In its 4th episode, Y: The Last Man takes us out into the countryside on two separate road trips. Agent 355 and Yorick make their way on foot across Massachusetts. 355 struggles to stop Yorick from revealing his identity or making a mistake that could get them both killed. On their way to Washington DC Hero and Sam find a safe haven. Later they run into Nora and Mack and offer them assistance.
This episode highlights three pairs of characters who are dependent on each other as they learn to survive in the new world. Nora and Mack had a distant relationship in the past but grow closer as they adjust to this new reality. Hero and Sam had a close, complicated relationship before the Event, which magnified their complications. The journey has magnified their differences further, but also reminded them that neither has anyone else they trust. Yorick and 355 met when they were thrown together on this mission like two mismatched characters in a buddy cop movie (#The Agent and the Escape Artist). They’ll argue until they realize their opposite styles make them excellent partners.
The episode opens with a song and dance dream sequence performed by Ashley Romans as Agent 355. Is there anything this woman can’t do?
Wearing a gorgeous red gown, she sings the song Taking a Chance on Love, from the 1940 musical Cabin in the Sky. She’s on stage, with a jazz trio and an anonymous male dance partner. As the song continues, a girl watches her from the wings. Is this a younger version of 355?
The scene gradually changes from the stage to a forest and the singer becomes present day 355, who’s sleepwalking and doing small dance movements. She multitasks even while she’s asleep. In the dream, flashes of the helicopter explosion and a car accident intrude on the dance. Just in time, too- 355 wakes up standing on a cliff. She’s shaken to find herself so close to the edge.
A Little Dream Interpretation
Red dress, red car lights, a red explosion, all moving or flashing- in the dream they were warning signs that she was in danger and needed to wake up. All as she sang about putting aside her fears and giving love another chance. She’s afraid of heights and getting emotionally involved, but she’s drawn to both.
Projecting the image of a strong, independent badass 24/7 is taking its toll on her. Sleepwalking while having nightmares is one of the ways it comes out. Spending time with Jennifer and Yorick, a loving mother and son pair, brought up some issues. So is the post apocalyptic world she’s now immersed in. And, as Yorick will point out in a moment, walking through the forest all day is very quiet- lots of time for thoughts to surface, away from the busyness of the Pentagon.
355 wants to change her life, but she’s also afraid of normalcy. She doesn’t seem to have a personal life. She has a traumatized child side who’s in hiding by choice; a secret agent side who needs to feel in control at all times; a free-spirited, loving side who’s kept repressed; and the sleepwalker, who courts death to shock her away from her traumatic memories. (This last part is loosely based on the Internal Family Systems Model.)
The next morning, Yorick explains that Amp is a rescued capuchin monkey who’s incredibly smart. His breed are used as service animals, such as for paraplegics. 355 asks if he rescued Amp from a paraplegic. “No, I rescued him from eating lipstick for science for the rest of his life.”
When 355 hears that Yorick rescued Amp from a lab, she gets quiet and touches her necklace for a minute. He asks if she got any sleep and says he doesn’t like how quiet it is in the country, but she doesn’t answer. He asks if there’s more food. She says they have to ration until she can get them more, then orders him to use a wrench on some bolts to help get a generator ready to trade.
She scolds him for trying to pick up the generator, then answers his question about where she learned about helicopters by saying she picked it up in Iraq. Then she stops talking again. He teases her for being so closed, calling her by her alias, Agent Burgin.
She tells him that’s not her name. He should call her 355. He replies that she should call him trapezoid. Then he tries to get her to talk more about being a spy. But the first rule of being a secret agent is that you don’t talk about how you became a secret agent, which an escape artist really ought to be able to understand.
Yorick finally pays attention to the generator and bolts he’s supposed to be working on, but comments that they could have flown a lot closer to Boston before getting rid of the helicopter. 355 tells him that the helicopter was too obvious. Yorick realizes that the military will look for the two missing helicopters. 355 says they’ll be looking for the two missing pilots who stole them. Yorick realizes why and how the pilots died and looks stunned. 355 nods at him.
She wants him to start taking this mission as deadly seriously as she does.
Sam grudgingly allows Hero a pit stop in an empty house. The house is in surprisingly good condition, with no dead bodies inside. There’s are child’s drawings on the fridge depicting deaths in the Event. Hero is relieved to have someplace comfortable to relax, but Sam wonders where the occupants are.
He reminds her that they only need to walk for a couple more hours before they leave Pennsylvania. Then it only will take them a few more days to get to the Pentagon. He’s still pushing her to go there and she’d still rather not.
