Y: The Last Man
My Mother Saw a Monkey
There’s a weird thing that happens when you think you can live in this world without anybody’s help. When you insist that you can exist in a vacuum with only your own abilities for company, that you don’t, in fact, live in a society built and maintained by other people. Call it Off-the-Grid Syndrome (or maybe just Libertarianism): The more you insist on independence, the more you will be forced to depend on others to survive in the end.
355 isn’t wrong to be angry with Yorick and Allison after their harebrained escape plan undermines her own and results in Yorick’s discovery by military operatives. Yorick, for one, certainly could’ve taken five minutes to consider the root of 355’s explosive cruelty before giving up on her in a fuck-you huff. But ultimately, it’s 355’s fear of emotional intimacy and of yielding an ounce of control, of trusting another person to carry a fraction of the load, that drags her to such exhaustion that she dozes at the wheel of their stolen camper and sends the truck careening into a tree. Where simply asking for help might have wounded her pride, now a literal head wound has completely compromised her ability to do pretty much anything for herself. Her stubbornness gets her a concussion (or worse) and lands her and Dr. Mann in a literal prison cell, all while Yorick — and her mission — is commandeered by a heavily armed group of strangers.
In a twist of pure irony, it just so happens that these strangers are intimately acquainted with the very thing 355 can’t bring herself to consider: The value of collective effort. While there are plenty more questions than answers about these formerly incarcerated (mostly) women who have (somehow) escaped that prison to settle the (mysteriously) abandoned town nearby, it’s undeniable that their community is an object lesson in trust and power delegation. Not only do they make political decisions as a group, but they have tapped into their individual strengths to create a peaceful, functioning anarchist commune that enjoys electricity, good food (toast!!!!!!), music, even beer, while the rest of the world is collapsing. They’ve only locked up Allison and 355 because they assumed the rope binding Yorick’s wrists when they found him was evidence of kidnapping, rather than a magic demonstration cut short. Marrisville is, at least for now, a post-abolition Mayberry, a microcosm of what could be possible if the world was built on good faith and the benefit of the doubt. (Even in the comics, these women are a profoundly compelling rebuttal to the wider series’ apocalyptic tone: many people would get on just fine without cis men.) For someone like 355, whose entire existence is circumscribed, if not actively defined, by the idea that hell is other people, the concept of cooperation without personal gain is a hard pill to swallow. Literally, in fact, when she pushes herself to the point of projectile-vomiting rather than admit to being unwell, let alone unable to do her job (and thus her whole identity).
The worst part of this forced reckoning? She’s ceded the moral high ground to people who should have been working to earn back her trust. Even Yorick is making valid points now. “You start a fight you can’t win, you’re going to make things a hell of a lot worse for us,” he chides her. Rather than simply accepting the help on offer, she lashes out like a vicious teen, reminding Dr. Mann and Yorick that neither of them would be there if not for her. Where before they took her nastiness at face value, this third round establishes a pattern, one that allows them — Yorick especially — to see it for the defense mechanism it is.
But there’s a silver lining here, for us, at least. The goofy, intellectualized chemistry that the trio established in Boston is now maturing into something … different. Oh, fuck it, let’s just call it what it is — it’s horny. Suddenly their physical confrontations are laced with intimate subtext: When Allison examines 355’s head wound, the spy puts an unexpectedly gentle hand on the geneticist’s arm before her brain catches up, and she brusquely shoves her aside. Yorick’s eyes light up with a maybe-not-entirely-family-friendly intensity when he realizes 355 might accept his challenge and kick his ass. And then, when 355 finally accepts the drugs and bed on offer, she promises Yorick, “You won’t have to take care of me like this again.” “Hey, it’s okay. I know,” he responds, and it’s clear something has … shifted. (The way she keeps telling women to stay away from Yorick and Yorick to stay away from women also isn’t nothing, but in the case of Sonia, she’s probably right. Only a woman with a distinct agenda asks earnest questions about a guy’s magic tricks.)
Things have shifted even more dramatically over at the Pentagon, where Jennifer’s Yorick-shaped house of cards has begun to collapse. Captain Nguyen’s report of a six-foot cis man with a monkey sounds conveniently unlikely, given she was drugged, until Kimberly and Regina repeat the report in Marla Campbell’s presence.
