Y: The Last Man Season 1 Episode 1: The Day Before Recap

The Day Before

This is a recap, with spoilers. My review of the first 3 episodes is HERE.

After several years of real life twists and turns, the TV adaptation of the Brian Vaughn-Pia Guerra graphic novel series Y: The Last Man premiered on FX on Hulu on September 13, 2021. As with many other graphic novel adaptations in recent years, such as The Walking Dead and Snowpiercer, it appears to be striking a balance between using the source material as a guideline but also updating and modifying storylines for television and changing times. This makes sense, since the first installments were published in 2002, a very different era from 2021 in terms of issues such as gender, race, sexual orientation, violence, terrorism and Climate Crisis awareness.

What ties the two eras together is the theme of coping with overwhelming reactions to a massive crisis. In 2002, the US was dealing with the aftereffects of the 9/11 attacks and was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2021, the world is in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic that has killed 1 in 500 Americans. Both periods share the zeitgeist that the world has changed and not for the better. We grieve the loss of the old world and those we’ve lost along with it. We’re in the dark about what the future will bring, resulting in escalating feelings of isolation, confusion, anxiety and anger.

Y: The Last Man picks up on this zeitgeist, then applies it to a world in which all mammals with a Y chromosome have died, save 2. The sudden genocide of half of humanity, the half which maintained control of so many vital systems, provides an opportunity to explore the results of oppression and inequality in unique ways. Most of the categories that humans use to separate ourselves into groups still exist in their world, from race to political party. Most of the issues that humanity faced before men died still exist. But now, humanity and all species of mammals also face extinction, if whatever caused this mass die off becomes a permanent part of the environment.

The leaders of this universe are left with existential questions about survival, hence the punny reference to Hamlet by naming the last man Yorick, then shortening it to “Y?”- in other words, “to be or not to be?” and “Why did this happen?”

What should the immediate priorities be following mass death and turmoil? Should the first orders of business be to save the living, repair infrastructure and bury the dead, with the hope of preserving what’s left of the past and present? Or should leaders immediately emphasize the scientific search for the cause of the malecide and develop solutions that ensure future reproduction? Which types of scientific research should be funded?

Recap

The scene opens on a wintry farm. These first few moments almost seem animated, as if this is an opening from an episode of Snowpiercer. A dead bull with a bloody eye lies frozen on the snowy ground.The view moves on to the classic Walking Dead scenario of crashed, abandoned cars lining a forlorn highway outside an urban center. A plane has crashed on the hill next to the highway. The camera proceeds into New York City, where it focuses on a mural that takes up one side of a skyscraper, showing a sad elderly man’s face- the Ghost of Big Brother is watching you. The streets of New York are filled with abandoned cars and dead bodies.

Actually, there are dead bodies everywhere in Manhattan. And red Xs painted on buildings, which means the buildings are unsafe to enter. Plus there’s the required helicopter perched precariously on the corner of a rooftop.

I wonder if it will fall. 😉

It’s 28 Days Later oops, I mean 3 weeks after The Male Plague Event and the male zombies are apparently all very dead. They took a significant number of females and the basic functions of society with them, much like a Category 5 hurricane.

The first visible sign of life appears from between makeshift memorials to the dead which line the streets- a capuchin monkey named Ampersand, one of only 2 living male mammals left in the world. Amp plays with a hula doll on a car dashboard, the kind I always believe is a reference to Agents of SHIELD and the TAHITI program, whether the reference is on purpose or not.

(Only Murders in the Building also used one of those hula dolls recently. Either everyone is bringing the dead back to life using the blood of blue aliens or dashboard hula dolls are a ubiquitous trend now. I generally believe it’s the former.😉)

Nearby, Amp’s companion human, Yorick (as in Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him…”), spray paints a message on the side of a building. No need for subtlety or privacy when almost everyone is gone. Yorick, the other surviving cis male, wears a gas mask and some effective looking personal protective gear that has the added benefit of disguising his gender.

Amps skitters over to show Yorick that he’s found a pen in the car. Yorick praises the search effort and rewards Amp with a cracker. He entertains his friend with a quick sleight of hand trick before handing over the treat. Amp runs off with the cracker before Yorick makes it disappear again.

Imagine being a magician’s sole audience member, day in and day out. Amp must be so sick of humoring Yorick.

Yorick tells Amp to stay close, then decides to inspect the car himself. As the camera pulls back, we can see that he’s written, “Beth I’m alive come home-Y” on the wall. While Yorick searches the glove compartment, wouldn’t you know it, that helicopter starts to rock, then falls. Amp is directly underneath it. Yorick races over to pull him out of the way, just in the knick of time. After recovering from that near miss, he puts Amp in a small animal crate and moves on.

