Sunday, April 10, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil Reunites with Mike and the Sibling Rivalry Begins in 'Skidmark'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.14 "Skidmark"

Phil tries to host a party for the group and Todd's luck takes a turn for the better.

The second season of The Last Man on Earth has been building to the moment where brothers Phil and Mike Miller are reunited. Phil has been welcomed back into the main community of survivors and has been trying to be a better person. Meanwhile, Mike has been fighting to get back to Earth from space in pursuit of finding another human being. Both of them have had really interesting and engaging character arcs over this season. Both are fascinating and funny characters. They have now been reunited in a world that ripped apart and destroyed families. They've overcome the impossible in order to get back to one another. It should be a celebratory moment. And yet, that connection to the past informs their dynamic much more so than this reunion in a changed world. That allows the show to do something a little different with the latest addition to the main group. Fortunately, it will have a couple of episodes to really explore what the Miller brothers being together again actually means.

Phil and Mike are the only two people in the group of survivors who had a connection in the previous world before the virus wiped out civilization. They are brothers. They've spent their entire lives together. That greatly informs the dynamic they share in this new world. The survivors have been trying to change the expectations of what it means to be a part of a society. They don't have to do things the way they've always been done because the world around them has ended. They can make new rules to live by without the same kind of stigma that society would have carried before. All of these survivors went through a horrific experience. They were all afraid that they were the last person on Earth. They were not. They managed to find one another. They've taken a lot of comfort in getting to know each other. They truly value friendship now and the importance of not being alone in this world. They've been able to enter this society without being defined by what their lives were before. Mike forces a change in that dynamic because he shows a willingness to bring up every embarrassing detail from Phil's past.

Phil is still being defined by others and his inability to truly connect with them. That can still be a very annoying quality. He can't genuinely be a part of the group and enjoy the big gestures of gratitude that they exhibit. He needs to be the one at the center of attention with a big display. He's struggled forming relationships in this new world. And yet, he has Carol. She is willing to be with him because she really loves him. She's desperate to have a family and is disappointed by their setback in that endeavor. But she also loves Phil and their marriage. She choose to do it a second time because it's what she wanted to do. She fell in love with Phil as a person. He is able to genuinely talk to her about things. He still does wild and outlandish things all the time. But that's just a part of who he is. She makes him a better person without getting rid of his essence. He is doing the same for her. It's challenging but it has also been very rewarding.

And yet, when Mike is running up that beach to reunite with his brother, the emotions of the past come to the surface once again. Phil has struggled with closure because he wasn't able to say goodbye to his family during the virus. He acted out after Phil 2's death because he wanted to force his own issues onto the matter. But now, he learns that Mike is still alive. Instead of being happy, he wants to let out all of those emotions he's still feeling. Sure, that eventually boils down to Phil still being upset about Mike stealing a girl who Phil had a crush on. But it's something so minor like that which immediately sets the tone for their relationship throughout the episode. These are two brothers who don't have a genuine bond. They are brothers and they love each other. But it's still a dynamic defined by childish antics of needing to one up the other in order to make it in this community.

Mike has no trouble fitting in with the rest of the group. He has an effortless charm about him that the other survivors immediately gravitate towards. He is able to earn respect and admiration simply because he went to space. This story eventually brings Phil's immense jealousy to the surface once again. He's annoyed whenever Mike does something that the rest of the group likes even though Phil has worked so hard to win their trust back. It's the same kind of dynamic Phil had when Todd and Phil 2 first showed up in Tucson - right down to him referring to Mike as "friggin' Mike." It showcases that no matter how much Phil has evolved, he still struggles when someone new shows up to steal the spotlight. And now, it's much more personal than ever before because it's his brother Mike stealing the attention. It's just like the situation with Christine all over again.

All of this essentially devolves Phil and Mike as characters. Their relationship is defined as a nasty and childish sibling rivalry. They know things about each other's pasts that can really hurt and embarrass them to the rest of the group. It's just some minor teasing when Mike mentions that Phil's old nickname was "skidmark" because of an unfortunate accident. But it eventually escalates to the point where Phil tells everyone that Mike chose to go kayaking than be by his dying grandmother's bedside. That's a particularly nasty revelation that ultimately doesn't win Phil any favors. It just further proves that he hasn't earned being called Phil by the rest of the group. More importantly, it seriously damages his relationship with his brother. Of course, Carol is able to set him straight and get him to see the error of his ways. But that apology doesn't come soon enough. Phil decides to sleep on it which gives Mike the opportunity to shave half of Phil's face off. It makes for a truly bizarre and horrifying final image. But it also showcases just how childish the two of them are acting right now. That can't be good or healthy for the group in the long run. And yet, it doesn't seem like the two of them will be backing down anytime soon either.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Skidmark" was written by Kira Kalush & Matt Marshall and directed by Claire Scanlon.
  • Erica ultimately passes on any kind of a romantic relationship with Todd. However, Gail and Melissa both agree to try letting this new dynamic work - with both of them being with him. They aren't going to be having any threeways. But they both enjoy being with Todd and don't want to let that feeling go away again.
  • Of course, Todd dating both Gail and Melissa is something that they are just trying out for now to see how it goes. Todd gets overexcited and proposes to both of them. But he's able to quickly recover by just asking for a group hug. I wonder how long this dynamic will last though before something happens to uproot it all - like Mike seducing one of the ladies.
  • An explanation is given as to how Mike found the rest of the survivors so quickly. He knows Phil so well that he knew where in Tucson he would want to live. After that, it was only about finding Melissa's note and traveling to Malibu. It was still a fast journey across the country though.
  • No one really pushes for Mike to start calling Phil by his middle name like everyone else does. That does open up the question of why everyone - especially Carol - is still calling him Tandy. Is it just being respectful to Phil 2 after his death? Or does Phil still have to earn that from his fellow survivors?
  • Carol insists that she didn't marry Phil just to have a baby. She did the first time but not the second time. That was a very amusing joke.
  • Why did none of the other survivors try breaking up Phil and Mike's fight in the very beginning? They don't know who this new person is. They see that Phil does but they aren't in a rush to protect this new member of their community either.