As they walk to the barn, Hero says when she was a kid, she had a riding coach named Karen, who had a son named Benji. Jennifer wanted her to make friends with the other girls she took lessons with, but she didn’t like anyone involved with the endeavor, except the horses.
There are no horses in this barn, just a vintage car with the keys in the ignition. It starts right up for Sam, so he decides they’re driving to DC- they could be there by tomorrow morning. Hero isn’t mentally prepared for that and also points out that the roads aren’t clear. Sam says they’re clearing I-95, so it will be fine. Hero has to beg him to wait until morning to leave, so that she can have a night to prepare herself.
That night, they sit in front of a fire and get high. Sam, a performance artist, laments the loss of the one man show he spent a year developing. Hero shows some sympathy, but also points out that most people are mourning lost loved ones, not their jobs. When Sam comments that she’s smoking a lot, she says she’s not holding back tonight, because it’s all she’s got. Missing the point, he says, “Nah, they’ve got the good sh*t at the Pentagon, okay?”
He really does live in a fantasy world and doesn’t understand Hero’s issues at all.
Perhaps in an attempt to get him to see the real her, Hero tells Sam that she was with Mike when the Event happened. Sam says she could have told him sooner. Then he shows why she didn’t by being insensitive rather than comforting. He says that Mike was her boss and she’s a home wrecker (he doesn’t call Mike a cheater- nice misogynist phrasing, Sam), but at least Mike died happy.
Sam looked at the whole thing solely from Mike’s perspective. He even didn’t try to imagine what it was like for Hero to watch Mike die- he made a joke out of the loss of a man who meant something to Hero as a coworker, friend and lover, but was also mixed up with the guilt of an affair. There was nothing supportive of her in his response.
Hero looks pained, then tells him she’s worried that her mother will ask where she was when it happened. He says she should just make up a pretty lie. Hero is sure Jennifer will guess the truth, since she told her about Mike once when she was drunk. Jennifer responded by telling her she’s self-destructive, selfish and cruel.
Sounds like Jennifer forgot she was talking to her daughter and not her husband’s mistress.
Hero asks Sam if he still wants to go to the Pentagon, hoping he’ll have some sympathy for her and back off. He says they have to. She whines at him, but he doesn’t pay any attention. Once he’s asleep, she disables the car.
She doesn’t want to leave Sam and be alone, but she can’t face her mother again after what happened with Mike. The burden of guilt she’s carrying is too great to have Jennifer pile more on top of it.
The next morning, 355 comes back from a run and finds Yorick watching videos of Beth. He shows her that they aren’t porn. She takes off her top, then tells him to take his clothes off because he smells bad- she intends to do laundry in the river they’re camped near. She refuses to turn around while he gets undressed. Once he’s nearly naked, she throws his bag at him and tells him to put on clean clothes.
Doing laundry in a dubious river, with no way to dry the clothes, on a cold, damp day, when you’ve just started traveling, makes no sense. Part of the reason for the writers to send 355 to the river is to set up the next scene, but I think the character is also continuously trying to destabilize Yorick, until he gives up and does whatever she tells him to.
Plus, we’ve entered the rom-com portion of their relationship, where they’re going to misjudge each other for a while until they get to know each other better. She thinks he’s a weak, spoiled brat and he thinks she’s a soulless killing machine. They’ve both seen evidence that the other is more than what they originally appear to be, but Yorick is upset about leaving his mother again so quickly and the death of the pilots, while 355 feels destabilized by the emotions and memories this mission is bringing up in her and doesn’t like working with a civilian partner and a monkey.
Yorick took care of himself and Amp in NYC for 2 months while men are getting mobbed and the crime rate is high. He understands how to handle himself in this world. He also has his own agenda, because he’s a human being rather than an inanimate object. 355 is expert at playing a role in order to manipulate people, but I don’t think she has much practice with treating someone as her equal partner.
Sam swears a lot when he discovers the car won’t start. Hero stays out of the way. They walk to a drugstore to forage for supplies, but it’s cleaned out. An unexplained noise turns out to be Nora’s daughter, Mack, who’s hiding under a shelf. Hero notices Mack’s hurt leg and offers to check it out. She and Sam help her over to a spot with more light. Nora rushes at them with an ax, yelling at them to get away. Hero explains that she’s an EMT and she’s just trying to help. Sam sneaks up behind Nora and takes the ax.
Nora is stunned to see a man. Sam challenges her to figure out how he survived.