Hey, look, when seen from above, the streets form a Y.

Following the sciencey opening credits (shades of Fringe and Orphan Black), we jump back to the day before The Event. Yorick is in his apartment, hanging upside down from the ceiling (like a Y shaped bat), in a straight jacket while giving a magic lesson to a local kid, Fred (Jacob Mazeral). He explains how to get loose from the straight jacket as he attempts to do just that and fails. As he’s trying to cover for the fail, he and his whole apparatus break loose from the ceiling. The way he lands looks painful. But as he hits the floor, his landlord pounds on the door looking for the rent and Fred tries to pet Amp, so Yorick is distracted from potential injuries. He tells Fred that Amp bites, so not to touch him and that they need to be quiet until the landlord goes away. The landlord yells that Beth has already paid her rent. He’s going to call Yorick’s mom soon if he doesn’t receive a check.

Once he’s right side up, Yorick easily escapes from the straight jacket, but Fred says that his dad has found a magic camp for him, so this will be their last lesson. Yorick isn’t teaching what Fred’s dad had in mind, even though he’s taught the kid cool, practical stuff like how to escape from NYPD handcuffs. Yorick is upset that he’s losing his student and didn’t know magic camps exist, but he still spends the full lesson time with Fred rather than quitting early. “You could have been one of the greats, Fred, and now we’ll never know.”

So, so true.

In Washington DC, Yorick’s mother, Congresswoman Jennifer Brown, preps for a brief talk with the press before the First Lady’s birthday party later that evening. President Ted Campbell is playing hardball with voter sentiment on allowing free speech vs reining in domestic terrorism, so Jennifer adds an extra paragraph to the end of her speech.

Her new assistant, Christine, helps her prepare for the press conference. She says that Jennifer’s dress for the party will be waiting in the office and that Yorick’s landlord called. Jennifer notices Christine’s chipped nail polish and sends the younger woman to the nail salon across the street for a quick touch up. Another aide tells Christine not to take it personally. Jennifer is so careful with her image because she’s been subjected to so much scrutiny for 20 years.

Yorick’s sister, Hero, and her friend, Sam, attend a court ordered Addicts Anonymous meeting in Brooklyn. Hero steps out when she gets a text from Yorick, who’s waiting in front. She tells him that she’s only required to attend 2 more meetings. As she lights up a cigarette, he tells her she should quit smoking, too.

Then he asks her for money. Seriously. Barely a pause for breathe in between. Unsurprisingly, Hero isn’t feeling generous. But Yorick needs about $100 cash for wine and cheese and other romantic trifles because he’s proposing to his girlfriend tonight. Hero loves Beth, but she doesn’t think a man who needs to borrow money to pay for the proposal is ready to get married.

Yorick is a lovesick fool who hopes love will conquer all. But honestly, going to a Justice of the Peace and then continuing on as if you were still just living together costs almost nothing. Marriage itself isn’t what’s expensive.

Yorick has another reason for proposing which is never overtly discussed- it’s generally easier to get visas, travel and live together in foreign countries as a married couple.

Yorick already has the ring. It’s a Bedouin piece from the turn of century that his friend Joel from the magic shop found in Morocco. Hero is outraged that Yorick bought a ring and it’s from an unconventional source. She’s outraged that he has the audacity to consider “escape artist” a legitimate career path and then not make money at it right away. Yorick reminds Hero that she got a DUI in Manhattan, where no one drives, and hates herself. Their conversation devolves into them each yelling that the other one needs to get their sh*t together.

I get the sense that they’re playing the roles of their parents right now.

Sam comes out to tell Hero she won’t get credit for the meeting if she misses most of it and he’s not coming to anymore of them. Hero gives Yorick the cash he asked for, but tells him he’ll regret proposing. Yorick throws out a quick “sorry” as she walks away.

The Brown family is the type where they’ll give you what you need, but you have to pay for it up front in emotional suffering. You’ll probably pay for it in installments, too. Yorick tries to make the best of things but has his escape plan ready. Hero pretends she’s a rebel who doesn’t care about convention, but in fact she cares very much. If societal standards aren’t upheld by others, who’s going to notice how much she’s flaunting them? And if no one notices, does she even exist anymore?

In Oklahoma, a Black woman called Jade puts the finishing touches on the detonator of a crude bomb made from a stack of plastic explosive bricks. When she’s done, her white supremacist boyfriend thanks her, then sends her to the other room while his buyers pick up the bomb. They’d be unhappy to discover who actually built it.

