Updated: Jan 13
The very existence of “Y: The Last Man,” feels almost like clickbait. Developed by Eliza Clark and based on a comic book of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan, it’s a gritty, post-apocalyptic story in which every organism with a Y chromosome dies almost instantly, except for one cisgender man and his pet monkey. The premise sets it up perfectly to house and feed some extremely controversial opinions about the nature of identity, power dynamics, and the way that gender operates in the US on a governmental level. It’s also objectively well-done, practically and cinematically. As someone who’s had numerous love-hate relationships with politically questionable pieces of media (go read my article about Scott Pilgrim) I thought it best to consider some good aspects of Y: The Last Man before diving into the bad.
To start with some pros, it’s a beautiful show, technically speaking. Episode 3, “Neil,” and Episode 6, “Weird Al is Dead,” were especially noticeable, cinematographically. From the incredibly vivid and ever-changing lighting to the trademark wide shots that leave you hanging for a little longer than is comfortable, it’s far from a cheap production. The set design was also commendable, especially for being seemingly low budget. We follow our characters through half of the U.S., and the journey still doesn’t feel staged.
While some actors did fall short, the overall performances were much better than I had expected them to be. Ashley Romans (as Agent 355) had an especially good performance, considering the nature of her character, who, as a spy, is cast in a new role regularly. Romans made the ever-shifting personality of her character seem believable and impressive in context, without losing what makes 355 uniquely herself.
The music, by Herdís Stefánsdóttir, also deserves some recognition, especially in the opening credits. The title sequence was - thanks to the tense and plinky harp music and the amazing visuals - one of the best parts of the show, and that’s very much because of the music behind it.
However, the show did disappoint in plenty of ways. To be honest, I had very low expectations to begin with, and was half planning on hate-watching it, but watching the show proved to be a much more enjoyable experience than I had anticipated. This left it in an awkward limbo of being just good enough to have expectations to meet, and just bad enough to not actually meet them.
For example, the design of our leading man, Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer). We as an audience are clearly supposed to like him, even though he’s down on his luck, slightly dysfunctional, and “charming” in an infuriatingly male, Tony Stark-esque way. He’s a very overused stereotype, and not well executed enough to be forgiven for it.
Another aspect of this show that made it slightly hard to watch was the vague political bias it seemed to have towards the right. It feels like a bit of a fantasy: an apocalyptic future where both women and Democrats are in charge, which acts as a way for the right to express themselves as victims. One of the subplots follows Kimberly Cunnigham, the daughter of the man who used to be president, as she attempts to plan a coup: spreading rumors across the White House about how irresponsible and clearly biased the president is, how the world will never operate smoothly without men, how the president intentionally killed everyone but her son to inherit the presidency, etc. While the show itself never states that it’s on her side, it’s clear that her words are intended to be taken seriously, what with the current state of the world.
That brings us to my next point: the fact that I can easily tell that this world was created by a man. While the show itself has a female showrunner, the original comic book was written by a man, and it’s made painfully obvious throughout the show how highly he thinks of himself. Half of the population being wiped out is definitely enough to warrant an apocalypse, but I’m not sure the repercussions of such an apocalypse would be as severe as is depicted in the show. Not only are bodies left to rot in the streets, in abandoned restaurants, and in their desk chairs, but the women are driven inexplicably mad with grief, to the point where they start to turn on each other. The country seems to return to a state of chaos, and all sense of civil equity is lost. Women are shot, starved, abandoned, and fought, trans men are stalked and fetishized, and children are, in some cases, left to die and with no other place to go. I could see a world in which this took place for the first couple of months after the event, but I don’t think that half of the population would let brutal anarchy continue for long enough to make a television show about it.
Y: The Last Man, as I’m sure I’ve made clear by now, is in no way a perfect show. It’s got multiple layers of questionable politics, poorly written characters, and overused tropes worked into the mediocre plot, but it’s not as bad as I expected it to be when I first found it. If nothing else, it’s got untapped potential, and I think there’s a lot more it could have explored and many more improvements it could have made in later seasons. It’s a shame that Y, like so many other undeserving shows this year, got canceled long before it reached its rightful end.