Hero asks Sam to find some saline and gauze. She tells Nora that Mack’s cut is already infected. Nora holds Mack while Hero drains the wound. Then Hero suggests they all go back to the house so Mack can rest in a safe place. Sam is upset that Hero has found another distraction to keep them from his promised land for even longer.
So irresponsible of her to save the life of a child instead of rushing him to the Pentagon.
While scrubbing laundry in the river, 355 hears a strange sound from the campsite and runs back to check it out. Two women are rifling through their stuff, deciding what to steal. 355 stops several feet away and asks if she can help them. She has a gun stuffed in the back of her pants. They ask if she has any food to spare and if she’s alone. She says she doesn’t have any extra food and her sister is at the river. They keep asking questions and refuse to leave.
Yorick and Amp watch from behind a nearby tree. Yorick has his mask on and is holding a big stick. When the women refuse to leave and the situation grows more tense, he runs out and chases them away. As he returns to the campsite, he comments that they had no business justifying their behavior with a quote from Ann Frank about giving.
355 gets mad at him for getting involved. He points out that it worked out okay and he stopped her from shooting them. She decides they need to establish some rules. Yorick suggests that the first rule is she doesn’t tell him to take his clothes off. She thinks the rules should be that he doesn’t talk or wander off, which sound like the rules for a child or a dog.
He turns his back on her and she asks if he has something to say to her. He reminds her that she told him not to talk. Then he calls Amp to get into his home.
This is a tough one. I think she mostly lashed out because she was scared for him and mad at herself for leaving him unprotected. Yorick did everything right in this situation- he didn’t wander off, he and Amp hid from an intruder. They stayed hidden until Yorick got worried that she was going to kill two more people to protect him. Then he handled the situation.
It’s fine, even helpful, for 355 to clarify her expectations for the journey. But they need to be reasonable expectations. Yorick and Amp are living beings, who are going to make noise, move around and smell bad sometimes. So is 355. That’s just the way it is. They’ve got two tents, so they get some space from each other at night. Maybe they should go to bed earlier.
Later, they visit a trading post set up in a stadium where state police wives have taken over as enforcers who maintain order. In exchange, the new police take whatever they want. The woman 355 trades with says it’s a good deal, because crime was so out of control before.
355 offers her the generator in exchange for a motorbike. The trader isn’t interested until 355 adds in a grenade. She says motorbikes are a popular item.
So the hot trading items near lawless Boston are weapons of war and fuel efficient get away vehicles. Good to know.
While 355 examines the bike, Yorick thinks he spots Beth in the crowd and runs after her. He follows the woman out of the market, down stairs, into a closed off area. She exits the building before he catches up to her. The police surround him, giving him a hard time for being in a restricted area. He doesn’t answer, since he doesn’t want to reveal he’s a man. That makes them more threatening. They punch him, point a gun at him, force him to his knees, then take off his mask.
Yorick quickly tells them he’s looking for T- do they know where he can get some testosterone? He keeps talking, trying to stop them from opening Amp’s cage and discovering that he’s a male monkey. Just as it’s turning violent again, 355 arrives and tells him to run. He listens this time and gets out of the middle of the fight. But he stops to watch 355 singlehandedly take on 5 or 6 women armed with guns and clubs.
The fight is over quickly and she yells at him again to run. They exit through the marketplace with the cops firing at them. The trader who sold them the bike is shot in the chest. 355 shoots one of the cops in the leg. She aims higher at first, then reconsiders her shot. She didn’t kill any of the cops.
I concede that Yorick was out of control this time and 355 has every right to be angry.
She stops on a bridge over the river a safe distance away. Yorick starts to explain that he saw Beth, then notices that he’s lost his phone. He wants to retrace their steps to find it.
The phone is the last straw for 355. She tells him to grow up and do as he’s told. He asks, for the third time, who she really is- he was taken aback by how deadly she is in a melee. Then he tells her that she’s not the boss of him. He tries to say that she owes him some… kind of explanation, is my guess, but she cuts him off.
She yells that she doesn’t owe him anything. He’s a spoiled brat who’s always been the most important person in the room and has never had any consequences. He’s been given everything, without having to work for it, his entire life. And now that he deserves the attention, he doesn’t care.
He says that all he wants is his phone and tells her to f**k off. The police came at him with a nightstick.
355: “So what? Just be smart!”
Yorick: “Smart? Smart? Oh my God! How smart is going full f**king Rambo every time something goes wrong? Yeah, those pilots, they were… They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Weren’t they? And now, because of me… They got…”
He hates the thought that his survival means more people will die.
355 shakes her head, as if she’s confused. She dares him to say it out loud: “They got what?”
I get the sense that it’s been a long time since anyone made her question her license to kill.
