Y: The Last Man, based on the graphic novel series of the same name by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra, has finally arrived on Hulu after years of back and forth in development. As is typical for Hulu, the first three episodes were released together as a block, serving as a super long pilot. The dystopian series, which ran for 60 issues that were published from 2002-2008, was written during the dark period post-9/11. It was a bit chilling to watch this show’s scenes of death and horror in the Pentagon and NYC streets just a few days after the 20th anniversary of that event.
In the Y: The Last Man universe, all of the male mammals in the world die, including human males, save one man and his male pet monkey. The women eventually refer to the day this happens as “The Event”, unable to bring themselves to give it a name any more specific than that, not even referring to it by the date, as with 9/11. It’s evocative of JK Rowling’s fictional supervillain from the Harry Potter universe,
Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named. Instead of Voldemort’s brutal, decades-long war, or the protracted, winding MCU lead up to Thanos’ snap, the on screen version of The Event takes place over the course of one day, leaving the characters to face their changed future as exhausted, suffering refugees from an irretrievable past.
In real life, the slow descent into dystopia following 9/11 has given way to full blown crises that can no longer be ignored, even if various factions still argue over causes and solutions. The world of Y: The Last Man shares a similar trajectory, but COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis are replaced by The Event. Many TV series have covered similar post-apocalyptic ground, such as The Walking Dead, The 100, The Handmaid’s Tale and Snowpiercer, which all take place following global disasters that have ended life as we know it.
But none have approached the subject in quite the same way that Y: The Last Man does, especially since the other shows all premiered before current real life crises escalated. This show’s exploration of grief, confusion and anger over mass loss and death is relevant to all of us right now in a way we hoped it never would be, in addition to the shared, urgent need to reconfigure basic societal systems in order to save not just ourselves, but other species and ecosystems from extinction. These days, we don’t have singular crisis events, we have patterns of events that must be tracked over time and geography in order to be understood and dealt with, much the same as the characters in the show need time to sort out what’s left of their world and decide who can handle what after the accidents and failures caused by men dropping dead at the switch, wheel, control panel, you name it.
Spoiler: When the men drop dead, Jesus doesn’t take the wheel. And all too often, there aren’t any qualified women nearby either, thanks to successful patriarchal gatekeeping. Chaos ensues.
In the first three episodes, Y: The Last Man feels like a blend of 12 Monkeys (the TV series) and Designated Survivor S1 with a dash of Alias. While watching the first half of episode 1, I kept remembering the 12 Monkeys pilot, when Cole went back to the pre-plague past for the first time and exclaimed over all of the dead-people-walking. And of course there’s the monkey, the red and black poster showing 12 women and the frequent messages spray painted on walls to connect it to 12 Monkeys (12 Monkeys may also have been influenced by the Y graphic novels). Though time travel is probably out, cloning seems like the most obvious answer to their reproduction issue, so expect some Orphan Black-style futuristic science as it goes. (Or parthenogenesis– still waiting for humans to catch up to lizards and bees.)
Eliza Clark (Animal Kingdom, Extant) is the creator, showrunner and executive producer for Y: The Last Man. Other executive producers are Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Melina Matsoukas, Louise Friedberg, Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson. All 10 Season 1 episodes were directed by women and women wrote the majority of the episodes. Women are all over the imdb crew list– I feel like we’ve reached the promised land with this one. In the first scene, we’re introduced to Yorick Brown, the last man (Ben Schnetzer), and Ampersand, the last male monkey, who is a CGI
damsel dude in distress. It’s a few weeks after The Event and Yorick is searching for his girlfriend, graduate student Beth DeVille (Juliana Canfield). Once we understand that Yorick and Amp have it rough in this new reality, we flash back to the day before The Event to meet most of the rest of the cast.
Yorick’s mother is Congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), a powerful, no nonsense Democrat. Jennifer also has a daughter, Hero Brown (Olivia Thirlby), an alcoholic NYC paramedic who is having an affair with her boss. Hero’s best friend is trans man Sam Jordan (Elliott Fletcher), who will have his own unique issues once the cis men are gone and pharmaceuticals grow scarce. Jennifer has a new assistant, Christine Flores (Jess Salgueiro), who’s hardworking, but still settling into her job.
Paul Gross briefly plays US President Ted Campbell, a moderate Republican who’s worked with Jennifer as friends for decades. Since he’s become president, he and Jennifer have become political foes due to his unwillingness to compromise with Democrats. Amber Tamblyn plays Kimberly Campbell Cunningham, the president’s daughter, a mixture of Ivanka Trump, Meghan McCain and Phyllis Schlafly. She’s a bottle blonde, professional mother to four young sons, author and motivational speaker on the need to treat
wealthy white boys with more sensitivity. (Holding my tongue so hard right now.)
Marin Ireland plays Nora Brady, press advisor to President Campbell, professional political operative and overworked, stressed out wife and working mother to a young son and daughter, Mackenzie (Quincy Kirkwood). Marla Campbell (Paris Jefferson), the (soon to be former) First Lady and Kimberly’s mother, haunts the halls of Y: The Last Man like a spectre from the Old World, clinging to the past while also figuring out how to move on more easily than her more ambitious daughter.
We don’t meet geneticist Dr Allison Mann (Diana Bang) in the first three episodes, but she was an important character in the books, so she’s likely to show up soon.
And finally, the mysterious Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), who showrunner Eliza Clark sees as the true protagonist of the show. She works for an off the books agency, reports only to the president and is by Ted Campbell’s side when he dies. The new president puts her in charge of protecting Yorick, the last man. From her first scene, Romans is electric in the role.
Jennifer is an ambitious, high profile leader who tries to publicly take the high road at all times. Yorick is both a caretaker and an escape artist, but not at all driven. Kimberly is an expert networker and manipulator who doesn’t have an identity outside of her emotional connections, which makes her desperate to insert herself into the post-Event power structure. They are all charismatic and compelling.
But Agent 355 is the lynchpin of the show, a chameleon and woman of many talents who keeps her eyes open so that she can do what needs to be done, preferably before issues even arise. Yet she’s also a perpetual outsider who often serves as the audience’s POV character. She’s someone with more information about The Event than many of the other characters, perhaps more than she even realizes.
Images courtesy of Hulu.