SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the first three episodes of “Y: The Last Man,” streaming now on FX on Hulu.
In adapting Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s graphic novel series, “Y: The Last Man,” for television, showrunner Eliza Clark thought a lot about where she wanted her version of the story to go in order to determine where she needed it to begin. Ultimately, what she wanted was to depict an exploration of a wide variety of characters grappling with who they are now that loved ones, professions and identities have been stripped away.
Her version of “Y: The Last Man” starts with a little bit of the “before times” — before the extinction-level event that killed every living being with a Y chromosome except for one man (Yorick, played by Ben Schnetzer) and one monkey. In starting the show there, she was able to introduce the majority of her main characters and the baggage that would be on their minds when they are trying to survive and form a new society post-event.
“We all thought a lot about monsters — the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. It’s horrific and it’s everywhere, but that’s less interesting to me than the banal ways that people and women get worn down every day,” Clark tells Variety about the men introduced in the premiere who would ultimately not survive the episode. “I was interested in exploring the smaller moments and personal constrictions that happen to people in their lives.”
Some of these characters, such as Hero (Olivia Thirlby) and Kimberly (Amber Tamblyn), were introduced in relation to the men in their lives. Hero’s best friend is Sam (Elliot Fletcher), who is so accommodating to her needs he goes with her to AA meetings. Meanwhile, she was in an equally complicated — but for different reasons — relationship with her married boss, who she accidentally ended up killing just mere moments before the rest of the Y chromosome mammals would perish. Kimberly, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed “boy mom” and daughter of the (now former) president who holds old-fashioned beliefs about “boys just being boys.” Ironically, Yorick is introduced in relation to the women in his life — seeking out financial help from his sister, Hero, barely acknowledging that his mother, Jennifer (Diane Lane), still pays his rent and being desperate to follow his girlfriend around the world.
“In the case of Hero, I think guilt is operating on all levels. Part of what she’s seeking at the beginning of the season is consequence. She’s done something that is horrible and nobody seems to care,” Clark says. “She’s got a self-hatred and shame that makes it really hard to be alone with herself, and suddenly she is faced with just trying to survive. I think that shame causes her to do a lot of things that hurt her friend but also make her vulnerable to potentially malevolent forces.”
Yorick, on the other hand, suffers from a bit of “everywhere you go, there are you” syndrome, Clark notes. “Part of the humor of the show is suddenly there’s this survivor and he is the last person who should have survived: He’s not particularly equipped, he’s not particularly mature, he gets a lot of his identity from attaching himself to a woman he loves who has her shit together. He thinks, ‘As long as I’m her person, that applies to me too,’ but when he finds himself without her, he’s terrified. He’s also a person that has felt invisible and wanted to be special his whole life and then suddenly he is and it’s for something he has no control over.”
Even Jennifer, who has risen to high political ranks as a senator, is defined by the men in her life — namely her son and the former president. Unfortunately for her, the catastrophic event only exacerbates this element of her life. Suddenly she becomes the new president because the line of succession has been decimated (or so it first appears), but as she embarks upon this new power, she is keeping the very personal secret that her son is likely still alive.
“She’s a person who has had [presidential] ambition in the back of her head her entire adult life. She has been very careful and played the game and has been the only woman in the room for probably much of her career. Finally she gets what she wants, but it’s in the context of the worst disaster the world’s ever seen,” Clark explains. “She’s got every finger in the dam, but the dam’s still going to burst. She is totally compromised, making morally gray decisions about how she’s going to deal with [Yorick]. He may be the answer to how humanity survives, and she keeps the secret, but does she keep the secret because it’s the right thing to do or because she’s his mother?”
Jennifer’s position is further threatened by the revelation that Regina Oliver (Jennifer Wigmore), who is actually ahead of Jennifer in line to be president, is still alive. Meanwhile, Yorick and Sam, who is transgender, are in danger in their own ways because they are visibly male. Sam is also having a crisis of identity, Clark says, because he is an artist but “suddenly thrust into this world where he’s not sure if art still exists. He was just finding himself and his voice as an artist, and now he has to reevaluate what’s important.”
Suddenly, these men are greatly outnumbered and often unsure of intentions when they come across strangers. While that certainly serves as commentary on how women have historically felt when moving through male-dominated spaces, Clark wanted to deconstruct binary ideas about gender on a broader level with her adaptation. Her characters, therefore, explicitly acknowledge that the event wiped out many men but not all of them — and that it killed women and intersex individuals who happened to have Y chromosomes as well.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to really talk about the context and real variety and beauty of the diversity of nature and of people,” Clark says of bringing this discussion into the show’s dialogue.
This discussion will be much more prevalent in the story as episodes go on, new communities form and Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang) enters the fold. Although Clark admits that earlier versions of her pilot script included Dr. Mann, she felt it would “shortchange” the fan-favorite character to introduce her then. “What she has been through is something that requires its own time on the show,” she says, adding that seeing “more of where she’s been and what’s happened to her” is something she plans to parcel out over more than one season.
In balancing so many different individual storylines, Clark also has to consider how much to answer about why this event occurred in the first place and what can be done to save humanity, if not other species, now that it has. In the source material, there is not one definitive answer to the “why,” Clark points out, which is the storytelling philosophy she is bringing to the show.
“It’s about the belief systems that form around what happened, so the groups that form based on what they believe happened is more interesting to me than some objective truth,” she explains.
However, she acknowledges that it’s “unfair to create a mystery that’s never solved,” and solving the problem will be a “big question for all of the characters” — most specifically Dr. Mann. “The fact that everything with a Y chromosome died means species are going to go extinct eventually. It is tragic and they need to find an answer.”
This sounds like a potentially hopeless situation, but Clark promises the show will not be all doom and gloom all of the time, nor will characters just all devolve into savages enacting unspeakable violence on each other.
“Only Agent 355 is an experienced fighter,” she explains. For everyone else, it’s about, “What does it look like when this character who’s had this relationship to their body and their privilege and their place in the world has to be violent or is backed up against the wall? We tried to be really rigorous about the point of view and also nudity and dead bodies. If you’re going to see a dead body, there has to be story about why that dead body is still there.”
Those who remain within the world of the show have to adjust to a new way of being, from the minutiae of someone like Nora (Marin Ireland) suddenly being a single mother — and a mother to only one surviving child — to larger scale issues of “crumbling infrastructure, shoddily-constructed power grids” and potential political unrest.
At the start of “Y: The Last Man” the characters were all just scrambling to survive, but soon enough they will be thinking longer term. The major questions the show will ask, Clark says, include ”How do you create communities when there’s a ticking clock on the world? How much of how we organize ourselves is about what comes after us after we die? What are our true desire and what are the ways we’re fulfilling a role we’re supposed to play in an ongoing society?”
“Y: The Last Man” streams new episodes Mondays on FX on Hulu.
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