Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - A Gift Exchange Leads to Some Wonderfully Emotional Moments in 'Secret Santa'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.09 "Secret Santa"

Along with most human life, the virus wiped out normal traditions and holidays. As Christmas approaches, Carol spearheads a "Secret Santa" gift exchange to spread some festive cheer.

Over the last few episodes, The Last Man on Earth has done a better job at being an ensemble show. This is a show that is much stronger when it just focuses on a small handful of characters. Each season has started so strong because it largely just focused on Phil and Carol. Adding more characters became a formulaic twist in the first season with not enough character details being apparent to justify the rate at which the show had been growing. The show hasn't had any major additions so far this season. In fact, the new episodes have even found a way to go the unexpected route with that twist. That allowed the show to actually spend time with the characters it already had and made sure they were all interesting and funny. Some characters still need work. But the show has finally become an ensemble show that has a lot of fun in pairing different characters together for great comedic effect. That is apparent throughout "Secret Santa." The episode is hilarious but also has a big emotional impact during its second half.

The characters now all feel that they belong together. This season has been about Phil and Carol getting reintegrated into the main group. It's been a difficult process. At times, the rest of the survivors felt very cruel in the ways that they alienated Phil and then Phil 2.0. They almost became too nasty in the ways that they wanted to avoid maturity. Even though the group all came together in their search for (and eventual killing) of the bull, they are still far from being the perfect community where everyone gets along. Phil convinces the rest of the group to let Phil 2.0 move back into the house when they are all doing secret santa. And yet, tension is still in the air. No one is quick to welcome Phil 2.0 back into the home with open arms. Gail and Todd are sneaking around continuing to kiss and hook up. Carol has over-decorated the house to the annoyance of everyone. And yet, this secret santa gift exchange that Carol sets up is a way to unite the entire group for a truly special moment.

All of this episode really comes together once the group assembles to unveil their presents for each other. Because they are the only survivors in this world, they can go for extravagant gifts that are so out of the realm of possibility in a normal society. Erica gets things started in a big way unveiling Carol's gift as a chair from Oprah's studio audience with another gift being Jennifer Lopez's famous green dress. Carol has a number of great reactions throughout this episode - from her need to decorate everything to learning that Melissa and Todd broke up ("Did love making become a chore?"). But seeing her react to learning just how special this chair is was truly amazing. It set a high bar for the rest of the presents to top. The rest of the gifts are announced in quick succession. Todd gives Gail the ZZ Top car. Phil gives himself Pitbull's yacht and then promptly enjoys blowing it up before anyone else can enjoy. Melissa gives Todd the prom king title he has always deserved. Carol gives Melissa the boots she wanted but made sure to bedazzle them in the way that she does. And Gail gives Phil 2.0 a small wicker ball because she really doesn't care for him. All of these reveals are amusing because of how personal and over-the-top they are. It's a fantastic sequence.

But the show is also building to a really emotional moment that unites the group when it comes for Phil 2.0 to unveil his gift to Erica. Phil let Phil 2.0 have Erica's name for the gift exchange because he wants to better that relationship. Phil 2.0 isn't a fan of Phil's at all. And yet, Phil has been working very hard as of late for Phil 2.0. He has been the one to save him from making several potentially devastating mistakes. Phil still hasn't received a ton of gratitude. That's evident when Phil gifts Phil 2.0 the opportunity to win Erica back. He inserts himself a little too much. He sticks his head into the situation in the hopes of helping Phil 2.0 and Erica reunite. However, Phil 2.0 really doesn't need Phil's help to make a lasting impression on Erica. He opts not to give her the hope diamond necklace that Phil gave him. Instead, he chose to set up a sonogram in the solar-powered room so she could she her baby for the first time. It's such a thoughtful and moving gift. Everyone is there to experience it with her. It's a fantastic way to bring things to a close. It's in that moment where everyone sees the beauty that is life. It's a hugely emotional moment for all. They truly are a family in this together.

Of course, that's not the end of the episode. In fact, that moving moment leads to Melissa making a huge decision. She decides that she not only wants Todd back because he brings out all of her best qualities but she wants to marry him as well. It's because of what Phil 2.0 did for Erica that made her realize just how much she truly loves her. They had this rough patch that will get even uglier once Todd's secret romance with Gail comes out. And yet, it's a beautiful moment because it features Melissa realizing what she truly wants in this world. In that moment, she's not cold and selfish. She is vulnerable in front of everyone. She doesn't care because she just wants to be with Todd again.

However, Todd isn't able to give his answer because Phil 2.0 doubles over in severe pain. It's a cliffhanger that leaves his life in the balance. As this season has proved, none of these people are medical professionals. They couldn't save Gordon when he collapsed from a heart attack. And now, in this moment of peace, unity and happiness, another member of the group has fallen suddenly ill. Phil 2.0 had finally earned his way back into the hearts of the group. And now, he may be gone. It's always been mysterious why Boris Kodjoe has remained listed as a guest star this season. It made it feel like he was going to leave at any moment. That did keep things tense during his arc of lashing out at the rest of the group for their lazy attitudes. But now, he has actually humbled himself. It doesn't keep him grabbing a beer with Phil from being any less awkward. But it's an effort to make him a better part of the group again. It is now so tragic to lose him as a character. The show made that a much more emotional reaction than the previous death. Phil 2.0 has come a long way since he was first introduced and kicked Phil out of his home. This community actually cares about him again. They may be able to surround him with love. But it's unclear if there is anything they can realistically do to help him during this trying time. And that's a fascinating place to go with this arc right now. It should make the start of the next episode very interesting.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Secret Santa" was written by Kira Kalush and directed by Nick Jasenovec.
  • Things also take a very tragic turn up in space with Phil's brother, Mike. His story this story has also been very profound and funny. It too features a huge cliffhanger. Mike has basically given up on life after his last worm dies. He decides its better to go outside the space station to die just like everyone else. He doesn't see the point in living anymore. And then, he spots a new worm emerging and wants to abort his plans. However, it's too late and he is ejected into space.
  • The show could easily find ways to keep both Phil 2.0 and Mike alive. With Mike, his situation could be explained away as a hallucination from all that gas he has been consuming as of late. With Phil 2.0, his situation could be serious but not immediately life-threatening.
  • The sight gag of Phil coming out of the tree was very impressive and hilarious.
  • I'm looking forward to that chair becoming a permanent part of the living room set.
  • It's great that Melissa is wearing the bedazzled boots when she decides to propose to Todd.
  • Todd and Gail are really horrible at lying about their new romance. Their awkwardness is slightly over-played. Someone is going to find out sooner than later.
  • Carol to Erica telling her about the chair: "NO WAY! SHUT ALL THE DOORS IN THE HOUSE, ERICA!!!"