked with guilt over killing someone, even a gun-wielding psychopath.
In order to clear his friend’s conscious, Tandy decides to tell Todd that Pat is still alive. Tandy is firmly established as a pathological, terrible liar so it’s interesting that Todd believes him so thoroughly. He also seems to take glee in how thoroughly he vandalized the group’s home with threats from Pat, and how he specifically indicated that Pat was “just there” with incense and wet paint.
Tandy can’t keep up any sort of charade for any period of time. He is eventually torn between reassuring the group with the troupe and continuing a lie to cheer up Todd that he turns into a blubbering mess that is unable to communicate. Ultimately, he chooses to lie to the whole group. Tandy’s character development has been one of the show’s greatest strengths, turning him into a much more sympathetic character while remaining a bit of a cartoon. Here, his willingness to make up a lie for his friend is accompanied by the continued sight gag of him wearing those wacky fake eyebrows.
Even though this episode revolves around Todd and Tandy, it is Carol (Kristen Schaal) that comes out as its MVP. Kristen Schaal, long the show’s secret weapon, knocks it out of the park in the back half of the episode. After Tandy comes clean to Carol with the truth about Pat, they hatch an insane plan that would simultaneously clear Todd’s conscience and keep the rest of the group off-edge about a threat that wasn’t really there. Problem is they botch it: Their Pat proxy is literally a suit full of foam that Tandy beats to a pulp from a distance while Carol gives nutty commentary through binoculars. Schaal knocks this reading out of the part, as she basically calls Tandy’s body-blows on the Pat dummy as if she was a kooky Jerry Lawler.
The rest of the group is only mildly annoyed by the Millers’ spectacle (Mary Steenburgen gets some great one-liners: “Just let it play out. I like to see where these things go” and later, “I’m pretty sure Pat’s body isn’t made of foam”.) That is, except for outsider Lewis (Kenneth Choi), who is visibly angry at Tandy for leading them along. It’s only been two episodes, so I have no idea what the writers are planning to do with Lewis or how long they will keep him around. But in the way he dresses down Tandy and calls him on his shit reminds me of Frank Grimes on The Simpsons – an outsider who a man-child hero with contempt, and does not understand his acceptance by the other characters. Such a characterization only really works for a single episode, so hopefully this doesn’t become the character’s defining trait. Indeed he seems to understand what has happened when the rest of the group comfort’s Todd, who is again upset that he killed someone after all.
Or did he? The group seem semi-annoyed, but understanding and somewhat touched by the way Tandy trashed their house to cheer up Todd…except Pat’s boat is gone and his body isn’t in the trash where Tandy left it. This results in the third straight episode with a cliffhanger, a development with seems to add ever-increasing tension on the rare sitcom that is able to constantly and believably do so without risking the natural goofiness that makes it so appealing. To wit, you can get away with a lot of weird plot turns in a show set after the apocalypse.
It’s easy to think that keeping Pat alive makes this episode’s plot feel redundant, but its strengths lie instead in how it lays out the relations of the characters and their acceptance as a makeshift family (once and for all). It is in those aspects that “The Wild Guess Express” is successful. It will be interesting to see what the characters decide to next now that Pat is, for now, a threat once more.