Sunday, March 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Mike Crashes on Earth and Desperately Tries to Survive in 'Pitch Black'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.11 "Pitch Black"

Mike Miller's space capsule careens through the sky toward Earth, finally putting him on the same planet as his big brother. Mike thinks he is the last man on earth, but who knows what or whom he might encounter.

The Last Man on Earth had a pretty dramatic ending to its fall run of episodes. Gail failed to save Phil 2.0 from his burst appendix and Mike decided to take his chances and use the drop ship to return to Earth. "Pitch Black" focuses entirely on Mike's adventures as he lands safely on the planet for the first time in two years believing he is the last man on Earth. What happens next with Phil and the rest of the gang in Malibu following Phil 2.0's death will have to wait until next week. It's a smart strategy too. The little glimpses of Mike in space were quite an amusing subplot during the first half of the season. He is a character who can carry an entire episode by himself - much like Phil did in "Alive in Tucson." Of course, it's not long before Mike finds someone else alive in this world. But that just adds to the overall amusement of this episode. "Pitch Black" breaks from the mold and is truly innovative. Things will go back to normal next week - or as normal as things can get following a botched surgery that killed someone. But this episode was pretty great to watch.

Mike stayed in his space station for so long because he was afraid of the unknown. He didn't know how to descend back to Earth without the guidance of his mission control. As far as he could tell, the virus had wiped out everyone on the planet. He had no clue if anyone was still alive. He was only up there for an experiment with worms. They become his whole world. When they all left, he felt he no longer had a purpose. A fresh perspective is what allowed him to take this chance and return to the planet below. A newly discovered worm re-awakened the hope within him. It was a scary venture down to Earth. A journey he went through screaming and terrified for his life. But it was successful nevertheless.

Of course, returning to Earth doesn't solve any of his problems. He lands in the middle of the ocean. It's humorous that he lands directly on the middle of an abandoned ship. That helped cushion the impact a little bit. It's still a terrifying experience though. But then, the visual of him rowing across the empty and vast ocean in that water tricycle was hilarious. It's a convenient thing he finds immediately. It gives him the opportunity to escape his crash site in the pursuit of land and - hopefully - civilization. It's a tiring journey. Worm Phil still fills him with a lot of hope. But he's honestly just going in whatever direction he's peddling in and hoping that it will eventually lead him to land - as well as food and water, which he desperately needs.

Now, Mike named his miracle worm after Phil in order to solidify a grand personal attachment to the mission. He was committed to returning home and naming the worm after his big brother is a way to show that. It has always been an amusing joke that before the virus Phil was just a temp while Mike was in space. But here, it's seen that Mike still looks up to his big brother even though he has constantly bullied him. When Mike needs a reason to continue on this mission, he hallucinates a young version of Phil who taunts him back into working to find land and his family. It's a great setup because young Phil is played by Room's Jacob Tremblay. His appearance informs what the dynamic was like before the two brothers when they were younger. It may be more complicated now that they are older. But it's still significant that Mike envisions this version of Phil in order to motivate him to keep going forward.

However, Mike eventually comes into contact with another human who is still alive in this world. He wakes from his hallucinatory dream to find a ship nearby that just so happens to be stocked with all the supplies he needs in the world right now. Of course, that ship is manned by another survivor, Pat Brown (Mark Boone Junior). It continues to show that the title of the series really is a state of mind for all the people still alive following this devastating virus. Pat fled to the sea in order to avoid dying just like everyone else in the world. He knows just how damaging this disease can really be. He provides much more graphic details than anyone else ever has. That's a refreshing perspective too. Pat's world is defined by this virus. He refuses to die just like everyone else because he doesn't want the government to win. He takes every precaution in order to avoid any unnecessary risk. He accepts Mike into his world because of how isolated he has been from this plague as well. Of course, that isolation does some crazy things to the mind. Mike is pretty much convinced that Pat is going to kill him just to have another companion in this world.

And yet, Mike needs to see the "pitch black" isolation that is happening on land. It's a celebratory moment for Mike when Pat takes him to shore for a supply run. This venture through Miami shows just how much Mike misses the everyday aspects of life. The noises that let him know that the rest of the world was still alive. Right now, it's desolate. All he has is Pat, who knows much more than he is telling Mike. Pat believes Phil's "Alive in Tucson" signs are just a big government conspiracy to kill everyone still left alive. He refuses to go and check it out to see if a new civilization is forming with people immune to the disease. It's a reality that Mike can't understand. He needs to know for certain what has happened to his family. He wants to believe that they are immune and alive. Phil's sign gives him hope. That's the same quality that is taken away from Pat as soon as this revelation leads to a big fight that tears a hole in Mike's hazmat suit. It's devastating to him. After being alone for two years, he gets this brief tease of a new companion. Only for it to be taken away by his own selfish desires. However, he now has worm Phil to comfort him while Mike no longer needs the insect to propel him forward on this journey.

Of course, it's going to be a long trip. Mike has to learn how to survive in this world while making his way back to Tucson. He has an ambulance still filled with gas. But that will only last for so long. He then has to find where the group lived at one point. He has to see if his mom and dad died at home or went to the big quarantine area to perish. He then has to find someway to make his way to Malibu to reunite with his brother again. It sounds like a lot. But the show wouldn't spend so much time with Mike if it was plotting a big reunion between the siblings. And honestly, after this season so far, I'm really looking forward to that moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pitch Black" was written by David Noel & John Solomon and directed by John Solomon.
  • Of course, Pat would name his boat "Deez Knots." That's exactly the type of name this show is amused by. Also, it's no surprised that Mike makes a seaman joke about Pat.
  • Mike is hoping that he is immune to the virus. He's already exposed to it which could complicate his journey home. But he's probably going to fight until he gets any answers as to what happened to his family. The audience knows he's probably immune because Phil is. But it could also be interesting to see someone actually dying from the disease that wiped out most of humanity - especially considering how Pat describes it.
  • Pat showing Mike where all the bodies were largely felt like the show finally answering that lingering question the audience has been asking since the very beginning. It's certainly an explanation. It's a tad too simple but at least the show did address it. And now, we never have to worry about it again.
  • Worm Phil was such a huge part in getting Mike back to Earth that it's somewhat disappointing that he won't be continuing on Mike's journey across the country. Though he does have a very appreciative new owner in Pat.
  • That transition from a young Phil threatening to pee on Mike to Pat washing down Mike in his suit was pretty great.
  • I also wonder if this is all we'll see of Tremblay too. He's great for a couple of jokes and seeing just what gets Mike motivated. It could be a fun device to continue as Mike makes his way across the country to be reunited with Phil - who really hasn't changed all that much since his childhood.