Surviving an apocalyptic event is always a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you’re alive. On the other hand … you’re alive.
That’s the mood that now hangs over the survivors of what we’ll call the Event: the inexplicable, violent death of every Y-chromosomed person on earth. Hundreds of women have set up camp outside the White House, demanding answers, suspecting a cover-up. Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, where the government is actually operating, de facto President Jennifer Brown and her ragtag group have inherited a house on fire and are being asked to make it fly. As coal surpluses, food, and clean water dwindle, they struggle to fend off the triple devastation of already-crumbling infrastructure, a decimated supply chain, and a country full of angry, increasingly desperate survivors. (Did you know that women make up 6 percent of truck drivers in the U.S., 5 percent of pilots worldwide, and just one percent of the global maritime workforce?)
As a leader, Jennifer’s disinterest in orthodoxy makes her a natural commander in a crisis. She immediately jettisons all pretenses about preserving material objects, leaving fine art and even the White House to the ravages of the moment in favor of prioritizing human lives. “I’m not going to bullshit you. I think it’s going to get worse,” she tells the situation room when people start panicking. Privately, though, she wars with herself over how much of her newfound power she should exert for personal reasons — namely, to move up the New York evacuation in hopes of finding her daughter. (No man in her position, and certainly no right-wing president, would be hand-wringing about this, as evidenced later when a drunken former FLOTUS proclaims that she’d send the whole army after her kid.)
But the universe must be reconsidering the powerful hand it dealt Jennifer Brown, because at the epicenter of the shitstorm magically appears a consolation prize: 355, a super-covert agent from a super-redacted operation called the Culper Ring who has suddenly, as of a few hours ago, found herself between missions. She’s just returned from an excursion led by an emergency GPS device (Find My Spy, if you will) to a fake mailbox store containing the remnants, organic and otherwise, of her local Culper cell. With her handlers dead and no word from the other cells, she’s effectively unemployed now … but not so unemployed as to pursue the mysterious Massachusetts address she has stashed among her three other personal effects. (In a contest among millennials conflating their jobs and identities, 355 is truly without equal.) So when President Brown asks her to find Hero, it’s not as if she’s got anything better to do.
Hero has not exactly flourished in her freedom from felony prosecution. We don’t technically see her drinking, but her behavior (coupled with Sam’s half-joke about her never being halfway sober) suggests that she’s fallen off the wagon again. Loitering in the FEMA center where the family of the man you slept with and then killed seeks news of his body: not exactly the behavior of a healthy person! Instead of pulling her weight with the group of trans guys she and Sam have joined up with for the evacuation, she prefers masochism, striking up an acquaintance with the wife, then retrieving the dead man’s ID from his corpse, revealing herself as the homewrecker. But the wife doesn’t deliver the condemnation Hero seems desperate for — instead, she simply thanks her for confirming her suspicions. “At least he wasn’t alone,” she says, leaving Hero wallowing in her overwhelming, still-secret shame.
Hero’s decidedly antiheroic behavior is thrown into even starker relief when her twisted quest for personal absolution costs Sam the opportunity to leave the island with the rest of the trans cadre — including the sizable stockpile of testosterone they’d scrounged together. They may have been assholes, and their plan to bike to Vermont to impose on a transphobic grandmother may have been ill-advised at best, but they were an irreplaceable shield for Sam. And Hero is too consumed by an unresolvable debt to a stranger to consider how easily she might help a steadfast friend who could now be among the most vulnerable people on earth.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like out there for me?” Sam says when she strolls into their hideout, long after the others have gone, to find him alone in the dark with a lone vial of T. She deflects — onto him for choosing her, onto the others for leaving him with so little — and then recoils when he asks her again to leverage her extraordinary privilege, just once. One phone call to her estranged mother, who is literally the president, and her only friend would be out of danger. When Hero finally acquiesces, it’s with a sulking expression on her face, one that whispers, “I’m still the main character.”