Jade dances into the next room, then looks in the mirror while listening for the buyers to arrive. She changes into athletic gear, climbs out the bedroom window, then inserts earphones as she jogs down the street, away from the house. When she turns on her music, the house explodes.

Jade doesn’t flinch or turn around.

Her music wasn’t that loud.

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As she jogs through a corn field, Jade passes dead deer lying on the ground with blood dripping from their ears, eyes, noses and mouths. A car pulls up to meet her. Agent 1033, her handler, is inside with new orders for her.

Jade, who is really Agent 355 of the super secret Culper Ring, says she thought she had more time at this last assignment. Agent 1033 replies that her suitcase is already packed and her flight to DC is at midnight. There’s a credible threat against the President, so starting tomorrow morning she’ll be embedded with him as a Secret Service agent. She should consider it a promotion.

President Campbell is on the firing range relaxing with some target practice (and the press watching) while Nora Brady, a top level communications advisor, is on the phone arguing about her kid’s birthday party rental gone wrong. She gets word that Jennifer called Campbell a misogynist on CNN, so they cut the session short before reporters can blindside him with questions about it.

Before the reporters leave, Nora feels pressured to prove she’s pro gun enough to fit in at the White House, which leads her to make up a story about shooting her own Thanksgiving turkey. Sensing the lie, Campbell decides she needs to shoot a gun for real before they leave the firing range. That way she’ll have authentic gun experience and won’t have to lie.

Campbell: “Just don’t point it at me, or Jordan’ll turn you into Swiss cheese. Keep your eyes open, for the love of God.”

She closes her eyes as she fires.

Kimberly Campbell Cunningham, the president’s daughter, mother to three very young sons and author of the book “Boy Mom”, makes a promotional appearance to talk about the premise of her book. She tells a story about her son Peter, who got in a teasing argument with a girl at school and was supposedly shamed in front of the whole class. Given Kim’s bias, it’s hard to guess whether the teacher acted appropriately or not. My guess is that whether Kim was the mother of the boy or the girl in this argument, she would take her child’s side and publicly shame the teacher.

Kim claims that only the little girl’s bodily autonomy mattered in the classroom, while her son’s rights were violated. “We are raising our boys to fight their instincts. To be ashamed of them. We’re teaching our boys to be afraid to become men, to be afraid to touch a woman. To kiss a woman. To be afraid to talk to a woman. Because we now live in a world where one misunderstanding, just one, can unravel a whole life.”

Women have always lived in a world where one small mistake can lead to life changing consequences, such as rape, pregnancy or violence. It’s about time we started teaching boys to think before they act and to have some empathy for other people. Kim has imbibed so much of her father’s patriarchal kool aid that she wants to dismantle the progress which allows her to publish her own books and publicly promote them while also being a married mother of 3 young children.

And maybe Peter’s teacher could teach his grandfather the president that it’s not okay to coerce employees into controversial, triggering, violent activities, like firing guns, just for his own amusement. Nora should have had the right to say no, but she certainly couldn’t say it to her boss, President Campbell, in public when he reminded her his Secret Service agents could shoot her.

Later that evening, Kim dresses for her mother’s birthday party while complaining to her husband about Jennifer’s comments to the press. Her husband barely listens- he seems to be reading financial reports or some such, as their 3 small sons tear through the room. Kim is outraged that Jennifer called her misogynist father a misogynist, when he’s a champion of women’s rights. She cattily declares that Jennifer will lose her next election.

Once Kim has squeezed into her spanx and had her anonymous husband zip up her red dress, it’s up to her to round up the boys and finish getting them ready. Guess her husband isn’t a champion of women’s rights like her dad. Two of her sons discover a dead rat on the floor in the corner, bleeding from its orifices. Just like the deer Agent 355 saw in Oklahoma.

Cut to bloody (or maybe saucy) meat that’s about to be served at the First Lady’s birthday party. Nora’s in the kitchen, searching for a replacement rental for her child’s birthday party. She grabs a drink from a tray as a waiter passes by.

Jennifer’s husband, Dean, meets her at the party. They haven’t seen each other in a while. He doesn’t enjoy these political affairs much.

Nora brings Jennifer in to speak privately with the President. The President and his wife, Marla, are both angry with Jennifer for her comments earlier in the day. The Browns and the Campbells are old friends and Ted feels she should pull her punches out of respect. Ted has Nora read what Jennifer said: “It’s no surprise that President Campbell wouldn’t heed my call to take internet hate speech seriously. That would require alienating some of his most vocal supporters. Like the KKK. He’s an old-school politician from a bygone era who expects me to shut up and listen. I think I’ll listen to the experts. The President has never been a woman on the internet.”

Yikes. That’s the paragraph that was added at the last minute, as a direct response to Campbell.

