Welcome, remaining living creatures, to our review of FX’s inappropriately named science fiction drama, Y The Last Man. In this episode we learn more about Warehouse Waco, and dive into themes of karma, leadership, and authoritarianism. So light a candle, and join a cult, here are five thoughts on Y The Last Man season one, episode six: “Weird Al is Dead.”
This episode opens with Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) wandering off yet again (someone put a leash on that boy) and stumbling into a candlelight vigil with a chorus singing “Karma Police” by Radiohead. In reductive common parlance, karma is the spiritual idea that good intentions and deeds produce good outcomes, and bad intentions and deeds produce bad outcomes. This theme is echoed at the end of the episode, when Hero (Olivia Thirlby) confides in Roxanne (Missi Pyle) that she murdered her married boyfriend the night before the event, and that she can’t just get away with it. Roxanne replies, “Seems like you did” with a smirk. Hero has a tendency to self-sabotage, predating the murder, but it still all seems like an effort to punish herself, while the “universe” or whatever consistently rewards her bad behavior. Hero’s weak sense of self will make her particularly susceptible to Roxanne’s cult, and maybe that’s karma finally catching up with her.
The song “Karma Police” is really about authoritarianism, and that theme is also front and center this episode. Though the near-elimination of cis men has made patriarchy obsolete, there are always similar kinds of power structures vying to fill the void. In Washington, Regina Oliver (Jennifer Wigmore) wants to depose President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) so she can end the riots with the power of the military. Somewhere between Boston and San Francisco, 355 (Ashley Romans) struggles and almost fails to maintain authority among her two companions, Yorick, and Dr. Mann (Diana Bang). Somewhere between New York and DC, Roxanne leads a terrifying Costco Cult. While she and her followers deride the patriarchy of yesteryear, they seem content to keep a lot of its ickier components, like hierarchy and domestic abuse.
3: Authoritarianism Sans Authority
Even when Roxanne isn’t around to enforce the rules, her followers are devout enough to enforce them for her, and Nora (Marin Ireland) is frightened enough to not get in their way. Kelsey (Samantha Brown) is thoroughly beaten by a group of devotees for talking to Sam (Elliot Fletcher) alone. It’s possible Roxanne instructed this behavior off-camera, but I think it’s more likely, and more dramatically interesting, that the cult has reached peak performance. Roxanne doesn’t need to beat her followers into submission; they will do it for her without her having to ask. Meanwhile, 355 hasn’t had the same horrifying success because she expects Yorick and Dr. Mann will obey her out of logic. She knows how to keep them alive, she’s willing to put herself between them and danger, so they ought to just be grateful and fall in line. Unfortunately for 355 and all of Roxanne’s victims, human behavior is not largely dictated by logic.
4: Reeling Them In
Roxanne seems to be reeling Nora, Mack (Quincy Kirkwood), and Hero into her terrifying cult one at a time. While Roxanne is clearly well-practiced in the art of brainwashing, these three are each so uniquely susceptible, it’s taking remarkably little effort. As an aide to the late former president, Nora was used to being obsequious. She misses her career, and while she registers that this is a cult, she nevertheless yearns to return to that familiar power dynamic. Roxanne manipulates her by alternately praising and insulting her, giving her a taste of the validation she craves with the promise of more to come depending on her behavior. Hero divulges her (as far as we know) deepest darkest secret to Roxanne with very little prodding. Hero needs forgiveness, and it might be worth the cost of submitting to a cult. Even without all these mitigating emotional factors, they’re desperate for food, shelter, and healthcare, and Roxanne is the only one offering all of those things.
5: Making it Up as They Go
Before she and and Yorick abandon 355, Dr. Mann accuses her of making up their plan as they go along. Almost as soon as they leave, Dr. Mann hurts herself and expresses regret. She too was making up this plan as she went along. In fact, that’s the modus operandi of almost every character. 355 is better at it than most thanks to her Culper Ring training. Kim (Amber Tamblyn) has a somewhat undefined or perhaps a yet unexplained detailed plan to overthrow President Brown, but the way she accosts her pregnant aide, offering to adopt her baby, makes her seem like a loose cannon. The person with the closest thing to a plan is Roxanne, who is playing by the classic cult leader playbook, and even she owes much of her success to the desperation of the people around her, which she could not have planned for. Everyone, to some extent, is making it up as they go along.
Y The Last Man has a powerhouse ensemble cast portraying refreshingly complicated characters. No one is without weakness, allowing the audience to witness all the ways weakness is exploited in a post-apocalypse that looks nearly identical to our pre-apocalypse.