NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Last Man on Earth” are present in this review
The Last Man on Earth has just one episode left next week before it goes on its Winter hiatus, and that left, “Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem” to both lead into next week’s midseason finale, while also building off of the way that the previous episode ended. The episode took a short while to reach what was admittedly a pretty good payoff, and the first half is notably a bit of a step down for The Last Man on Earth, making for an episode that would have come off as a filler episode, were it not for the good foundation laid for the midseason finale next week.
Surprisingly, one of the best and most harrowing storylines of the episode revolved around Gail, who remains trapped in the neighbouring building’s adjacent elevator after the events of the previous episode. Gail both passing the time and using some clever resourcefulness to try and escape both worked very well, especially when Mary Steenburgen managed to derive so much great humour out of a scenario that didn’t leave her with anyone else to play off of. Gail doesn’t ultimately escape, simply realizing that she’s trapped mere inches away from another floor, and still can’t climb out, though this at least helped to address the plot hole of why she somehow hasn’t run out of air in that elevator after over a day of being stuck in it without power.
The other major storyline of this episode came from the survivors searching for Melissa, which mostly just led to them driving around and calling her name. It felt like the comedy hit a frustrating speed bump here, since a lot of the jokes that the show attempted to mine from Melissa’s disappearance just didn’t end up registering. It wasn’t until Todd started to demonstrate an obsessive, guilt-fueled desire to find his missing flame, even completely forsaking sleep in the process, that the storyline started to get off the ground a bit more.
Another somewhat head-scratching batch of comedy this week came from Phil’s humour, which didn’t really feel like it was on-point in this episode. Phil definitely isn’t the brightest bulb, but he just came off as unrealistically, childishly stupid in this episode, even by his standards. Hell, one of the running gags of this episode simply had Phil running around in a dinosaur suit. Why? I know that this show can be weird, and sometimes it does that weirdness very well, but the gag itself seemed to be based around Will Forte trying to move and talk in a dinosaur suit. Is that really the best that the writers can come up with?
In the episode’s second half though, the two storylines started to come together in a very satisfying and clever way. Eventually, Carol starts to clue in that Gail has been missing for a while, and starts believing that Gail is in trouble. This eventually leads to a frustrated Todd telling Carol that she pushed Gail away, after initially forcing Phil to choose which survivor he’s going to help. This is a very promising conflict, which is why it’s disappointing that the show kind of wimped out of it. In the very next scene, all is forgiven, and Carol simply goes along with Todd and Phil to find Melissa. Maybe the proximity to the midseason finale was a problem, but it definitely would have been more interesting to have Phil make an impossible choice, or possibly start a major conflict with both his wife and his best friend that could persist even into the season’s back half in 2017.
As the episode winds down though, that’s when it starts getting a lot better. There’s a clever irony at play when the group starts seeking out Melissa, someone who disappears and doesn’t want to be found, and assuming that Gail is fine, despite Gail being the one in very real danger. Gail’s signaling gunfire is even mistaken for Melissa simply firing her gun off, which is a smart way to keep Gail trapped in the elevator, even into next week’s midseason finale. Melissa not actually being missing, and just wandering around unseen feels unrealistic though, and at worst, it’s kind of a cop-out, being another conflict that just couldn’t be effectively realized when the show’s 2016 run is ending next week.
“Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem” didn’t reach the stellar heights of last season’s penultimate midseason Christmas episode, though hopefully next week’s midseason finale makes up for that. The situation with Gail definitely turned out well, even as Gail remains trapped, though the hunt for Melissa largely felt tedious and not that entertaining, especially when she wasn’t even missing at all in the end. Hopefully, the show brings Melissa’s decreasing sanity to a spectacular head next week, though at this point, I’m certainly rooting for a great Gail resolution a lot more.
- Gail storyline continues to be entertaining and tense
- Carol having to confront pushing Gail away
- Todd's obsessive need to hunt for Melissa
- Carol/Todd conflict quickly fizzles out
- Phil's behaviour is excessively unrealistic
- Melissa not being missing feels like a cheat