Campbell tells Nora she can go home. She reminds him that, “James still wants to talk about Oklahoma.” Ted tells Jennifer about Agent 355’s bomb. He says it was domestic terrorists with ties to the American Freedom Coalition who accidentally blew themselves up without involving anyone else.

Ted should have inside information on this operation. As Head of the Intelligence Committee, Jennifer should also be privy to all major intelligence operations. I’m not sure if Ted knows but is trying to keep the information classified for now and James is his Culper Ring contact or he actually doesn’t know.

Ted dismisses Nora again, asking her to stall with his wife on her way out. Nora is treated solely an employee and political operative. No one is pretending they like her or want her around for anything other than her usefulness to them. They probably forget her name when she’s not in front of them.

After Nora leaves, Ted tells Jennifer that he and her other colleagues have always respected her for not pulling the “lady card” the way she is now. Mind, this is the man who spent the afternoon on the firing range with the press watching. Jennifer rolls the phrase “lady card” around in her mouth, no doubt thinking Ted just proved the point that he’s a dinosaur who should step aside.

Dinosaurs rarely step aside voluntarily.

Ted doesn’t want a public fight except for the fights he creates. He insists he’s more moderate than he appears and wants to work with Jennifer. She reminds him that he ruined his chance for that when he passed on nominating her for a position in his Cabinet after publicly considering her. He says it wasn’t his fault, he was overruled by the other voices in the room. Jennifer thinks he brought up her name as a way to get bipartisan points with the press without having to follow through.

She feels like he used their longstanding private friendship for his own political gain. It hurt her credibility to have her name associated with Ted Campbell’s administration. Though they’ve been friends for 20 years, Jennifer is putting it on hold until his presidency is over.

In NYC, Hero works a shift as a paramedic in an ambulance partnered with her supervisor Mike, a married man with whom she’s having an affair. Mike wants her to work an extra shift to give one of the guys an extra day off, but Hero refuses.

Good for her. Mike was making the assumption that the family man’s time was automatically more valuable than the single woman’s. When she says no to the extra shift, he replies that he left his wife.

Oh… kay? Kind of a huge non sequitur, dude.

Hero doesn’t believe him at first.

Yorick’s girlfriend, Beth, complains about her students’ poor writing skills and tendency to go over her head to the professor while he prepares very special grilled cheese sandwiches- cheddar, jack and goat cheeses with tomato. (She’s a grad student/teaching assistant.)

OMG, I’m ready to marry him. He’s put more thought and effort into this proposal than some men put into their entire marriages.

Yorick gently pulls her over to the table, but she keeps complaining about her students while he pours the wine. She’s had a decent guy for so long that she’s taking him for granted. Yorick listens to her complaints and makes all the right comments. She asks how his lesson with Fred went. He deflects, then says he wants to move to Australia with her for her grad school fellowship. She thinks he should stay there and work on his escape artist show, since he has a vague offer to perform in a friend’s store. Yorick feels he can continue to develop his one man show anywhere and he’d rather do it near her.

He decides to go for broke and puts the Bedouin ring on the table, then gets down on one knee. He tells her he just wants to be with her forever, come what may, for richer or poorer, in the US or Australia, big wedding or small wedding. Nothing else matters as long as they’re together.

Except it matters to Beth. She argues that 27 is too young to get married and he’d be bored in Australia (what?) and it would be weird for him to be there as her professional fiance. And he’ll hold her back. From what?

Diving in and meeting other people.

And there it is. Beth was looking at her move to Australia as a semi painless way to leave Yorick behind, or to at least try out other options before making a final decision.

Yorick gets it. His heart visibly breaks. He’s never seen himself as first wife material, but that’s what he is. He may not have supported Beth financially, but he’s taken care of her physically and emotionally for years. Now that he’s gotten her through graduate school, she’s going to drop him and move on to her next situational boyfriend to get her through this fellowship.

Yep, she’s that guy.

As Yorick catalogues everything he’s done for her, she picks up her stuff so she can go work in the library and try to escape her guilty conscience. Because while she may not have asked him to take care of her, she still accepted all of it and let him think this was more than a casual relationship for her. He didn’t smother her, that’s made clear. As she’s leaving, he literally asks if he should chase after her or not. A guy who’s still asking for consent in the middle of an argument when his marriage proposal has just been rejected probably isn’t a controlling, abusive rapist. Yorick is just trying to understand how he misread the situation so badly.

If this were a rom-com, I’d be applauding his ability to communicate, but Beth doesn’t respond, so it doesn’t matter. If they were in a rom-com, his gesture, whatever it might be, would only matter if he came up with it on his own, with no hints from her. In other words, it’s only true love if he’s a mind reader. But I don’t think anything Yorick does right now would matter anyway. Emotionally, Beth is already gone.

