Y: The Last Man 1.4 – “Karen and Benji” Review

NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Y: The Last Man” are present in this review



We’re out of the three premiere episodes for Y: The Last Man, and now that its eponymous ‘last man’ is finally leaving the confines of what remains of the U.S. government stronghold, we can hopefully kick this DC Comics-inspired drama series into high gear. Well, okay, that’s probably too much to hope for, given Y: The Last Man’s sluggish early pace, but at least we see a bit of progress in the series’ fourth episode. “Karen and Benji” still isn’t enough to make Y: The Last Man stand out as an effective addition to the over-saturated post-apocalyptic TV genre, but the show inching in a forward direction is better than it not moving, or going backwards.

A big plus in this episode’s case is that it spends a lot less time being bogged down on old-world politics that don’t benefit the show’s narrative. Jennifer is completely absent in this episode in fact, with the entirety of this week’s storyline instead being divided between Yorick and Agent 355, and Hero and Sam. Being able to check in with the latter pair is especially welcome here, after they sat out the previous episode entirely, though sadly, whatever early momentum Hero was working towards during Y: The Last Man’s second episode quickly ends up being lost in this one. You see, even though it spends less time on meaningless politics, the show is still spending too much time on old-world personal concerns, which continue to do nothing for the narrative’s post-apocalyptic backdrop.

This time, it feels like Agent 355 is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of character work. She even carries a memorable start to this episode, in a supposed dream sequence about 355 being a lounge singer, one that seemingly hints that 355 has an issue with disassociating and/or sleepwalking. This opening sequence is certainly bizarre, and doesn’t gel with the rest of this episode’s narrative all that well, but at least Y: The Last Man is starting to take some genuine creative swings with scenes like these. This otherwise well-produced series still looks far too derivative of similarly gritty post-apocalyptic shows overall, but these strange, unpredictable dream sequences could help Y: The Last Man when it comes to carving out more of a distinct identity, both among post-apocalyptic shows and comic book shows.

It’s also good to finally see some real stakes when it comes to trying to sneak Yorick through the new female-populated encampments that comprise this show’s Y chromosome-decimating apocalypse. Not enough stakes, mind you, but some stakes. 355 has to take Yorick, disguised under his gas mask, to get supplies at a market, a market that’s policed by former military/cop wives, a nicely tense scenario on paper. Frustratingly though, Yorick impulsively splits off to chase after a woman that he mistakes for his ex-girlfriend, Beth, because Yorick still largely proceeds the plot by being an idiot and inexplicably having no survival instincts. 355 naturally has to bail Yorick out of being attacked at this point, eventually resulting in the two having a heated argument about Yorick’s white male privilege. This, unfortunately, is a bit of a heavy-handed spat, one that continues to leave Y: The Last Man struggling with how to convey its political commentary in an interesting and/or organic way. On the bright side, the subsequent sequence of Yorick and 355 reconciling with Yorick showing off some card tricks at least works very well.

Speaking of idiot plots, these issues tended to pop up just as frequently in Hero’s and Sam’s subplot, even as it brings them into the orbit of some other key characters. Upon discovering a seemingly untouched house with a comfortable couch, Hero and Sam decide to squat there, before looking for supplies at a nearby pharmacy, only to discover the injured Mack hiding in the shelves. After defusing a justifiably scared Nora, Hero then patches up Mack’s leg, and decides to help the two find new shelter, against Sam’s wishes. It’s good to see Nora finally intersecting with some of the other characters, since she and Mack previously didn’t fit that well into the storytelling. This first encounter between Nora, Mack, Hero and Sam also provides another showcase of Y: The Last Man’s strong performances to boot, which are in dire need of tighter, more engaging writing.

Even the climactic confrontation of this episode feels a bit limp in the end. Hero, Sam, Nora and Mack are eventually taken captive by a group of aggressive women that are staying in the house they holed up in, at which point Hero is coerced into saving one of their injured allies. This is the point when Hero’s and Sam’s character arcs finally touch upon some more interesting territory, as the women are hostile towards Sam, on account of him being a trans man. It’s intriguing to see the increased hostility towards trans men in this apocalypse, seemingly because they’re seen more than ever as ‘fake men’ within an apocalypse where the surviving women have certainly lost fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends and male friends that they were close with in the old world. A combination of trauma and sexual frustration would logically result from that, and it’s a shame that this episode so quickly extinguishes hostility toward Sam in the end. Maybe the writing is afraid to offend, but in that case, it’s leaving a lot of dramatic possibilities with Sam’s character on the table for now.

Even Hero’s, well, heroic efforts to put herself on the line to save the mystery survivor don’t matter in the end. The gang’s leader, Roxanne simply returns and shoots the injured woman dead anyway, deciding that she can’t be saved. Then Roxanne simply takes in Hero’s group without much incident, and this episode ends on that note. I get that only a couple of months would have passed in this apocalypse so far, and we likely wouldn’t have reached The Walking Dead-level survivor tension quite yet, but even so, why are the survivors of this apocalypse so tame and dull for now? Another two survivors even run away from Yorick after he simply waves a stick at them earlier on. Really? On top of struggling with its political commentary, it also currently feels like Y: The Last Man doesn’t yet know how to create genuine tension in its survival scenarios. I get that the show can’t fall back on zombies or mutants or anything like that, but Y: The Last Man is definitely not elevating itself on political instability or angry survivors, so what else can it ultimately mine for engaging drama?

Y: The Last Man nonetheless takes several necessary steps when it comes to improving its storytelling, but said steps are still too small to allow the series to stand out. Yorick is way too much of a self-absorbed moron to root for as the apparent sole-surviving cisgender man on Earth, and Hero is wasting just as much time whining about her former affairs and emotional screw-ups from the old world. Agent 355 is doing a lot better though, and this is largely because 355 actually feels properly engaged with the show’s post-apocalyptic scenario. Yorick and Hero meanwhile still feel far too detached from the show’s supposed stakes, which is another issue that’s constantly undermining the series’ drama. We’re at least out in the ruins of civilization now, and not wasting time griping over the remains of the U.S. Presidency, but even if there’s a bit more to look forward to in the supposed thick of danger, that danger is sure taking its time properly reaching our apparent heroes.

Y: The Last Man continues to inch forward after finally exploring its post-apocalyptic world in earnest this week, though the series continues to struggle with actually being engaging.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Developing partnership between Yorick and 355
Hero and Sam encountering Nora and Mack
Clever survivor hostility towards Sam
Yorick remains too unlikeable and stupid
Hero still wastes too much time whining about the old world
The tension is still failing to spark