Review: 'Y: The Last Man' Has Its Comic Book Origins in Its Genes

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 13, 2021

'Y: The Last Man'
'Y: The Last Man'  (Source:Ben Schnetzer in 'Y: The Last Man')

The DC Vertigo comics title "Y: The Last Man" comes to life on the small screen with the FX series, starring Ben Schnetzer, Ashley Romans, and Diane Lane.

Y stands for Yorick, the name of the title character. He's an escape artist who's been looking for his big break, but so far all his career is going nowhere. When he needs money to pay the rent (or to propose to his girlfriend), he turns to his family — sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby), an EMT who's been having an affair with a married co-worker, or to his parents, one of whom happens to be Sen. Jennifer Brown (Lane), a Nancy Pelosi-like politician.

All of that, of course, changes when a mysterious ailment sweeps across the world, killing off all the men in a matter of hours... all the men, the is, except for Yorick, who, with his male Capuchin monkey, Ampersand, somehow survives.

The fact that Ampersand is a male is important, because it's not just human males who have abruptly dropped dead. Males of any and all mammal species have been wiped out; somehow, the possession of a Y chromosome is what made the victims vulnerable, while humans and other mammals with two X chromosomes are immune.

Needless to say, society promptly collapses. (Evidently there aren't enough qualified women to keep the power and water going.) This is a nettlesome plot point (really? Women can't keep the lights on?) and it seems embedded in the source material simply as a means of telling a properly post-apocalyptic story without having to drag zombies into it. But it is what it is: A dash of "Revolution," a jigger of "Jericho," and a whole lotta "The Walking Dead."

As the nation, and the world, reels from the devastating mass extinction of men, what's left of the U.S. government falls back to an upscale hotel to try to salvage America. Sen. Brown finds herself the new president, but the situation is untenable; rioters and conspiracy theorists are just outside the gates, while within the rooms of the government's new inner sanctum there are ambitious power players jockeying for control, including the late president's daughter, an anti-feminist named Kimberly (Amber Tamblyn).

President Brown's most effective ally is Agent 355 (Romans), a highly competent agent so secret that her organization — the Culper Ring — is able to infiltrate even the Secret Service and get her in place to protect the president... mere hours before the lethal phenomenon struck. Obviously someone knows something about the mysterious, man-killing affliction, and Agent 355, while devoted to Brown (and, in time, Yorick), wants to find out who and what.

The show's producers, writers' room, and directors have a largely female presence (in fact, all of the first season's directors are women), and that's a good thing. The show delves into the characters in ways that feel a little sharper and truer than most shows of a similar ilk; as President Brown finds herself fighting for her political life against an unexpected survivor from the previous administration (Jennifer Wigmore) her arrogance and impatience come to the fore even as Regina, her foe, displays patronizing self-righteousness. Kimberly is manipulative and needy, but also a true helper; time and again the characters villainy seems set to overtake her, but then she responds to a crisis with genuine compassion. Even Agent 355, who could have been a one-note character, has depth... and, as we start to see, some sort of PTSD that affects her judgment and influences her tactical choices.

The storyline splits into several parallel journeys. President Brown dukes it out in D.C., while former presidential aide Nora Brady (Marin Ireland) and her daughter, MacKenzie (Quincy Kirkwood), end up with a group of women that style themselves Amazons under the leadership of the tough, unsentimental Roxanne (Missi Pyle). Hero, too, finds her way to the group, haunted with guilt over a tragic incident that unfolds just before the world ends; her traveling companion is Sam, a trans man. Meantime, Agent 355 and Yorick set out for Boston in order to find a geneticist, Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang), in hopes that Dr. Mann can figure out what makes Yorick and his pet monkey immune to the lethal effect.

Gratifyingly, the show focuses on the idea of a world run by women for much of its dramatic fuel, and doesn't get drawn too far into a "Walking Dead"-style rabbit hole. That said, the usual tropes for this sort of end-of-the-word fiction are in place: Lawless bands, deserted homes, ransacked stores. Again: Women can't keep the shops open? The loss of men somehow means that houses are simply left untenanted and handily available for sojourners making multi-state journeys by foot?

That's not a fatal flaw, though, and while the TV version definitely bears the genetic imprint of its comic book origins, it feels liable to grow into something even better than the acclaimed Vertigo title. The six episodes made available for review present a series with (mostly) strong narrative construction, true-to-life character dynamics, and a willingness to acknowledge authentic social disagreements that would not simply evaporate along with half the world's population. (President Brown and her cabinet fret the Regina is an authoritarian, a xenophobe, a conspiracy theorist, and an anti-vaxxer; yes, today's COVID quarrels have found their way into our filmed entertainment.) It also gives us a Last Man on Earth whose extended adolescence and unthinking assumptions of privilege provide comic relief; Schnetzer is endearing in the role, headstrong and clueless by turns, and we can hope his Yorick gets to grow up some if subsequent seasons follow this one.

"Y: The Last Man" airs on FX.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.