An apocalypse is never fully dressed without a cult. It’s just a basic fact of the genre: The Leftovers, The Walking Dead, The Stand, Mad Max: Fury Road, Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, Manifest — when the world has ended (or at least feels like it’s going that way), there’s always at least one charismatic guy who convinces terrified survivors that he has all the answers.
Or, in our case, she. While Roxanne (Missi Pyle) is technically a new character created for the series, she does have a prototype. In the original Y: The Last Man comics, there was Victoria, a genius chess champion denied the top international title thanks to sexist gatekeeping (or so she tells people). As the head of an extremist gang-slash-cult called Daughters of the Amazon, Victoria is (a male writer’s idea of) the consummate second-wave, man-hating bitch, a woman who openly celebrates the end of men — but only so she can assume their role and yoke her followers to her, which she does in a cornucopia of nightmarish ways.
A character like Victoria — the straw woman summoned by every Gamergater, incel, troll, and school shooter looking to justify his horrific misogyny — would never have fit as is into this new adaptation. Her views and leadership style are caricaturish by today’s standards, a parody of radical feminism — she’s not so much Gloria Steinem as an unflattering Steinem simulacrum. In 2021, that life might be possible without cis men is no longer a fringe concept. Victoria might have worked if she’d been retooled as a TERF, but seeing as nobody likes TERFs, such a choice would have made her an utterly ineffective iconoclast in a post-gender world.
Enter Roxanne, a new and improved breed of predator. She’s certainly got Victoria’s presence, the magnetism that has charmed the domestic-abuse survivors who make up the core of her following. And from what we see when she speaks privately to Nora, Victoria’s initiation ritual — in which a woman cuts off one of her own breasts to mimic the original Amazons, who supposedly did the same to wield a bow more easily — may eventually make the jump, albeit now with the semi-legitimate origin of a breast-cancer survivors’ online-support group. (It’ll surprise no one to learn that a man also invented this conveniently titillating little myth about the Amazons.)
But she’s also a former cop — one who, for all her anti-men talk, clearly spent much of her pre-Event life making herself big enough to earn respect in an overwhelmingly (and violently) male profession. Roxanne and Regina Oliver are two sides of the same coin, both defined by their extreme, alpha-male posturing, but where Regina supported and even idolized men*, Roxanne was merely lying in wait. Now, her man-made brutality and quasi libertarianism make her a singular, deadly power, one who can all but define reality for a group of women who may never have rejected the yoke of patriarchy had the Event not forced it on them. Roxanne understands that what consolidates power in this new Y-less world isn’t a moot ideology but an unflinching moral compass, the cool-headed confidence to make hard choices, and a plan to survive, even thrive, in a chaotic new frontier. Where Victoria was Y-curbed (girl, shut up about the chess thing, nobody cares), Roxanne is truly post-Y.
This would all be well and good if it weren’t for the fact that she’s absolutely a cult leader. They have abundant resources in their little Costco Jonestown, such as testosterone (!) and eggs, and a full-on Turkish bath. (For an addict like Hero, a pharmacy full of pills certainly helps, too.) Meanwhile, Roxanne defines the in-group and the out-group with an iron fist, turning away mothers and children begging for shelter for seemingly no reason after chastising her followers for trying to do the same thing with Hero, Sam, Nora, and Mack the day before. (Gerrymandering the group’s rules like this is a great way to confuse your people, ensuring they never make a decision without running it by you first.) If that weren’t enough, her followers shore up her total supremacy with both Nora and Hero, insisting that “she’ll save your life if you let her” and “we’re lucky to be here; it’s much worse out there” and “whoever you were before, you don’t have to carry that with you.”