Speaking of white women being the absolute worst, the Campbell women have, in their grief, fully checked out of any and all practical relief efforts. Kimberly “My Father the Inventor of Toaster Strudel” Campbell Cunningham is at least more proactive than her drunken mother, weaponizing her feelings of powerlessness and clinging to any shred of leftover patriarchy she can find by contorting herself into a little black dress and pearls to confront the new president, whom she hates.
Marching into the situation room, Kimberly accuses Jennifer of sacrificing the “priceless genetic material” that might still exist in the New York cryobanks in the name of finding Hero. (Never mind the cryobanks they’ve already salvaged elsewhere; this is that elite, one-percenter spunk.) “Ma’am, without men, there is no future,” she all but sneers. “I hear you, but we’re just trying to survive the present,” replies the president through gritted teeth, pointedly avoiding eye contact. And with that, she returns to work, leaving Kimberly standing awkwardly in heels and pearls, surrounded by dozens of sleep-deprived women in sneakers just trying to make sure what’s left of the country doesn’t die of famine or cholera.
The only person proving more useless than the Republicans? You guessed it! It’s the sadboy of the millennium, yung Yorick Brown. At this point, kudos must be awarded to Ben Schnetzer, who does a spectacular job balancing the character’s helplessness and entitlement. Yorick was supposed to be both in the comics, yet in practice, these critical flaws were often overshadowed in favor of a rakish, comic-book-hero charm. But Schnetzer plays him straight, equal parts infuriating and pitiful, and it’s pitch-perfect. He embodies the exact bumbling man-child needed to make the rest of the cast shine, to want to strangle and then have to rescue and then want to strangle again. He’s rationing candy, draining his phone’s battery, watching videos, and spending all his time alone with his monkey, literally painting the town red with messages for Beth in all their favorite haunts. And look, I’m not saying I wouldn’t wade into a flooded subway station to save my dog, but I am saying maybe stop to, you know, listen for even one indication that he was actually in there before giving myself dysentery. Ampersand is a monkey, for chrissake. That’s like chasing a cat out a window.
At any rate, this Darwin Award–worthy move does not result in monkey, but it does result in a sewer-drenched Yorick getting caught stark naked trying to steal clothing from a dry cleaners by its three immigrant owners, only one of whom speaks English and another of whom has a gun. It’s the first time he’s recognized as the “last man,” a lottery ticket to be bartered. But, as it turns out, said lottery ticket also being a hyperventilating, sobbing wretch does tend to dull the appeal a bit. Thoroughly bewildered by the fever dream of a wet, naked white boy having a full-blown panic attack on the floor of their store, they finally just throw a shirt and pants at him and shoo him out the door. He returns (shoeless) to the subway entrance, where he flops down on the stairs (shoeless!!!) to bawl piteously and watch more videos, now of both Beth and Amp, until even the monkey is mortified into conceding the game and drops into the stairwell from the street level, where he’s been the whole time.
This is where we really see the limits of Yorick’s imagination and the depths of his helplessness. When he finally makes it to Hero’s abandoned apartment — yes, it really takes him two months to think to search for his sister — he collapses in a chair, all but giving up. (The irony of his calling himself an escape artist isn’t lost here.) If Agent 355 hadn’t barged in at that moment, expecting to find a completely different Brown sibling, and literally airlifted him out of trouble and back to his mother … but she does. And now the real game begins.
• Jennifer Brown’s internal speech about the rioters being “hungry, angry, terrified, and grieving” contrasts starkly with that prerecorded propaganda garbage about “American resilience” playing on loop at the FEMA relief center — I’d probably be suspicious of the government at this point too.
• In one of Yorick’s videos, you can hear him pestering her to stop doing schoolwork in favor of sex, further evidence that he has been a fuckboy for a while. (*Scar voice* Run away, Beth. Run away, and never return.)
• This show isn’t the first to take creative license with how human bodies decay, but still, let’s be real: After eight days, the bodies 355 finds in the back of that mailroom would be unbearably putrefied. We’re talking maggots and liquefied organs.
• Thrilled to see 355’s knitting needles make the adaptation cut. Ditto her necklace, though I hope they’ve retooled its origin story to something slightly less insane than its role in the comic. (No spoilers!)