Sunday, September 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil and the Gang Protect Their Home From Intruders in 'General Breast Theme with Cobras'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 3.01 "General Breast Theme with Cobras"

The safety of Phil and the group is in jeopardy as armed intruders storm the Malibu beach near their home, and no one can agree on what to do. While Melissa takes drastic action, Phil gets a new lesson in fashion.

The Last Man on Earth ended its second season on quite a cliffhanger. Phil just reunited with the rest of the Malibu gang when a mysterious boat arrived with three people with guns coming straight towards the house. It was a dark way to end the season. The show has to be very careful when it comes to introducing new characters because it has become such a formulaic twist. One of the people on the boat is Pat, the guy who Mike spent time with when he first crash landed on Earth. The other two were a complete mystery. The audience doesn't know if they are friendly or not. The guns would suggest that they are here with ill intentions towards the gang. They scouted the location out with the drone. They know what they are walking into at the house. They have the guns for a reason. It could be an exciting way to tell a different kind of story on the show. One where the survivors don't inherently become a part of the same group just because they survived the apocalypse.

However, that does not happen. The opening minutes of "General Breast Theme with Cobras" are tense. The gang struggles to flea the house. They are forced to stay put by some truly outrageous plot devices. It's funny that Todd has parked the A-Team vehicle in the way and they can't find the Mr. T key to drive away in it. That's just a hilarious and simple joke setup. It forces the gang to stay in the house as these strangers storm in. Melissa knows how to use a gun but the rest of the group has to use knives, random objects and a broken wine bottle to protect themselves. It's a standoff between the two sides. Neither side knows just how far the other will go to protect what is theirs. Melissa is the first one to fire. She makes it clear that she means business. It's an uproariously funny moment because the man she shoots is played by Jon Hamm. It's a Mad Men reunion! There are plenty of times on the former AMC drama where Betty would have wanted to shoot Don Draper. And now, she's actually done it. That's the whole joke of this moment. Hamm's character, Daryl, and his friends came in peace. And now, he is dead because the Malibu gang didn't know what to expect from these armed intruders.

It's the show once again returning to a familiar pattern of the gang not being welcoming to other survivors who are different than them. Phil is the one who brought everyone together in the first place. And yet, the gang had no problem kicking him out after he annoyed them for too long. He has worked very hard to earn back their trusts. He's in a better place with them now. Not so better that they start calling him Phil again instead of Tandy. That's still a joke that doesn't completely work - especially since Phil 2 is dead. But Phil has still made progress. He's a part of this group. But it's still clear that this group still has the same problem. They warm immediately to Lewis, Daryl's friend who survived and is played by Kenneth Choi, but they don't do the same for Pat. It's not surprising. Mike was creeped out after spending just a few moments with him too back in his first episode. And yet, this episode functions almost a little too much on Pat being the creepy, odd guy who just doesn't see the world the same way that the rest of the group does. Lewis is perfectly fine to the group. He doesn't have any distinguishable characteristics though. He's an arborist but that's about all that he shares with the group. That's all the audience has to go on to judge this new character. He's not the primary focus of the story. He'll survive and be important to the season. But he will need to develop a whole lot more in order to become a vital part of this ensemble.

And again, Pat is no stranger to the audience. It's tense just waiting for everyone to figure out that they all know Mike. Instead though, the parallel is drawn between Pat and Phil. Phil is the only one in the group who wants to give Pat a chance. He understands what it means to be the odd guy. Phil has lived his life as the odd guy. He did the right thing once by bringing the survivors together. He has been struggling ever since though. He forms a quick friendship with Pat. He doesn't see his quirks as all that odd. In fact, they are delightfully weird. There is more in this premiere about jean art than what anyone was probably expecting. Phil is the only one who actually appreciates the gift even though he can't actually sit in the jeans. It's a fun quirk that makes Pat more than just the government conspiracy theorist. That has been a huge characteristic for him. It takes a lot for him to remove the hazmat suit while on land. He wasn't willing to do it in his adventures with Mike. Nor was he able to do so when he was out there with Daryl and Lewis. But now, after spending a little bit of time with Phil, he breaks done and exposes himself to the virus on land. It's a huge and personal moment for him. The audience understands just how big of a deal it is for him to do that. We understand that better than any of the other characters do. The rest of the group just wants to label him a murderer who deserves exile. They don't know that he didn't really kill anyone. He just said that in order to rationalize his time with Mike.

