The first season of The Last Man on Earth was built around arrivals. Much of the tension of each episode resolved itself through the appearances of new characters, wanted or unwanted (by Phil). So far in its second season, the show is more an arrangement of disappearances and emptinesses, and this has had the effect (so far) of returning TLMOE to its roots in quietude and playfulness. And so Phil found himself alone again in Tucson, a place — to use Carol’s syntax — to which he swore never to return, a place from which he was banished. Only now he is alone, having left Carol behind at a gas station as she mindlessly bejeweled a T-shirt.
“He’s coming back,” Carol says, spirits relatively high, as she waits for Phil to return to the gas station. Days later, after making a sculpture of Phil out of chewing tobacco and toothpaste, she relents. “He’s not coming back,” she says, lying on the concrete.
Meanwhile, having learned that the colony of plague survivors has somehow absconded from Tucson, Phil, no longer dressed in camouflage as a grass monster, hatches a series of idiotic schemes to signal Carol, who is at least many hundreds of miles away. At one point he tries to launch a flock of balloons. A kind of Bartleby of uselessness, he wonders whether he should have used helium.
After flattening his friend Bryce the Soccer Ball with a steamroller, it seems that Phil has finally succumbed to hopelessness. “I’ve sent out every train in Tucson!” he screams. What he means is that he’s written messages to Carol on the train cars, then automated the trains, then hoped for the best as they snaked throughout the American heartland. The plan works. Carol, who somehow seems to always get what she wants, returns to an ecstatic Phil in Tucson. It’s where she wanted to be anyhow.
The ethical engine of The Last Man on Earth has always been fueled, for better or worse, by Phil’s self-created dilemmas. As I argued last week, Phil’s manic reactiveness, his desperate attempts to fulfill basic psychological needs, strikes me as a sane response to an insane situation — namely the death of most of the world’s population by way of a (still undescribed) virus. Last season, Phil’s foolery got him stripped of even his name. After a new Phil arrived at the colony, he became known by his middle name, Tandy. This season, the question, as Carol poses it, is whether Tandy — the Hyde to Phil’s Jekyll — will return.
After reconciling, Phil and Carol are off to investigate the disappearance of the other colonists. “It’s definitely not like them to not leave a note, or something!” Carol blurts out in frustration. “I’m sorry,” Phil says genuinely. “I know how much you wanted to see them.”
Moments later, after making out on her couch, Carol admits to Phil that she lost faith in him while waiting at the gas station. “I thought you turned into Old Tandy,” she says. After a moment of tenderness, Carol leaves the room, and Phil decides to take off his pants and open a bottle of Prosecco, only to discover a cup with a letter inside. The other colonist have relocated to Malibu, the letter reads, and they’ve invited Carol to come with them. They’ve also advised her not to bring Phil. “It would not be safe,” Phil reads aloud in horror.
Much of the remainder of the episode is given over to Phil’s internal ethical debate — risk his own life (and losing Carol) and tell her about the colony, or lie by omission? Honestly, as far as the show’s ethical dramas are concerned, it’s a difficult one. Characteristically, in an attempt to avoid making any decision whatsoever, Phil decides to recreate the former colonists out of found items and stuffing.
Ultimately, though — and this is in some ways a new development — Phil comes through on his own. He escapes the ethically compromised clutches of the Tandy within by coming to clean to Carol about the note. At first she is understandably suspicious about whether Phil has succumbed to Tandy, but after a sweet and convincing speech by Phil, she realizes he is just scared. After making up, Carol tells Phli to “pack [his] bags” for Malibu. “Then unpack them,” she pivots, “because there is no way in Norway I’m going to Malibu! If they don’t want you, I don’t want them!”
Then, in a scene that really does feel ethically dubious, Phil gets Carol blackout drunk and takes her to Malibu anyway. The show just shrugs it off.
When they arrive in Malibu, they find an entire coastline of beached whales, a weirdness that does suggest the deathgrip of the virus extended to animal life as well. Soon they make their way to the other colonists, only they’re dressed (like Phil before) as a camouflaged grass monsters. Through the lense of binoculars, they spy the various colonists enjoying a (typically annoying) singsong-y moment on the beach, only now there is a new presence — one that suggests we’re again, like last season, in the territory of arrivals instead of disappearances. This time it’s an as-of-yet unnamed character played by Will Ferrell. The final moments of the episode are both surprising and hilarious, as Carol’s playful antics, shaped by a life shared with Phil, collide with the happy-go-boringness of the new colony.
Anyway, what’s going on with Phil’s brother, who is still trapped in orbit around the Earth?