IWe’ve already seen the answer to how he could misread the situation so badly, in his mother, father and sister, who were cold and distant with him and each other. Beth sounded like his mother and sister as she complained about her students over dinner, then complained that Yorick doesn’t work hard enough and doesn’t take his work seriously.

He’s a warm, loving person, who grew up in a house with mismatched temperaments. He has no idea what it looks and feels like to be openly loved as fully as he loves other people. He’s still trying to rewrite those family relationships as he searches for someone to love him back the way he wants to be loved. Maybe eventually he’ll stop looking for love in all the wrong places and find someone who’s capable of returning his affection the way he needs.

After Beth leaves, Yorick punches the wall in frustration, leaving him with an injured hand.

Agent 355 goes to her new apartment and scrubs all traces of Jade away, in order to ensure she’s never connected to the explosion in Oklahoma. Then she transforms into her new identity, Secret Service Agent Sarah Burgin. Armed wallpaper, as 355 and 1033 refer to her.

Christine interrupts her date to pick up Jennifer’s dry cleaning. The dress is blue, Jennifer’s power color. She probably wants to feel confident tomorrow, after her run in with Campbell tonight. Christine’s date says it’s too late to go to a movie, so maybe they should go out to dinner instead.

They’re startled by a rat running through the alley they’re parked in, then a run away horse. They’re about to get in the car when a swarm of rats rush through. They crawl up onto the hood of the car just as the rats are about to overwhelm them.

Cut from the diseased animals to the food at Marla Campbell’s birthday party, similar to the other cut from a dead rat to party food. Could this be a hint that the food or water is tainted?

Kim stops to say hi to Jennifer and get in a few digs about Jennifer’s earlier comments toward her father. Kim also mentions that Hero was drunk and misbehaving at Ted’s inauguration, insinuating that Jennifer should take care of her own business before attacking someone else. Or maybe just being petty because she can. She leaves to wrangle her own 3 misbehaving children. She doesn’t seem to notice the irony at all.

Jennifer rescues her husband from a boring conversation on oil futures, then they step outside for a little privacy. Her husband informs her that he paid Yorick’s rent. She thinks they should stop, but neither want Yorick to live with them and drive them crazy with his magic shows. They laugh at Yorick and his ridiculous choice of career.

No wonder Yorick is so desperate to go to Australia.

Jennifer made up her guest room for her husband, but he’s already booked a hotel room. Apparently they’re separated, but keeping it quiet. Jennifer tells him she misses him and wants to reconcile. He wants a divorce, though he says they can wait until it’s politically expedient for her to make it public knowledge. Back inside the party, Ted makes a speech about what a wonderful wife and mother Marla has been, while Kim sits next to her, each woman with a boy on her lap.

Nora gets home late, after her kids are in bed. The house is a disaster- there’s not even a clear spot on the couch to sit and there’s barely a path to walk through the mess. She struggles to take off her jacket, then discovers their are no clean dishes in the dishwasher. Some days you just can’t win.

She opens her computer to continue the battle of the birthday rental just as her husband enters the room. He assumes she’s still doing work for her job. She explains that the party store gave their birthday bouncy house rental to someone else and is offering them a replacement that their son, Conner, will never accept, so she’s trying to work out a solution. Robbie offers to have his assistant make the call in the morning, but Nora doesn’t want it to get out on social media that they had an assistant cover personal chores.

Robbie promises to do it himself. He pulls Nora away from her computers, hugs her to comfort her for a minute, then kisses her, trying to initiate sex. She pulls away. One of their kids wakes up and yells for him at that point anyway. He suggests that Nora go instead, but she says he should go.

She’s been tending to a needy man-baby who’s the leader of the free world all day and has nothing left in her emotional or physical gas tanks. And the way her husband diminished her concerns didn’t help. They’re both tense by the time he leaves to see to Mack’s bad dream.

Maybe I’m reading into it, but it seems like Nora’s long hours at work are an issue between them. Robbie’s assumption that she walked in the door from work and started in on more work before even saying hello, combined with the way she’s gritting her teeth over the messy house, it feels to me like they’re locked in a passive aggressive struggle over the division of emotional, financial and physical labor in their marriage and how much energy they have left for each other. If she makes more money but he spends more time with the kids and they spend a lot of time in conservative circles, the traditional gender role reversal could be tough to navigate. It can be tough to navigate anyway, as Beth and Yorick and Yorick’s parents have already illustrated.

