Y: The Last Man makes America’s problems clearer by killing off men

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It is true in comedy as in disaster: timing is essential. In 2002, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra started a thought experiment in the form of the comic strip Y: The last man. The premise – what would the world look like if all men on Earth died at the same time, except one? – takes on totally different implications in 2021.

Over the past 20 years, an attack on reproductive rights, a Supreme Court appointment that served as a grim shortcut for male impunity, and an activist movement born out of a sprawling Hollywood scandal have helped fundamentally change the way whose gender is discussed in America. Other societal changes taking place in parallel have altered our language, our recruitment practices and our circles of influence so that these events are increasingly seen through the voices of those on whom they have the most impact. . In the years between the start of the comic strip Y: The last man and the new FX series on Hulu which shares its name, entertaining the idea of ​​a world without men, has taken on a very different tenor. And yet, the televised version mostly nails it.

Y: The last man takes place after the simultaneous and gruesome death of every mammal on Earth with a Y chromosome, except Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), a cisgender white male, and his companion capuchin monkey, Esperluette – two almost comically mundane males for no immediately discernible reason for survival. (Yorick’s unusual trait is being a self-proclaimed professional escape artist; it’s boring before the genre apocalypse, and extremely useful afterwards.)

While the survival of Yorick and Ampersand is the mystery that leads YesThe plot of, its interest – much like the comics it is based on – lies in the makings of a world violently remade by sudden disaster. Unlike the Vaughan and Guerra comics (the duo are executive producers of the series), the TV version of Y: The last man Slowly flesh out this world, revisiting the international reach of comics (at least initially) and focusing squarely on the plight of the United States before and after the cataclysm.

As the changes to screen adaptations wane, this call for judgment by Y: The last man Showrunner Eliza Clark and her team are excellent, streamlining the story arc covered by the early issues and digging into a rich supporting cast with a focus the comics’ propulsive plot didn’t allow. The slower pace is proving essential, as the comic book series, which ran from September 2002 to March 2008, often took a predominantly gender approach, often adhering to a rigid gender binary in the arcs of the film. story that depended heavily on whether most of its characters were suspiciously invested in traditional gender roles. While he recognizes gender and sexual diversity, he does so in an often superficial and sensational way. Yorick routinely assumes he’s going to be used for sex, the man-hating “Amazons” cultists are the ’90s “female” stereotype taken to the extreme, and there’s often a playful nod to it. the writing which, by revisiting it, turns a little too close to the peeping teenager. (Example: a story arc called “Girl on Girl.”)

In other words, the authors of Y: The last man have their work cut out for adapting a work that deals with massive global trauma almost exclusively through the largely trivial issues of the only remaining man in history, and doesn’t present queer or trans characters in a sensitive way. But the work isn’t all about repair: Vaughan built his story around a post-apocalyptic road trip that often meant he let go of his ideas as quickly as he presented them. The writers of the series don’t need to be in such a rush, for the sake of the story.

Ashley Roman as Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man

Photo: Brendon Meadows / FX

The TV version is not a radical reinterpretation of comics. It’s largely similar in outline, sending Yorick and his bodyguard, the secret agent known only as 355 (Ashley Romans), on a quest to find Dr. Allison Mann (Diana Bang), the only scientist who might be able to deduce how global andricide happened, and why Yorick and Ampersand are an exception. Along the way, they encounter many of the same threats as in the book, with just a more modern, less sensational twist.

The first and most important change is the way the story approaches the genre. Despite the generalization implied by the title of the program, Yes: The last man makes it clear that his catastrophe is impacting all mammals carrying a Y chromosome, and is finally starting to delve deeper into what that means in a world where gender isn’t as clear as ideologues present it. Trans men are also centered in this version of Yes, with a character, Sam Jordan (Elliot Fletcher) created for the series as a regular cast member. He joins the show as an AA sponsor for Yorick’s sister Hero (Olivia Thirlby), an EMT who tries to pull her together and mostly fails.

In another extension of the source material, Y: The last man devotes considerable time to the power struggles that are emerging in Washington, DC, as seen through the eyes of Yorick and Hero’s mother, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), a congresswoman so far in succession that she is amazed to learn that she is now President of the United States. In these scenes, Y: The last man suggests that her gender vanity is only a small part of the story, and that stories about gender are also stories about power: the power to live your life however you see fit and the power to shape the way others should live.

Echoing our pandemic reality, political forces in Y: The last man do not universally respond to the greatest disaster of their careers by providing relief and assistance to survivors. Instead, they immediately pivot towards the power jockey. The sudden disappearance of the men doesn’t make many of America’s familiar problems go away: there are still anti-vaxxers, far-right agitators, venomous internal partisan struggles, and militias with too many weapons. Even on the same side of the political aisle, there is disagreement and dissatisfaction over what management sees as a priority and what it does not. Even cult-type factions – a genre trope primarily used to raise the stakes of the original comic – are sympathetically reworked. In the series, they emerge as the survivors band together to recognize that those in power will always let people slip through the cracks.

Diane Lane as Jennifer Brown in Y: The Last Man

Photo: Brendon Meadows / FX

This focus on power has a strange side effect on Y: The last man – despite the diversity of the actors, his story is mainly told through white characters. Yorick’s whiteness adds to the story. There is a cruel and darkly funny irony in the fact that the last surviving White Cis man potentially becomes the most important person in the world – gaining through catastrophe the right he has been socialized to assume regardless of merit. But it is also, ironically, too much important in the new world Yes contemplates, and he pathetically struggles with the limits Agent 355 places on him while also stressing that he must live in the service of humanity (which is now mostly made up of women) and not of himself.

The role of Agent 355 highlights the power dynamics of the series: she’s a capable, murderous player with a keen sense of purpose and loyalty, and the skill to lead sinking ships. safely. But she’s also at the whims of Washington’s white women, reacting to the unpredictable petulance of her white neighborhood, and on guard against militant white women who have imposed their will on the settlements of survivors. In Y: The last man, institutional power is almost the only area of ​​whiteness.

Hero’s story also reflects this dynamic. Like Yorick, she is associated with a character from a marginalized perspective and struggling with considerable dramatic weight – moments before the genre apocalypse, Hero is embroiled in a sudden and gruesome death that continues to weigh on her even. when death in the world causes one more death. man without object. For her, surviving is only the first half of the equation: she must also survive with her guilt. Sometimes that guilt is a void. Sam has his own history, as a trans man in a world where men are newly vulnerable and where he is particularly at risk, given the difficulty of finding testosterone treatments. But as their story unfolds, her worries become subordinate to hers.

At other times, Hero’s issues highlight ideas about the power that Y: The last manWriters of Interest: Hero’s Journey is about the helplessness and shame she feels in a distinctly gendered way. In Y: The last man, her struggle to process these feelings and reclaim her agency leaves her ripe for manipulation, even as the gendered world that engendered her pain crumbles.

It’s a curious wrinkle that there is a lot of space for the show to iron out as it executes its grand plan. Showrunner Eliza Clark has previously stated that she intends to slowly expand the scope of the show into, ideally, a five-season series. The raw materials for the first half of this season are promising. (Six of the 10 episodes in the first season have been provided to critics.) For now, what’s most compelling is YesThe specific focus of on one of the most familiar post-apocalyptic tropes: how disaster not only brings out the best in us, but the worst in us as well. Or, in other words: maybe the men brought it in, and maybe we all did.

Y: The last man premieres on FX on Hulu on September 13, 2021, with new episodes streaming on Monday.

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