Sunday, May 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Man on Earth' - Erica Delivers Her Baby in 'When The Going Gets Tough' & 'Nature's Horchata'

FOX's The Last Man on Earth - Episodes 3.17 "When The Going Gets Tough" and 3.18 "Nature's Horchata"

The long term consequences of surviving an apocalypse start to have a major impact on the group, whose daily life is upended.

This has been a very fascinating season of The Last Man on Earth. It had a stretch of episodes that was probably the best the show has ever had. It came because the show embraced the dark themes of this world even more. It dealt with the trauma that came along with big deaths (first Daryl, then Lewis) and psychotic breaks (from Melissa and Gail). It truly tackled how bleak this world is capable of being. Of course, that tone wasn't sustainable over a long period of time. It had to find a new sense of hopefulness. That came with the addition of Jasper. That part of the season though was so lame and uninspired. It was the show stretching things out because it was seemingly running out of ideas. The humor still hit hard on occasion. But the central themes were no longer as strong as they used to be. Last week's time jump helped bring some new creative energy to the end of the season. That coupled with a few solid twists in this two-part finale bring the season to a solid close. It will just be defined as an up-and-down season for the show overall.

At the rate the show was going, Erica and Carol would have been pregnant for several seasons. This show has big displays of what this world is capable of but it hasn't moved very quickly. The time jump means the show got to jump to the end of these pregnancies. Repopulating the Earth was a major concern in the early going of the series. But as the show has gone along, it has gotten less and less important. Carol and Erica were both pregnant but that was never really the thing that defined them in stories. That was because they were still in the early stages. But now, the show wanted to get to the end to show how adding babies to this ensemble would change things. It's a smart approach that led to some very hefty drama. Yes, these final two episodes of the season rely too much on Tandy being awkward and not knowing what people think about him. He's almost too oblivious which can be such a detriment to the show as a whole. And yet, it's still able to build to a very strong and emotional moment when Erica delivers her baby. At first, it seems like the moment will be all about Carol as she's the one freaking out and worrying about death. But it's ultimately about the group coming together to make sure that they all survive. That solidarity is really powerful and poignant to watch.

Not all medical procedures have gone well on this show. Phil died because Gail and Todd had no idea what they were doing when his appendix burst. That moment showed just how lethal this world is. Gail being trapped in an elevator had a similar effect. What used to be ordinary in the former world is now filled with perils in a world filled with only a small number of people. Erica's baby being breached could be a massive complication. One that ensures she follows the same trajectory as Phil. However, it's also important to see that these characters have learned from their mistakes. Yes, all of Gail's newfound medical knowledge came during the time jump. But it's crucial that she's better prepared now. She still spirals but she's not alone. Todd, Melissa and Carol are there to help her deliver this baby safely. All the pressure was on her last week. Everyone was confident in her ability to deliver a baby. But it was ultimately a group effort that saved the day. That camaraderie is very moving. Erica has a healthy baby girl. She names her Dawn because she's the first baby born in this new world. That's so sweet and special.

Of course, the show pairs this beautiful, heartwarming moment with a looming sense of dread and despair. Tandy is not in the delivery room. Instead, he's keeping Jasper busy so that they don't worry about Erica dying. Instead, they discover a nearby nuclear reactor has started melting down. It's a very ominous visual. The gang has been spiraling into despair for awhile. The addition of children lifted their spirits and unified them once again. Just as they are ready to start this new chapter in their lives, they are seemingly destined to die just like the rest of the human population. This show has had extravagant fantasy moments. But it has done a strong job in showing what would happen if something like this actually occurred. Gas would expire after awhile, satellites would start falling from the sky and nuclear reactors would start melting down. So now, the end of civilization isn't because of the virus. It's because of humanity's own failings. The gang can't survive being within a 100 miles of a reactor. And now, it's difficult to find anywhere on the planet where they can survive. That's the mission they are tasked with in the finale.

However, the finale is mostly just building to that final moment where the gang comes into conflict with Pat once more and meet Pamela for the first time. The show has a pattern of ending its seasons on these big cliffhanger moments. Pat was a serious threat at the start of this season. He was the reason why the gang needed to move out of the Malibu house and found their perfect home elsewhere. But he hasn't been mentioned for awhile. Plus, when he does show up, he's just this creepy menace stalking the group. The way he finds them in the city is incredibly stupid and silly as well. Again, it works depending on how much tolerance you have for Tandy's shenanigans. It always has to be a careful balance. Here, it's perhaps too much. That's especially true when he keeps talking on the boat, which allows Pat and Pamela to board. Now, the Pamela twist is inspired. The first impression the group has of her is killing Pat. They will be grateful even though she's technically a murderer. She's been searching for them for awhile now. So, it'll be great that she's finally with them. She's succeeded with her mission. But what next? The group will probably find safety at sea. But will they ever be truly safe in this world? If not, the severity of it all should weigh down on them even more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "When The Going Gets Tough" was written by Tim McAuliffe and directed by Payman Benz.
  • "Nature's Horchata" was written by Kira Kalush and directed by David Noel.
  • Jasper finally talking has been so good for that character. Now, he too has very little patience for what Tandy does. And yet, the group does push them together because they both have childlike enthusiasm and amusement. Plus, they hinder the difficult situation back at home.
  • Erica delivers her baby but Carol does not. She was freaking out about it but just needed to see Gail in action. Seeing one done successfully calmed her nerves. That is until they had to take all of this on the road. That's stress that she simply doesn't need right now. 
  • It's nice for everyone to get a moment saying goodbye to their home this season. Todd collects what's possibly left of Lewis' ashes. Melissa covers up the hole she made in the wall. And Tandy thanks the toilets for all that they've done during their time together.
  • Tandy trying to help Erica nurse her baby was a really awkward story. It felt like the finale needing some extra story. This is what they came up with and it didn't have much purpose. It's simply the ordinary struggle in the extraordinary circumstances.
  • How did no one in the group not notice that the house was on fire? They're lucky it was just contained to the house and didn't spread to the RV too. It was only after it burnt down that they smelled it. Also, shouldn't that have been a clue that Pat could have found them easily?
  • The show has not been renewed yet. It's very much on the bubble at the moment. It's fate will be decided within the next week though. I'm not too worried. I think it will return. If not, this isn't really a satisfying end for the overall series.