After last week’s solid but somewhat below average scenery setting episode, it’s an absolute joy to see an episode like “The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths” that both draws upon character relations and development all while keeping the show’s post-apocalyptic setting front and center. If you’ve been reading my reviews of this show over the past year, you might have figured that I have quite a liking for episodes exactly like this one, and it did not disappoint.
This week’s episode is a good example of how the show has shifted in its focus from Will Forte’s Tandy to its entire ensemble, with its plot arguably being just as much Lewis’ (and Carol’s) story than it is Tandy’s. The episode focus on themes of loss that have been only touched upon over the past three seasons. Every one of our seven main characters lost everyone they knew before the virus, and it’s been a long time coming for a focus on this.
In one of Tandy’s many attempts to befriend Lewis, he discovers that Lewis’ partner Mark was stuck in Japan when the virus hit. Ever the optimist, Tandy tries to convince Lewis to return to Seattle to see if Mark not only returned home, but survived. Lewis refuses to entertain this suggestion, so Tandy forces his hand by tasing him and loading him into a car. Despite a few hangups from Tandy’s eccentricities, this is the long-awaited episode where Lewis finally begins to understand Tandy’s headspace. During their car rides to and from Seattle, Tandy explains to him the string of unlikely events that have befallen him (meeting Carol just as he is to commit suicide, Mike arriving on Earth and finding him) and because of them, this is why he cannot hold out on the sliver of home that Mark is alive. Hopefully, the actions in this episode ends Lewis’ role as a Frank Grimes to Tandy’s Homer Simpson and perhaps grows more into the show’s deadpan voice of reason.
After convincing Lewis to leave a note on the door of his old home, in case Mark ever shows up, Tandy abruptly decides to visit Tuscon to see if Mike has passed away. When they get to the Miller family home, Tandy does not open Mike’s door. Considering that he isn’t ambulatory around the house, it’s likely that Mike is dead and Tandy just wants to leave a glimmer of home (or just in case The Son of Zorn doesn’t pan out for Jason Sudeikis). Even though it’s just a unopened door and note we never see, it’s still a sweet farewell to a character to a character that I wish we spent more time with.
Meanwhile, the Carol-led B-plot is a reflection of Tandy’s, explaining some of her eccentricities in a zany but ultimately heartbreaking way. Carol pressures a reluctant, vaguely annoyed Gail into being her unborn child’s grandmother. Then, she demands that Gail make that title official by legally adopting her as her daughter (a great, continued use of Carol’s backstory as a notary). We haven’t seen much interaction between Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen throughout the series, but they bounce off of each other so well here. Carol’s determination and unwillingness to take no for an answer spills over into two heartbreaking confrontations: Gail’s reevaluation that she had a son that died before the virus, and Carol’s admission that Gail reminds her of her own mother. I’m not too sure about writing team’s decision to actually have Gail sign those papers. A firm, final understanding no would have made sense for her character, but I’m interested to see how that plotline continues next week.
We only get one real scene featuring Todd and Melissa’s increasingly bizarre relationship this week, as Melissa opts for an all too realistic “Shawshank Redemption” roleplay. Todd plays along for a bit (complete with a great fake Morgan Freeman voice), but Melissa’s continued mental deterioration has gone from an offbeat character flaw to incredibly concerning. Her behavior has been largely regaled to the background, or C-plots, and I hope it takes full focus very soon, because it’s something that is just to interesting to only have spend a few minutes on in every episode.
Ultimately, “The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths” is an episode of about hope and unbridled optimism courtesy of two of the most unwavering and wide-eyed optimists on television. The Last Man on Earth at this stage is a well-oiled machine with a great cast comfortable with their characters. Neither Tandy or Carol go total cartoon character here, but their extreme actions (Tandy tasing Lewis, Carol’s near-hissy fit when Gail turns her down) are both funny and make sense for their personalities. Overall, a great 22 minutes with two-and-a-half great plot threads that I’m interested to see unfurl over the next few weeks.