He’s impulsive and lacking in ambition, but he’s not actually stupid. And he’s a little afraid of her, underneath the strong sense of justice that drives him to argue with her. So he drops it: “Let’s just go, okay?”
She’s confused that he let it go so easily, but he’s already getting himself and Amp packed up, so she doesn’t argue any further. They put on their helmets, he sits down behind her and they ride toward Boston.
355 was justifiably angry on the bridge, but she also let out years worth of resentments. At the very least, some of that should have been aimed at the white supremacists in Oklahoma and the annoying women in the Pentagon, like Kim. Some of it was her built up resentments toward an unjust world- Yorick provides an easy target for catharsis. Like Sam, 355 assumes life as a Congresswoman’s son was easy. And it was undoubtedly much, much easier than her life.
But Yorick’s life also comes with its own set of expectations and issues. Yorick is an idiot at times, but he’s not someone who expects the world to revolve around him. There’s no way that it has, in a family that includes Jennifer and Hero.
It’s interesting that 355 has held her temper and kept her game face on with everyone but Yorick. Maybe because he’s the first person in a while to see her and want to figure her out. I think she finally starts to see his authentic self when he backs down and expresses regret for his part in the deaths of the pilots, but doesn’t call her a murderer. With that he disproves her main complaints against him- that he’s oblivious to what’s going on around him and that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
She’s not ready to be honest with him yet, but he’s breaking down her walls. Between the end of the world and his lack of guile (he’s an escape artist, not a magician), she’s showing authentic emotions and questioning her decisions rather than running on secret agent autopilot, the way she probably has for years.
That night, Nora finds a toy cat under Mack’s bed. Mack decides to keep it. Downstairs, Hero looks through the first aid kit while Sam sulks because they haven’t made any progress toward DC. Nora joins them and says she saw a plaque with the name St Anne’s Women’s Shelter on it, for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
Hero tells Nora that none of the stuff in the first aid kit is very useful. Mack needs antibiotics. The pharmacies have been looted already, so Hero suggests Nora and Mack try at the camps. Nora laughs bitterly. The camps are a choice of last resort.
She and Mack came North from DC looking for her cousin, who’s a doctor. When they got there after walking for a week the cousin was gone and the house was looted. Mack was already too sick to keep going. She’s checked medicine cabinets, but all that’s left in them is pain killers and viagra. Hero suggests she trade the pain killers for antibiotics, but Nora says she’d just get mugged again, like she has multiple times already.
She asks their names. Hero says they’re Karen and Benji. Sam announces that he’s going to bed. Hero follows him. When she reaches the bedroom, where he’s already lying on the bed, she points out that the house has a working well and a decent roof. They could stay here, start over and grow a garden in the spring.
She lies on the bed and cuddles up next to Sam, continuing her attempts to jolly him out of his bad mood. After a minute she wraps herself around him, while he’s lying on his back. She touches his arm and chest but keeps her face turned into his chest, submissive, He leans up and wraps his arm around her, then kisses her. They passionately make out for a minute, equally into it, until he swears and pulls away.
She sits up and apologizes
, because obviously she used her evil feminine wiles to make him kiss her. She gets up to leave the room, but he stops her, saying she doesn’t have to leave. He doesn’t apologize or remind her that he was the one who initiated and stopped the kissing. Instead, he asks her what she did to the car.
Nora steps outside for some privacy while she has a good cry. She hears coyotes, then several women ride up on horseback. They bring her back inside, waking up the rest of the house as well, then holding them all at gunpoint..
The women are former residents of the house who’ve come back for supplies to treat an injured member of their group. They prepare to kill the intruders, but Sam says they didn’t mean any harm. They just needed a place to rest. They briefly get into an argument with Sam, until Nora distracts them by telling them that Hero is a doctor who took care of her daughter. Nora was paying attention and realized Hero’s paramedic skills might be valuable to them.
Hero tells them she’ll only go to their compound if they take the whole group. They’re blindfolded, then taken to see Kate, who was shot hours ago and is bleeding out. The women are still uncooperative when it comes to providing Hero with what she needs to treat their injured friend.
Hero slips into paramedic mode and turns Kate on her side so she can assess the wound. She calls Sam over to help, since he has experience as her assistant. A woman tries to stop him from helping, but Hero overrules her. While she’s patching up the wound, Sam whispers that this is exactly why he didn’t want to stay. Hero tells him to wait until later to complain.
Yes, Sam just complained that he’s going to get to the Pentagon another day later because they’re trying to save a woman’s life, after he complained earlier about saving a child’s life. He is that selfish.
