The funniest moments of The Last Man on Earth typically come in fits and starts, with the introduction of new characters (or their deaths) or the psychotic breakdown of old reliables. So it’s a bit relieving to write that the show seems to have found its stride now as an extended allegory about societal rehabilitation — punishment, really — and the absurdities of a “smooth functioning” community.
What I mean is that, in the case of the season’s fifth episode (“Crickets”), there are no startling revelations. It’s just funny because it relies on Tandy’s borderline personality as he continues to court forgiveness from the other colonists. If you don’t remember, he tried to apologize to the group by pulling a gun on all of them.
In the last episode, Tandy was finally released from solitary confinement after he saved the (mostly ungrateful) colonists from burning to death in a fire. When the new episode opens, we find a free Tandy again exhorting his “friends” to give him time to prove his loyalty. Gail, who has been drinking steadily since the death of Gordon (Will Ferrell), immediately asks him for some wine, at which point he complies. “Ah!” he screams at an uncomfortable pitch, “Why are we sitting out here? I want to go back inside, Mommy!” I was so taken aback that it took me about fifteen seconds to get the joke. “I still got it,” he whispers.
Moments later, Carol hears crickets chirping in the night. (Yes, the crickets are also an old-timey joke reference to Tandy’s lack of an audience.) The crickets, as it happens, are important because the colonists (we learned last episode) are perilously close to running out of food. Although they seem to have a limitless supply of alcohol, it turns out that most of their canned food is about to expire. (This is one of the rare revelations about the timescale of the show’s events. How long had it been since everyone in the world died?) So Carol does what she always does: she makes weird and horrible food. Soon enough, the colonists are eating a cricket casserole. “You certainly have a way with crickets,” New Phil tells Carol (to Erica’s chagrin). Todd declines his portion. We’re about to find out why.
The next day, on the hunt for crickets, Tandy continues to tell bad jokes, often to no one in particular, in hopes that the crickets-as-audience metaphor will cause them to materialize. (“Has anybody ever noticed that you can get salmonella from chicken, but you can’t get chickenmonella from salmon?”) On the prowl, he spies Todd entering a nearby house. Why is Todd going into this abandoned house alone? Why has he been so cold to Melissa?
Tandy first finds a greased pan near the kitchen sink. He raises his fingers to his nose to waft the smell. The refrigerator is empty. What is Todd cooking. Somewhere in the bowels of the house, Tandy discovers a buzzing freezer. He opens the lid.
Cut to a scene wherein Carol is preparing a batch of cricket poppers. Everyone (again) declines, except for New Phil, who is transparently hitting on Carol whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s basically an invitation for an entente between Carol and Erica; the latter has been eye-rolling the former ever since New Phil dumped her. They decide to stop letting New Phil off the hook for his persistent creepiness. It’s a subtle hint that the show is evolving its moral calculus; whereas before all of the ethical scorn was reserved for Tandy, now the other “normal” characters are getting their due.
This brings us back to Todd. Last week, I speculated that Todd was about to find himself with Tandy on the ethical margins of the community. Well, it happened in a much funnier way than I expected. It turns out that Todd has been absconding to the abandoned house to eat bacon. Fitted with solar panels, the house retained enough energy to power many of its appliances, including the freezer, where Todd (and now Tandy) has discovered forty-two packages of bacon.
“We’re not bros,” Todd tells Tandy (in no uncertain terms). “This is just about the bacon.” Understandably, Tandy had wanted the bacon to bridge together their friendship (if you remember, Tandy tried to kill Todd last season). And he was willing to go pretty far to hide the bacon from the other colonists, or to take the fall for not telling them, in order to assuage any of Todd’s fears of blackmail.
Tandy wraps up a few packages of the bacon in a bow, with a letter he writes in Todd’s name, to present to the other housemates as a discovery. Meanwhile, he has loaded up a jet ski with the many empty packages of bacon — the evidence, if you will — and sent it out to sea. When the colonists see the bacon “Todd” has provided, they are understandably ecstatic. Within minutes, though, New Phil sees the jet ski zipping back toward the shore. When they go to the beach to check it out, it becomes obvious that someone has hidden and eaten a tremendous amount of bacon. Tandy, again, tries to take the fall.
Todd isn’t having it. “Surprise, surprise,” he confesses. “The fat guy ate the bacon.” Characteristically, gratuitously, Tandy tries to take the fall again.
Cut to Tandy and Todd in separate stockades. “Hey, Tandy,” Todd says, bound in a slab of wood, “thanks, man.” Now that the old friends are back together, this time on the margins of the community, only one question remains. Who will be next to take the fall? Will New Phil pursue Carol with the same off-putting intensity? Will Gail succumb to her burgeoning alcoholism? At this point, it seems like the entire colony is headed toward an ethical and moral reckoning.
Meanwhile, Tandy’s brother, the astronaut played by Jason Sudeikis, has been curiously absent for consecutive episodes. Maybe he really is just a teaser, a non-essential side plot
It would also be remiss of me not to mention that this episode about bacon comes on the heels of an announcement made by the World Health Organization that bacon (along with other processed meats) is carcinogenic. Maybe it’s true, as Carol says, that “crickets are our future.”