The last bit is driven home when, like a penitent in a confessional, Hero tells Roxanne her dark secret, effectively surrendering herself for the low, low price of some matriarchal absolution. Hero is so enthralled with this place — and, as always, with her own issues — that she hardly notices how freaked out Sam is over the group’s literal arsenal and completely earnest “funeral” initiation ritual, in which women are “buried” naked and then “reborn” in a bathtub. (That this one would rename herself Athena — arguably the most misogynistic goddess in the Greek pantheon — is a profoundly fitting irony, given the day’s events.) Nora, meanwhile, may have bucked Roxanne’s authority at first, especially when she undermines her authority with her own daughter, but as she’s demonstrated previously, her type is even more valuable as a recruit: immensely capable, smart enough to believe she’s thinking independently, and totally desperate; all she needs is Roxanne to dare her to “show [she’s] all in” to wade in so deep that she’ll probably turn a blind eye to the severe beating she witnesses after the funeral, when Kelsey, a horny young acolyte, is caught talking to Sam (whether this is forbidden by Roxanne or just her more eager-to-please followers is unclear).
Elsewhere, trust is not so easily won. 355 and Yorick might have been on their way to a good place. Yorick gets 355 to concede to an impractical pit stop when he finds a gorgeous candlelight vigil in honor of dead rock stars, complete with an ethereal a cappella cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” If only 355 hadn’t lied about being in contact with Yorick’s mother! If only Yorick hadn’t given up on her the second she relapses into superspy mode! (Come on, dude. How did you think a deadly, maybe-suicidal control freak was going to react when her helpless charge announced that he saved her life while she was sleepwalking? A drop of emotional intelligence, a crumb of self-reflection — this is all we ask.) Their concessions toward each other are ships in the night: Between Allison suggesting he has a crush and 355 hurting his feelings, his ferocious defense of her against the geneticist’s criticisms withers. We even get to see 355 realize she was too harsh with Yorick and actually move to apologize (!) before she discovers they’ve abandoned her.
It’s not Allison’s fault, really. Her impulsivity and defiant streak are just the lever that tips the pair’s insecurities — 355’s need to remain indestructible, Yorick’s need to retain his dignity — into a full backslide when the military closes in on them. Those internal insecurities break their united front and make them vulnerable as a group, which is how the captain of the special ops unit, a woman named Nguyen**, ends up coming face-to-face with a maskless Yorick in the woods. 355, to her credit, agrees not to kill the soldiers, opting instead to burn their shoes to make it impossible to pursue them, but the damage is done. There’s no value in half-measures when it comes to loyalty: You either go all in together and get away safely, or you don’t — and your secret gets out.
*Regina Oliver loves men. Loves them. Nothing but a red-blooded, American, heterosexual woman here.
**I may be wrong, but I believe Captain Nguyen, who initially tails them on a motorcycle, might be the new Toyota, the ninja from the comics. You read that right: a ninja, named Toyota. Another fun bit from the comics: “Mann” is a name Allison adopts to piss off her Japanese father. The namesake? Mann’s Chinese Theater. 😐
• One of the best things about this show is that no one’s point of view is totally defensible regardless of which character you identify with. When 355 is in the right (i.e., usually), Yorick isn’t completely in the wrong. When Roxanne recalls her experience with cancer treatment, she makes a razor-sharp point about the insidiousness of medical bias. Kimber, who lets the mask slip this week as she debases herself to Christine, begging to adopt her baby, is operating over a crushing black hole of unprocessed grief and denial. Even Regina Oliver — who confesses she only became a Republican to spite her mother — technically has a constitutional right to the presidency and is technically right about Jennifer gaslighting Marla Campbell.
• Man, I really hope that scene where Hero and Sam get high is a one-off. Sam has enough problems, leave him alone!
• What the hell does 355 mean, she “doesn’t kill people”? That’s an awfully Orwellian lie to say to the face of someone who knows you’re a black-ops agent and all but watched you murder two pilots.
• In Yorick’s defense, Allison just joined their gang. She also introduced herself by stabbing him, told him that she’s gay immediately, and then spent an afternoon insulting him — that’s four really good excuses for why he wouldn’t “look at her that way”! (Doesn’t mean she’s wrong, of course.)
• “Yummy … Body of Christ …” Remember that Ampersand is 100 percent CGI, which means Diana Bang is basically pulling off space work here, feeding communion wafers to an invisible monkey.