The Last Man On Earth
Photo: Kevin Estrada (FOX)

Last week, The Last Man On Earth returned to the status quo by burying Karl and re-introducing Todd’s baby fever. After seeing how Melissa bonds so well with Jasper, Todd feels guilty that he can’t connect with the nine-to-eleven-year-old boy in their midst, but he’s more depressed because he believes he’ll never be a father. Melissa, who loves Todd and explicitly doesn’t want children, eventually agrees to a compromise: She will allow Todd to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to carry his child or be a parent. By the end of the episode, Todd and Melissa are sitting in front of Erica on the verge of asking her to carry another child.

I can quibble with the compression of the storytelling (it basically takes a scene for Todd to confess his fears and then for Melissa to agree to a new arrangement), but it didn’t bother me too much because a) LMOE has established Todd’s baby obsession earlier this season, and b) Mel Rodriguez and January Jones sell their respective emotions very well. All in all, “Señor Clean” represented a necessary return to traditional group dynamics, a nice respite after weeks (nay, months) of Karl. Yet, it doesn’t hold a candle to this week’s episode, which is more acutely focused on the baby dilemma, and stands as one of the best episodes of the season.

Credited to Megan Ganz, “Release The Hounds” works so well because it ties together Todd’s story with an irreverent subplot about Tandy and Carol being horny. LMOE usually has neatly delineated A-, B-, and sometimes C-plots that pair off characters from the ensemble, presumably to open up new stories and experiment with different chemistry amongst the actors. This week, however, the two plots intersect in an emotionally satisfying, semi-unpredictable way that neatly elevates the material into more-compelling-than-usual territory.

Let’s start with Tandy and Carol’s gross, but oddly sweet sexual escapade, which initially seems like an excuse for Will Forte and Kristen Schaal to play to the gallery, only for it to take on unexpected significance as the episode moves forward. Essentially, Tandy’s parenting skills sends Carol into a carnal frenzy, resulting in the two of them engaging in plenty of exaggerated outercourse, but stopping short of intercourse because it’s only been two weeks since Carol gave birth to twins. After Tandy and Carol heroically resist temptation for as long as possible, Gail gives them her medical blessing to engage in their restaurant-management-themed sex.

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Whenever LMOE gives Forte or Schaal free rein to ham it up for laughs, it’s usually hit or miss depending on their performances or the substance of the core joke. Here, their dual performances are completely in sync, and it’s downright hysterical watching their characters enact their strange foreplay. There are two extended sequences in “Release The Hounds” that feature Forte and Schaal in an exaggerated libidinal state, and I’m downright impressed at how well Ganz and director Steve Day sustain the comedy, especially when it tips into absurdly lewd territory. (Carol’s suggestion to Tandy that “just cause the doggy door’s busted doesn’t mean [they] can’t look through the peep hole” is one of the filthiest lines of dialogue I’ve heard on a sitcom recently.) Mileage will vary depending upon how funny someone finds, say, Carol lusting after Tandy’s belly button, or Tandy’s “sexy” dance set to Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” but it worked wonders for me. Tandy and Carol’s behavior falls in line with their respective characterizations, and Forte and Schaal work overtime not just to make it funny, but also believable. These are two odd people in love trying to fulfill their shared desires.

Tandy and Carol’s story would only be the best subplot of the season the series if it didn’t also neatly tie into Todd’s personal plight. After Erica politely and awkwardly turns down Todd’s anxious request to father his child, he falls into a deep depression. Melissa gets him out of bed with a model train set, but as the months pass, it becomes an all-consuming hobby. Todd turns the entire first floor of the mansion into an extended train line that he monitors all day in silence. “Release The Hounds” is an excellent showcase for Rodriguez, whose emotions run the gamut from nervous to despair. In the first half of the episode, Todd is needy and eager, but in the second half, he becomes a silent, unkempt cypher as the gang waits for his return to the fold.

“Release The Hounds” features another six-month time jump between Todd’s initial interest in the train set and his eventual obsession with it. In between, two major changes occur: Gail has maintained her sobriety from red wine (she still drinks white), and Carol is pregnant yet again, but hiding it from Todd to spare his feelings. Tandy and Carol’s fervent passion produced a third child for the couple, while a verklempt Todd has substituted model trains for any potential children. After Carol can no longer conceivably hide her pregnancy, Tandy comes up with a plan to gently tell Todd the news, but it amounts to nothing more than the two unpersuasively explaining to Todd that their new child is an enormous burden rather than a gift.

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In a fit of rage and jealousy, Todd destroys the train set, but he eventually settles down, cuts his hair, and plans to apologize to the group. However, at the last second, Erica tells Todd that she wants to father his child. Inspired by a spare picture of Erica’s brother, she feels compelled to make sure that Dawn has a sibling. Again, I could quibble with the storytelling compression, but Cleopatra Coleman gives a convincing performance in her solo scene, and Ganz goes to great lengths to underscore that Erica’s decision is hers and hers alone. In the end, everyone celebrates as new life is on the horizon, even though pregnancy in a post-apocalyptic world inevitably invites pain and terror. But as a mysterious hand finds Tandy’s dirty diaper balloons in the Mexican desert, LMOE illustrates yet again that danger lurks around every corner, even as everyone has come to terms with their new normal.

Stray observations

  • Many thanks to Ashley Ray-Harris for filling in for me last week!
  • Credit to the show for finding a unique way to incorporate Schaal’s real-life pregnancy into the series, as well as including a meta-joke about Carol having difficulty finding new bulky items to hold in front of her stomach.
  • January Jones also gets some great material this week, especially Melissa’s frustration with Todd trying to find ways for Erica to back out of fathering his child: “Stop talking! You’ve made a sale!”
  • Finally, a come-on for the ages, courtesy of Tandy: “Must be some residual push sweat. I don’t know if you know heard, but I took a pretty aggressive dump.”

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