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It must be a slow night on ambulance duty, since Hero and Mike had sex in the back of the ambulance to celebrate his news that he told his wife he’s having an affair. Afterward, as they’re still lying naked in the afterglow, Hero asks for more details, like where, when, how and why he told his wife and how she reacted and where they all go from here- the sorts of questions anyone would naturally have. Mike gives a couple of lame answers, then gives up and tells Hero she asks to many questions. She should shut up and be happy he did the thing, not question the details.

Uh oh. Generally, liars and con artists prefer not to be questioned on details. People in love usually can’t shut up about their plans for the future. But Hero’s self esteem is so low and she’s so used to being mistreated by people she loves that she’s not capable of recognizing a red flag when it smacks her in the face.

When Mike goes outside to pee, a stray dog wanders over. The dog is in distress, whining and bleeding from his mouth. Mike returns to the ambulance.

He left his phone inside, so we’ll never know if he intended to help the dog. Hero intercepted a text from his wife while he was outside and his cover is blown. The wife wants him to pick up diapers from the 24 hour grocery store on his way home.

Not the sort of text you send to a husband who’s just left you for another woman.

Hero tosses his phone aside. Mike swears that he’s going to tell his wife, he wants to tell her, but it’s not that easy with a child involved. He’s not trying to hurt Hero.

Hero tells him that he can’t hurt her. “You’re a 40 year old paramedic with a wife who doesn’t want to f*ck him and a baby you never wanted in the first place.”

Hear the self-hatred in that statement? He can’t hurt her because she sees him as worthless, only he’s a lot like her. He continues the argument and she tells him to get out and walk home, then throws medical supplies at him. He refuses to leave and hurls more, nastier insults at her. She escalates the barrage of supplies she’s pelting at him.

He repeatedly, violently shoves her against a wall of cabinets, until she pushes him off and he lands at the other end of the ambulance. When he comes back for more, she swings at him with the fire extinguisher. The end of the handle takes a chunk out of his neck and he bleeds to death within minutes. Hero tries to stop the bleeding, but despite being a paramedic in a fully stocked ambulance, the wound is too dire.

As far as I’m concerned, that was self-defense, not murder. She told him to leave and instead he kept talking. It was a terrible argument, and they both escalated it, but he was always closer to the door and able to leave, while she would’ve had to get past him to get out. Once he turned violent, she was trapped. He made the choice when she was throwing things at him, after she told him to leave her alone, to stay and fight rather than turn and walk away. Once she was trapped, all she could do was defend herself.

Agent 355/Sarah Burgin checks in at the Pentagon for her first morning on duty with the Secret Service. She’s assigned to the War Room, where the President and Congresswoman Brown, who is head of the House Intelligence Committee, are attending an important meeting. When Jennifer arrives, wearing a pastel blue outfit (her power color?), she sends Christine for coffee. Christine is in red today.

Nora is still at home, getting her kids ready for school while multitasking on the phone. They’re running late and she slices her hand as she rushes to make sandwiches. She yells upstairs for them to hurry up. Her daughter, Mack, comes downstairs. She says that her father and brother are still asleep. Nora doesn’t know what to make of that.

Hero is still sitting in the ambulance in a daze. A cop finds the ambulance, which wasn’t returned to the station, and pounds on the door. Then he collapses on the ground. After a minute, Hero gets curious and peeks out to check on him. He’s lying on the ground, face down in a pool of blood. The dog is a few feet away, in the same condition as the cop.

In the War Room, the President is informed that “there’s been a mass casualty event in Israel.” Staff decide to move the President and other crucial personnel to a secure location in the basement- the Sit Room/ bunkers. Jennifer asks what’s happened and learns that essentially, “no one’s answering the phone in Israel.” Then Ted develops a nose bleed, his veins bulge, he vomits blood and collapses, all within about 10 seconds. Within moments, every man in the Pentagon dies the same way.

Hero wanders the street near the ambulance in a fog. Men hemorrhage and collapse around her the same way the President and the cop did. Cars careen down the street as their drivers suddenly die. Planes fall out of the sky as their pilots collapse. Mothers carry their sons into the street, screaming for help.

Agent 355 rushes to begin CPR on Ted Campbell, which seems like a bad idea for someone who’s hemorrhaging so badly, but I guess it’s what everyone’s trained to do. She’s visibly pumping the blood out of him though, probably hastening his death if the pathogen hasn’t already killed him. She calls for a defib, too, but nothing is going to save him.

Jennifer, Christine and most of the other women are overwhelmed by the sudden, deadly chaos. Most of the people who are meant to take over in this type of emergency just died.