After 355 and Yorick make camp for the night, she asks him to show her a magic trick. It’s a peace offering.
Yorick: “I’m not a magician. I’m an escape artist.”
355: “You can’t do card tricks?”
Yorick: “No, of course I can. It’s just basic and fraudulent and beneath my skill level.”
I know he’s being an elitist *sshole, but I truly love him in this moment. Stay gold,
Ponyboy Yorick, stay gold.
355: “Fine. Forget it.” She gets up to walk away.
Yorick: “You know, just give me, give me the thing. You want a card trick? [355 confirms she does. He shuffles the cards.] All right. Pick a card.”
He does a basic trick where she picks a card and he has to guess which card it is after the deck is shuffled. At first he guesses wrong, but that was a fake out- he used sleight of hand to hide her card in his back pocket. He laughs while she’s stunned that he not only did the thing, he added a twist. She probably thought he was useless in this area too.
355 tells him that after they’re done with the mission, she’ll help him find Beth. It’s his turn to be stunned. They look at each other for a minute, then nod in agreement. He apologizes for the day. She accepts his apology. She says they’ll reach Boston tomorrow. He offers to do another card trick. She makes him promise not to cheat. He says he won’t. This will be a more difficult trick.
It’s a funny promise. By definition, card tricks are cheating. She means she wants him to do them straight, no twists.
Kate’s friends have brought her photos of her loved ones and other memorabilia to help her feel close to them, but she’s pale, grayish and only semi conscious. The group’s leader, Roxanne, returns from searching for the shooter as Hero finishes treating Kate. The rest of the women have been worried about how Roxanne will react when she sees the newcomers.
Roxanne has a word with Nora, then Nora covers Mack’s ears and hides her view of Kate. Roxanne tells everyone else to step away from the unconscious woman. She shoots Kate in the head as a mercy killing. Laura screams, “No!” and yells that Roxanne can’t kill Kate like she’s a dog. Roxanne tells her that Kate is already gone.
Laura refers to Hero as a doctor, but Hero confesses that she’s an EMT. Kate needed a trauma surgeon and even then she might not have survived. Roxanne understands that Hero did her best for Kate. Then she offers to help Mack. Nora says that her daughter needs antibiotics.
Laura complains that they broke into the group’s house, so they don’t deserve help, especially Sam. Roxanne is surprised that she doesn’t want to help a child. Sam explains that he didn’t know he would offend anyone by staying in the house. Speaking for his entire group, he offers to leave.
Roxanne and Laura won’t hear of it. They can all stay until Mack recovers. As the group leads them deeper inside the building, Nora quietly tells Hero not to mention who her mother is. Hero doesn’t understand, since she gave a fake name. “I worked at the White House, Karen.”
Once they’re all the way inside, they realize they’ve come to a fully stocked big box department store, as close to heaven as you can get in an apocalypse.
Episode 4 was directed by Destiny Ekaragha and written by Donnetta Lavinia Grays. Cinematography by Catherine Lutes. Film editing by Amy M Fleming and Rockie Stephens. Sound editing by Lauren Stephens. Production design by Alexandra Schaller. Costume design by Olga Mill. Music by Herdís Stefánsdóttir.
Other than the lack of zombies, this episode reminded me of the early seasons of The Walking Dead, when you never knew who Rick and the gang might run into as they wandered from camp to farm to the CDC. Good times.
The women from the big box store aren’t transphobic so much as anti man. Yorick would receive the same treatment as Sam. They were all victims of violent abuse at the hands of men that was so bad they had to leave their homes and live in a protected facility, probably in hiding from their husbands.
Hero is a dedicated paramedic who puts all other concerns aside and gets to work whenever someone is in medical need. Unlike Jennifer, who said she wishes she could offer more practical help to people, in a crisis Hero is useful in a very practical way. But she wants to live in hiding from everyone except Sam and the horses. When she changes their names, she gives the names of the owners of her childhood riding stable, where she wasn’t comfortable with the other girls, the boy or the instructor. As she told Sam, she wants to stay on the farm, just the two of them, away from the toxic culture which has hurt them both.
I wonder if she gave Benji’s name because now, part of her wishes she had paid more attention to him. Spending the apocalypse with Karen on the horse farm has become appealing.
Sam is attached to the idea that power structures and masculinity equal safety and he’s not ready to give that notion up yet. So he pushes Hero to continue their journey to the Pentagon, even after Nora tells them what DC is like now. He assumes Hero’s connection to Jennifer will get them into the inner circle, but we’ve seen how well Jennifer protected Yorick and we heard the sort of things she says to her daughter. Hero knows Sam is wrong about Jennifer and she’s more clear eyed about the level safety of the Pentagon can provide them, but she doesn’t want to lose him. So she sabotages their progress rather than continue to argue.