We don’t have a whole lot of information on who the former First Lady was in the before times, but judging by the context clues of her family — her husband, and now, especially, her daughter — she was the paragon of WASP wifery. Consider her relatable conversation about motherhood with Jennifer a few episodes ago: She was likely a master of relatability, a savvy Southern belle who skated through life on the entitlements afforded her by genteel white patriarchy, playing up her salt-of-the-earth, not-like-other-Republican-girls brand to woo unlikely allies like Jennifer Brown on behalf of her husband. The Event dissolved her power as much as it did her daughter’s, but where her daughter sees the possibility for redemption, she is too tired to continue the grift. In her mind, she spent her life hustling on behalf of other people — first her husband, then her children, then her grandchildren — and after watching all but one of those people disintegrate in front of her, she’s not about to seek out a new master, especially not once she realizes her sole frenemy, one of the only people she still sees as “a decent human being,” has been actively gaslighting her while enjoying the survival of her own son. “You weren’t even a good mother,” she protests, in true mean-girl-mask-off fashion, when she confronts Jennifer in front of the entire war room. (It’s poetic, really, how conservatives — white people, white women, basically anyone with ill-gotten power — never fail to lose their shit the moment the tables turn and they discover someone else is benefitting from a system they’ve been successfully gaming for years.) Unfortunately, this revelation — combined with the news that their Lynchburg home was swept away by a broken dam weeks ago — shatters the dissociative delusion she’s been clinging to, leaving her without a shred of identity worth living for. She dresses for the first time since the Event and somehow gets to the roof while her daughter babbles about peach cobbler. It’s a testament to Paris Jefferson’s magnetic performance that, after everything, I’m genuinely sorry to see Marla meet this end.
Her mother’s suicide is likely the final straw that will send Kimberly into full-on Joker mode from here on out. She’s already been showing distinct signs of fraying. After describing Hero Brown as “kind of short, doesn’t really brush her hair, looks like a drug addict” at the top of the episode, she’s taken on this exact appearance herself by the end. (Written by Charlie Jane Anders, “My Mother Saw a Monkey” is chock full of this kind of irony.) She insists that she will “see [her kids] again” and is curiously horrified when Marla responds, “Yeah, when you’re dead!” She practically spits the phrase “atheist Ivy League ass-kissers” when conspiring with Regina about overthrowing Jennifer Brown’s presidency, then practically screams that “God chose [Yorick],” then fervently intones, “We will become a nation of mothers again.” And then her mother kills herself while she was busy bartering for canned fruit, and she’s left alone with her Second Coming convictions; an extremist megalomaniac as her sole ally; and no one to reel her back in. We who have lived in the time of Kanye West know that this is a recipe for certain disaster.
Speaking of radicalization, Beth DeVille might be a full-blown insurgent herself now? In the comics, she is already in Australia when the Event strikes, and as a result, we don’t reconvene with her until much later. In the TV series, Beth never left. She’s got some serious survivor’s guilt, too, after the one-two punch of having rejected her now-assumed-dead boyfriend’s proposal and failing to reach her mother before an all-but-collapsed healthcare system abandoned her to die alone of cancer. (This part comes off as a particularly COVID-informed point about the cascading impact of pandemics and pandemic-adjacent disasters.) And now we know that, wherever she’s been, whoever she’s been with since then, the experience has cultivated a resolve that may or may not be directed toward revolution. She exploits Jennifer’s compulsive politician’s need to be seen as a good and maternal person to sidle into the Pentagon, to be lavished with special treatment, while secretly collecting intelligence for her comrades. It’s clear her initial intent is to suss out what the government knows about the root cause of the Event; “people treat it like a hurricane, a tsunami or something, but … to me, it feels like a person,” she casually observes, hoping for Jennifer to take the bait. But when that fails, she gets multiple consolation prizes. Christine, tasked with babysitting her in the war room, straight-up tells her the Secret Service is operating at a quarter capacity; then, she witnesses Marla’s confrontation with Jennifer — a dot that a smart woman who studies human beings for a living will probably be able to connect, given time, to the survival of her erstwhile non-fiancé.
Sadly, Jennifer herself seems poised to learn a harsh lesson, not unlike the one 355 is experiencing: That hoarding information and responsibility, assuming that you know best, is a strategy with an extremely short half-life. It doesn’t matter that her ends justify her ignoble means any more than it matters in 355’s case. The simple fact is, the more she manipulates people — Kimberly, Marla, Regina, the military, her own atheist Ivy League ass-kissers, even Beth — the narrower her margin for success becomes. And at this point, that margin is razor-thin. Secrets don’t make friends, and in this world, they sure as hell make enemies.
• Allison making origami cranes out of prison toilet paper. That’s it. That’s the note.
• Yorick’s resolve immediately evaporates at the prospect of hot food, which is possibly the most Golden Retriever shit he’s pulled to date.
• At the same time, challenging 355 to a fight has strong “area man who has played tennis twice thinks he could score on Serena Williams” energy.
• Then again, he also voluntarily says the words “Okay, I will stay out of the way” when Sonia tells him the vote to let them stay was contentious. Coming in fits and starts, but we gotta take the growth where we can get it, you know?
• Is it … wise to go to sleep after a concussion like that??
• Kimberly exclaiming, “Moths! In the Pentagon!” is insanely funny to me for reasons I can’t quite articulate, but it might have something to do with this old Married to the Sea comic.
• Never thought I’d agree with Kimber about anything but “beta boy who does magic tricks” is actually a perfect Yorick burn.
• How does one quantify being a pussy?