Nora finds her husband and son dead in her bed, where Conner had crawled during the night. She’s in shock when Mack walks in and orders her daughter out of the room.

As they’re realizing that this is a global event. General Peggy Reed takes control of security and herds everyone in the Pentagon toward the basement. Word comes in that the Vice President’s plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Christine starts to panic and Jennifer calms her.

Yorick wakes up on the couch, still in yesterday’s clothes, with his headphones still playing and Amp throwing stuff at him. He is not in a pool of blood. Instead, his injured hand is fully healed. He tries to call Beth, but the phone lines are down.

Then he notices the rioting outside.

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Commentary

This episode was directed by Louise Friedberg and written by Eliza Clark. Cinematography by Kira Kelly. Film editing by Amy Fleming. Sound editing by Lauren Stephens. Production design by Alexandra Schaller. Costume design by Olga Mill. Music by Herdís Stefánsdóttir.

Young Fred, Yorick’s magic student, is a stand in for every boy and man Yorick leaves behind moving forward in the world as the last cis man. They all could’ve been contenders, but someone decided that it just wasn’t their night. Now they’ll never get to fulfill their potential. Kim will share this deep sense of loss over what could have been. Yorick is the chosen one, though how he was chosen is a mystery, and he carries the weight of what was lost when the rest of the men, and all of those with Y chromosomes, died.

I wonder if Amp’s biting will turn out to be the key to Yorick’s survival. Would Fred have survived if Amp had bitten him the day before? Was that a new rite of passage that Yorick inadvertently denied his student? Yorick seemed to have a fast recovery from his fall from the ceiling and from punching the wall. Was Amp a lab monkey at some point in the past who was given an experimental healing agent or super soldier serum that he transferred to Yorick through saliva?

For my own amusement, I’m going to keep track of some interesting colors to see if i notice any trends. In this episode the two prominent mothers, Kim and Jennifer, each wear a red/dark pink outfit while criticizing the other or their family. Just after Kim criticizes Jennifer, her boys find the dead, bloody rat. Right now, red is associated with anger and death. Nora has red hair- she’s also angry. 355 wearing red hoodie the night before The Event (and when she detonates bomb?).

The morning of, Christine and Mack are both in red.

Hero is covered in Mike’s blood and the camera emphasizes her blood soaked hands. She’s bloody from trying to save Mike’s life after accidentally giving him a mortal wound. But she didn’t have to get his blood on herself- she could have kept her distance and let him bleed out, since there was no way she could save him. His blood on her hands as paradox and metaphor will reverberate throughout the season. As Hero exits the ambulance, she’s framed by a wide, bright red stripe painted on the back door- almost a metaphorical A for ambulance, the scarlet letter she paints on herself. Soon she’s surrounded by blood and terror, but she’s been internalizing guilt for a long, long time. She won’t be stopped by a little thing like an apocalypse.

On the other hand, with Christine’s help, Jennifer manages to face the end of the world as we know it in her power color, clear, cool, ice blue, while standing next to the President of the United States. When he goes down, she takes a step back. By the end of the episode, she’s still keeping her sh*t together and calming Christine down. Her pale blue outfit is pristine.

355 faces the plague in her black and white Secret Service suit, jumping right in to take care of the president. Maybe it’s an undertaker’s suit. She also stays calm, uses her training and thinks on her feet.

We meet Yorick post Event in his apocalypse PPE, signifying he’s a mystery. He’s introduced in the present day hanging upside down in a white straight jacket, hiding from his landlord, which shows he retains a certain purity and innocence, but he’s also an escape artist and trickster. He doesn’t like conflict and has developed a wide variety of avoidance and deflection techniques, but he’s not a coward either. As with Hero, when something matters, he sticks it out. Jennifer’s children are not quitters.

Though he’s kept at a distance in this episode, Hero’s friend Sam is a trans man who we’ll see more of throughout the season. It’s interesting that we don’t see Sam or any other trans men realizing that only the cis men are dying. Maybe we’ll eventually see flashbacks to scenes where people other than cis men are highlighted during the Event, as they or their loved realize they are affected differently from expected. The showrunner has promised to explore genetic and gender diversity more effectively than the original comics did.


What We Learn About Yorick Before the Opening Credits

I want to highlight the opening scene, since it’s our introduction to Yorick. This is what we learn about the character before the credits: Most importantly, he hasn’t given up on life (optimism) and has created new goals for himself since the rest of the men died. Self-direction is an under-appreciated quality that becomes essential when society breaks down. He’s openhearted, persistent and faithful toward both Beth and Amp. He risks his life for Amp when the helicopter falls, showing he’s brave and able to think and act fast in a crisis when given the opportunity, then recover quickly afterwards and keep going.