Yorick was discovered after less than 24 hours of “safety” inside- how receptive to Sam would Kim and the other women be? Why would they react to a (trans) man any differently than other women have, since most women are having a visceral response to any man they meet? Meanwhile, the angry mob outside continues to grow. How long before they overrun the Pentagon the way they did with the White House? This crowd will be much larger, hungrier and angrier than the one at the White House.
The Shift in Identities
This is a story of how those left behind respond to the collapse of everything. One piece of that is the intersection of X chromosomes and identity. With the infrastructure of patriarchy crumbling, the identities that the characters have lived in for years are also crumbling. Some, such as 355, Kim and the soldiers, were molded into their identities. They don’t know any other way. Others, such as Sam, Hero and Yorick, defied parental and societal expectations to become the people they are.
Some looked at the Squid Game of societal expectations and decided to be the best in their chosen field. Thanks to the plague, Jennifer won that game, as Yorick pointed out. Nora and Marla won as well, but then lost when the men died. To some degree, all of the characters are struggling with the loss of their identity. Even Jennifer, who lost the least, has to deal with the loss of her estranged husband, friends and the world as she knew it.
For women like Kim and Marla, whose identities were built around their men, the identity loss is much greater. They’re struggling to find new purpose and meaning. Kim has decided to follow in her father’s footsteps in government. Marla would like to retire outside of the political structure, returning to the patriarchal structure of her family home. Jennifer, who benefits from hanging on to old ways and structures for as long as possible, stands in the way of both women’s attempts to develop new identities.
Out in the world, we see the characters forced to accept how the world has changed and create new identities and systems. For them, it’s frequently a matter of adapt or die. Without the government, women have created a trading post, a police force and a protected community inside a big box store. As we saw previously with the trans men and Heidi’s group, people are forming into small tribes and taking care of their own. This episode shows that a larger infrastructure to allow interaction between tribes is coming together. But there are also wandering groups of thieves.
Women are repurposing the tools and bastions of masculinity for their own purposes. The police women use their husbands’ tools to enforce the rules, but women are also the criminals who break the rules. They’ve taken over both sides of the cops and robbers equation that used to be almost exclusively male. They’ve become the cowboys too, using the image of themselves on horseback to project a sense of power. The trading post is in a converted sports stadium. It’s a particularly female form of revenge to turn the place where their husbands left them to watch football into a place to go shopping.
The victims of domestic violence have found safety in a big box store- stores that are well-fortified warehouses packed with consumer goods. Many of these women were probably housewives and mothers who had difficulty getting jobs and establishing credit on their own when they left their husbands, locking them either into dependence on their husbands or perpetual poverty. The store is always open now.
People are scavenging for dwindling supplies and haven’t reclaimed the skills to live off the land yet. It hasn’t occurred to anyone at the Pentagon that they could help teach survivors to forage edible plants, garden, hunt and fish to help decrease the need for government aid. All Jennifer has to offer the survivors outside is dysfunctional refugee camps and high crime rates.
If they can blanket NYC with evacuation leaflets, they can disseminate basic instructions on filtering and boiling water to make it potable, for example. They could hand out leaflets on how to make a simple still and the medical uses of alcohol- alcohol is a lifesaving tool in primitive conditions. It’s easily created at home, once you know how.
If Nora had thought to clean Mack’s wound with alcohol and to keep it clean as it healed, it might not have become infected. Hero should also be looking for medical access to alcohol, if only so that she can continue to sterilize materials. There’s no reason for it to be illegal in a world where people are dying from lacerations and simple infections. They need to get people to a mid 19th century level of knowledge as quickly as possible so they can take care of themselves, because they’re not bringing back the old level of technology any time soon. Self-sufficiency needs to be part of the identity change.
Doors, Card Tricks and Symbols of Change
In episode 3, we saw numerous people literally wake up, but the characters were also deep in grief and still trying to reclaim their old lives. Physically, they were barricaded in the Pentagon or, in Nora and Mack’s case, fenced in by the past, but vultures were circling. By the end of the episode, Nora and Mack drive away from DC, while 355 flies herself and Yorick out in a helicopter. And sets off an explosion. Sam and Hero had already left NYC, but Sam refuses to go anywhere but the Pentagon, which has become an idealized symbol of old world culture, including patriarchy, for him.
