Monday, May 4, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil Desperately Tries to Win Back Carol's Love in 'Screw the Moon'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 1.13 "Screw the Moon" (Season Finale)

Phil and Carol reconcile their differences.

Phil Miller began this season believing that he was the last person on Earth. He hadn't seen any other person in two years. That isolation effected him in a major way. It didn't force him to become a better person. It just allowed for his issues to become more apparent once the society started to reform around him. He soon met Carol and Melissa meaning he wasn't the last person on Earth. Then came Todd making him no longer the last man on Earth. Gail and Erica joined the party and expanded the community in Tucson. And lastly, new Phil showed up meaning that he wasn't even the last Phil Miller on Earth. So much of Phil's identity in this new world was taken away from him simply by the growing list of people who survived the virus that killed the majority of the Earth's population.

More people meant that Phil had the opportunity to live out his fantasies. When Carol brings up the idea of casual sex in "Screw the Moon," Phil complains that that is literally his entire thing. Phil wanting to have sex with every single woman who joined this community has been a prominent part of his narrative arc all season long. He desperately wanted to sleep with all of them and got angry when either the women or the new men got in his way. He thought the universe was bringing him what he desperately wanted. And yet, he wasn't being rewarded for his actions which only further highlighted his horrible and narcissistic tendencies.

Those qualities became more apparent the deeper into the season the show got. The audience could identify and relate with Phil when he was all alone in this world. He was desperate for that human connection again. And yet, it got increasingly more difficult to do so the more people the show added to its ensemble. As Phil became a more specific character, it became more apparent that he was a horrible human being. He didn't care about the other survivors. He had a smart idea to bring all of them to Tucson - but even that is deeply rooted in a selfish desire to find a woman to have sex with.

The community around Phil wasn't oblivious to the man he truly was. Carol saw how rough he was around the edges from the very first moment she met him. She still wanted to believe that deep inside there was a decent human being who deserved to come out. Melissa never for a second believed his act and only saw him as a pathological liar. Betrayal was a part of his relationship with Gail and Erica pretty quickly after he first met them. They all wanted him out of their community. And yet, they also had a willingness to forgive him and embrace him again because of their shared connection of being the last few people still alive on Earth.

New Phil's presence shock up the core dynamics further by providing a superficial man who everyone admires and is jealous of. He existed solely to replace Phil as the alpha male of this community. New Phil was able to provide for the community in a way that old Phil never could. He cared about the survival of the human race in a way that won over the hearts of the women. Phil never liked that. He plotted New Phil's death. That was a dark twist at the end of the previous episode. However, in the finale, it's presented as something that Phil and Todd want to do but would never actually follow through and do it.

That's what makes the two Phil's different. They are rivals battling it out for supremacy in this community. One is able to win it over by making genuine improvements while the other is just bitter about the whole thing. New Phil simply doesn't care what Phil has done for this community. He brought them all to Tucson for a chance to reconnect with other human beings again. Is that enough to offset every horrible thing he has done afterwards. The rest of the community is willing to embrace Phil once again despite his latest temper tantrum of locking himself in his house for three days. New Phil isn't willing to do so however. He actually does take Phil out into the desert and leaves him there with enough food and directions to make it to some other city to survive in. That's an incredibly cold move. New Phil is somewhat justified because of how horrible Phil has been for so much of this season. But no one else thought banishment was the proper way to deal with this situation. In fact, New Phil's willingness to actually "kill" Phil is what gets them to finally turn on him as well.

It's all played through Carol's eyes because Phil realizes that he may actually be in love with her. It's sweet how they couldn't stand each other in the first days of meeting each other. And now, they both have a sense that they belong together. It's a partnership that's weird. And yet, Carol is there for him in a way that no one else is in the very end. Left alone in the desert, she is the only one who knows that he'll never be able to survive on the rations that New Phil provided for him. She sees it as her duty to make sure that he survives out there. That is then paired with a genuine moment of Phil's affections for her. Him declaring that he wrote a song for her entitled "Carol" was initially played as something that he thought up in the heat of the moment like so many of his previous lies throughout the season. Instead it was actually something he really did. He wrote a song for her. That proves that there is still a good person buried deep inside him. Carol brought that person out. She had an effect on him that was meaningful. Now is hardly the time to turn her back on him. He needs her now more than ever before.

So now, Carol and Phil are riding off into the sunset. Destined to travel the world once again. But now, they actually have a companion on their journey. They may no longer hold the fate of the entire human race on their shoulders. But they also have respect and admiration for one another in a way that feels surprisingly earned in the moment. It's a great final sequence (save for the final reveal of the episode). It sets up an interesting second season. But one that's filled with endless possibilities which is such a creatively fertile ground to mine in terms of actual storytelling.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Screw the Moon" was written by Erik Durbin & John Solomon and directed by John Solomon.
  • Todd and Melissa are able to work through all of their issues because they realize that Phil tried to kill Todd when he took him out to the desert earlier in the season. Melissa even said that she did love Todd - which is different than saying she loves Todd.
  • If Season 2 is about Phil and Carol living on the road together, how much will the audience see of Melissa, Todd, Gail, Erica and New Phil back in Tucson? Things will obviously be tense considering what New Phil did, but is that enough to generate interesting story?
  • I have no idea how to take that final reveal that in a distant space station another man is still alive who is played by Jason Sudeikis and who also happens to be Phil's brother. That sets up even more great possibilities for story in the future if he were ever to make it to the ground. It certainly sets up a different and more personal side to Phil.
  • At times this season has been frustrating to watch. There were a few episodes in the middle that seriously made me consider bailing on the show. Things never again reached the highs of the first few episodes when it was just Phil and Carol. And yet, things did turn around enough in the end to make the season as a whole fell like it had a purpose.