He’s figured out a disguise that also keeps him safe from pathogens, which would be rampant with all of those dead bodies lying around. He uses his magic to entertain himself and to train Amp. Those two facts indicate he’s a resourceful, creative thinker. And he’s ridiculously fast- in real life, it would be hard to outrun a falling helicopter. He has excellent survival skills and cares about others. He reminds me of Glenn Rhee from The Walking Dead. Hopefully he’ll be given the chance to grow as a character the way that Glenn did.

In the meantime, as you watch the next few episodes, keep in mind that Yorick has shown he has potential. But, as we see in the next scene, he’s prone to overthinking and overcomplicating situations, which can lead to inertia and stagnation. He grew up in the shadow of his powerful mother and went from there to willingly taking a back seat to his long time girlfriend, another strong willed woman. He thinks he wants to live in their shadow rather than challenge or compete with them. The resentment he shows toward Beth during their argument suggests that isn’t really true, that what he really needs is to be forced into action and equal partnership. Beth’s reaction to his proposal suggests that she knows it too.

Y The Last Man S1Ep1 Nora Problem Solves

We get similar signals about Nora, who spends her entire day fulfilling the needs of others and gets very, very little recognition for it. She’s dismissed and under appreciated both at home and at work. By the end of the day, she doesn’t have the energy left to show her family or herself any affection and her anger over her situation is simmering under the surface at all times. She’s Yorick in 20 years, should he continue down the path he’s on, except it’s unlikely that he’d also be the family breadwinner. Or he could develop a career similar to Nora’s, given Jennifer’s political connections. We don’t know if Nora was ever free spirited or openhearted, but she loves her family and works hard for them. She works hard at her job. Yet her life has left her brittle and feeling alone in a crowded room.


How Y: The Last Man Updates Its Story for the Modern Era

Though Vaughan’s story does feature a handful of trans male background characters, it doesn’t fully reckon with the implications of a virus that wipes out every mammal with a Y chromosome.

‘There’s so much more that can be explored within that. Gender is diverse,'[showrunner Eliza] Clark said. ‘Chromosomes are not equal to gender. Every living mammal with a Y chromosome dies. That includes many women. It includes nonbinary people. Intersex people. That is central to my understanding of the show. We are making a show that affirms trans women are women. Trans men are men. That is part of the richness of the world we get to play with. The show asks ‘What makes a man? What makes a woman?’

Actress Diana Bang steps into the role of Harvard geneticist Dr. Allison Mann and discussed how her character is crucial to the show’s updating of its sex and gender perspectives.

‘There’s this one scene that I really love between Yorick and Allison. She tries to make it clear to him that her sole interest isn’t about bringing back cisgendered men. It’s about bringing all diversity back into the world. That includes transgender women, non-binary people, and people with intersex traits. In that scene she really tries to communicate the depth of loss and it sets up the journey for the rest of the show...’

It’s also notable that not everything about Y: The Last Man‘s gender politics needed updating. The first issue of Vaughan and Guerra’s book begins with a series of statistics about men and which professions they dominate like commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains. According to Clark, not much has changed on that front.

‘Basically what I learned is that our entire economy runs on trucks. And I think 5% of truck drivers are women,” Clark said. “And so, this is definitely a world that has been decimated because cisgender men make up the vast majority of most industries, including our own. And so, I think in that way the world does look pretty similar to the book.


‘Y the Last Man’ Showrunner Eliza Clark on Updating the Comic for Today, Incorporating the Female Gaze, and Plans for the Future

It’s been so interesting to see how, even just in a relatively small period of years, the culture around everything we’re talking about here has changed. So for you, looking at the comic and looking at what you wanted to do, how beholden were you feeling to the original text?

CLARK: Well, I love the book a lot and I’ve loved it for 10 years. It’s my favorite comic book. And I think that Brian K. Vaughan is an incredible writer. I’m a huge fan of all of his work, and he has been so generous in saying, “I wrote this when I was 25 and it’s been 20 years, go and do your thing with it.” But I also loved the book. So I want to honor the characters and the relationship and the worlds that they go to and certain plot points, but I feel free to kind of play within that and update. And one of the things that I wanted to do and Brian and Pia were really excited about was updating the concepts… That the chromosomes are not equal to gender, and the world of the show is a much more gender-diverse place than it was in the comic book.

For me, the show is so much about identity and how people create identity and how systems conspire to inform our identities, white supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism — all these things like that we don’t even really realize are part of informing who we are, but they are. And so much of the show is about the way that human beings like to put things into boxes and binaries. To me, the show is about escaping from that binary.

Images courtesy of FX on Hulu.

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