In FX’s Y: The Last Man, scores of animals with Y chromosomes start dying en masse a short time before the pathogen that’s causing it begins affecting humans as well. Though no one seems to notice what’s happening to the animals initially, it’s one of Y: The Last Man’s first signs of the alarming future humanity’s been presented with — and only the beginning of what’s to come.
As terrifying as the near-extinction of organisms with Y chromosomes is, it’s not the only danger that Y: The Last Man’s surviving humans are confronted with rather immediately. Before it really starts digging into its story about Yorick — the world’s sole remaining cis-man(child) — the show details multiple ways in which the deaths set off a series of cascading and compounding crises. And what’s left of the American government is scarcely able to deal with any of it. When you first see a crashed commercial plane, and dozens of wrecked cars still clustered in cities at the very start of the show, what’s horrific about the eerily quiet scenes is the implication that each and every single one of those accidents happened more or less simultaneously.
In flashbacks, you see how different survivors all looked on in terror as people with Y chromosomes began bleeding from their eyes, noses, and mouths shortly before dying. In the present, you see how the bodies of many of the people who died ended up being left where they perished for multiple reasons but the reality is there simply aren’t enough people to handle a significant clean-up effort.
In the series’ very first episode — “The Day Before” — Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand are shown to be somewhat comfortable, though cautious, about trekking through New York City to survive. Massive hazards like falling helicopters are the sorts of things they try to be mindful of for obvious reasons, but what’s less obvious at first is how the city’s infrastructure has suddenly become far more stressed than it already was. In addition to the bodies rotting in the streets, there are bodies rotting in the subway, which is also flooded due to the city’s water and sewage systems being compromised, and there not being nearly enough people to triage the situation.
Thanks to the power of good old common sense, some of New York’s survivors recognise the danger the corpse-ridden, flooded subway system poses, and they try to warn everyone to stay out with simple spray-painted signs explaining that the subway’s backed up with dead bodies. While the warning signs likely saved a few lives, Y: The Last Man shows you how, in certain circumstances, people might find themselves more or less forced to come in close contact with the toxic water.
When Ampersand gets away from Yorick and scurries down into the subway, Yorick panics and decides to wade through the water in search of his companion, which is foolish, but he isn’t exactly in the most emotional stable headspace. People do dumb things all the time, but in an apocalypse like Y: The Last Man’s, those dumb things could prove to be infinitely more dangerous.
At the same time the country’s new president Jennifer Brown (who is also Yorick’s mother) watches an enraged, scared mob attack the White House, she has to mull over the reality that water-borne illness is quickly becoming a massive issue in different locations because of how many of the new problems are connected to one another. Y: The Last Man uses many of its crises as a way to show you how, unprepared though she may be, Jennifer fundamentally understands that society could collapse even further if the infrastructure essential to relatively safe, clean living is allowed to completely crumble.
Other characters, like former First Daughter Kimber, are understandably worried about the long-term survival of the human race, which is why she’s especially keen on making sure that the contents of a sperm bank in NYC are secured and spirited away before the city is evacuated. In Kimber’s desire to save the future children of the world, there’s the unsubtle implication of her lack of concern for the living, breathing people who actually voted for her father (something she loves to mention) before he died.
The ideological split between Kimber, a conservative, and Jennifer, a liberal, suddenly thrust into the makeshift Oval Office that is the Pentagon is something that’s going to be interesting to see the show unpack as a reflection on where their parties’ priorities are. But there’s a certain way that Kimber’s focus on babies almost reads like a willingness to accept the loss of many things and a return to “simpler times” if it means that society can be primarily oriented towards the rearing of children. Though Kimber’s right that everyone should be thinking about how the human race will continue, trying to secure sperm for the future is pointless if everyone’s just going to die from dysentery.
By contrast, Jennifer’s mind is much more rooted in the present and the most pressing matters staring her right in the face — like an impending nuclear meltdown — that there simply aren’t enough skilled people to handle. In one of Y: The Last Man’s more moving episodes so far — “Neil” — you can see how Jennifer begins to really come into her own as a leader. She reaches out to Dr. Sharon Jacobs, a grieving engineer who couldn’t bring herself to work following her sons’ deaths.
By trying to meet Sharon at the heart of her grief, Jennifer’s able to make a connection with her and, to its credit, the show doesn’t attempt to make it seem as if the phone call has magically made things right for Sharon. She’s still very much a woman in the midst of an unbearable turmoil, but Jennifer’s able to convey how that pain is something that literally every other survivor is also struggling with in some way, and even though it’s a lot to ask of her, Sharon’s unique skills could keep things from becoming much much worse.
Because the mysterious plague that killed half the population hit the world as a whole, you can imagine how many other leaders, elected or otherwise, might be having these same difficult conversations. They are conversations that must happen despite others for who it might not seem important (or even occur to) in the moment given the emotional trauma they’re living through. It’s understandable that people don’t want to think about the streets flooding with sewage water or how they’re going to keep the lights on without the power grid, but those are the kinds of things that people would have to think about if the goal is truly to ensure humanity’s survival.
Things were already going to get worse for everyone in Y: The Last Man because, again, about half of the world’s population simply up and died, and everyone left standing was caught unprepared to deal with the fallout. What’s not clear yet is just how much worse they’ll be as Y: The Last Man builds to its finale, and whether people will deal with their new reality collectively, or if it’ll be everyone for themselves.
Y: The Last Man airs on Binge in Australia.