Revisiting The Last Man On Earth in Wake of the Coronavirus


In 2019 and 2020, a viral disease outbreak is causing deaths around the world with no known cure. It was originally brushed off by some as something that is a low threat, but it eventually became the situation was dire.

This is the basic premise of Season 3, Episode 10 of The Last Man On Earth, which aired on March 5, 2017. Having said that, nobody can be blamed by assuming this is describing the current coronavirus outbreak. Digging into the episode some more provides discussion of what the societal reaction may be if the coronavirus continues to spread at a rapid speed.

The episode begins outdoors at night with a woman named Pamela Brinton holding an auction for The Pamela Brinton Foundation. It is dedicated to, yes, canine hip dysplasia. Despite being attended by over a dozen people, she does not appear to be too popular by the crowd, as none of her corny jokes get a reaction. Eventually, a man in the audience suddenly collapses, and is found with blood on his face. While there is no mention of a virus going around before, it can be assumed through later scenes he has the virus.

In the next scene, we get to learn a little more about Pamela by seeing her in her house eating breakfast. For one, it is implied she is rich by her well-kept, large house as well as the utilization of a maid. Pamela begins to talk about the virus, calling the hype around it an overreaction and assuming (or at least telling herself) it’s a bad flu season. She also feels comfort in that President Pence has been put in charge of monitoring the virus. As a side note, President Trump is not part of the timeline in this episode of The Last Man On Earth. We can assume he is no longer in office, likely because he had already succumbed to the virus (or maybe he was removed from office, just like what almost became reality?).

While at least most people don’t suddenly collapse due to the coronavirus, there are still parallels that can be made here. Despite studies showing the coronavirus is different than the flu, everyone is still being told to look at it like it’s the flu, and treat it as such. There is also plenty of talk of the media excessively covering the coronavirus, and some are politicizing it. And while President Pence has not been put in charge of monitoring the virus, Vice President Pence has.

The next scene in this episode of The Last Man On Earth sees Pamela and her small dog in a limousine. She notices everyone is wearing a mask and realizes the virus is much worse than she thought. When she notices a dog is also wearing a mask, she puts her hands over her own dog’s eyes and pulls up the dividing window in the limo when her driver coughs.

In real life, it has been advised by the government and international health organizations for people who have the coronavirus to consider wearing masks, but stresses someone without symptoms should not buy any due to shortages in supply. Should the coronavirus become more widespread and fatal, it is not difficult to imagine everyone wanting a mask. However, unlike in The Last Man On Earth, it does not appear as though everyone who wants a mask will get one.

When Pamela arrives home, she talks to her husband about why her mad hadn’t been coming to the house. He explains to her that the maid died from the virus, causing Pamela to angrily raise her voice and think a vaccine has to have been made already, and the government must be hiding it. This is proven wrong when they turn on the television and find the funeral procession for President Pence, and quickly thereafter the next five Presidents who were in Pence’s line of succession. Pamela’s doubts are now completely disproven, and she finally realizes this is indeed a widespread deadly pandemic.

This shows that, at least now and very likely in the future, the coronavirus is not as deadly as the virus in The Last Man On Earth (and also, the people in the real line of succession are not the same as a result of the 2018 midterm elections). But there is the similarity where there is no vaccine for neither the coronavirus nor the virus in The Last Man On Earth, and both start with flu-like symptoms.

Pamela’s realization of how fatal the virus has become leads to her deciding to wear a mask. When she goes into a big store to get one, she finds nobody working, many supplies gonna, and most other spread throughout the ground. She encounters Catherine, who was in the crowd of her auction that opened the episode, and gets into a short conversation. It is revealed that Catherine and her husband have bought a bunker.

Given it is presumed Catherine and her husband are wealthy, buying a bunker is not unheard of. In fact, some rich people in real life have already purchased bunkers well ahead of the coronavirus outbreak. Due to the price tag, the ordinary person is unable to invest in a bunker, demonstrating how rich people are naturally inclined to be more prepared for a worldwide pandemic better than anyone else. This would lead one to believe that as an outcome of a virus which takes out the vast majority of the population, it is likely the majority of people who are left are rich. Granted, The Last Man On Earth follows a group of people who certainly are not rich, but it was never confirmed they were indeed the only ones still inhabiting the earth.

Things take a turn for the worst when Pamela finds out her husband has the virus and sees him voluntarily locked in a small room, telling her to leave so she doesn’t get the virus from him. She does so, enters Catherine’s house and finds her face down on the bed, having also succumbed to the virus. Luckily for Pamela, the key to Catherine’s bunker is in the bedroom, which she takes and finds the bunker. Of course, she can’t go along: she takes her dog, Jeremy, with her.

The bunker is luxurious and with modern technology, though Pamela does acknowledge she’s not a huge fan of the canned beans and tools on the shelves. She does, however, enjoy the huge screen that lets her see world-famous settings. Since she does not know what she is doing, she accidentally launches a drone in the air, and has no idea where it is going or how to control it. The next four years consist of her and Jeremy in the bunker, and Pamela waits for the “all-clear” from scientists. As time went on, she realizes this would not happen.

Back to the coronavirus, people may not all be hanging out in bunkers with their dogs, but there are plenty of people in either voluntary or mandatory quarantine. And while two weeks is far less time than four years, her behavior brings into question how a person’s behavior would change if they were left without any human interaction. As much as a person may love their pet, they can’t be humanized and are not about to learn how to say ‘milk’.

‘Milk’ is not a random word used as an example. It’s what Pamela spent years trying to get Jeremy to say. It started seemingly out of boredom, but as time went on Pamela became increasingly angry at him for not repeating the word back to her. Any sane person would know he doesn’t have the capabilities of doing this, which hints at Pamela’s descent into insanity as she continues to live with only her dog in a bunker. And while Pamela had always been quirky, the pre-bunker scenes are enough to tell us she was sane before the virus broke out.

One of the most troublesome bunker scenes is when she is changing the setting on the huge screen with a blindfold and knows which one is coming next, and does not appear to be excited at any of them. What used to fascinate her, like unlimited dancing and one-person parties, has gotten stale, and her indulgence in wine has turned her into a full-on alcoholic. She has even grown tired of herself; when she looks in a mirror, she snarls.

It’s also important to make note of the limited resources one will have if they opt to live with their dog in a bunker for four years. Pamela eats and also feeds her dog cat food, as she has already gone through the rest of the food available and has no resources to buy or grow her own.

The lesson here is if you plan on hanging out in a bunker for a prolonged period of time to wait out the virus, bring some food and another virus-free person with you. Also, don’t take your descent into insanity out onto your pet, unless you want it to run away from you the first chance it gets.

The episode ends with Pamela relocating the drone, and finding someone relaxing on a pool chair. When the person (Gail, a main character on The Last Man On Earth) notices the drone, she gathers some other people from the group together, at which point the drone runs out of battery. She recharges it, approaches the group with it again, only to have it shot down by one of them. Realizing there is a group of people alive and well, Pamela desperately leaves the bunker and sets out to find them, at which point the episode ends (she eventually finds them in a later episode).

Chances are a vaccine for the real-life coronavirus comes in time to avoid similar events from taking place. However, with scientists predicting worldwide virus outbreaks may start happening more frequently, it has to be wondered who would survive and why. Despite the odds, most of the people shown on The Last Man On Earth are ordinary people who inexplicably did not succumb to the virus. So far, the coronavirus and the early scenes in this episode of The Last Man On Earth have some similarities. The key now is to take precautions and hope a vaccine is found so we don’t have to go through the possibility of the events found later in the episode from taking place.

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