Y: The last man covers many rhythms familiar to apocalyptic fiction: existential panic, struggles for dwindling resources, unexpected relationships that arise from a desire to survive. It’s a more logistical spectacle than you might expect from its high concept premise, which involves the sudden death of every living creature with a Y chromosome. 27-year-old slacker Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) is the The only cisgender man still alive, but despite the series title, he’s just one side of a complex drama exploring the collapse of society.
Y: The last man
September 13, 2021
Effects on Hulu
After a mysterious plague kills all creatures with a Y chromosome, the world is in turmoil. Ben Schnetzer plays the last cisgender man in post-apocalyptic America, in a dystopian drama that combines a thoughtful construction of the world with commentaries on sex and gender.
Storytellers have long tried to imagine a world without men, either through matriarchal societies like Wonder woman‘s Themyscira, or dystopian scenarios like the one envisioned here. Directed by showrunner Eliza Clark, FX’s Y: The last man offers a more nuanced trans-inclusive vision than the original comics by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. The Writers’ Room features transgender sci-fi novelist Charlie Jane Anders, and the creative team sought advice from trans consultants and GLAAD, adding a trans male character to the main cast: Sam Jordan, played by Elliot Fletcher. There is a visible effort to push back the problematic subtext of the story, satirized by writer Daniel Lavery last year: “Welcome to the future of feminist science fiction, where it turns out your chromosomes were pretty much right about everything from the start. “
Y: The last man obviously cannot escape this basic piece of worldbuilding, in which a Y chromosome is a death sentence. It’s a dystopia where every trans woman has died, along with millions of intersex and non-binary people whose demise is overshadowed by the death of the patriarchy. So, when it comes to the show’s genre policy, your mileage may vary. The account makes it clear that sex and gender are a specter and that Yorick is not, in fact, “the last man.” At the same time, this scenario inevitably forces every trans man to live in fear. Characters like Sam struggle to find testosterone on the black market, and each new social interaction is fraught with tension. It’s automatically revealed to every stranger he meets, an experience Yorick sometimes shares because people assume he must be trans too.
Following the adage that every society is three meals away from chaos, Y: The last manThe doomsday fallout is based on realism. America’s infrastructure collapses in a matter of days, not only because 50% of the workforce is dead, but because many crucial industries (sewers, power plants, agriculture) are areas dominated by men. In the foreground, we follow a selection of viewpoints including Yorick’s self-defeating older sister (a paramedic played by Olivia Thirlby), a single mom (Marin Ireland), and a Meghan McCain-like Republican (Amber Tamblyn) whose entire identity is built around femininity and motherhood. Our final main character is the new president (Diane Lane), whose coming to power brings to mind Battlestar Galacticaby Laura Roslin.
Yorick is a deceptively well-observed protagonist. Before the apocalypse, he was an underemployed escape artist whose parents paid the rent on his trendy Brooklyn apartment. As you might expect, he’s dating a much more accomplished woman who seems ready to move on to greener pastures. Friendly but unimpressive, he embodies the concept of Okay Boyfriend.
When the apocalypse strikes, he flounders in confusion until he is picked up by a mysterious government agent named 355 (Ashley Romans). Yorick is, after all, a crucial resource for the future of humanity. The performances of Ashley Romans and Ben Schnetzer are what really rocked the show for me, because on paper both characters could easily be generic. Yorick is a useless white man who becomes the most important person on earth, emulating the cliché of the bland heroes of the Chosen One. Meanwhile, Agent 355 is an effortlessly cool badass with an arsenal of practical survival skills; a superhero in a landscape of normies. Still, Schnetzer brings a painful sense of realism to Yorick’s stupidity and panic, while Romans brings a witty and enigmatic side to the 355 super-spy archetype. Used to working alone, 355 can adapt to all situations and be entertained. Her subtle, self-directed sense of humor shines through alongside her brutal pragmatism, making her the most watchable character on a show largely devoid of traditional jokes.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Y: The last man is one for fans of serious dystopian fiction. Rather than being a drama about “what society would be like if women were in charge” (a rather easy question), it is an experience of reflecting on an epic natural disaster. Rooted in contemporary American politics, the government defaults to authoritarianism while the population defaults to anti-government conspiracy theories. Guns are everywhere and traumatized survivors are guided by old world values and prejudices. It’s not, in other words, particularly fun to watch. I found myself making a lot of comparisons to the years 2003 Battlestar Galactica, which covered much of the same territory in a more entertaining way. Corn Y: The last man always starts off promisingly, pairing a thoughtful world-building with a strong, character-driven story.
Y: The Last Man airs on Hulu on September 13.
More essential cultural readings
* First published: September 8, 2021, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a writer for The Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in science fiction films and superheroes, she also appears as a film and television critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor