The Last Man On Earth works best when it focuses on character conflict. Though its post-apocalyptic premise offers plenty of opportunities for the series to feature standard “man against nature” plots, LMOE thrives when it forces dissimilar people together, and since the stakes are necessarily high (no one character can just theoretically walk away and hang out with another Malibu crew), it’s often a recipe for compelling, funny TV. Initially, Phil was often the agent of chaos, with his selfish desires and personality brushing up against the other members of the ensemble, but over the course of this season, Phil has often become a neutral offender, with other characters like Todd or Phil 2.0 (R.I.P.) serving as that role. It’s been good to see the series play with the ensemble, leaning less on one character’s foibles and more on different characters’ strengths and weakness, especially when the series introduces another catalyst into the fold, the latest being astronaut Mike Miller himself.
It should be somewhat expected that when Mike finally reconnects with Phil after spending three years in space grappling with loneliness and insanity, it isn’t going to be an easy transition. Phil punches Mike in the balls immediately upon seeing him, yelling at him for stealing his “girlfriend” Christine, but even after they make up, there’s still plenty of tension between them. Mike quickly wins over the Malibu crew with his winning personality and quick-fire jokes, as well as his casual teasing of Phil, like when he tells the gang that his nickname used to be “skidmark” because of his supposedly dirty underwear. It’s clear that this situation has happened time and time again in Phil’s life: Mike swoops in and wows people with his natural charisma while Phil remains the constant butt of the joke. Only now there’s only a finite number of people on Earth, and they all seem to prefer Mike to Phil.
Naturally this goes in a somewhat predictable direction: Phil gets jealous of Mike, tries to steal the spotlight back from him, only to make everything worse, but episode writers Kira Kalush and Matt Marshall liven the plot a little bit by telling the story from Phil’s point of view. Up until now, we’ve mostly seen the best of Mike Miller when he’s talking to worms and trying to find his only family left, but Kalush and Marshall effectively shake up our understanding of him when we see him from Phil’s perspective. He can be an arrogant showboat who hogs people’s attention, and no matter how many times he says he’s goofing around, it’s easy to see that he likes to kick Phil down because it’s easy and fun. It’s a little bit bold how much the series is willing to make Mike look like a dick in “Skidmark.” I’m thinking of when he smugly responds to Phil’s “The sky’s the limit” with “Not for me,” or when he mocks Phil when he’s up on stage by calling him “Queef Richards and the Blowing Stones.” It’s easy to sympathize with Phil in the situation, as he’s come to take a lot of shit from strangers—some deserved, some not—and now he must take it from his brother too. Look at Phil’s frustrated, jealous face during Mike’s heartfelt acoustic rendition of “Space Oddity,” which ends with Mike in tears: No matter how genuine Mike’s reaction, it also functions as a manipulative play for sympathy from the group whether he’s aware of it or not.
“Skidmark” also underlines something about Phil that we intuitively understand but never gets explicitly mentioned: He’s a remarkably uncool person. Sure he’s funny, loyal to Carol, and has matured in many ways, but he’ll never have the inherent charm or magnetism that allows people like Mike to coast through social situations. It’s encapsulated nicely in his party following Mike’s bonfire: He wants to one-up Mike so badly, and yet it mostly amounts to him being on a stage playing a terrible key-tar version of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” complete with cheeky references to the group. He even has to beg the group to stay and not go back and get drunk with his brother. Of course, Phil takes things a little too far when he reveals that Mike got busted for plagiarism in college and wasn’t present for their grandmother’s death because he went out on a kayaking trip, but it’s hard not to feel for Phil a little when he pleads with Mike to stop making fun of him just minutes prior.
Despite the interesting changes in the group dynamics, “Skidmark” suffers from one-note pacing seeing as the episode mostly involves Phil and Mike passive aggressively sniping at each other. It’s broken up by a couple of the serialized threads introduced last week—Phil’s sterility and Todd’s weird Big Love-type proposal—but it mostly circles back again and again to Phil and Mike’s fight with little change in rhythm. Given the episode’s ending, Phil and Mike’s feud will continue at least until next week, so it’s understandable that “Skidmark” carries the burden of introducing the conflict without really delving beyond the surface. However, it accomplishes what an introduction is supposed to do: It makes me want to see what happens next.
- Funny bits: Todd’s repeated “Big whiff. Total misfire” to Gail, Erica, and Melissa after they all confront him about his weird polygamy proposal; Phil’s protracted explanation of how he has clean underwear; Melissa’s reaction to Todd getting down on his knees: “What are you, friggin’ high?”
- Couple callbacks: Mike successfully shooting a fire arrow to start the bonfire while Phil couldn’t shoot one for Phil 2.0’s Viking funeral, and Carol saying, “It’s tomahto” calling back to her pronunciation tics.
- The shot of Phil’s half-shaven face is simultaneously funny and terrifying.
- “I come down from space after everyone in the whole world has died and you’re talking about Christine!”
- “When you say ‘Will you marry me?’ to someone and then the other person says, ‘No, but do you want to be a four-way with me?’ I mean…”
- “Maybe we’re a couple of Hollywood stunt people just shooting blanks.”
- “He’s like quicksand. The good kind.”