Sunday, November 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Phil & Lewis Struggle with Closure in 'The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episode 3.06 "The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths"

Phil attempts to develop his new friendship with Lewis by learning about his past. Carol asks Gail for a big favor. Todd addresses Melissa's mental state head-on.

"The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths" builds a new bond between Phil and Lewis that helps the overall episode hit some really emotional beats. This episode is so effective because it's not afraid to go to some dark and complicated places with the characters. So much of this show is defined by the outrageous silliness that comes from a small group of survivors of a worldwide apocalypse. And yet, it has always been aware of just how difficult this situation can really be for these characters. It doesn't shy away from this tragic experience they all went through. The desperation and loneliness they all felt when they believed they were the last people on earth. Of course, that seems increasingly unlikely. There's bound to be more people out there. It no longer feels like this group is it for all of humanity. But the uncertainty of the future can be a very powerful motivator as well. Phil and Lewis aren't sure what to feel about their loved ones who are more than likely dead but they don't know for sure. They've buried and said goodbye to people they've loved already. And yet, miracles have happened as well. Mike was able to find his way to Phil from space. That was incredible. Miracles like that don't always happen though. So is it better to keep hope alive or face the reality and find some way to move forward?

All of this is especially tough for Lewis. He made his peace that he will never see his partner, Mark, again. When the outbreak first started, Mark was on a business trip in Japan. All flights were grounded. Mark said he was coming back to Seattle by boat and that was the last Lewis heard from him. He has had to survive for years knowing that Mark is more than likely dead. He had accepted that even though it's still a very emotional subject for him. Phil essentially annoys him into addressing these uncertain feelings head on. Phil wants to take Lewis to Seattle so that they can leave a note for Mark about where to find them in their new home. It's a sweet compound that has brought a new stylistic edge to the series. Lewis is reluctant to go but Phil kidnaps him anyway. It's just too important a mission to not even try. Lewis no longer believes Mark is alive. But without a body, there's no way to know for sure. Stepping back into the house they lived in together is very emotional. Hope briefly appears for a second only to later be revealed it's just Phil sneaking into the house as well. Lewis sees no reason to believe Mark is still out there trying to find him. He has given up hope. However, Phil is able to inspire him not to give up so easily.

The show really hasn't mentioned Phil's suicide attempt from the series premiere a whole lot over the three seasons so far. It was a dark place for him. That was one of the first glimpses the audience had of Phil. Carol was able to pull him out of that dark headspace. She gave him hope again. And now, he has this incredible life with her. They are madly in love and expecting their first child together. Carol is making all of these big plans for their future. It's a life Phil didn't believe he would have. But now, he does. Carol gave him hope. He's just trying to do the same for Lewis. It's in sharing that story about his darkest moment that Lewis hopes again. He leaves a note for Mark to find just in case he happens to return to the house. Again, it's a long shot that Mark is still alive. It's because of Phil though that Lewis wants to believe in a miracle like that. He wants the kind of reunion that Phil got with Mike - no matter how brief it ultimately was. Lewis was reluctant to go on this journey in the first place. But by the end of it, he and Phil have formed a new bond of understanding that is really nice to see.

Plus, Lewis is able to inspire Phil into action as well. At the end of last season, Phil had to accept that Mike had the virus and was dying. The two brothers found peace and acceptance during their final moments together. However, Mike didn't actually die by the end of the finale. After all the drama with Pat, the group has largely forgotten about Mike. No one has gone back to Tucson to see if he actually died or not. All the signs point to him having the virus. But no one knows for sure. Phil did this incredibly sweet gesture for Lewis. But now, he needs to follow the same advice himself. He needs to keep hope alive about Mike. When he walks into the house again, it's much different than the last time he was there. The balls are still there. That could be a clear sign of Mike being dead. And yet, Phil doesn't actually open the door to confirm his worst fear. As soon as he does that, his brother is actually dead. By just leaving a note, he's keeping the hope that Mike could still be alive. Both Phil and Lewis want Mike and Mark to find these notes and find them again at their new home. It may just be wishful thinking. A way for them to cope with these incredibly challenging times. It also just shows how much they genuinely care about each other. Yes, Phil may be annoying a lot of the time but his intentions are pure which makes for a really great main story.

There's a significant change in Carol and Gail's relationship as well. At first, it seems like this story will be the comedic relief to keep the episode light despite the heavy emotions happening in the main story. That's not the case though. Carol is pushing for Gail to be her baby's grandmother. She still wants to give her child a tradition upbringing no matter how much the world has changed around her. She still holds onto these ideals. It's sweet. She does take things to the extreme by asking Gail to legally adopt her. She wants to make this official. She doesn't just want a symbolic feeling of family. She actually wants to be related to these people. She loves her fellow gang of survivors. Gail is nothing like Carol's actual mother. And yet, she still feels that kind of bond with her. She wants this life for her child. However, all of this only brings up more complicated emotions for Gail and the child she lost. She had a son who died. It wasn't because of the virus. It happened long before that. Death has defined so much of this world. And yet, death has always been present in society. Yes, one virus has wiped out the majority of the Earth's population. But it's not the only thing that can kill people. It has defined these characters' lives. It has brought them together. But they had lives before the outbreak started. They had rousing successes and crushing defeats. The death of a child is one of them for Gail. That explains why she doesn't want to have any kids. Carol wears her down and she does sign the adoption papers. It's a way for her to open up to Carol. She may not want to go through the pain of loosing a child again. But she does find herself opening up to and loving this group. That makes this story so remarkable as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths" was written by Liz Cackowski and directed by John Solomon.
  • The one scene that doesn't quite work is the Shawshank Redemption role-playing that Todd and Melissa do. It's just this random scene in the middle of the episode to give them something to do. It's funny but it doesn't really do anything of substance for either of them.
  • Melissa going crazy this season has been great for comedic material. And yet, it's starting to get a little one-note as well. She does something weird and then everyone else says she's crazy. That's about it. Yes, it's hilarious when she jumps into the hole in the wall she's made after Todd calls her crazy. But it's still difficult to see what the purpose of all of this is.
  • Leaving the notes makes it seem likely that either Mark or Mike will be revealed to still be alive, right? The story here works perfectly fine if both are dead. It's more about building the friendship between Phil and Mike. But it also opens the door for a return should the show decide to go down that path.
  • That house with the picket fence was a nice gesture on Phil's part last week. And now, they are actually living it in. It does seem small. Gail is a little too tall to fit in the doorway. But it is an amusing new set. In fact, it's great just seeing all the little personal details the characters are doing to transform their new home.
  • The emotions of the main story work incredibly well. But it also makes it seem like the trips to Seattle and Tucson are fairly easy to do for Phil and Lewis.