Coming off the heels of “The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths,” one of The Last Man On Earth’s most heartfelt episodes that embraced the series’ tragic core with grace, “Mama’s Hideaway” can’t help but feel like filler. It sets the pieces for the last couple episodes before the hiatus, advances some of the season’s lingering plots, and shines some light on underserved characters like Melissa and Gail. It accomplishes those goals fairly well, but never makes the journey from point A to point B that compelling. It’s 22 minutes of strung-together scenes—some are engaging, some are not—that never quite find a coherent whole.

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Here’s the rub: Carol wants Gail to take a family photo in matching outfits now that she’s legally her mother. Gail refuses, partially because she thinks it’s stupid and partially because Carol’s persistence annoys her. The two have a fight and eventually playact mother and daughter—Gail “grounds” Carol, Carol calls Gail “a monster”—that should satisfy at least one party but only alienates the both of them. Meanwhile, Melissa breaks up with Todd after he confronts her about her erratic behavior and she asks both Lewis and Tandy to impregnate her with a child. Worried about her, Todd keeps trying to engage Melissa in a meaningful discussion about her mental health, but she keeps pushing her away.

If you’ve seen any number of Last Man On Earth episodes, you’ll have a good sense of where these two stories are headed. Carol pushes and pushes Gail until she reaches a breaking point; Carol sulks and pouts until she realizes her mistake and tries to reach out to apologize. Only this time, the reconciliation doesn’t happen because Gail finds herself trapped in the elevator of an adjacent building after Tandy and Lewis turn off the power in the other buildings. There are some good scenes involving Gail’s alcoholism, which has become less of a quirky trait and more of a serious issue in the last few weeks, and the emotions between Carol and Gail are played realistically enough, but it’s too scattered for it to make any real impact.

The Melissa plot is a little bit better if only because January Jones has been giving an A-grade performance this season as a woman slowly breaking from reality that’s both funny and discomfiting. The funniest scenes in the episode involve Melissa and her fake baby Alden that she treats like her own, only in the most un-maternal way possible. She pats Alden on the face, throws him onto the bed when it’s time for his “nap,” and eventually fishes him out of a pond. But credit where it’s due: The Last Man On Earth team don’t treat Melissa’s behavior only like a joke, especially whenever Todd is in the scene seeing as he’s the only character who’s truly committed to helping her. Unfortunately, by the end of the episode, Melissa runs away from the group, leaving Alden and a note behind.

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There are some other stray bits here and there that never quite fit into the episode too well. After Lewis and Tandy’s road trip to Lewis’ home in last week’s episode, Lewis is inspired to search for his partner Mark in Tokyo to see if he’s still alive. We see him trying to master a flight simulator in the hopes to one day be able to fly over there, which receives the full support of everyone, especially Erica who’s moved to tears by his plan and also because of her hormones. Also, Tandy discovers that Melissa aggressively asked Lewis to impregnate her before him, which annoys him because he’s Tandy and stuff like that annoys him.

The pacing in “Mama’s Hideaway” also underlines its general lack of substance. Some scenes drag on for too long, like when Tandy and Carol try to trick Gail into taking a family photo with a selfie stick, and some are too clipped and short, like when Todd tries to demonstrate to Melissa that he’s not going to let her flounder in silence. The best Last Man On Earth episodes harbor a central conflict that allows jokes and gags to properly thrive, but here the two main conflicts are generally too underdeveloped and there’s no sense of drama at least until the. All we’re left with are a bunch of scenes that hang together on a fraying clothesline.

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There are some good moments here and there, like Gail shooting a grocery store doorway to get inside, a la Tandy and Carol in previous seasons, or Todd therapeutically popping and locking to calm his stress. But all in all, “Mama’s Hideaway” is a middle-of-the-road episode The Last Man On Earth. Not actively bad by any stretch of the imagination, but largely unmemorable. Here’s hoping the upcoming episodes before the midseason break will showcase the series’ best qualities.

Stray observations

  • The other two nice scenes involve music: Gail singing in the elevator with her accordion, and Lewis, Erica, and Tandy singing karaoke in the office.
  • Todd’s boomerang line was admittedly a nice touch.
  • Carol’s googly-eye picture revenge was very weird and very much in line with her character.
  • The Last Man On Earth is off next week but will return on December 4.

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