“Oh, farts,” says a half-scared/half-dumbfounded Tandy (Will Forte), after looking in all directions and seeing the most unlikely thing — people. People, in gas masks, looking back at him and his friends. The end. The end end. There is no more Last Man on Earth. No streaming platform is floating the idea of saving it. And no one is going to save these characters from this moment, if they even need saving. I had been wondering whether this Last Man on Earth season finale was a series finale ever since it aired earlier this week, before I knew the show was canceled. Now that I know it has been, and after rewatching the episode, it feels like a robot dog hitting a high C, making a piano explode — in other words, the right note to end on.
But, but, but how can it be the ending if we don’t know the fate of our main characters? I very much understand this feeling. When the news of cancellation came out, I emailed Forte’s team, asking if he wanted to reveal how season five would’ve started. But in the time since (and because they said he was unavailable), I’ve decided that I don’t want to know. Because that uncertainty is at the core of the show. We’ll never know the fate of our main characters because there is no way for them to ever know their own fates. Almost every single episode of Last Man on Earth ended with a cliffhanger, partly to get people to keep watching, and partly because that’s truthful to the story they’re telling. The show is set years after an apocalypse, where all fresh food sources seemed to have died or dried up and all non-fresh food has expired. Our characters don’t have the tools or knowledge to survive. It’s a hopeless situation, but we watch as they fight to find hope in it anyway.
It may also help to know that this episode was almost definitely written as a series finale. No one has told me this explicitly, but there’s no way Forte went into any finale assuming the show would continue. Besides the fact that the ratings weren’t tremendous, having interviewed Forte in the past, I know he treated almost every episode like this whole thing could end at any time. How could he not? How could this show — a serialized, slow-paced, very silly, very sad, niche existentialist dramedy about a diverse group of deeply traumatized weirdos — live on network television? When Last Man on Earth first premiered, critics said that the show would make more sense on cable. But there aren’t even shows like this on cable. It would’ve made the most sense as a pilot script of legend, one that Hollywood comedy nerds passed around, grumbling, “Of course no network would ever have the guts to make this.” So, Forte worked on this thing tirelessly because he knew how lucky he was for it to even exist. At the show’s worst, it could feel sweaty and unsure. But by this latest season, the fourth and the show’s best, it found comfort in its limited shelf life.
In the moments right before the finale cliffhanger, the gang is on their way to Cancun when Tandy sees an actual living dog in the distance — they hadn’t seen one in years — inspiring him to stop their train on wheels. He makes a plea to the gang: They should stay where they are. Who cares if it’s in the middle of nowhere? Wherever they go will just be another beachfront covered in dead bodies. All these characters have grown over the time of the show, but in that moment, they find inside themselves the most difficult thing of all — acceptance. True acceptance that this is their life. It’s a life filled with love and impending menace, where nothing lasts. Not resources or good times or life or TV shows. All you can do is appreciate them while they’re here.