Monday, October 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Carol Tells a Lie Just So Phil Can Deliver an Apology in 'Dead Man Walking'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.03 "Dead Man Walking"

Carol takes a page out of Phil's book when she tells a lie from which it is difficult for her to recover.

The Last Man on Earth has proven itself to be better in its isolating qualities than it is with big group dynamics. Last season started so well in the beginning but as it added more and more people to the cast it started feeling redundant. This season has already gotten off to a strong start by focusing solely on how Phil and Carol's relationship has changed and strengthened since they left Tucson six months ago. Their bond is stronger than it has ever been before. But now, they face criticism by being placed in a group setting again. Will the addition of so many more characters take away from the solid and intimate emotional work of the season's first two episodes? It's uncertain. "Dead Man Walking" plays things up as a divide between Phil, Carol and the rest of the group. That's intriguing. Their relationship has gotten stronger but will it continue to be that way once more people are interacting with them on a regular basis?

This episode does a great thing in making the trip to Malibu to visit the rest of the survivors something that both Phil and Carol want. Phil made the sacrifice for Carol because he knew it would make her happy to see everyone again. He's terrified of how they'll react to him - as he should. He did a bunch of horrible things to them last season. Stuff that isn't easy to forgive and forget. That's contrasted nicely with the dark and hurtful thing Carol did at the end of the previous episode - startling Gordon to death. They both want to be friends with these people again. They just have a horrible time communicating that fact.

Melissa, Todd, Gail, Erica and other Phil have been able to thrive as a community since leaving Tucson. Phil was the source of all of their problems. With him gone, they were able to live happy lives. They are happy that Carol has come back to them. They always liked her. Phil was always the problem. She was just willing to give him a second chance much more than the rest of the group. These five other survivors have a right to be mad at Phil for what he did to them. But the level of their open hatred even with Carol fabricating a lie about his death sorta makes Phil a sympathetic figure who just wants to prove how sorry he is. Phil and Carol are doing their best to get the group to listen to them and embrace them for what they have become in this world. And yet, Melissa and the rest of the group believing that Phil kidnapped Carol out in the desert gives the impression that they think Phil is irredeemable. A menace that has been rid from their lives forever. That level of animosity can't easily go away - especially when Carol is trying to play into Phil's fake death on the heels of the death of a man she didn't know but the rest of the group adorned.

It's no surprise that Phil and Carol's plans to get the group to soften their views on Phil failed. It was trickery that didn't establish a genuine connection of meaningful change. Carol was telling an elaborate lie in order to manipulate the emotions of her friends. It's something she commits to in the name of love. But it's also something she struggles with as she is just doing her best to get Phil back into the good graces of the group. They are consumed with real guilt at the moment. Sure, they are willing to put up with Carol again despite what she just did to Gordon. But that doesn't make them emotionally ready to forgive Phil even with this elaborate lie. Carol coming clean to them is the only thing that can help rebuild that connection. She pleads with them to take him back after it became clear that none of them wanted to accept Phil again. It worked because she was honest and they do trust her.

But then, Phil had to barge into the room and potentially ruin all the hard work Carol just did on his behalf. Phil holding the group at gunpoint just so he can make them listen to his sincere apology is something that only Phil would think is okay. It's completely ridiculous and over-the-top. It's a wonderful mixture of zany and heartfelt as he tells the group how immensely sorry he is. But it's still a polarizing action that requires immediate consequences afterwards. Phil and Carol struggle to communicate with the rest of the group in this episode. They are isolating people. They work wonderful together. But how does that change when friends are also thrown into their world? This episode does lose a little bit of the special touch from the first two episodes of the season. Nearly every scene is told from either Phil or Carol's point-of-view. The supporting ensemble really hasn't been developed all that much from the first season. It's largely just a herd mentality versus Phil and Carol. That works remarkably well in this episode. Though it could still become problematic in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dead Man Walking" was written by Erik Durbin and directed by John Solomon.
  • This is just a fantastic episode for Kristen Schaal as Carol. Her commitment to the Phil's dead story is very impressive even though it can fall apart at any second. Her openly weeping on the beach and her insistence on this plan working were incredible.
  • This was also a pretty good episode for Mary Steenburgen as Gail. She is stuck mourning a man who the audience doesn't know. And yet, she perfectly nails the monologue about how she loved him despite his many horrible tendencies.
  • It's interesting that the group was able to put up with Gordon despite his many horrifying qualities because he allowed them to stay at his mansion with 12 unusable bathrooms.
  • Other Phil and Erica were dating before Carol came back into the picture. As soon as she arrived, he left Erica in order to be with her. That will probably create some conflict in the future.
  • Phil is locked up in medieval stocks at the end of the episode as punishment for holding the group at gunpoint. That sounds like a reasonable punishment. It can also make for a very amusing concept in the next episode.