The world is not kind to people who follow the rules. It likes to make you think it is, but that’s the big grift, isn’t it? Promise the masses that the best way to success, safety, joy, and belonging is playing the game; meanwhile, the game turns their lifeblood into money for the powerful people living outside it. We see this narrative of desperation emerge everywhere lately. It’s why Squid Game and Bo Burnham’s Inside are phenomena, while the employees of the network that released them have staged walkouts. It’s why industries across the country are unionizing and striking and why countless workers are bowing out entirely. It explains the spike in ADHD diagnoses and the exploding popularity of a random pug on TikTok. We were told running this gauntlet would produce results, and as it turns out, the gauntlet was producing results — just not for us. Now, as we teeter on the edge of multiple apocalypses — one of which has already killed more than 735,000 people in the U.S. alone — we’re being forced to ask ourselves: What is this all for?
This being another sort of apocalypse, every character in Y: The Last Man has had to reckon with that question too, on some level or another. 355 has been wrestling with it as she fights to understand who she is beyond the employer that took her in and gave her purpose while robbing her of innocence, identity, and the ability to forge meaningful relationships. The ex-inmates of Marrisville and the peace they’ve found here have sent her reeling. She’s spent her life doing and murdering as she was told so as to prove to her handler and her country that she was special. Doing her job — doing it better than anyone — was supposed to have been a “leg up in a world that [wasn’t] built for” her; her job “earned [her] her place” in it. Her handler told her that that world didn’t reward obedience, then turned around and demanded it of her all the same. And she obliged, all out of fear of becoming like these inmates, the forsaken dregs of society.
Yet here they are, having all ended up in the same place anyway. 355’s body count is probably higher than the rest of the town’s combined, but that’s all she has. On the other hand, these women, condemned though they were for breaking The Rules, have salvaged joy. Despite having been locked away and forgotten — even targeted after the Event killed their jailers — Marrisville’s ex-cons are a functioning community, with love and social skills and the ability to savor life rather than constantly gaming it out. In the kitchen, Sonia thinks she’s making 355 uncomfortable by outing her feelings for Yorick, when it is, in fact, the prospect of their being the same and the accusation that she is unable to articulate feelings in general that rattle her.
Even Allison, who already understands her better than anyone else alive, appears to prefer the inmates’ company to 355’s — rather, the spy’s inability to be vulnerable leaves the geneticist with no choice but to seek intimacy and creature comforts elsewhere with people like Dominique, whose sole crime was driving a getaway car. (It should be noted that Dr. Mann, Saudi Grant Solicitor and Human Trial DIYer, didn’t follow The Rules either.) For the first time in her life, 355 is offered possibilities, and no one is forcing her to take any of them. When finally she brings her spy detector down to the stream and crushes it against the rocks — breaking whatever contact she’d retained with 525 and the remains of the Culper Ring — it’s probably the first moment of self-determination she has experienced in a decade.
Beth, meanwhile, was the victim of a much crueler deprogramming, which has led her to an equally savage conclusion: The whole thing must burn. Turns out “not having reached her mom in time” was the small-talk version of events; when Beth found her mother’s body, she had literally been abandoned by the doctors without food or water, leaving unanswered the hideous question of whether it was cancer or the dehydration that ultimately killed her. Such an experience might radicalize anyone, let alone someone with a personal relationship to those in power. Jennifer’s “not a bad person; these are just the rules she’s learned to live by,” she explains as they prepare to storm the Pentagon on the intel she picked up from Christine. “This system has always been broken, but they will hold onto it as long as they can.” It’s only when her new comrades’ bombs start blowing people apart and their leader shoots the self-proclaimed new president in the head that she realizes revolution may not be as clean as “letting the grass grow.”
