Monday, October 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil is Constantly Punished as He Searches for Redemption in 'C to the T'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.04 "C to the T"

Phil finds redemption when he saves the day.

Phil's character arc this season on The Last Man on Earth seems to be redemption. It's a long journey to regain the trust of the community he destroyed last season. He was able to win back the love and support of Carol. But the rest of the survivors don't have any reason why they should welcome him back with open arms any time soon. Phil wants to be redeemed. Sure, his personality is still able to rub people the wrong. He still makes mistakes - like last week's hilarious sequence of him holding the group at gunpoint just to issue his big apology to them. But his intentions are genuine. He wants to be a part of a community. He wants to be less selfish. As he finds out in "C to the T," that's a lot harder than he thought. But he is making a good first step in that direction.

Phil was so cruel and horrible to the rest of the survivors last season. Part of the major criticism of those episodes was that he never seemed to learn from his mistakes. He was always trying to have sex with the new women as they joined the community. He always wanted to exert his dominance even though it always got him into trouble. He made mistakes but he was still focused on his selfish goals. Those selfish tendencies don't just go away because he's working for redemption now. In fact, it creates a fascinating character struggle for Phil in this episode. He wants to be punished for all the crimes he did against the rest of the group. They did want to give him a second chance and he blew it right away. His punishment now is for holding them at gunpoint. He deserves all of the cruelty bestowed upon him in this episode. The show isn't about to let him off the hook for how horrible he was last season. That's an interesting place to find the character and comedy.

However, it does feel like the rest of the group is being a little too cruel to Phil. Yes, he is aggravating. He just wants to prove to them that he has changed. He just doesn't know how to go about that in a way that can foster trust and friendship again. He keeps doing things that add to his punishment because they annoy the rest of the group. He willingly accepts them because he believes he needs to be punished for his crimes. It starts simply with him being held in medieval stocks. Carol points out just how barbaric it is to be treating him this way. But things are only just getting started with his punishment. He is then faced with five weeks of isolation in a separate part of the mansion. He can't do it though because the allure of fresh cheese is enough to weaken his resolve for redemption. That leads to a shock collar around his neck followed by a vocal shock collar being added. The rest of the group treats him like an animal because he keeps failing to communicate how he really feels.

Of course, that doesn't paint the rest of the community in a flattering light. Other Phil still just wants to constantly threaten Phil. He doesn't believe that Phil can change. To him, it's only a matter of time before Phil screws up in a way that hurts the rest of the group. He's not afraid to put that fear into Phil and treat him like an animal. Other Phil literally traps Phil in a dog house in the end as the final stage of his punishment. That is very cruel but the rest of the group thinks it's justified. It isolates Phil in a way that could push him back to his selfish tendencies. All the isolation from being alone in this world created that man in the first place. When other people started showing up, he didn't know how to act anymore. That's what created this dynamic in the first place. So while it's amusing to see Melissa tease him with the promise of water and beers, it's still not the best way to produce results that will be satisfactory to the rest of the group.

Phil has to take action in order to earn his freedom and win back some basic levels of trust. This community isn't willing to just forgive him based on his and Carol's word. It's much easier for them to punish him as soon as he does anything slightly wrong. They've been down this path with him before. They don't want to get hurt like the last time. So they are more cold and cruel to Phil than they've ever been before. But in the end, he does a selfless thing for the good of the group. When a fire breaks out and threatens to destroy the mansion while they sleep, Phil is there ready to stop it. He braces the pain that comes from wandering over his perimeters in order to put it out. When he's done, he willingly goes back into the dog house to await the group the next morning. That action is the first step to him become a better part of this community. They are grateful for what he did. But they don't celebrate him being released from his collars. Again, trust isn't a thing that can be built quickly. This one act doesn't make Phil a hero. But now, he has the chance to prove to the rest of the group that he has changed. What he does next will define whether or not this can be a healthy and strong community for everyone.

Some more thoughts:
  • "C to the T" was written by Emily Spivey and directed by Matt Villines & Oz Rodriguez.
  • I'm not going to start referring to Phil as Tandy again. This show is about Phil and his struggles. Plus, other Phil is the cruelest member of the rest of the community.
  • That first charades scene is hilarious. Everyone believed he was trying to communicate movie titles when he just wanted to get a message across about the pain from his collar. It was wonderful. X Factor!
  • It's hard to blame Melissa for her actions in this episode because of all of those times Phil tried to trick her into having sex with him. Plus, both the water and beer moments created some fantastic visual gags.
  • Carol enjoying that cheese was another very solid moment of physical comedy. So was Phil's.
  • The episode also points out that the rest of the group isn't perfect too. They have lives and secrets. They can't always be a group with one mind working against Phil. They need their own personalities. Todd is up to something that no one else knows about. I guess those answers will be coming next week.