Y: The Last Man, the critically-acclaimed Brian K. Vaughn/Pia Guerra comic from 2002-2008, was a post-apocalyptic drama with a different twist: all male mammals were instantly wiped out by a mysterious plague. What followed answered the question —at least in one male writer’s mind— how would the world be different if women were in charge? And what would happen if one man (and his male pet monkey) somehow survived the plague? Would/could the human race go on?
In development since 2015, it’s surprising it has taken this long for Y to make it to television, considering that very few special effects are needed to visually communicate a post-apocalyptic survival and societal story. You don’t even need to spend any of your budget on zombie makeup.
But the delay might have been a good thing, since the showrunners decided to make gender diversity a focus of the series. Their version of Y: The Last Man now has increased relevance and wider audience appeal since the world’s attitude toward and awareness of gender diversity—especially the show’s focus on trans men and women— has changed dramatically within the last decade. Sam Jordan, a trans character not seen in the comic, was added to the show to expand on this aspect.
The first episode, “The Day Before,” introduces us to all the lead characters. We get hints that something bad is going to happen, as some animals start to behave strangely. The opening credits are beautifully done, with an overhead shot of the city streets forming a huge Y, an iconic visual pulled straight from the comic.
The second episode, “Would the World Be Kind,” is where it all hits the fan. Animals start to die first, then suddenly, the world's male humans drop dead in truly horrific fashion. If you are wary of the sight of blood, then this episode is not for you.
The story revolves around the Brown family: mother Jennifer, daughter Hero (Olivia Thirlby), and son Yorick (Ben Schnetzer), the world's lone male survivor, who sometimes goes by Y for short. His nickname is a reference to the whole Y chromosome thing, of course. We got ya, Brian. ;-)
Coincidentally (and purposefully, I am sure), Yorick is an amateur escape artist who struggles to make a living, and has now somehow managed to escape death, along with his male capuchin monkey, Ampersand. Sadly, Yorick is a whiny, irresponsible brat who only cares about finding his girlfriend. He just can’t get it through his head that he is now the Most Important Person On The Planet, and he has a responsibility to the world, whether he likes it or not.
One aspect that isn’t skipped in the translation from comic to tv is how valuable a commodity the last male would be. It’s a different kind of survival tale for Yorick. Aside from the government wanting his help with a cure, other people want to capture him and trade him for food and supplies, others want to clone him, and others want to breed with him. The last bit may make it sound like the ideal male dream, but it’s a nightmare for Yorick.
Yorick’s big sister Hero is a paramedic who is messed up in her own ways. We don’t see much of her story arc in the first three eps.
Jennifer (Diane Lane) is in a situation that was already familiar to pop culture fans of tv shows Designated Survivor, Battlestar Galactica, and readers of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor and Executive Orders. When all the males in the U.S. Government drop dead from The President on down, guess who’s the first woman still alive in line of succession? Diane Lane's Democratic Senator Jennifer Brown.
The other main character is the mysterious government covert operative known as Agent 355, who was assigned to protect and take orders directly from the President just before the massive die-off. Since there is now a new POTUS, she follows Jennifer Brown’s orders. Her first mission is to find the President’s two grown children. After finding Yorick, however, she is put in charge of getting him to the leading genetic scientist in the nation in the hope of finding a cure.
The third episode, “Neil,” focuses on people desperate to find their love ones, including the daughter of the deceased President, who is also inside the barricaded Pentagon, and finds out that President Brown sent out resources to find her own children, and demands similar accommodations. Some people inside the Pentagon are so desperate, they leave the government’s protection to begin their own searches for their loved ones.
Among the very real struggles this post-apocalyptic society faces, like how infrastructure will eventually fail in such a global catastrophe, or how to find loved ones, a main focus is the violent, tribal political battle being echoed or even inspired by our current real world climate. The White House is under assault by Far Right extremists, who prove that at least in this fictional apocalypse, women aren’t going to be any more levelheaded than men about who runs the government.
Another main character is the deceased President’s daughter, who is immediately set up to be a highly unlikeable main antagonist. She is conniving, she is manipulative, and spends all her time scheming and gathering allies to try and topple the new Democrat POTUS, who does not share her father's Republican ideals and goals.
It’s also revealed in episode 3 that the Vice-President is still alive. For ultimate dramatic effect, she is a Far Right Extremist with beliefs that make Qanon look tame. Prepare for a very familiar battle royale for the Presidency. All these political details make the show feel even more real and scary, but haven't we had enough of this divisive crap IRL?
Y: The Last Man is fascinating for many reasons, mostly the post-apocalyptic sci-fi angle, but most of all because it is a truly human drama, with the survival of the human race at stake. However, all the all-too-real tribal political drama makes it unwatchable for me.
On September 13, Y: The Last Man started being released in three episode chunks each week on FX on Hulu, a Disney-owned imprint free to Hulu subscribers.
Y: The Last Man (2002) — the 60-issue series is available everywhere in trade paperback volumes