Sunday, April 17, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil and Mike Are Pitted Against Each Other in a Prank War in 'Fourth Finger'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.15 "Fourth Finger"

With little else to do, Phil starts a prank war within the group. Meanwhile, Todd establishes his dominance.

Mike shaving half of Phil's face off at the end of the previous episode showed that the growing sibling rivalry between the two was only going to intensify. And boy, does it in the fantastic "Fourth Finger." Things have reached a full-on prank war between the two brothers. It's wonderful to watch as both do their best to humiliate each other in front of the group. It shows just how successful Mike is at everything that he does while Phil can become fixated on one singular idea. But it's a tense and highly funny premise for an episode that is executed wonderfully well. Plus, the rest of the supporting ensemble have a number of great and witty reactions to everything that is going on with Phil as Mike does more and more stuff to him.

"Fourth Finger" picks up immediately where "Skidmark" left off with the entire group surprised by what has happened to Phil's face. It's an amusing scene where everyone has a pretty good analogy for what the hairstyle looks like - Gail's "It looks like you got nuked right in the face," Erika's "You look like two different serial killers," Melissa's "You look like you're from the future and you're here to warn us about technology" and Carol's "Now that I'm used to it, it's not half bad." Phil is frustrated by what his brother has done - especially since he was going to apology for his recent behavior. But this haircut only solidifies the animosity between the two siblings. Now, Phil needs to get back at Mike. He can only underplay this haircut so much. Mike shaved the entire right side of Phil's body. It wasn't just his head. That makes for a very amusing image later on when Phil's trying to fix what's been done. And yet, the only way he sees to do that is by hurting Mike in an equally embarrassing way.

Phil finds some poison oak and is pretty determined about using that in order to hurt Mike. It's a very simple prank. It's not elaborate like the things Mike is able to come up with. Phil tries several times in order to get this poison oak onto Mike. It fails nearly all the time. It's pretty enjoyable to see Phil's plans get thwarted so many times. Mike is largely engaging in this prank war because it's fun and he's so much better at it than Phil. Phil keeps being disingenuous and Mike needs to punish him for that. This is what their dynamic has always been. Their lives have changed because of the virus destroying the world. And yet, they are still allowing their past to define who they are today. That means they are embracing these childish antics. However, they are able to ramp them up a little bit and go to some pretty absurd levels. It's thrilling to watch the stakes get raised with Mike's various pranks on Phil. The haircut was just the beginning.

Over the course of this episode, Mike is able to see Phil coming at every single turn. Meanwhile, Phil doesn't have that same foresight and walks into a bunch of different traps. It first comes with a box filled with money spraying a blue substance all over his face that won't wash off. And then, Mike is able to turn the poison oak against Phil and has him rub it all over his balls. But this war reaches truly epic heights when Mike manages to get Phil to awake from his bed and roll off a cliff safely to the beach below. It's a fantastic visual effect that terrifies Phil of what his brother is capable of. His calm nerve in the face of these pranks deteriorates over the course of this episode. It gets to the point where he is hiding underneath the kitchen sink just to avoid his brother. All of this is tearing him up on the inside and Mike hasn't been damaged at all.

But there's only so much punishment of Phil that can happen. Mike needs to get some too in order to bring a change to their dynamic moving forward. This rivalry and bickering has been very amusing. But it has also been the sole thing defining their relationship since they've been reunited in this changed world. They are family. And that's the precise thing that gives Phil the advantage in this prank war. Mike missed out on so much when he was up in space. He's enjoying life now that he has returned to Earth. But this war has to get personal in order to push the brothers into mending their relationship. Phil goes for a low blow with a fake letter to Mike from their mother. It's a devastating moment for Mike where he realizes he played exactly into Phil's hand. And yet, Phil hurting Mike because of family mistakes was what got these two fighting in the first place. It's a reminder of just how sad and apologetic Phil was before this war got started. They are the only two people alive who can help each other through these personal emotions of grief because they are feeling the exact same thing. They miss their parents - even though they disagree on who their parents loved more. It's a sweet and sincere moment that hopefully means a brighter future for the two of them.

The prank war is largely relegated to Phil and Mike. The rest of the community really doesn't get caught up in it. So, it's not an especially busy episode for them. And yet, Todd does become a key part of the story because he's trying to be all things to all of the people in this community. He's realizing that he may be spreading himself too thin right now. It was fun and exhilarating when he was sneaking around with Gail and Melissa. It torn him up on the inside but he still enjoyed it. Now, everything is out in the open. He's dating both of them while also being there for Phil, Erica and Carol for whatever they need. It's a lot for him to handle as he comes to learn throughout this episode. He believes that something has to give. And yet, that can't be his friendship with Phil. He needs to be there for him as he's being put through the ringer by Mike. So that means Todd shaves half of his face off too in order to stand by his friend. It again leads to a number of great reactions from the group - Melissa's "Looks like Hitler's mustache is sliding off your face," Erica's "You look like a melon with a mole problem" and Gail's "It looks like the floor of a barbershop took a dump on half your face." But it also leads to him stepping up and showing the rest of the group that he can handle all of this pressure and still be the nice guy they all know and love. It's pretty fantastic too - though Carol could complicate things by asking him to help in her quest to have a baby.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fourth Finger" was written by Erik Durbin and directed by Jason Woliner.
  • The Malibu house everyone is staying at is pretty big. They all largely have their own areas to sleep in. And yet, Mike has moved out of the house and taken up residency in one nearby. Here, it's him exerting control over his situation with Phil. In the future, it could be a little alienating to the rest of the group - or not. It may afford him even more privacy to do whatever with whomever.
  • It's noteworthy that Phil closes his fake letter to Mike by signing it as "Skidmark." He hated that Mike brought up that nickname. But just like "Tandy," he willingly embraces it in order to make an impact on his fellow survivors.
  • Speaking of that fake letter, that's Will Forte's real-life mom, Patti Forte, who does the narration of the sweet sentiment. Also, Phil must have some excellent handwriting if Mike didn't recognize how fake it was until the end.
  • Gail and Melissa both want to be open and honest about everything that Todd does with them. Though that only creates more awkwardness when he is actually with them. They are all still just trying to figure out this new dynamic.
  • Carol has a recurring dream about helping Denzel Washington give birth to Siamese twins and then raising them for him. The message is pretty obvious but she just wants the rest of the group to know about it.
  • Carol after stepping on bubble wrap: "Okay, you gotta stop. This is like, McDreamy vs. McSteamy redux."