Amidst the prank wars, the picnic-themed sex scenes, and the “Boom. Nailed it” one-liners of the past few weeks, it’s easy to forget that the threat of death hangs over The Last Man On Earth. LMOE rightfully doesn’t foreground the series’ apocalyptic premise every single week not only because it would lose its luster, but also because the characters aren’t constantly in peril. They have roughly the same type of relationship hijinks as the characters in any other ensemble comedy on an episodic basis. But whenever the LMOE team invokes the ugly reality of their situation, the episodic takes on a befitting dramatic character. Case in point: When it’s clear that Mike has likely contracted The Virus, the entire tone of “Smart And Stupid” appropriately shifts as the characters collectively realize what has to be done in order to survive. In short, the series takes seriously the idea that the last people on Earth would inevitably turn their backs on someone that poses a risk to the entire group, even if that person is one of their own.
Credited writer Emily Spivey pulls a cheeky bit of misdirection in “Smart And Stupid,” with the first two acts focusing on classic sitcom material before taking the dark left turn. The narrative strands in the episode involve Todd’s jealousy with Phil spending more time with his brother than him, Mike and Erica spending more time with one another, and Gail attempting to quit drinking after no one believed her that she saw a drone-like device in the sky. These stories have some solid moments: It’s always funny to see Mel Rodriguez become unhinged, and Erica’s admission that she went to jail for armed robbery and joined the state department under a false identity is a great character moment. However, you could also see the wheels spinning a little too transparently; this is well-trodden material even for a series this young. But just when it felt like things were getting a little too stale, Mike coughs and things start to fall into place. Even before the first shot of blood in his hand, it’s clear the cracks in the status quo has changed, and the threat that wiped out the entire planet now resides in their home.
While most of the ensemble presents a unified front against Mike, knowing that he must be quarantined and left to fight it on his own lest the virus spreads to Carol and Erica’s unborn children, Phil desperately tries to maintain the status quo by insisting that Mike only has a cold, but his attempts backfire almost immediately. The group tries to play Celebrity with Mike in quarantine and everyone else in protective suits, but it’s no use, especially because the game constantly reminds him of people who died from The Virus. To his credit, Mike understands his fate and Phil’s insistent pleading that he has a minor sickness does very little to dissuade him and the others of the reality in front of their eyes. Spivey presents Phil’s perspective and the group’s perspective fairly, without demonizing one at the expense of the other. If Mike has contracted the virus, it’s only fair that he shouldn’t infect those who may not yet be immune, but Phil rightfully doesn’t want to see his brother cast out to suffer by himself. It’s genuinely painful to watch seven people who so openly embraced Phil’s brother as a part of their strange family so quickly wash their hands of him, even if it’s ultimately the smart thing to do.
Forte really shines in the back half of “Smart And Stupid,” as his trademark frantic desperation turns poignant when it’s about him protecting his brother from the ire of the group. After everyone finds that the cow has died because it was in contact with Mike, they all start to literally push Mike out of the house, but it’s Phil that stands between them explaining that they’ll have to push him out too. In the last five minutes of the episode, Forte provides some of the best acting in the series as he tells Todd that he’ll “friggin’ rip him apart” if he takes one more step towards him and his brother, and when he unconvincingly tells Mike yet again that he only has a cold. Forte neatly conveys his own sense of denial without it ever tipping into maudlin territory; for a few moments, he’s just an older brother trying to make sure his little brother is okay.
Though the “Falling Slowly” bit between them was played as a gag in the last episode, when the two sing it this time, it’s almost overwhelmingly tragic, with Mike knowing that it may be the last time it happens. Sure enough, Mike leaves before Phil wakes up, leaving him a note saying that he didn’t want him to have to say goodbye again. All we’re left with is Phil standing forlornly in the bubble, cut off from the rest of the world without anyone by his side. At its best, LMOE can make you laugh and place you in that melancholic. It’s a lonely post-apocalyptic landscape out there, and only with the help of family can anyone get through it in one piece. Even though Phil has a wife and a child on the way, he’s arguably more alone than ever now knowing that his last connection with his past life has slipped from his grasp yet again.
- Mike and Erica’s scenes together are very sweet, especially their “last date” together separated by Mike’s bubble. It’s pretty heartbreaking when he says he’s sorry if his sickness scares her.
- The single funniest bit in the episode was when Phil expressed confusion at Mike’s Brando impression. “I don’t understand. Why are you talking like that?”
- Rodriguez’s best line delivery is a tie between, “NO, I DON’T WANT ANY FRICKIN’ CRACKLINGS, BRA-HEEM!” and “I’m not a Todd-ler. I’m a man!”
- Phil’s potential reasons for the cow’s death: Old age, congenital hoof disorder, the calf with his “demon eyes.”
- “That’s funny because your farts smell like freshly cooked bacon.”
- “You’re one of those guys who as soon as you get two girlfriends you just disappear.”
- “Well, you’re gonna be a godfather, too.” “That’s better than being a Godfather 3. Boom.”
- “Where will I go to the bathroom?” “We got that all taken care of. Todd, go get a bucket!”
- “Do we have to say that the guy is dead every time? Seems like a major buzz kill.” “You know what else is a buzzkill? Losing the game because of lack of clarity.”