Did that really happen?
Did THE LAST MAN ON EARTH really kill off Gail?
This isn’t new for a sitcom that’s been relatively adventurous by design. Last year’s fall finale found the show killing off the other Phil Miller with a fatal bout of appendicitis. And the season-two finale was the possible end of Mike Miller. Death is a necessary truth of the series.
But Gail is one of the earliest cast members. They can’t possibly do it, right?
Well, probably not. The Last Man on Earth has been known for ambiguities and loopholes, so don’t expect Gail to have successfully killed herself. Or be finished via a ricocheted bullet from her own gun. But those gunshots – caused in the heat of a rage fueled by madness while being stranded for days in the elevator – allows for a sufficient cliffhanger as the show hits its winter hiatus.
It also calls to attention how progressively dark the show has become this season. Sure we started it off with a shootout in Malibu, but much of the season’s focus has been on the eroding emotional state of our survivors. The toll of being the only remaining people that they know of, along with the challenge of having to be among the same people day after day, is growing pretty strong now. So people are cracking, and The Last Man on Earth has made it at times look goofy, but, especially lately, beautifully tragic.
So “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” written by Will Forte and Erik Durbin, shows the depth of the cracking. Gail, still in that elevator and resorting to snaring a Roomba with her mannequin husband’s hair, is down to her final shreds of consciousness. Mary Steenburgen is again terrific on her own, building up to a raw meltdown that resorts in the shooting injury. And when all seems lost, we’re led to believe she takes her own life with one final shot.
Whatever the result, again, Steenburgen is terrific. And the elevator scenes are wonderfully shot and paced. The final scene, ambiguous as it can be, is simply a close-up of Gail’s gun, her loading in a new bullet, a long shot of the elevator from the outside, and a long shot of the building from the outside. We don’t see Gail one last time, only the cold concrete reality facing her – nobody can hear her locked deep in the bowels of a box in the middle of Silicon Valley.
It’s a little different for Melissa, whose reality is literally dancing on top of said building (part of a wonderfully understated performance this week by January Jones). Though she’s back in the fold, she’s clearly cracked, not remembering much about anyone or anything and randomly escaping captivity only to be teetering on the edge of the multi-story building.
When found and brought down from the roof, Melissa is locked in an interrogation room by Lewis, Erica and Todd. Of course, Todd doesn’t want this, instead wishing to treat Melissa “like a person.” Only his idea of that – sitting outside her bedroom as she sleeps – doesn’t seem to fit that concept. The fact that nobody knows what to do with Melissa – who could erupt at any moment – signals real trouble. You’d think these survivors would know by now that a wild card isn’t good to keep around. But Todd is more gone than he or anyone else seems to think, holding onto some humanistic concept that just isn’t in play anymore.
Either way, things are going to get much worse for everyone involved here.
The only people who seem to be in touch with themselves are Phil and Carol, and only because they’re so far removed from the dangers of reality. Phil decides to take Carol on a honeymoon to get her mind off Gail. He recreates the campsite where he found Carol, and plants objects (a mink coat, a giant portrait) in a pond so they can “catch” them.
Only he doesn’t plant a catfish, and when Carol catches that miracle catfish, she names it Gail. The idea of seeing new life brightens Carol, and she even becomes randy enough to sleep with Phil.
The idea of a catfish exciting Carol may seem far fetched, but it shows just how much these people need something new and different, how clearly distraught they’ve become being among each other for so long. When Gail the catfish looks to have died, Carol quickly accepts its fate and tries to move on. But when it starts splashing around once again, Carol lights up brighter than ever. It’s sad, almost darker than what’s going on with Gail and even Melissa, since it’s not seen on the surface.
Nearly everyone on The Last Man on Earth has fallen into a dark space this season (you have to feel bad for Cleopatra Coleman, subject of maybe one-half of a story this season), and only now are the consequences of these falls beginning to bear fruit. It’ll make for an intriguing second half of the season. Until then, kudos on a solid finish at the halfway mark.
Season 3, Episode 9 (S03E09)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sundays at 9:30PM on Fox
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
Timothy Malcolm | Contributor