“We keep going.”
This is the mantra that Ashley Romans’ Agent 355 repeats at the end of the third episode of Y: The Last Man. The line stuck with me hours after finishing episode because it seems to perfectly sum up the series as a whole…and recent real-world events. By now, chances are you’ve seen and read your fair share of post-apocalyptic stories. They can vary from the nuclear holocaust of Mad Max, to the out-of-control viral outbreaks of The Stand to the flesh-hungry zombie hordes of The Walking Dead and DCeased. But Y: The Last Man stands apart from the rest because it presents a society that struggles to remain intact through political continuity and infrastructure repair. In other words, “we keep going.”
Most post-apocalyptic stories quickly devolve into variations of Lord of the Flies, and so far, Y: The Last Man has presented an America that still has all three branches of government. Whether things can hold on is another story. If you’ve read the Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra comic on which it’s based, then you know whether society dies or thrives, at least in the book. I won’t spoil the comics’ ending here, but there’s also no guarantee that the show will follow the same path. We’ve already seen small changes, like the circumstances of Yorick’s chaotic marriage proposal to Beth.
I won’t ignore the elephant in the room. Some of the themes in this show hit close to home after everything we’ve been through in the last year. Because of this, Agent 355’s mantra resonates even more. Ask yourself, was there ever a time in the last year where you were overwhelmed by everything going on? There was a lot on all of our shoulders, and there still is, but like the people of Y, we keep going. Life only moves forward, so we have no other choice. We’re stronger than we think we are and we’re still standing.
It might be Agent 355 who’s saying it, but if anyone on Y: The Last Man is living this mantra, it’s Diane Lane’s Jennifer Brown. Before the plague hit, Brown was a Congresswoman struggling to keep her marriage from collapsing while navigating the dark side of Washington politics. After a mysterious event kills every living being with a Y chromosome, the Presidential line of succession is wiped out, and Brown finds herself elevated to Commander-in-Chief. With the world ending around her, she’s dealing with a crisis every minute, leaving her no time to grieve the loss of her husband and son. She has no choice but to keep going.
When Jennifer’s son Yorick turns up alive, she barely has time to enjoy their emotional reunion. President Brown has to deal with an attempted coup, a potential constitutional crisis, and a series of hard decisions about the future of humanity. Before long, she has to say goodbye to Yorick again, or risk the collapse of the United States. She longs to stay in the company of her son, living in the moment of their reunification, but she must keep going. If she doesn’t, she risks losing everything she has ever worked towards. That’s true for all of us, in times of crisis or not. President Brown clearly understands this, making her an effective leader. (Whether the people of Y realize this or not, however, is an open question.)
Everyone lives the mantra in different ways. While Jennifer takes charge and makes hard decisions, her son Yorick keeps going by adapting to his new status. The day before he suddenly finds himself the last man on Earth, Yorick is a failed escape artist who’s forced to borrow money from his sister in order to get a decent meal. In the span of one day, he becomes the most important cisgender man in the world—the ONLY cisgender man in the world. It’s a frightening thought. His mother might be able to handle her new responsibilities, but Yorick is not. He quickly realizes that his very existence elicits a strong negative reaction from the world, with some people wanting to sell him and others wanting to kill him. Yorick is forced to scavenge the streets for food, clothing and basic essentials, hiding his identity inside an ominous-looking gas mask.
When his mother arranges for him to go see a geneticist, Yorick doesn’t want the responsibility. Why did fate choose him as the last man and not someone stronger? He just wants to find his girlfriend Beth and live out the rest of his life quietly. Unfortunately, circumstances have forced the issue. It doesn’t matter if Yorick doesn’t think he’s strong enough for the burden—he has to be. There is no other choice. It’s a realization that many of us face when we’re challenged by something crucial that seems insurmountable.
None of us have ever been the last surviving man, most people have been in situations where everything about their life changes in a day. We can’t pause, we can’t rewind, we can only keep going. We have no choice but to sink or swim, and sinking is not an option. Moments like these show us how strong we truly are. And like Yorick, we keep going.
It’s also worth taking a look at Agent 355, the character behind the mantra. She lives it by emotionally detaching herself from morally questionable decisions. For Agent 355, everything is about the endgame, and there’s no time to feel guilt over the things you need to do to reach it. The moment where Agent 355 says “we keep going” occurs seconds after a helicopter explosion takes the lives of two of her colleagues. It’s implied that Agent 355 planned the explosion herself, as a way to ensure Yorick’s existence would remain a secret. She didn’t want to dwell in remorse or ethical questions about her decision. Instead, she repeated her mantra as the helicopter continued to fly.
Y: The Last Man raises interesting questions about the perseverance of the human race and these questions are more important now than they’ve ever been before. Through good times and bad, we keep going. The question for us is how. Will we charge ahead like President Brown, force ourselves to swim like Yorick, or cut ourselves off emotionally like Agent 355? Y: The Last Man is more than a show, it’s a reflection of who we are and who we have the potential to be.
New episodes of Y: The Last Man stream Mondays on FX on Hulu. Dive deeper into the show and comic by visiting our Y: The Last Man series page.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.