Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis in The Last Man On Earth
Image: Kevin Estrada (Fox)

When The Last Man On Earth first introduced Tandy’s astronaut brother Mike (Jason Sudeikis) floating up in space, desperately searching for any human life below, it felt like the series had fully embraced the limitless nature of its premise. After all, if Tandy wasn’t the last person on Earth, let alone the last man, then who knows who else is out there? If there’s a lonely astronaut orbiting the Earth, maybe there’s also a paranoid survivalist sailing the seas, or a wealthy socialite hiding in an underground bunker, or a castaway wasting away on a remote island, or a serial cannibal stuck in an abandoned prison. The core group might have initially been drawn to Tucson because of Tandy’s billboards, but it’s a big world, and thus it’s filled with pockets of isolated people wondering if anyone is still alive. By going to space, LMOE demonstrated how much of Earth it has left to explore.

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As the series winds down its fourth season, its habit of introducing new characters only to kill them off has become a little tired (especially since the guest stars they bring in to play these characters necessitate short arcs), but Mike was different. His journey back from space and eventual discovery of his lost brother was one of LMOE’s best storylines, especially because it concluded on a note of finality. When Mike seemingly contracted the virus, the series moved into a mature emotional register, forcing Tandy to confront the death of his last remaining family member just after he came back into his life. Mike’s impending demise produced many of the series’ emotional highlights—Tandy gifting Mike his sports balls to keep him company, Mike learning about the sacrifices Tandy made while he was up in space, Tandy returning to Tucson with Lewis so he can leave a note for Mike “just in case”—and his presumed death has hung over the series for over two seasons.

So needless to say, I’m not exactly overjoyed by the reveal that Mike has been alive this whole time. After a series of requisite pranks on Tandy, Mike explains to the group that he miraculously recovered from the virus and attributes his illness to his weakened immune system after returning from space. Putting aside this weak, borderline-deus ex machina write-around of Mike’s death, his reappearance partially negates his earlier storyline precisely because it was predicated on his permanent removal from the series. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone, and I can theoretically understand the argument that Mike’s previous arc still has emotional weight because everyone assumed he would die at the time, but for me, watching Mike return to the group as if he had been on an extended vacation feels like a disavowal of the series’ history.

Maybe I would be kinder to Mike’s return if the episode in question wasn’t a bland, time-killing affair that had almost nothing to do with Mike and everything to do with Todd’s continuing breakdown. Todd fears that Mike’s return signals the end of his deal with Erica to father a child because he assumes Mike, a handsome alpha male, will provide his seed instead. Naturally, Mike has no plans to do anything of the sort with Erica, but it nevertheless sends Todd into a spiral. He vandalizes Mike’s van, forces Tandy to choose between him and his brother, and secludes himself from the group out of insecurity. It’s only when Mike gently explains to Todd that he’s taking his good fortune for granted that he apologizes to Erica and explains he hasn’t been himself. Of course, at that moment, Erica reveals that she’s pregnant with Todd’s child, allowing Todd to receive what he wants and return to normal with the aid of a couple conversations.

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Meanwhile, Mike’s other contributions to the episode mostly involve singing songs with Tandy. LMOE banks on the chemistry between Sudeikis and Forte, developed while they were on SNL together, and though that’s not always a bad bet, their scenes in “Designated Survivors” feel like glorified padding. It’s not that there isn’t value, comedic or otherwise, in watching the two of them sing “Falling Slowly” from Once or Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited,” but these scenes tend to drag and they also don’t add much to the episode.

However, “Designated Survivors” pulls at an interesting thread by the end of the episode. When Tandy must tend to his children instead of hanging out with his brother, Mike suddenly feels alone even though he’s in the company of friends and family. Mike realizes that the whole group has moved on without him, and that it’s not clear he fits in with the lives they’ve established. As he looks out onto the desolate landscape from the safety of his van, he struggles with his place in the world, just as he’s been reunited with the last family he has left.

But before he can ponder any of those existential implications, a new threat pops up onto his thermal imaging system. Just as things begin to settle, something else emerges to throw the status quo into jeopardy once again.

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Stray observations

  • Besides “Falling Slowly” and “Reunited,” Mike is also seen singing along to Men at Work’s “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Hold Me Down” when he was in Tucson, and Tandy and Mike duet on wonky renditions of “Electric Avenue” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
  • It’s a genuinely sweet moment when Tandy and Carol explain to Mike that they named one of their daughters after him, even though Tandy tries to “trick” him by claiming that she was named after Michael Clarke Duncan. “Big Green Mile fans.”
  • I wonder if the contents of Tandy’s note come up again in future episodes…
  • “You know what, I’m just gonna go down there and ask him what the deal is, and if he says he wants to have a baby with Erica, then out comes the stationary!”

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