Revisiting The Last Man On Earth in Wake of COVID-19 (UPDATED 10/4)

This article has been updated on May 25, 2020 October 4, 2020 to reflect the progression of the outbreak. It was originally published on March 5, 2020. Lines in the original article that are no longer relevant will be crossed out and replaced by bold text. Added discussion will also be highlighted in bold text. 

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 clear 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 COVID-19 outbreak. Digging into the episode some more provides discussion of what the societal reaction may be if COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid speed as COVID-19 continues to spread. 

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.

What is notable here is while the gathering wasn’t huge, people were sitting close together. In a world with COVID-19, there a few scenarios why they could be there: the social distancing guidelines had yet to be put in place, or they ignored the social distancing guidelines. This brings into question if there were ever social distancing guidelines, and if not, how that could have affected the outcome of the virus in The Last Man On Earth.

In real life, an outdoor gathering at the White House on Sunday, September 27, 2020, is seen as a “super-spreader event.” The event was a ceremony for President Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, which included a lot of rich and high-profile people. This includes President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, three Republican senators, former Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager Bill Stepian, and Trump adviser Chris Christie, all of whom have tested positive for COVID-19 within a week. The event, while larger than that in The Last Man On Earth, was similar in nature: outdoors, seated, not socially distanced, and many mask-less people. While it is unclear if or how the virus spread past the event on The Last Man On Earth, it is thought that the event at the White House spread into the Presidential debate that happened two days later. 

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). In real life, President Trump has been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, which will put to rest theories such as Pamela’s that the federal government has its own vaccine. And while it has not happened, there have been questions raised by the media as to if there may be a (temporary) transition of power to Mike Pence. 

While at least most people don’t suddenly collapse due to COVID-19, there are still parallels that can be made here. Despite studies showing that COVID-19 is different than the flu, everyone is still being told to look at it like it’s the flu, and treat it as such some still believe this situation is similar to the flu, and that it is unnecessary to close down the economy. There is also plenty of talk of the media excessively covering COVID-19, and some people are politicizing it. And while President Pence has not been put in charge of monitoring the virus, Vice President Pence has, although the public figures at press briefings were often President Trump, Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx. Most communication between the White House and the American people is now from Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump’s latest press secretary. 

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 COVID-19 to consider wearing masks, but stresses someone without symptoms should not buy any due to shortages in supply and most governors and federal officials strongly encourage everyone have a mask should they need to be in a public place, or even around family in friends who one hasn’t been in contact with for a while. Should COVID-19 become more widespread and fatal As COVID-19 continues to spread and be fatal, it is not difficult to imagine everyone most people 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. While it appears most people who want a mask will be able to make or purchase one, many others refuse to wear them for various reasons.

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.

In real life, while the government does not have a vaccine hidden, President Trump is touting a drug used to treat other illnesses. While there is no proof it can act as a vaccine for COVID-19, he told the press he has been taking the drug as he prioritizes trying to find a quick solution so the economy can be fully opened with or without a vaccine. This is quite the opposite from what Pamela had in mind on The Last Man On Earth. 

This shows that, at least now and very likely in the future, COVID-19 is not as deadly as the virus in The Last Man On Earth While COVID-19 has not wiped out nearly the entire population, it is still extremely deadly (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 COVID-19 nor the virus in The Last Man On Earth, and both can 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 gone, 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 COVID-19 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 COVID-19: people may not all be hanging out in bunkers with their dogs, but there are plenty of people in either voluntary or mandatory quarantine everyone in the United States has been under a stay-at-home order for a period of time, with some states lifting that order well before others. And while two weeks two to three months (and possibly more) six months of following government-operated guidelines is far less time than four years, Pamela’s behavior brings into question how a person’s behavior would change if they were left without any human interaction. As it turns out, some are much more patient than others with the stay-at-home orders. 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. The major dilemma, though, is an unknown number of people who contracted COVID-19 have been asymptomatic. This means they were contagious while feeling no symptoms of their own, but having no way of knowing they were contagious due to the lack of widespread testing. 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 COVID-19 comes in time to avoid similar events from taking place. However, with scientists predicting worldwide virus outbreaks may start happening more frequently, and the vaccine not predicted to be ready by top health officials until 2021, it has to be wondered who would survive and why. All that is known at this point is the elderly and those with underlying heart conditions are the vast majority of deaths in the first few months. 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, COVID-19 and the pre-bunker 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 in time so that hundreds of thousands of deaths don’t turn into millions or billions. 

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