Few shows can do Stanley Kubrick and Yacht Rock with equal aplomb, but then again, few shows are THE LAST MAN ON EARTH.
But before we get into the gritty detail, let’s spell it out: “The Power of Power” is the finest episode thus far in season three. Story and visual brilliance collide, and somehow in the mass, there’s room for heart. Everything The Last Man on Earth does extremely well is on display here.
Starting with the Kubrick. Our survivors were about to split completely when Melissa spotted a bright light in the distance. They followed. They arrived at the corporate headquarters for some Silicon Valley tech company. Apparently the building wasn’t completely finished when the virus struck, so not everything is in place. But what is there is pretty wonderful.
In keeping with the spiritual core of The Last Man on Earth, what’s wonderful are the little things that become so important to a group of wanderers after the end of the world. So cue the survivors gazing about the main lobby, almost in slow motion. There’s Melissa sadistically turning on and off lights – actual lights that work. There’s a parking garage. Elevators that play real elevator music. And, in the finest piece, lights that turn on as you pass, so we see the survivors walking curiously to the next part of the building, each light twinkling on above them as they go. Our friends have reached a new frontier, and it’s done so gorgeously.
Of course Phil is more concerned with bells and whistles that make him more likable. “This is a blank canvas,” he tells Lewis, the one survivor who speaks up against the cold nature of the corporate office. But Phil’s canvas is painted in frozen pizza and go carts.
We get a classic Phil and Carol scene at an entirely too-long dining room table covered in lit candles, an ode to Citizen Kane. They can’t hear each other, so they use megaphones to communicate (Carol chews while talking into it). As the scene concludes, Carol raises her megaphone:
“Can you please pass the salt?”
The long table is a well-worn trope, sure, but there’s just enough of a pause, and a perfect shot that looks down the table from Carol’s viewpoint. How exactly will Phil pass the salt?
Phil stands, leaves a long shot of the table, then, after a beat, rolls into the shot on his go cart, which moves at maybe 2 mph. Seconds later, he arrives at Carol with a salt shaker.
Then a pause until, finally, he puts the car in reverse and starts backing up.
That’s what The Last Man on Earth does so well. This random scene (its initial purpose is to show that Phil is still acting on his selfish desires) has such an elaborate joke built on a very small problem (the table is too long for passing a salt shaker). But its genius is it later justifies the conclusion of the A plot.
That A plot is Phil realizing someone is sabotaging the survivors’ new home – cutting a ceiling fan/art installation that could’ve hurt someone, turning off the power, and removing the water supply. Phil initially thinks Lewis is the culprit, since he spoke out against the building, which leads to an appearance of Crazy Phil, only in smaller doses – thank goodness.
The reveal is that Carol isn’t happy with the new situation, and would rather live in a small house with a small yard. Phil listens and builds her a small house with a small yard in the middle of their parking garage space. It’s a big moment of heart, proving Phil doesn’t just care about himself – or the perception people have of him – and strengthens his dynamic with Carol.
On the other hand, Todd and Gail are weakening to the point of splitting up. This saddens Todd, mostly because his reality is now the bat crazy Melissa, who we find swinging away in the background during the group’s first meeting in the corporate building. Todd wants a connection to Melissa, which he gets while she’s holding a rifle. That’s just enough space for Todd, who says he’s delighted to be back with Melissa. Only she’s still crazy, burning all her shirts while telling a frightened Todd she’s ready to have his baby.
Again, January Jones is the MVP of season three.
But maybe Melissa and Todd should be together. Hell, he’s the one using a torch to set off a sprinkler system in the building so he can shower. And he’s the one happily using Phil’s nasty soap while singing the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”
And thus the Yacht Rock.
In “The Power of Power,” The Last Man on Earth is doing it all. There’s awesome direction by Peter Atencio, some great story progression (including secondary characters), heart, and wackiness. It’s the show at its best.
Season 3, Episode 5 (S03E05)
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