Three months ago, The Last Man On Earth’s midseason finale left viewers with two cliffhangers: Gail’s apparent suicide and Melissa’s pseudo-institutionalization. Forte and company tried to liven both these developments over the course of the first half of the season, but the results were often stale or half-baked. The series thrives on chaos, not on stasis, and it’s generally difficult to generate more and more chaos midway through the third season of any show, let alone a post-apocalyptic sitcom. Though it was mostly decent, “If You’re Happy And You Know It” kind of landed with a thud in retrospect, and I wasn’t exactly sure where and how LMOE would go from there. It felt like an uphill battle for the series.

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Needless to say, we’ll have to wait until next week to see how the writers resolve or develop the cliffhangers because the series takes a welcome detour with “Got Milk?”, an episode about the initial viral outbreak from the perspective of the haughty, rich Pamela Brinton (Kristen Wiig). We first see her at her foundation’s charity auction for canine hip dysplasia, for which she has reportedly saved 4,000 lives (“That’s 28,000 lives in dog years!” she quips to a silent room), but she’s quickly upstaged, first by her socialite rival Catherine (Laura Dern) and then by the sudden collapse of a partygoer who appears to have coughed up blood. It’s not before long that the “bad flu season” Pamela thinks it is becomes a full-blown apocalyptic epidemic, wiping out scores of people, including the entire U.S. government, run by President Mike Pence.

After her husband contracts the virus and quarantines himself in a room in their house, Pamela escapes with her dog Jeremy, unsure of where to turn now that people are dropping like flies. She eventually heads to Catherine’s house and finds her dead body as well as instructions for the expensive underground bunker she recently purchase. Needless to say, she heads there with Jeremy to begin her new life.

“Got Milk?” proceeds fairly predictably: At first, Pamela and Jeremy revel in the freedom of the spacious bunker, seemingly stocked with endless amounts of food and booze, as well as a controllable surveillance drone. However, Pamela’s loneliness increases in the second and third years after the virus wiped out (most of) humanity. In the funniest gag, she tries to teach Jeremy to speak by repeating the word “Milk” at him to no avail. She learns an instrument out of sheer repetition. She drinks all day. She runs through the roster of calming images without any affect. It’s the flipside of Tandy’s loneliness back in the pilot, except Pamela doesn’t have the freedom of the open air. Instead, she has an enclosed space and an indifferent dog.

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Though the episode’s actual narrative is a repetition of the Tandy and Mike stories from previous scenes, it’s still mostly effective, especially with Wiig at its center. Her performance begins as comic caricature of an out-of-touch wealthy woman stuck in her bubble of opulence and eventually ends in manic desperation. Once Jeremy runs away after Pamela tests his loyalty, she devolves completely, treating the bunker like a sty and walking around in a depressed stupor.

But one day as she’s mindlessly maneuvering the surveillance drone, she finds Gail sitting outside of the Malibu mansion drinking wine. Thus, Pamela is the origin of the mysterious drone at the end of the second season. Completely overwhelmed at the sight of another humor being, Pamela starts frantically yelling at the screen in an effort to communicate, but because the drone has low battery, it automatically returns to charging station. When she returns the drone to the same spot, she finds Carol, Gail, Erica, and Todd waving signs welcoming the flying object. However, we know how the story ends: Melissa shoots the drone out of the sky and Pamela no longer has a window to the other lost souls who walk the Earth. But instead of wallowing in her own misery, she opens the bunker door and leaves her nest, determined to find them.

It’s heartening to see that LMOE can still produce self-contained episodes like these, with a strong focus on societal alienation and the horrors of isolation. While sometimes the ensemble can keep the series frustratingly inert, it’s genuinely nice to see that the creative team can switch up the pitch and provide an episode like this. “Got Milk?” isn’t out of left field, far from it actually, but it’s a successful variation on the series’ most resonant theme: Loneliness is a fate worse than death. In many ways, LMOE is like a shark in that it needs to keep moving forward, and though “Got Milk?” takes a trip back in time, it’s another effort to renew the series’ creative spirit. This is undoubtedly good news.

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Stray observations

  • I’m fairly certain we’ll be seeing more of Wiig on the series in the future.
  • The single funniest joke is watching the entire U.S. line of succession die one by one. First goes Pence, then Paul Ryan, then Rex Tillerson, then Steven Mnuchin, then Jeff Sessions, and finally all the way down to Betsy DeVos.
  • Wiig’s line read of “I’m making you that soup…in my heart” is stellar.
  • Dern only shows up in a few scenes, but she’s reliably fantastic, especially the shot of her devouring cat food.
  • “Do you know you’re eating cat food? And you look like a fool? What would your parents think?”
  • “You’re a cat person who eats dog food. I’m a dog person that eats cat food. Guess we’re more alike than I thought.”

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