Sunday, May 15, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil Reunites with Mike as He Prepares for Death in '30 Years of Science Down the Tubes'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 2.18 "30 Years of Science Down the Tubes"

Phil and Mike grow closer than ever and the whole Malibu group gets a big friggin' surprise.

The Last Man on Earth has proven that it knows how to do premieres and finales well. Those are the episodes that best exemplify the harsh realities of this post-apocalyptic world. The show still sags a little bit during the middle portions of its seasons. The ensemble of characters have developed more but the group dynamic is never as amusing as the circumstances of this new world. The show made a dark turn in last week's episode in giving Mike an illness that could very well be the virus that wiped out all of humanity. It still hasn't been confirmed whether or not that's actually what it is or if it's something less serious - though still pretty severe since he's coughing up blood. After that twist, the group alienated themselves from Mike. They wanted nothing to do with him because of the threat he could pose to the safety of this community. It was a harsh but understandable action. But it's also an incredibly personal moment for Phil because Mike is his brother. He already said goodbye once. He's not willing to do that again. All of this created a finale that was deeply moving as it further explored the bond between the two brothers.

Mike left Malibu in order to spare Phil from going through the pain of his death again. That was his one wish as he was grappling with an uncertain existence. This illness is really affecting him. He doesn't know if it's going to be the end of him or how soon that will come. He's willing to take on that burden by himself. He doesn't want to put the rest of the group through that while also compromising their safety. He left and that destroyed Phil. It's not long into this finale until the brothers are reunited. Phil knows exactly where Mike would go to be alone in this desolate world. It's the same place Phil went when he feared he was all alone. They returned to their childhood home. It's the place where they grew up and have so many cherished memories. Living in Malibu has been nice. It's been good that the whole group is living together under one roof. But it's also so meaningful to see the brothers in a place that has immense value to both of them. They are able to completely block out the rest of the world and just reminisce about the life they have lived together.

The reunion between the brothers is filled with fun bursts of energy and jokes in the early going. These two have the same comedic sensibilities which has been so amusing to see develop over the last few episodes. They joke in order to avoid dealing with the harsh reality present in their situation. Instead of talking about Mike's illness, they journey to the attic to look at old keepsakes and learn whether or not Phil's fart experiment from 30 years ago was a success. It's amusing to see them so playful with each other. Mike left to brace the reality of his grim situation. But now, Phil's presence has lifted his spirits once more. It's not destined to last. It's not long until Mike's illness rears its ugly head again. That's where the episode gets its most interesting too. This is a subject that the two brothers can't avoid forever. They need to address what is actually going on. They need to be honest with each other about how they really feel. Phil has always struggled with being honest and genuine with others. He has grown but it's still an issue for him. He always wants to deflect with humor. And yet, he can't do that here. Mike won't let him. And that decision leads to a fantastic conversation between the two of them.

Once Phil and Mike start being honest with each other, it opens up a dynamic filled with brutal criticism as well as love and affection. The two brothers love each other but they are also trying to protect the other during this uncertain time. Phil does not want Mike to be alone during what could be his final days on Earth. And conversely, Mike doesn't want Phil with him so he doesn't have to say goodbye all over again. Those viewpoints clash in interesting ways throughout the finale. They are able to bond over the awfulness of Phil's hairstyle. They are able to finally get rid of it. That's such a nice moment between them. And yet, Mike ruins it by once again forcing Phil away. He says a lot of harsh things about Phil never really having a life. There's a lot of truth to that statement but it's delivered in a spiteful way. Mike is pushing his brother away. It doesn't work. Phil refuses to leave. That just leads to the revelation of what Phil had to do when he said goodbye to his whole family. He had to dig their graves. He gave them their final resting places. It's a beautiful moment between the brothers. But it's heartbreaking as well.

Ultimately, Mike asks Phil to leave as his one dying wish and Phil agrees. But it's not like all the previous times Mike asked. When Phil finally leaves, it's a decision he comes to from understanding. He's still incredibly hopeful that Mike will beat this illness. But he also understands that this is what Mike needs right now in order to find peace with his situation. The brothers got to spend a little more time together. It was time well spent too. It was filled with laughter and hardship. But it allowed them to go deeper than they have ever been before with their relationship. They went to some truly real and genuine places. That's what makes it so moving and emotional when Phil decides to give Mike his ball friends to keep him from feeling lonely. Since the start of the series, those balls have given Phil something to talk to. They've helped him through a lot of hardships in this world. He's leaned on them and found support. And now, he's in a good enough place that he can trust Mike with them. It's a fantastic final gesture. Right now, Mike needs the company more than Phil. Phil still has the community back in Malibu to return to. But Mike is all alone facing an uncertain future. And now, he won't have to face that uncertainty with any unresolved feelings.

The Phil-Mike story is so amazing throughout this finale. It gives the episode such a strong emotional hook. The story with the rest of the community in Malibu is designed to be a little bit more comedic. They all realize that the drone Gail saw wasn't a hallucination at all. And now, they need to figure out how to deal with the knowledge that someone else is out there and spying on them. At first, they react with joy and want the other person to know that they are nice and welcoming. But this story also allows Melissa to emerge as the one survivor who is determined to not let anything risk the safety of this community. This home has meant so much to the group of survivors this season. They have grown and changed so much since last year. Melissa wants to protect that. She won't let the virus or a spy ruin this happiness. Sure, that makes her a little crazy throughout this episode. But crazy works for her as well. Plus, it sets up a great final twist that makes me very excited for the third season.

The drone comes from Pat's boat. That's a surprising twist. But it's even more surprising that Pat is no longer alone on his boat. The last he was seen he was devastated by Mike's hazmat suit getting a rip in it. He enjoyed their time together and only emerged from it with a new pet worm. So, it's easy to understand why he would be so receptive to two other survivors of the virus. And yet, these new mysterious individuals also convinced him to travel to the other side of the country to hunt down the rest of the survivors of this world. The answer to that mystery will be one of the most anticipated details of the next season. Right now, they are a looming threat to Phil and company. These three people represent danger coming for their world. They have grown so much as a group. This latest twist could destroy all of that. But it should be interesting and compelling to see two different groups of survivors at war next season. That's a fine and amusing tease for what's to come.

Some more thoughts:
  • "30 Years of Science Down the Tubes" was written by Edward Voccola & Maxwell R. Kessler and directed by John Solomon.
  • Carol is very supportive of Phil leaving town for a little bit to find his brother again. Plus, she's never too worried about him because she's too busy trying to get the calf to drink milk from a bottle. It's amusing that the calf will suck literally anything except for the bottle.
  • Phil talking to his unborn baby could be a fantastic running joke. Here, he's realizing that the baby doesn't know what anything means and he gets pretty specific very easy too.
  • After realizing she doesn't have a drinking problem, Gail hits the bottle harder than she ever has before. It's fantastic. That may be one of her only defining character traits but it's still consistently funny.
  • January Jones holding a shotgun is always a fantastic image. It's a good thing that both Mad Men and The Last Man on Earth realized that.
  • Despite potentially having the virus, Mike is still alive by the end of this finale. That means he could still return next season. The show has really been pushing Jason Sudeikis for Emmy consideration. He would definitely deserve it to. If he were to be nominated, that basically guarantees that he'd be back sometime next year.
  • Carol after Melissa shot at her: "Oh my gosh. My water broke." Gail: "It's way too soon for that hun." Carol: "Oh right, it's just pee."
  • Melissa after the calf starts sucking on her shotgun: "See! Even the calf wants out of this stupid world."