THE LAST MAN ON EARTH Review: “When the Going Gets Tough” / “Nature’s Horchata”

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So here it is. Maybe. Who knows. Possibly.

We still don’t know whether is returning for a fourth season. The ratings haven’t been very good, with less than two million viewers consistently over the past few weeks, and 18-34 viewership not as strong as in years past.

That said, it has a history, so maybe Fox picks it up for a fourth season, keeping it on the bubble. That means the show’s going to need all the natural miracles, new locales, nuclear meltdowns and Kristen Wiig cameos it can get.

Yes, the two-part season finale of “When the Going Gets Tough” (Billy Ocean reference) and “Nature’s Horchata” (breastmilk) is a strong finish. It has soaring highs (the birth of Erica’s daughter Dawn), wraps up a lot of story (said pregnancy, the falling object, Pat’s return, Wiig’s appearance as Pamela Brinton), puts the survivors on the road again, and contains just enough Tandy without going overboard.

So let’s start with the soaring high.

Simply put, The Last Man on Earth is strongest when it dials down Will Forte and accentuates the rest of the cast. The first third of “When the Going Gets Tough” forgets this, with Tandy nudging his way into every part of Erica’s delivery. While we get an awesome little Tony Levin reference (I know the guy), we go too far: Tandy puts on a Phil Miller mask to try and ease everyone’s fears. How many reminders do we need that Tandy is the most unaware person on Earth? The Phil mask seems one step too far.

But then Tandy is asked to take Jasper to the park (partly because Gail and Todd don’t want Jasper exposed to Erica’s delivery, and partly because they want Tandy out of their hair), and the episode takes off. Not only do we get fantastic moments from Todd (a crying mess), Gail (working through numerous issues including a potential breach of Erica’s baby) and Melissa (how good has January Jones been this season?), but Tandy shows enormous emotional growth with Jasper, talking him out of the worst possible fear (though he does overreach) while showing him a fun time at the water park (thanks to plenty of vegetable oil).

Plus we also get a fun runner with Carol listening to a CD of various situations of laughter.

This is the show at its best. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, it’s episodically unusual and finds a soul through the mess.

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And it turns on a dime.

Just when Erica gives birth to Dawn, and the sun is rising for our survivors, Tandy breaks in with bad news: there’s a massive fire spreading too close to them, and it’s possibly a nuclear meltdown. Last Man foreshadowed this with the falling object a few weeks back, and now it’s a true threat, sending everyone into panic mode as they decide to drive off to a new home.

That’s the basis for “Nature’s Horchata,” a classic Last Man road plot with all the trimmings: They don’t know where they’re going, they worry about everything, and Tandy gets on everyone’s nerves (and causes some serious damage). It’s a bit weaker than “When the Going Gets Tough,” but again, it relies enough on the supporting cast, keeping it from going under.

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Then there’s the finish. Ultimately the survivors decide the only place safe enough for them (since more nuclear meltdowns are increasingly likely to occur) is at sea, so they head for Los Angeles to grab a boat. The problem is Tandy puts out a bunch of candles in their house (he attached his and Carol’s house to make her feel more comfortable), and one falls, causing the house to burn down.

(For a moment, by the way, it felt as if maybe Forte knew something we didn’t yet know, and was about to burn alive the entire cast because, of course, the show should end on Tandy screwing something up.)

Anyway, the house fire causes a humongous plume of smoke to signal their arrival in L.A., causing Pat to find them. And he does (thanks again to Tandy), but not before Pamela shoots him dead as a welcome present.

Is it a little too clean? Sure. Does it come too quick? Probably. But there was enough setup to justify the finish, a good capper for a season that started with Pat nearly killing the entire group in Malibu.

So what now? If Last Man returns, we have a nine-person group on the high seas. Carol should experience delivery, Pamela would be part of the team (that’s a pretty stellar season-four cast if it happens) and plenty of questions are out there to be answered (What’s the next major disaster to strike? Is Mike still out there?).

But if not, and this really is the end, it’s certainly unfulfilling. In recent months it’s become more than hobby for people to think about end times, and so there’s something exciting and insightful about The Last Man on Earth. It’s the show where a montage of presidential funerals can be humorous, just seconds before we see the chilling effect the end of the world can have on personal relationships. In “When the Going Gets Tough,” it’s the show that offers us a moment of genuine beauty (Dawn’s birth), just seconds before we’re reminded of the horrors that face our protagonists at every turn.

The Last Man on Earth is the rare show that pressures us to think about our own mortality while lightheartedly showing us that life is pretty ridiculous. And for that it’s an important show to have around right now. Maybe we really do need it, even if there’s often too much Tandy, and even if it can meander into places we don’t necessarily need to visit (and revisit).

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As it stands, Kirsten Wiig shooting someone dead and declaring “Hi, I’m Pamela” would actually be a weirdly memorable way to finish it off. It could be a stark reminder that no matter how much we attempt to control the world, things are going to happen that we never would’ve imagined, like Kirsten Wiig showing up at the perfect moment to kill the guy who wants to kill everyone else.

It’s a reminder that these fools have no idea what they’re doing, and they’re lucky they stayed alive this long.

Which really is what this is all about, isn’t it?

Touche, The Last Man on Earth. Forever and ever, touche.

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Season 3, Episodes 17-18 (S03E17-18)
The Last Man on Earth airs Sunday at 930 PM on Fox

Read all of our reviews of The Last Man on Earth here.
Read our reviews of more of your favorite shows here.


Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
Follow Timothy on Twitter: @timothymalcolm
Keep up with all of Timothy’s reviews here.

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