In a sense, he’s correct, because even though they are women, the occupants of the Pentagon are doing their best to live according to the old system. That’s probably why their storyline was left out of this episode. The outside world is still chaotic, but signs of reorganization are emerging. “Karen and Benji” uses nature as a transition zone between old and new ways of life. All of the main characters spend time outdoors, except Mack. She got hurt outdoors in episode 3. In episode 4, her injury serves as a catalyst.
The women’s shelter is named after St Anne, who was Jesus’ maternal grandmother, mother of the Virgin Mary. A shelter is also a transitional zone, helping abused women recover from one life and prepare for another. Anne is the patron saint of unmarried women, housewives, women in labor or who want to be pregnant, grandmothers, mothers, educators and horseback riders. She protects women in need and those in nature’s wombs- underground and in the ocean. She’s associated with doors and gates, the transitional zones between one place and another that are symbolically equivalent to major life transitions. Her colors are red and green, for the attributes of love and life.
St Anne is sometimes confused with Anna the Prophetess, who is also a saint. She was an elderly, devout widow who prophesied about Jesus. There are multiple reasons (some spoilery) why I’m sure the shelter is named after Mary’s mother. But it’s interesting that there’s another Ann who was a seer, given the nature of 355’s dream (see below).
People stand in doorways and stop in entryways multiple times in this episode. Sam and Hero pause before entering the shelter. Hero lingers outside the barn and the bedroom. She treats Kate in the entryway to the store. They only realize they’re at a store when Roxanne, the leader (proxy for St Anne), gives them permission to enter.
Early in the episode, Yorick and 355 stand just outside their tents rather than near each other. 355 washes clothes on the edge of the river (also a symbol of life and transition). Yorick chases thieves out of the camp. Then he runs from the thick of the trading post to the edge and claims to be a trans man. And loses his phone, so he can’t use it to obsess about Beth anymore.
Maybe he needed to escape from the crowd in the trading post because he knew that he wasn’t safe there, so his mind gave him the excuse of chasing Beth, just like he used the excuse of needing T. But when he had a minute to think about what 355 had to do to save him, he also understood that he can’t use Beth as an excuse anymore. He has to put her on the back burner. He’d already subconsciously understood this and dropped the phone. He lets her go for now and makes the speech to 355 that night about card tricks being beneath him and fraudulent, signaling that he’s trying to stop lying to himself and grow up, like she asked.
But he doesn’t need to put his skill set away- his ability to escape using whatever means necessary started as a coping mechanism and became his vocation. It makes him resourceful and creative in a crisis. 355 falls back on her excellent training, which serves her well but can make her predictable. Yorick pulls a solution out of thin air, which makes him unpredictable and is valuable in a conflict, especially when the goal is just to get out alive and mostly unharmed. That’s why Yorick is so frequently equated with Amp- he’s not looking for trouble, it just finds him, because he wasn’t much for following rules even before the Event.
By the end, 355 and Yorick cross the bridge and Hero, Sam, Nora and Mack cross from the entryway into the PriceMax sales floor, signaling they’ve all crossed a threshold with no return, the same way giving birth or being born can’t be undone.
Taking a Chance on Love
Below, listen to the classic 1940s Ella Fitzgerald big band version. 355’s version is less optimistic and more sultry, with a jazz quartet substituted for the brassy big band. There are lyrics about a rabbit (355 saw one at the river, which she tried to kill), taking a ride (on a motorbike), being starry eyed (camping out under the stars), and a horseshoe (referring to the horse barn?), which suggests the entire episode could be or could feel like a dream. Or 355 could have latent prophetic abilities. An entire verse of the song uses cards as a metaphor for love:
I thought that cards were a frame-up
I never would try
But now, I’m taking the game up
And the ace of hearts is high
At the end of the epsiode, 355 asks Yorick to show her some card tricks, symbolically taking a chance on him. It might not be romantic love, but she’s decided to let down her guard and view him as a person, rather than just a mission.
A much jazzier version shows why Ella Fitzgerald is immortal: Taking a Chance on Love from The Lost Berlin Tapes, 1962.
Creepy Fridge Pictures and Ebola
Let’s take a closer look at the drawings on the fridge in St Anne’s Women’s Shelter. When they pass through the kitchen, Hero glances at the drawings without comment. Sam dismisses them as creepy, which, granted, they are, but they’re also unusual.
I can’t get a good look at the one on the freezer door, but it appears to depict various types of insects and other small creatures that stereotypical females are supposed to hate and be afraid of, except for the butterfly ( a symbol of rebirth). There’s also a beetle, a caterpillar and a snake or worm, drawn in detail, but not as scary monsters. They’re drawn with a combination of affection and scientific interest. We being shown that the females here reject the cultural stereotypes that dictate female behavior. We’re also being shown that bugs and reptiles survived, in addition to the birds we saw at Nora’s house.