No, the people who still love the system, the ones who still believe it’ll work out for them, will insist on going down with the ship. Regina Oliver’s only sin — other than, you know, being a racist anti-vaxxer — was believing herself to be one of the exceptions, when in fact she was always cannon fodder. If asked, she might have claimed her inflammatory show was a means to an end; to her, her success meant she was succeeding at the “game” and would soon win it all. But she forgets that the house always wins: When power is finally within arm’s reach, Regina has been too warped by the game to recognize the moment when simply shutting up might have delivered her her heart’s desire and then some.
Jennifer might have gone that way, too, if she hadn’t just been deposed ten minutes prior. Her cabinet clings to political appearances literally to the death; first, they reject her experience from their on-the-go war room as they evacuate amid gunfire, all because she didn’t tell them about Yorick, then they attempt to surrender unarmed in the middle of a smoke-filled war zone. Coupled with Beth’s last-minute rescue, the absurdity and chaos that ensue when the military attempts to flush out the insurgents with tear gas are a thorough reminder that there are more important things in life than hegemony. (Par exemple, that floppy-haired man-child both women love.)
There’s another life-saving close call this week. Had Kimberly not been orphaned last week, she might not have been so quick to adapt to the pandemonium that engulfs the Pentagon. Say what you want about Kim, she’s not exactly wrong about babies being the world’s No. 1 priority, and now, without a coup to plan, she has been forcibly unchained from her own rulebook. With nothing more to lose, she’s free to laser-focus on saving Christine (even if the aide is still a chess piece to be hoarded). She’s practically feral as she repeatedly shivs a scornful insurgent who attempts to bar their escape with a shard of broken glass. Losing her mind might end up being the best thing ever to have happened to Kimberly Campbell Cunningham.
Once again, the only person who seems to see the real game, the one hidden beneath the old-world grift, is Nora. Perhaps it’s because she had front-row seats to the Squid Game called America, but when everything went down, and she found herself on the burnt rubble of the playing field, it didn’t take her long at all to tally the score. “I did exactly what I was supposed to do,” she tells Hero. “I had the husband, the kids, the house, the job … it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be better, different. But I am who I am. I’m angry. It’s what kept me alive.”
Meanwhile, Roxanne and the Amazons still cling to their primitive fury at having been subjected to The Rules in the first place, even as that fire threatens to burn them up too. Instead of preserving the precious resources they find at the hangar they commandeer as their new home, they destroy them, all in the name of “punishing” those who dare memorialize the dead. (Never mind the fact that the piracy was punishment enough.) Even with Nora’s chess-master advice in hand, Roxanne continues to play checkers with their lives. (Why, yes, I am continuing that metaphor despite hating Victoria’s claim to fame in the comics. Life’s a rich tapestry.) Naturally, Nora’s patience with this Kirkland-brand false messiah is growing thin. And lucky for her, Hero — whose boldness and smarts net her more clout among the Amazons by the hour — just found out that Roxanne spread her deepest, darkest secret around the group as though it were a cool bit of trivia. With a little myth-building manipulation of her own, Nora may end up being the one who gets to write a new set of rules entirely.
• Allison being her own guinea pig will explain the crib in her apartment, but you’ll never know how unless a new studio picks up the series. (You could also just read the comics, but where’s the fun in that?)
• Fun fact: Ashley Romans is allergic to peanut butter, so the peanut butter 355 uses in the kitchen scene with Sonia is actually peabutter.
• Christine apologizing to Jennifer for being pregnant? That’s millennial culture, baby.
• Nora tells Hero how she used to get angry with her husband for asking which color peppers to buy at the store, but a few minutes earlier we heard a man in one of the voice-mails in the Hall of Voices asking about what color peppers to buy. Not an easter egg, exactly, but still fun to notice.
• I genuinely love the Hall of Voices as a postapocalyptic artistic concept. Sad that our resident artist Sam wasn’t around to experience it before it was destroyed.
• Bursting into the house with a joint, Yorick wears an expression that makes him look like a kid who thinks he has caught a leprechaun in a trap he made at school. Coupled with the “systemic racism” whisper and the TLC dancing, this is the version of Yorick from the comics that works. I am begging Hollywood: Please figure out how to let this himbo shit continue.