“This is a grade-A fustercluck,” Carol begins the episode saying. And she couldn’t be more right.
Last week we got to see Phil freak out in his quest to find an accidentally abandoned Carol, but this week starts with Carol’s perspective — one that might actually be bleaker than Phil’s. While he can actively search for her, Carol’s pretty much stuck staying in one place (that place being an Oklahoma gas station), simply waiting and patiently hoping that Phil is innovative enough to find a way back to her.
By the time we see Carol again, her Oklahoma shirt — the one that was initially plain — is now completely covered in fake jewels. She’s dipping Slim Jims into what looks like canned nacho cheese. She’s making sculptures of Phil out of chewing tobacco and toothpaste. And she’s chatting up one of those tall, dancing balloons that usually flop around in front of car dealerships. “You’ve been at it all day; let me tap in,” she tells it before getting up and trying to emulate the wacky dance à la Sweet Dee on It’s Always Sunny. I impatiently wait the day when enough of these moments exist in TV and movies to make a supercut.
Meanwhile, Phil’s back in Tucson and trying to figure out a way to tell Carol where he is. First, inspired by a coverline on one of his dirty magazines that reads “Betty’s Bodacious Balloons,” he writes messages on a bunch of actual balloons and throws them in the air. Needless to say, that method does not work the way he wants it to.
But then he sees a railroad, and a real good idea strikes: He writes out a giant message on a series of train cars and sends the locomotive on its merry way. Somehow, magically, it works: Just after setting her balloon friend on fire with her two final road flares in an attempt to get Phil’s attention, Carol wakes up to the noise of the train barreling through. “Carol, it’s me Phil,” the giant note reads. “I’m not on the train. I’m in Tucson.”
There are some problems with this, most notably the unlikelihood that Carol would be right by this railroad. But this isn’t a show that necessarily strives for realism, and this whole situation is romantic in a way only a post-apocalyptic rom-com could be, so believing in this magical coincidence isn’t that hard.
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Adding to the magic, Carol finally makes her way to a particularly devastated Phil, whose next idea was to send a steamroller on the road — that is, that was the idea before the steamroller crushed poor Brice. “He just got the wind knocked out of him!” Phil says of the now-deflated soccer ball. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny line that lightens up the surprisingly dark mood: The world Phil inhabits is a completely foreign one to us, one where inanimate soccer balls are just as important to this guy as living, breathing humans. So when Brice gets run over, Phil’s hysterical reaction is funny and weirdly understandable — you’d panic too if one of your last friends on earth almost died, wouldn’t you?
The scene goes from sadly amusing to straight-up sad though when he slaps himself multiple times and cries that he deserves to be alone. Fortunately, this is right when Carol shows up. They kiss; she calls him a “love conductor”; they strip and have sex right then and there. Basically, it’s a scene straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie (if Nicholas Sparks movies were purposely funny).
NEXT: Phil finds out where everyone else is [pagebreak]
Later on, they go back to Carol’s house, where Phil finds a note to Carol from the rest of the Tucson crew. Turns out they ditched Arizona and went to Malibu. They want Carol to join them. The catch? She can’t bring her beau. “Please come, but don’t bring Tandy,” the note says. “It would not be safe.”
Naturally, Phil hides the note. This could be interpreted as Phil returning to his season 1 jerk tendencies — which he is kind of doing — but it could also be interpreted as Phil simply saving his own life. Surviving a virus that wiped out most of the population and then, years later, dying at the hands of another Phil Miller does not sound especially ideal.
His guilt eventually catches up to him once he finds Carol crying about her loneliness. She misses her friends, and Phil’s attempt to make creepy stand-ins — including an extra-large, extra-unflattering replica of the other Phil — doesn’t help. So he tells her where they are, though she doesn’t want to go there. She cares more about keeping Phil safe.
The overall exchange is nice to a sweetly sickening degree. “I’m terrified to go there,” Phil tells her, “but I’m even more terrified of you not being happy.” Aww. “I’m just doing it because that’s what people do for those about whom they care!” Carol exclaims, trying to explain to Phil that not going to Malibu is a sacrifice she wants to make. Aww again. These jerks aren’t such jerks after all.
Phil agrees to stay in Tucson and suggests they take some shots to celebrate the decision. It quickly becomes clear that he doesn’t actually want to drink: He just wants to get Carol super drunk so she’ll pass out. That way, he can put her in the back of the RV (yes, I realize this sounds horrible; yes, this is the genius of this plotline) and drive her to Malibu.
Once Carol wakes up and sees a sign indicating they’re in the Golden State, she seems to start scolding Phil before she congratulates him on being so selfless. Aww once again. This couple went from being terribly annoying and terribly mismatched last season to complementing each other’s quirks and seeming genuinely in love — and that’s a good thing.
It doesn’t take long to find the crew once they reach Malibu: They lit a fire on the beach, and Carol spots the smoke. Phil still isn’t safe though, so they both don his homemade Muppet disguises from last week and decide to let Carol go first. Instead of walking up to them like a normal person and saying, “Hey, guys, I’m back!” she runs up and screams, “Boo!” This interrupts the crew’s peaceful sing-along, which isn’t the worst thing. What is the worst thing is that there’s a new guy — played by Will Ferrell in a surprise cameo — who is legimately scared by Carol’s lighthearted “Boo.” So scared that he falls to the ground and has a heart attack. Oops.
Of course, Carol didn’t mean to hurt the new guy — but, as we’ve seen, the Tucson crew isn’t the most rational or forgiving. These first two episodes have been refreshingly entertaining and different, a complete return to the promise the first bit of season 1 showed. Now the challenge is to keep it that way even with the rest of the cast coming back. Keep Malibu weird, Last Man. Please.