Like the pilot, “Sorry About All the Dead People” begins with a scene spotlighting a character whose small part in the episode morphs into a big role later in the series. Aimee (Dania Ramirez) was caged in a mundane life as a couples counselor before the Great Crumble. When the virus struck, she barricaded herself inside her office for weeks, and after a time-lapse sequence depicting the world’s changes during her self-imposed prison sentence, she leaves because she hears an elephant trumpeting somewhere in the distance.
Walking into the street with her face covered and brandishing a flame sculpture as a weapon, Aimee discovers that the only signs of life left in the city are the elephants stampeding through the streets. She follows their path and ends up at the Essex County Zoo — a shout-out to the comic book that put Sweet Tooth’s creator, Jeff Lemire, on the map — where she sees a caged bird and sets it free. Between her and Gus, liberation has become the major theme of this series, and through Aimee, we see how the Great Crumble gave her the opportunity to create a better life in a new world.
After finding a picture of a woman in Pubba’s lockbox, Gus finally gets an idea of what a human mother looks like, even if he’s never seen one in action. Mothers are a complicated concept for Gus, who, born with deer features and a father stingy with information about his real birth mother, grew up assuming that the doe he encountered in the woods was her — not far of a leap, given the circumstances. (When Aimee sees a hybrid baby dropped at the zoo at the end of the episode, we realize she might be something of a mother herself. It will be interesting to see how that baby leads to her and Gus’s inevitable meeting.)
Gus’s animalistic qualities come into play in different ways this episode. The script gets a lot of laughs out of his glow-in-the-dark eyes: “You’re creepy as hell back there,” Big Man says as Gus lurks around the campfire, his eyes shining in the background. And when Gus gets a taste of Big Man’s canned peaches, his deer’s sweet tooth kicks in, leading him to eat all of his food and most of his medicine, thinking it was candy. This puts a lot of stress on his relationship with Big Man, but it makes for some very fun interactions when they go to gather essential supplies at Yellowstone National Park visitors’ center and end up as houseguests. There, they meet a husband and wife, a kindly, curious couple aching for visitors, who welcome Gus and Big Man into their home once they realize the two aren’t a threat. Their first dinner scene serves up pandemic face-mask comedy — unmasked Gus and Big Man devour their meals while the family watches, masks on.
The couple’s son Rusty (Tom Kerr) was one of the last fully human children born, which gives Gus his first friend his age and a real look at the mother-son relationship he desperately wants. The part-friend, part-pet friendship dynamic between Gus and Rusty is especially endearing — Rusty finds out that Gus kicks like a dog when he gets his ear scratched, and the parents love seeing their son interacting with another child, achieving some semblance of normalcy in extraordinary circumstances. There’s a very cute scene of Gus dancing to the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You” as he hears music for the first time, which taps into the joy of watching the uninhibited play of children. Reaching those happy heights intensifies the rest of the visit’s undercurrent of sadness, because no matter how much fun they’re having, it can’t last.
We learn some essential information about Big Man, like his real name: Tommy Jepperd. He’s a former NFL player, and while he’s cagey about the details, it’s clear that he got involved with the wrong people after the Great Crumbling. You get the impression that he’s atoning for his past, which means protecting anyone who is kind enough to offer him aid. So when a group of Last Men arrive at the visitors’ center to take Gus, Jepperd dispatches them with a bear trap. In keeping the focus on Gus’s perspective, the fight is all presented from inside the visitors’ center, obscuring the more brutal details of Jepperd unleashing bear-trap hell. It’s clear that he’s an absolute beast in combat, and since the fight takes place in the middle of a storm, Jepperd comes across like a force of nature, which is what Gus is going to need to stay safe.
Later in the episode, Gus and Rusty read books in a canoe converted into two beds, and seeing the real version of The Velveteen Rabbit opens Gus’s eyes to the ways Pubba shaped his reality, convincing him that the outside world was on fire when it is actually full of wonder and friends and maybe even a family. It’s an important coming-of-age moment, and now that Gus is exposed to new perspectives and seeing the world outside of his self-contained bubble, he’s going to start questioning everything Pubba taught him. Anna Jullienne gives a beautifully textured performance as Rusty’s mother, fluctuating between fear, awe, pity, and compassion. She’s put in a tough position, and as much as she wants to provide a family for Gus, it puts her own family at too much risk.
The subject of last episode’s prologue, Dr. Aditya “Adi” Singh, returns for his own growing subplot. In an unexpected turn, Rani Singh (Aliza Vellani) is still alive, fending off the virus with medicine that keeps it at bay. But Adi’s running out and has to head to the local diner turned medical center on horseback. The glimpses of the world outside of Yellowstone make Gus and Pubba’s little home look especially idyllic, and as Gus gets farther away, we start to see more of the horrors of the post-Great Crumbling world.
Dr. Bell (Sarah Peirse), dying of cancer, gives Adi her research in hopes that his dedication to his wife will compel him to continue working on a cure. But there seems to be some sort of awful ethical compromise he’ll have to make, something that goes against everything he and his wife believe in. I have the suspicion that it involves some sort of gruesome experimentation on hybrids, because his wife’s reaction to the research is one of abject disgust. Gus’s point of view is still the central one here, but Adi and Aimee’s opposing paths show two very different human perspectives on the hybrid situation.