Pat is a crucial element of this premiere but he may not he an important part of this season. Again, the premiere drives so much conflict and tension out of Pat being a crazy guy the rest of the group simply can't trust. He introduces himself by sneaking up on Todd and Gail instead of just pointing a gun on them. He has a crazy obsession with jean art and hopes that Gail is into a man like him. He has just as much fun as Phil does in blowing up the pier. But the story is still building to the moment when Pat comes to the realization that his Mike is the same Mike as Phil's. He's still clearly hurt by Mike abandoning him. Mike made his choice to be with the bunker people over Pat who sees himself as the only rational human being still alive. He's not. He's crazy. He points a gun at the rest of the group after learning the truth. He wants to shoot Phil's balls off in order to get his revenge. It's a conflict that the premiere does rush too. It's made funny because Phil is wearing some outrageously oversized fake eye brows. But that joke only goes so far. The premiere once again ramps up the tension with potentially anyone being shot. Someone has a gun and is willing to fire. The question just is: will anyone more actually die?

The answer is yes. Daryl isn't the only casualty in this premiere. The tables are turned against Pat and he is run over by the A-Team van. Todd is behind the wheel and slams on the gas to get his friends away from this madman. It's a very action-centric final minute of the premiere. It's a tense episode as a whole. It's an energy the show does quite well. But it should be even more interesting to see what the lingering ramifications of these actions are. Melissa seems to be showing no remorse or guilt for killing Daryl. Before releasing her from the stocks, Carol wants to know if Melissa has learned her lesson about the dangers of guns. She says yes just to get out and Carol releases her because of the severity of the situation. But Melissa then goes and shoots another person. This time she actually kills. Her having no reaction to that could indicate some even darker parts of her psyche. Of course, she's not the only member of the group who has killed before. Gail didn't know enough to save Phil 2 from a burst appendix while Carol scared Gordon to death. Those were accidents though. The deaths in this premiere are very much deliberate. Melissa shoots in order to protect her friends from these strangers. Meanwhile, Todd runs over Pat to do the same. Todd is more fragile than Melissa though. He just happens to be the one behind the wheel to make that fatal decision. It was a split-second decision but one that could very much affect him throughout this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "General Breast Theme with Cobras" was written by David Noel & John Solomon and directed by John Solomon.
  • At Daryl's funeral, the only form of entertainment the group can provide is Todd and Gail performing Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." Of course, it's ironic because Daryl died by a bullet which literally stopped him as he tried to make peace.
  • Daryl's death is also funny because it's Emmy winner Jon Hamm doing such a brief cameo appearance. And yet, it's a joke that he has done on a number of shows over the last few years - including NBC's Parks and Recreation and TBS' Angie Tribeca. Comedies need to get more creative with their use of Jon Hamm.
  • There's the false hope that Lewis is a surgeon and thus can help Carol and Erica during childbirth. But then, of course, he corrects them by saying he's a surgeon for trees. It's a somewhat manipulative moment.
  • The outrageousness of Phil and Pat blowing up the Santa Monica Pier is so wonderful. It's so specific to this kind of apocalypse. And the visual helps as well even though the show uses the cover of darkness to its benefit.
  • Pat met Lewis and Daryl while he was traveling. There was nothing momentous about their meeting. Plus, Lewis isn't too broken up about Daryl's death. He too was just another survivor he happened to meet but didn't actively care about.
  • That masturbation room remains a great visual.