There are many epithets you could use to describe Phil “Tandy” Miller: slob, ne’er-do-well, “the last man on earth.” After the the season’s third episode, we can add “human garbage,” “godforsaken tool,” and homicidal maniac to the list. In case you missed it, the collective disgust with his person led Phil to pull a gun on the remaining members of the colony, precisely at the moment when they were poised to let him return (at Carol’s beckoning). By the time his tantrum was over, Phil was known again as Tandy — his maligned alter ego. And he was locked in a stock.
When the new episode opens, Phil/Tandy is still in the stockade, enduring the cruel games of New Phil and Melissa, who are gleefully taunting him in incarceration. But when New Phil suggests that he pay for his crimes by spending a week in solitary confinement, Old Phil ups the ante, announcing that he’s willing to spend five weeks alone in the workout room. He also, perhaps tellingly, announces that he’s fine being called Tandy. “For the next five weeks I’ve got a new wife,” Tandy tells Carol from his prison cell, “and her name is Lady Justice.”
On the first night of captivity, Tandy lurches out of jail to a nearby table laden with cheese and wine. He is quickly discovered. Cut to the next day: the persistently medieval colonists have fitted Tandy with a shock collar. Two or three jolts later and Tandy is ecstatic as ever about completing his sentence. The episode is starting to take on a basic allegorical significance. What amount of punishment will this marginalized crazy willfully endure in order to live side-by-side with an unfeeling citizenry?
Any follower of these recaps knows that I am no great fan of the colonists, who have come to represent the violence of a smooth, functional society. It isn’t long before Melissa is mocking Tandy’s incarceration by placing a bucket of beer just outside his shock perimeter. Tandy, ever a slave to his own impulses, continues to shock himself, to discipline and punish himself for the sake of the others, against the grain of his urges and desires. He offers to wear a collar that will spray him with citronella each time he speaks. The other colonists are quick to agree to the conditions.
After Melissa tells Carol that Todd is being weird and cold, we see him sneak out in the middle of the night to some unknown quarters. Is he cheating on her? Ironically, predictably, hypocritically: Todd chides Tandy for violating the colonists’ trust.
One night, after finding himself locked in an isolated cell by New Phil, Tandy spies a fire in the house caused by a tiki torch. To put out the fire and save the colonists, Tandy escapes from his cell, grabs the beer bucket, fills it with water, and puts out the fire, enduring countless shocks (being beyond his perimeter) in the process. The next morning, the colonists wonder who saved them. After a game of charades, it becomes clear that Tandy is the hero. They reluctantly decide to free him.
This latest episode of The Last Man on Earth finally pulls the series in a new direction, which is especially relieving given that the plotline was beginning to become dutiful and familiar. The last episode-and-a-half reveal a kind of writerly bravery on the show’s behalf. Tandy’s pseudo-homicidal outburst, for example, was alarming to the point of destabilizing the viewer; one gets the feeling that it was only allowed, in an era of pronounced mass violence, because it was funny and scary at the same time.
This episode rehearsed a basic thesis about society: that it prefers cruel and unusual punishment, that its upstanding members are often engaged in socially acceptable forms of “criminality,” that a minority of supposedly decent citizens (Carol) can do little to change the political landscape. But the suggestion, at the episode’s end, that Todd is about to be called out for unethical behavior (cheating on Melissa?) suggests that Tandy will soon have a friend on the margins.
Another episode, another lapse in contact with Tandy’s brother, the astronaut (Jason Sudeikis) orbiting earth in outer space…