Phil still has a heart, even if his mind likes to go in a million places.
In “The Wild Guess Express,” this week’s more focused LAST MAN ON EARTH, the survivors have to deal with the recent death of Pat, the paranoid tennis pro and ocean navigator who tried to kill them after discovering Phil is Mike’s brother.
But is he really dead?
The plot of “The Wild Guess Express” tackles that question, as Phil tries to appease everyone in the group. Todd is distraught (and loudly so) after realizing he was responsible for someone’s death. Phil doesn’t like seeing Todd so upset (or maybe he’s just annoyed by it), so he lies to Todd, telling him Pat is actually alive. The lie balloons until Phil finally has to come clean: Pat actually is dead.
But is he really dead?
It seemed too clean that the survivors could kill Pat with one A-Team van to the sternum, and so now we find that Pat isn’t where Phil dumped him, and his boat is gone, and now everyone is back on edge.
The Last Man on Earth is at its best when it dives into the minutiae of everyday human relations. These are, as far as we know, the only people left, and they have to live with each other in order to survive and stay relatively sane. Their interactions will never be simple, something “The Wild Guess Express” probes with great confidence.
Phil is self-involved and maniacal, and yet we want to believe he really does care for these people. There’s a genuine bond felt between he and Todd as the latter screams away his pain (phenomenal crying job by Mel Rodriguez), and we buy that Phil wants to make it better for him. So he lies, then trashes the previous house with threats like “blood” on the walls (likely Sriracha) and feces in the microwave oven (definitely his own). He wouldn’t have gone to such exhaustion if he didn’t care about Todd, right?
Louis, the newest member of the surviving group, is dubious. He stands up to Phil right away, demanding answers after Phil tries to kibosh the lie by “killing” a Pat made of foam in a hilarious scene. But as everyone before has learned, Phil has a manipulative power over the group. Because his heart seems so small, the moments it bleeds for the group are the moments that really stand out. The group has stayed with Phil because, without him, maybe they don’t doubt so much. Without him, maybe they don’t remember what it’s like to live with the worst of humanity.
In a weird way, Phil has given everyone in the group a special case of Stockholm Syndrome, and it’s one of the most fascinating ongoing dynamics of the show.
Another fascinating dynamic just now starting to materialize is Melissa’s militant aggressiveness. After killing Pat’s cohort Darrell (Jon Hamm, in a great Mad Men callback), Melissa is suddenly isolating herself from the group, acting out in bold and dangerous ways. At first she’s leisurely playing handball in the middle of Cher’s living room (another wonderful set and imagination of a post-apocalypse future), but soon she’s hanging in a tree, throwing Cher’s bocce balls down at Cher’s vases (the constant Cher references were fantastic).
Clearly Melissa needs help, but like with Phil, nobody is qualified – or even too interested – to help. Chances are the group will allow Melissa to grow even more aggressive, which could lead to a host of outcomes.
But for now, focus on The Last Man on Earth remains on Phil. He’s not afraid to implicate Todd or Carol in his lies (Carol giving a terrible play-by-play of Phil’s “killing” of fake Phil is inspired), and yet he’s ultimately immune to discipline because he happens to display empathy once in awhile. Louis sees through it right now. Pat is out there, ready to strike. Melissa isn’t suffering fools.
There will be a hell to pay for Phil. Until then, these focused struggles of the human condition are exactly what The Last Man on Earth needs to keep doing.
Season 3, Episode 2 (S03E02)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sundays at 930PM on Fox
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
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Timothy Malcolm | Contributor