It’s hard to believe there was a time when we could have had a Y: The Last Man movie on the big screen before The Walking Dead had even premiered on our televisions. It might have even beaten Watchmen — the show AND the movie. We could have had a television version that pre-dated Preacher and The Boys. The acclaimed comic book series, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, has long been a hot ticket in Hollywood for obvious reasons: It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a world in which everything with a Y chromosome has mysteriously died… or, well, almost everything. Truly, Y: The Last Man could have been the non-superhero comic adaptation to kick off the modern craze. So it’s kinda funny that after most of us had given up hope on ever seeing a successful adaptation, it’s finally here — and the timing is (sadly) pretty much perfect.
The series, which premiered Monday exclusively on FX on Hulu (shut up, Dustin), has landed at a time when a world-rendering event that kills millions and disrupts the functioning of our society doesn’t seem as, uh, speculative as it perhaps once did. Series creator Eliza Clark leans all the way into it, spending most of the first three episodes laying out the impact that disrupted supply chains, a depleted workforce, mass grief and political agendas would have on the survivors. Still, there’s another dimension that makes the world of Y: The Last Man such rich fodder for our screens, and that’s the fact that those survivors are all of the X-chromosomal persuasion. Her version of the story, which is brought to life primarily by women writers and directors, isn’t as concerned with the titular Last Man as it is All The Rest — the people who remain behind in the skeleton of a patriarchal society after the patriarchs have passed.
There are many considerations to balance when adapting any material to another medium, and as impressed as I am when I see the care some creators take in faithfully re-creating to source material on-screen, I’m equally impressed when creators aren’t afraid to make thoughtful changes to make the story something new. Y: The Last Man is emphatically a case of the latter. Sure, the plot still hinges on a young man named Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), the aimless wannabe escape artist who, for unknown reasons, escaped the mass extinction event with nothing but his capuchin companion named Ampersand (also male) and the weight of the survival of his species on his shoulders. But the POV of the series has shifted away from the privileged cisgender white slacker and onto the many fascinating survivors in his orbit. It’s no wonder Diane Lane receives top billing in the credits for her role as Democratic Senator Jennifer Brown. In addition to being Yorick’s mom, Jennifer also finds herself taking up the mantle of President of the United States when the previous POTUS (a Republican) and the entire line of succession is wiped out. While Yorick is grappling with what his responsibility is to humanity, Jennifer is busy trying to evacuate cities that are flooding, keep the generators running, and make sure her citizens are receiving the supplies they need to survive this apocalypse — all while fending off her political rivals who are more worried about her legitimacy than they are the danger a power vacuum would pose.
One of those rivals is perhaps the sharpest addition the series made to the books: Kimberly Campbell Cunningham (Amber Tamblyn), the daughter of the previous President and a woman who made a career out of writing books about how to raise boys to not be ashamed of their instincts in the face of cancel culture. A clear amalgamation of Meghan McCain and Ivanka Trump, Kimberly is desperate to spin her former role as her daddy’s advisor into an excuse to stay in the halls of power and ensure her party and political ideals have a seat at the table — preferably at its head. In a telling scene, Kimberly comes to Jennifer to make a case that the evacuation timeline of New York City needs to include a rescue of the samples in the sperm banks, while Jennifer counters that her priority is saving the lives that are living first. Looking to the future is one thing, but getting there requires focusing on the now. Yet even while the show takes time to explore how the existing political divisions in Washington are reshaped in this new status quo, it still makes sure to flesh out the full experiences of the survivors on both sides of the aisle — the nuances of their choices in the before-times and the sacrifices they continue to make now. Kimberly is a woman who made a career out of being a mother, then lost her children. Her ideals and her father’s legacy are all she has left. Jennifer clearly struggled to balance her personal life with her political ambitions, as her marriage crumbled and her relationship with her children became strained. Suddenly she’s achieved a career high she’d never dreamed of, and has to continue to prioritize her job even though she just wants to hold her children close and never let them go.
Yes, children — because Yorick also has a sister named Hero (Olivia Thirlby), an EMT with questionable judgement whose life is upended just before the event… and who may actually have benefited from the disaster in a dark way. She pairs up with another smart addition to the story, Sam (Elliot Fletcher), a trans man who becomes a window into the experiences of survivors who aren’t women. With a dwindling supply of testosterone and facing constant questions on the street, the challenges Sam faces in this new world strike right at the core of his selfhood. He’d like Hero to cash in her Washington connections to make their lives easier, which is great because Jennifer is also desperate to find Hero in the aftermath of the event. So desperate that she sends Agent 355 to New York City bring her daughter home.
355, played by Ashley Romans, is the character comic fans are probably going to be most interested in seeing on screen. A secret agent working for a covert operation that answers directly to the President, 355 steps up to become Jennifer’s fixer and right hand. She goes to find Hero and stumbles across Yorick instead, bringing him to Washington — and she’s the one person who recognizes the danger the last man faces, as well as the need to keep him carefully under wraps. Romans is perfect in the part, balancing bewilderment with ruthlessness and turning up the charm when she needs to slip into a new identity. She’ll be Yorick’s shepherd and bodyguard through this story, and the odd couple dynamic of her capability and his foolhardy impulsiveness promises to propel future episodes.
Still, the fact that 355 retrieves Yorick is the most telling departure from the source material in my mind. In the comics, Yorick makes his own way to Washington, solo, and arrives with a quip on his lips. It’s not just that the show has added more perspectives outside of Yorick’s — it’s removed his agency at key points and turned it over to the others. Even his motivation to find his missing girlfriend Beth (Juliana Canfield) takes a different turn. In the comics, she is in Australia and he asks her to marry him over the phone just as the event occurs… and the phone cuts out. He never hears her answer. The show sets the proposal BEFORE she leaves for Australia, and we see it go down in his apartment — the way she doesn’t accept, and the argument that ensues. He may cling to ambiguity, or hope that the extinction event will have changed her mind, but the important thing is that we got that glimpse of her reasoning and can recognize the self-deception Yorick is playing at. This TV version of Yorick is just a bit more milquetoast than his comic counterpart, lacking the faint nobility and humor that made you at least sort of root for him on the page, but it serves its purpose. It sets him up for a growth arc (I hope!) while further underscoring the central irony of the story: That the last hope for humanity is the last person anyone would choose for it. His importance will be determined not by who he is but by how the people around him choose to use him.
So far the show seems less interested in the question of what, exactly, targeted the Y chromosomes for decimation, although that may change as 355 and Yorick make their way to a very important geneticist in Boston. I sort of hope it doesn’t, though. If Yorick is the least interesting part of his own show, then for my money the most interesting part is the struggle back in Washington. If Y: The Last Man goes full Battlestar Galactica — particularly the bits with President Roslin determining what it means to survive vs truly live — then I’m fully on board. The show focuses less on gender than on power disparities in our society, and as a new world order rises I’m curious to see what disparities will continue to exist or if the world will suddenly become a kinder, gentler place. Somehow I doubt it.
Header Image Source: Brendon Meadows/FX