Last night’s season finale of The Last Man on Earth was a somber and disorienting experience, one with no shortage of emotional highs and lows. It was also maybe the first episode in the show’s history where nearly every moment was imbued with a narrative tautness, a parallel tension that opened with the episode and remained there for its duration. It was, in the end, The Last Man on Earth’s finest moment, albeit one where the group’s existential precariousness and psychological fragility were on full display.
If you remember the season’s penultimate episode, you’re recall that it closed with two major events. First, Mike Miller, Tandy’s astronaut brother, who is trapped on a space station orbiting Earth, decided to eject himself from the airlock after discovering that his only remaining living partner, a worm, had died. Yet, moments before hurling himself into space, Astronaut Mike sees another worm in the dirt container on the station. He realizes at the final moment that he wants to live — it’s too late.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Melissa confronts Todd about their relationship by asking him to marry her, but at that precise moment, New Phil collapses on the floor of the living room, clutching his stomach. It was a vintage The Last Man on Earth episode conclusion, one where moments of melodrama are layered so as to highlight the petty absurdity (and humor) of lesser crises.
In this case, though, the lives of two men, New Phil and Astronaut Mike, are at stake. When the episode (with its now chilling title) opens, Mike is tumbling violently into space, in a scene that is all the more startling for its cinematic quality. Panting and crying, he manages to catch a tether before pulling himself back into the station, where he introduces himself to the new worm living in the soil. He gives a “classic name”: Phil.
Back in Malibu, New Phil, feverish and in pain, is tended to by the others, including Gail, who has (over the course of many episodes) become a de facto nurse for the survivors, even considering that she has no advanced medical training. As New Phil writhes, Gail suggests that his ailment could either be appendicitis or bad gas. She implores him to “blow out a fart.” Carol offers to get him flat ginger ale. They are out of their depth.
When Todd and Melissa go to look for pain pills, they are forced to discuss Melissa’s proposal — when the last episode closed, we couldn’t hear what Todd had said. It turns out that he said “no” — Melissa is visibly shaken by the news, but as she says, “We have bigger fish to fry.”
New Phil is certain that he has appendicitis, and the unfortunate truth comes out: they will have to cut out his appendix, or he will die. “I guess this one falls to our ersatz doctor,” Tandy says, before he starts slow-chanting, “Gail! Gail! Gail!” She is understandably terrified. After she goes to do what she always does — drink wine alone — Erica refuses to take no for an answer. If Gail doesn’t at least try to save New Phil, Erica will lose the father of her child. Nobody understands this better than Tandy, who, it must be said, is really a tertiary figure in this episode. (Carol is, too.) One of the episode’s most weirdly touching moments has Tandy talking directly into Erica’s belly as he brokers a peace between the dying New Phil and his unborn child. “Let’s just give him some kick-ass drugs and send him off with a smile,” Gail says to Erica. But we know she will try to save him.
But if Gail is going to save New Phil, she will need medical supplies and even a dead body for practice. (She had been doing incisions on pastries.) After a scene that shows Melissa baring emotion for the first time in the show’s history, Carol snaps her out of it, and the two manage to find Gail a surgical doll. Meanwhile, Todd and Tandy go to the morgue to find a cadaver (leading to Tandy’s joke, “Cadaver? I barely knew her!”), only to discover that the bodies are all skeletons. They decide to dig up Gordon, Gail’s old lover (played by Will Ferrell) who died at the beginning of the season. It turns out that they don’t need Gordon’s corpse after all. Still, the whole escapade is worth it just to watch Todd’s “hip-hop dance.”
The episode’s double conclusion finds Mike Miller deciding to take Phil, his new worm, and attempt a kind of “escape pod” descent to Earth, which is made all the riskier because there is no Mission Control to guide him to safety. Intercut with Mike’s violent descent are shots of Gail performing surgery in Malibu, with the others looking on nervously. Gail begins to scream that “something has gone wrong,” that “he’s filling up with blood.” The escape pod is shaking violently. New Phil flatlines. The Last Man on Earth will return this spring.