FX’s Y: The Last Man opens with a sombre, desolate sight. An empty intersection with abandoned cars and uprooted lives. People did not vanish into thin air; their bodies remained. Some people remain in their cars, stuck in a morning commute that will never end. Some are scattered on the sidewalk, dropped dead where they stood. Then finally, a singular figure rummages through the wreckage wearing a gas mask and a trench coat. One man left alive to carry on the legacy of humanity… wait, is that a monkey with him?
Everyone, meet Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey Ampersand. The only cis man we know to survive a disease that targets everyone in the world with a Y chromosome. A disease that causes half the population in the world to die violently. A horrific scene that involves seizures and blood streaming out of one’s eyes. However, a majority woman population survives. A large part of the show’s focus is watching them try to maintain some semblance of a society.
Yorick’s mother, former senator-now president Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), sits at the top of the remaining free world. Yorick’s sister Hero Brown (Olivia Thirlby) navigates this testosterone-reduced society with Sam (Elliot Fletcher). A trans man struggling in a world where few people look like or accept him. Yorick is joined – and protected – by Agent 355 (Ashley Roman), an American super spy who answers directly to the president. The series revolves around Jennifer’s dystopian political intrigue. Hero and Sam’s encounters with modern society. And Yorick and Agent 355’s journey to find a scientist smart enough to prevent the extinction of humanity.
The series is adapted from an early 2000’s comic book of the same name created by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. After six episodes, the television show lacks the comic’s more absurdist details. But it does maintain most of the significant plotlines and characters. A live-action adaptation of Vaughn and Guerra’s work has been in Hollywood rumours for years. But many fans feared it would never materialize. Even FX’s series suffered from these issues; roles were recast, showrunners left, and covid delays struck. Despite all that, I can confidently say showrunner Eliza Clark’s Y: The Last Man is competent and well made. A rare occurrence for projects with this much history in production hell.
Viewers should consider themselves lucky that the show took this long to be made. It’s hard to imagine a 2010’s studio team tackling some of the themes this season takes on. This series is unafraid to show us that women are just as capable of horrific violence and toxicity as men. Real-world news stories have challenged mainstream media’s image of the “docile white woman”. Stories of women brandishing guns or using tears to target those who would mildly inconvenience them. The privileged women in Y: The Last Men can be ruthless, violent, and exploitative in the aftermath of the disaster. Societal injustices survive even if society collapses.
Front and center at the discussion of privilege is the cis-white man, Yorick Brown. Yorick is a professional screw-up who embodies the self-centred privilege that everyone else in the world struggles against. He’s an amateur escape artist with wealthy parents who won’t let him fail—a girlfriend who can do a lot better. Throughout the entire series, Yorick proves himself to be incredibly selfish. He will prioritize the life of his pet monkey over people. Often talking over experts with his all too familiar brand of “well actually”. Finally, a show full of women; and it centres on the incompetent man and his unending selfishness. It’s intentional but infuriating. Why Yorick? Why is this the last man? It’s a question that audiences will have to sit with as Yorick and Agent 355 traverse the long and gray road to answers.
Yorick’s sister Hero Brown is no saint herself. She’s self-destructive and selfish. Her journey with Sam is heartbreaking. He’s in such a vulnerable state in this new world and is depending on Hero. Yet, she will choose her own self-interests time and time again. Jennifer Brown, President of the United States (for whatever that’s worth), feels like she’s in a different show. As we watch people die and starve, Jennifer sits at the Pentagon. With other political figures barking orders across the country. She grapples with Yorick’s predicament while trying to fend off political rivals. Can you imagine? Countless dead and Republicans are playing Game of Thrones instead of just helping people.
So much of Y: The Last Man draws from today’s news cycle — much of it drawn from political news cycles. Kimberly Campbell-Cunningham (Amber Tamblyn) is the most prominent representative of modern-day politics. This clear Megan McCain homage loves to talk fondly about her “values”. How the people voted for her family, so her voice should be heard. The plight of a woman attached to the white supremacist patriarchy. Who fancies herself the heir apparent to its empty, bloody throne.
The show is unafraid to put the stain of white supremacy and conservatism at the forefront of its themes. So, it’d be remiss to mention how it treats women of colour. The show uses its cis-white leads to good effect. But, its commentary fails to treat non-white characters with the agency and complexity they deserve. Every notable woman of colour in the show exists to serve the white characters. Yorick’s girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield) is intelligent and ambitious and way better than Yorick deserves. Christine is a Latinx woman and the assistant to President Brown. Allison Mann (Diana Bang) is a brilliant scientist trying to figure out what makes Yorick unique. And the worst example goes to Ashley Romans’ Agent 355.
Romans’ excellent performance as the super-spy, and she’s the most compelling character in the series. Still, it’s frustrating to see a Black woman reduced to blindly playing bodyguard to a self-serving president and her idiot son. You’ll find that Yorick will regularly be awful towards 355. Can you imagine? A Black woman fighting for survival being told off by an incompetent white man? The character has no personal background and hasn’t even been given a real name. It’s an uncomfortable dynamic. The actor and character both deserve better.
The pandemic-like subject matter for Y: The Last Man might prove a little too close to home for some people. But the series has plenty of drama and intrigue to seduce modern audiences. The juxtaposition of political showdowns and Cormac McCarthy-esque dystopia feel uncomfortable yet fitting. When people are dying in the streets, where else would politicians be if not in meeting rooms? Fans might recognize a little of The Walking Dead in more dystopian aspects of the show. Like hunting for survival or cults rising in the absence of society. The show’s central mystery gives just enough content for podcasters and Redditors to mine for downloads and upvotes. However, there might be a few too many plot threads.
The acting and production value are remarkably high quality for a show that some feared would never come. There’s a little bit for everyone. The series will draw in fans of the comic or fans of shows like The Leftovers or 12 Monkeys. If hour-long science fiction dramas are your jam, then make sure to check out FX’s Y: The Last Man.