This spoiler-free review of Y: The Last Man covers the first six episodes of season 1 that were made available to press ahead of the series premiere.
Pandemonium erupts early in Y: The Last Man. Across the planet, every mammal with a Y chromosome keels over dead, blood gushing from their eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. No reason is given. It doesn’t even matter. Husbands, sons, friends are gone in an instant, leaving the rest of the planet scrambling to reclaim order before life ceases to be within a few generations.
Then, the show presses rewind, we return to the day before the cataclysmic event, and we must suffer as the series throws as many happy little boys running across the frame as it can. Y: The Last Man‘s premiere episode perversely pushes characters destined for corpsehood to the forefront while also establishing the main players who will be left to mop up the fetid muck.
As an exercise in dread, Y: The Last Man‘s first episode is exceptional. In Washington D.C., Congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) butts heads with the President (Paul Gross). His daughter, Kimberly (Amber Tamblyn), spares time away from her swarm of boys and book tour to chastize the Congresswoman about her leftist ideals. Meanwhile, Brown’s kids stumble through adulthood and addiction in New York City.
Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) teaches magic to children and awkwardly fumbles his way through an apocalyptic proposal to his uninterested girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield). Hero Brown (Olivia Thirlby) is suffering her own relationship nightmare, sleeping with her fellow EMT who promises to reveal all to his wife someday. For the two siblings, the global catastrophe appears as a response to their humiliating failure to launch.
Especially when Yorick discovers that he may very well be the last surviving human carrying the Y chromosome. But not the last animal, for his capuchin sidekick Ampersand is still scrabbling his apartment when half the population pops. “The Last Man” resists his role, kicking and screaming against whatever hope he might provide the planet, desperately trying to reunite with the woman who slinked from his sight when that ring came out.
Based on the acclaimed graphic novel series from Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man is not a direct adaptation. Supporting players from the comic book like Jennifer Brown are boosted into lead roles, while Yorick’s importance is downplayed despite his “reproductively interesting” status. Series creator Eliza Clark spreads the story across several survivors, creating a narrative triptych shared by Yorick and his bodyguard Agent 355 (Ashley Romans), Hero and her traveling companion Sam (Elliot Fletcher), and Congresswoman Brown and her new, precarious role as Commander in Chief.
Naturally, when divided in such a fashion, you find yourself gravitating toward certain stories over others. Diane Lane as Jennifer Brown is stellar. Her balancing act between concerned mother and ash-heap leader is meticulously navigated. Any action she makes to find or aid her children is seen as a colossal abuse of power, fueling the Left vs. Right division raging beneath the Pentagon.
As the last keeper of her father’s legacy and values, Kimberly rallies what few allies she has left, slowly building an attack to overthrow the freshly appointed (not elected) President. The quiet heat between Jennifer and Kimberly is painfully recognizable to anyone alive during these last handful of years, and as such, maybe a little dull? The doomsday we’re existing within currently making this fictional one seem fanciful yet paradoxically quaint.
When Y: The Last Man thrusts further into its season, the story becomes more and more familiar and less urgent. Hero’s long hike from New York to D.C. mirrors dozens of like-minded Armageddon tales. She and Sam bash against other survivors, and we witness how humanity is as much of a threat to itself as the plague that’s pushing us off the planet. We’ve been here with George A. Romero, The Walking Dead, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
As sperm banks lose power, Yorrick becomes humanity’s last reproductive hope. Y: The Last Man works best through his adventure, seeking desperate aid from Harvard geneticist Dr. Alison Mann (Diana Bang) while whining incessantly about his pathetically small wants. Schnetzer carries Yorick’s punchability and sorrowfulness deliciously.
Before the event, he stubbornly ignored his privilege, and after the event, he works even harder to do so. No one wishes Yorick wasn’t humanity’s final chance more than Yorrick. And miraculously, Schnetzer never lets his character’s tantrum nature boil over into unwatchable selfishness. Plus, he has already captured the unconditional love of his CGI monkey friend.
It’s easy to drift into the mystery that kickstarts this series. Agent 355’s shadowy Culper Ring organization slowly develops throughout the first six episodes, whereas the plague’s origin becomes less and less relevant. If the comic book proved anything, it’s that the who, what, and why are not designed to be satisfying. If the characters do not engage you, don’t continue hoping that the revelations will wow you back.
Based on the trajectory of the first six episodes, Jennifer Brown’s confrontation with Kimberly and her Republican ilk seems inevitable. As does Hero’s indoctrination into the leftover savage world. While their paths seem set, we wait for the show to bank a hard ninety degrees and subvert the genre tracks it’s riding.
Y: The Last Man delivers a dynamite premiere, immediately engaging its grotesque judgment day, before slamming the breaks and dragging us through the dreadfully slow minutes leading up to the event. During this time, your heart lives in your throat, and your eyes wash in tears. Once unleashed, the doomsday pulls us into the more rote post-apocalyptic experience. We’ve been here, and we’ll be here again and again in both our fiction and, apparently, our reality.
The first six episodes counterbalance some narrative sameness with strong performances and an incredible visual design. At no point do you question whether or not the world’s gone to pot. This year we’ve come terrifyingly close to the images replicated here on-screen. And filming through the pandemic no doubt gave the creators an extra level of intimacy with their horrific subject. It also gave their audience that same level of intimacy. You’ll either revel in it or run screaming.
Y: The Last Man premieres via FX on Hulu on September 13th.