This week’s episode of The Last Man on Earth has an air of inevitability to it. It always felt like the hours that Lewis spent in the flight simulator was always going to lead to him to taking off in a real plane, giving hope (however briefly) to our core group of character.
It was also a little obvious that said plane flight was going to be doomed.
Lewis’ ill-fated crash is the kind of “defeat from the jaws of victory” moment that Last Man has done a couple times before, but it’s never resulted in the death of a main-ish character. As inevitable as Lewis’ death seemed, it never felt cheap or obvious or disrespectful of the character. His death carried a bit of gravitas: We never do get to find out what happened to his partner Mark (Tandy, who had given Lewis hope about his survival earlier in the season, basically brushes Mark off as dead at Lewis’ funeral) and it reminded the viewer that Last Man isn’t just any sitcom. Every time a character on this show dies or is incapacitated, it’s because of things that would have been survivable in an ordinary world (like a first plane flight or an appendectomy).
Lewis had a wonderful arc as a character, warming up to the group’s quirks over a series of episodes while remaining the show’s most grounded-in-reality character. It’s also been wonderful to see an actor like Kenneth Choi, who has played supporting or recurring parts for much of his career, be an equal in such a strong ensemble as the one on The Last Man on Earth. It’s tough to say whether the character had run his course, but I certainly would have liked to have seen more of him.
As this point in time, it seems like Last Man is content on keeping six main characters at all times, with a doomed seventh rotating out (first Phil 2, then Mike and now Lewis). I’m unsure if Kristen Wiig’s Pamela Brinton will joined in that ill-fated spot, but it seems possible considering both the actress’ stature and what a waste it would be to introduce a character played by such a great comedic actor (sorry Wiig haters) and not have her interact with Will Forte or Kristen Schaal this season.
The rest of the episode is perfectly great aside from the build-up to Lewis’ death. It opens back where we started in the mid-season finale, with Melissa trapped in a focus group room while the rest of the group watch her through a two-way mirror. Each character goes in to the room one by one and comes back with an insult or cruel, warped lie that Melissa whispered into their ear. I wonder how many of those answers were improvised by either the actor in question or January Jones, but many of them are brilliantly absurd (i.e. Melissa telling Erica that Australia sank, cementing the fact that one of the few things the group knows about Erica at all is that she’s from Down Under).
“The Spirit of St. Lewis” is a fun, wistful goodbye to a solid recurring character, cemented further by a quite brilliant final sendoff. Lewis’ funeral is typically daffy,, complete with Carol’s daffy newspaper headline, Todd mournfully singing a Sugar Ray song and Tandy piloting a drone with what could possibly be his remains (“plus some bolts”) directly into a tree. Lewis hated Tandy’s offbeat, but well meaning, schemes and antics and it’s quite apropos that the final goodbye is one of them: A semi-admirable, semi-insulting rainbow flag superimposed onto another building on the office block grounds.
The only good that comes out of the display – which the rest of the cast brushes off – is that it just so happens to be the building where Gail is trapped in that elevator…and she’s still alive somehow. I thought that the “Gail is stuck” plotline lasted way too long last season (we know she’d eventually be okay and it was kind of a crime to keep Mary Steenburgen away from the action for so long). It’ll be good to see her up and around again. That is, if that’s what the producers eventually plan.
“The Spirit of St. Lewis” is the show’s second great episode in a row, returning from its mid-season break rejuvenated. The show seemed to be getting short on steam in the last few episodes before the break, so it’s great to see it back in top form.