The two pictures on the bottom half of the fridge are shown clearly, indicating they’re the ones the characters focus on. On the right, drawn in black, someone in a nurse’s uniform (or maybe a nun, or a nun who’s a nurse- the metawitches had different opinions on this) looks both evil and dead. They’re wearing a skirt and have a normal skull but sticks for arms and legs, with no feet and an incorrect number of fingers.
The third drawing also shows someone in a skirt, but this person is still alive. They’re wearing a skirt but suffering from the man plague. Unlike the men we watched die, this person isn’t bleeding from their mouth, nose or ears. They have one black eye and one red eye and they have sparse red hair, maybe indicating a slow brain bleed. Their skirt is red and their legs and feet are yellow with thin red stripes. Their most prominent feature is their arms and hands, swollen in a combination of red and black. The 5 fingers on each hand have bulbs on the end that make them look like male appendages. One finger drips blood into a basin. Their heart is black.
Guessing the black heart means they eventually died too. The bugs come with the presence of bodies and the decreased number of predators to keep their number in check (half of all mammals are gone and they can’t reproduce). Birds, reptiles, etc haven’t multiplied to fill in the gaps yet. The plague only (or mostly) affected mammals.
It’s the skirts that stand out to me and the suggestion that the person on the left died a slow death instead of the fast death the rest of the Y chromosomes experienced. The person on the right could have been a cis female staff member at the shelter who was murdered in the chaos following the Event. She could have been a trans woman who had XY chromosomes, so she died the way the other XYs died. The person on the left could have died from one of the diseases that shows up in unsanitary conditions- we know the CDC is already making warnings.
But if the picture on the left is accurate, the person on the left slowly bled out, with some areas becoming necrotic (black=gangrene) and others developing infections (yellow=pus or jaundice). My guess is that this was an intersex person who presented as female, most likely someone with sex-chromosome mosaicism who had 46 XX chromosomes in some cells and 46 XY chromosomes in others. She may not have even known that she had mosaicism. Geneticists have recently found that it’s much more common than previously believed and may not have any health affects until it reaches a certain level. Someone could have enough Y chromosomes to die from the man plague, but not enough to affect them otherwise. Right now we don’t understand enough about the plague to know.
Or it could be that there were characteristics of other intersex conditions that offered some protection, but not complete immunity, which caused the affected people to die slowly. For example, the presence of an extra X chromosome in Klinefelter Syndrome (this could be someone with Klinefelter who identified as female) might have slowed down the plague, but not stopped it.
The symptoms of the person on the left could indicate which illness developed into the man plague. This has the signs of a viral hemorrhagic fever, such as ebola, but on steroids- rapid onset of symptoms, internal bleeding, multiple organ failure, bleeding from the eyes, ears and mouth. Viral hemorrhagic fevers spread from a wide variety of animals to humans, from insects to mammals. Illness can be transmitted through eating contaminated meat (remember the bloody food at the birthday party?); inhaling particles of blood, feces or urine left behind by animals or spread from person to person.
355, Kim, Christine and the males they were with were exposed to animals, then all 3 women were placed near President Campbell, in an act of terrorist overkill. That’s at least 3 human vectors, plus the party food, used in a potential attempt to kill the President and the top males in the government and military. It was probably supposed to stop there, the way ebola outbreaks have been contained to limited geographical areas and time periods. The goal may have been to install either Jennifer or Regina as president (depending on who created the conspiracy), but something went very wrong.
For someone who’d just come out of a coma, Regina was very quick to realize she’d be president if all the men were gone. Maybe she just wanted the job badly and had a lot of fantasies about the line of succession, the way some people know their standing in line for the British throne as a matter of pride, even if they’re far down the line.
I wonder if Sam’s need to get to the Pentagon is connected to this confusion over what factors decided who lived and who died, which Yorick shares. Viewers have been told it was the Y chromosome and people surely noticed that the plague mainly affected cis men, but in reality there are all sorts of dead bodies everywhere- men, women, children, animals. So on the ground, it’s not that clear.
Yorick doesn’t know if he has a genetic difference that is causing him to die very slowly, like a slow growing cancer. Neither does Sam. For that matter, the women don’t know if the plague will eventually mutate and kill them or if it’s already killing them slowly. Or if it’s made them infertile, even if they find any living men.
Images courtesy of FX on Hulu.
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