As we start to set up the end of Y: The Last Man’s first season, we get a rare standalone episode focusing entirely on Roxanne and her Amazons—with another key pop culture reference guiding this week’s twisty plot. CHUNG CHUNG!
The twined plot threads of “Ready. Aim. Fire.” have Hero and Sam hitting a fork in the proverbial road with regard to how each of them does or doesn’t see a future with the Amazons, along with a series of flashbacks explaining how Roxanne created her mini-cult in the first place… and how she’s not been exactly forthcoming about her own life pre-Event.
First, the present, and the newest recruits practicing their marksmanship on mannequins: Hero’s a natural, while Sam demurs as much as possible until Roxanne basically threatens him (via some mannequin mutilation) into taking the gun, for group morale. Poor Nora isn’t even being asked—unlike when President Campbell cajoled her into a photo op in front of the press, no one here cares whether or not she can shoot true.
One of the girls lets slip (or “lets slip”) that Roxanne is going to ask Nora and Mac to leave. Except that Roxanne doesn’t ask anything; they get a couple days’ warning, and then they have to figure out what to do. Nora is crushed and humiliated yet again, but Roxanne coolly responds that not everyone fits in. Desperate, Nora tries to convince Sam to run away with them, but he’s not interested in being her friend nor her travel buddy. When Nora assumes that he dislikes her because of an anti-trans sports bill that President Campbell put forward, Sam retorts that he never played sports—if she’d been listening to him at all, she would know that.
Even though Sam doesn’t want to leave with Nora, he also isn’t keen on staying: The man-hating Amazons have put him in an impossible position, where he’s either not a “real” man to them; or he is considered a man, but only if he lets them lump him in with the rapists, serial killers, and other criminals. Case in point: Hero’s therapy session, in which Roxanne manipulates her from calling Yorick “one of the good ones” to acknowledging that maybe Yorick liked that she was such a fuck-up, because it made his life easier in comparison.
Sam begs Hero to leave with him, but she doesn’t want to; that leads into a fight about Kelsey being all over him and whether he’s trying to make Hero jealous. Later that night, he steals just enough supplies for himself for a few days; though Roxanne confronts him, she ultimately lets him leave unscathed and promises that they’ll take care of Hero.
Roxanne’s pre-Event flashbacks proceed in (mostly) reverse-chronological order:
The cold open is a memory of Kate trying to leave the group; Roxanne shoots her, then immediately berates her as if it’s her fault—perhaps to get herself into character for how she’ll present the story to the girls, or because she knows how badly she’s fucked up.
She gets the girls to open up about their bad relationships, disclosing her own story about standing up for the one other woman on her squad who was getting sexually harassed—but then the woman distanced herself from Roxanne, believing her to be jealous rather than acting in camaraderie.
She discovers the girls at the women’s shelter after they hear some gunshots, which they fear could be one of their exes come back for revenge… except that all the cis men are dead.
While trying to push a cop car (with a rotting corpse) into the water, she encounters a mare, which leads her back to the domestic violence shelter. While hiding out and eavesdropping on the girls to get a sense of their situation, Roxanne eventually pulls out her gun, and she is the one who fires three shots into the air, sending them inside, before pretending to have followed the gunfire to the house.
Back in the present, Roxanne comforts an abandoned Hero with, of all things, a party—a “fuck ’em” party in which all of the girls can let off steam by holding a combination bacchanal and post-breakup catharsis around a raging bonfire in the priceMAX parking lot. But after everyone else has passed out, Nora (who checks to be sure Roxanne is out cold, too) uses some lighter fluid to nudge the neatly contained blaze right through the automatic doors of the priceMAX, burning down the Amazons’ home.
Meanwhile, Sam has found shelter in a nearby school—and a potential ally in another survivor, music teacher Mrs. Letty Blackwell (Nicky Lawrence). Though he’s understandably skittish considering his last few interactions with cis women, she invites him to stay and play piano, as it’s been the highlight of her post-apocalyptic day.
The next morning, the Amazons are miserably trying to scavenge whatever they can from the burnt-out husk of the priceMAX. Nora tries her “let’s run away” shtick on Hero, who has absolutely no interest. While Nora stashes the goods that she had been stealing for her and Mac to run, Nora’s buddy the vulture conveniently leads her to the waterlogged cop car, in which she discovers a priceMAX name tag with a familiar name on it…
Turns out that Roxanne got the priceMAX all to herself not just because of scavengers killing each other in senseless violence, but because she helped that along by taking one of the victims’ guns and calmly dispatching of every survivor who walked through the doors.
And how did Roxanne know to find the priceMAX? Why, she worked there. She was never a homicide cop—she was the Assistant Manager, who got put on notice ostensibly for stealing some bargain-bin Law & Order DVDs, but her reporting a male coworker’s sexual harassment of a teenage employee certainly didn’t help her case.
In the present, Nora confronts Roxanne with her old name tag as blackmail. Her terms: Not only do she and Mac stay, but they get first dibs on the food, creating a hierarchy within the Amazons for the first time. In return, she’ll help Roxanne better sell the cult in order to get people to stay and not risk more defectors like Sam. While Hero and Kelsey (who seem to have bonded over reading each other’s palms) and the others watch, Roxanne rallies the troops to find a new home, hammering home the Amazon ideology in what hints to be a greater brand recognition for their post-apocalyptic cult going forward.
Ohh, Sam. What’s happening with the man-hating cult is exactly what Emily VanDerWerff predicted in her piece on the series’ tricky trans politics, and she had only seen up to episode 6 at that point: Sam is in an awful “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation where he’s not being threatened for his transness, but he’s having prejudices about cis masculinity projected upon him. There is no place for him unless he’s willing to compromise an aspect of his identity. Note that Hero doesn’t defend him to the Amazons as “one of the good ones” like with Yorick; if anything, she actively blames him for not “trying” hard enough to fit in to the limited roles available to him.
I appreciate that the writers have made clear that there are some super fraught stakes to Sam and Hero’s relationship—they’re each other’s family, but there’s also some unrequited love going on—while still keeping things somewhat ambiguous. It’s unclear if that kiss at the house was their first ever, or (my read) that they may have hooked up as a casual thing in the past in-between Hero’s bad relationships, yet Sam knows that if he were to ever actually be elevated to boyfriend or partner status, it would scare Hero away. It puts him in that same confused position as what kind of man he is to the Amazons, but in this case it’s about what significance he has to Hero’s life, knowing how emotionally imbalanced things are: “If you loved me the way I love you, you would keep a single fucking promise.”
It’s very telling that Roxanne waits until Sam is dropping truth bombs on commitment-phobe Hero to step in—waiting for him to cast himself as the unappreciated, friendzoned man so that she can hasten his departure and support the breakup narrative to further get Hero on her side.
The “fuck ’em” party has big Handmaid’s Tale Particicution vibes: Let the abused women get out just enough frustration, restlessness, sexual energy, what-have-you, so they don’t have enough left to consider turning on their leader. Yet it’s dressed up in quintessential breakup tropes, with sleepover-esque garb and ritualistic burning of relationship mementos—empowering but also maybe infantilizing, or at least encouraging chaos over focus.
The Roxanne twist was great in that it lends so much more credence to why she feels entitled to lead these girls. As I said a few episodes back, her initial introduction had felt like a narrative shorthand, from the clothes to the gravelly accent—now we know that she’s literally inhabiting an imagined persona of the seen-it-all homicide detective. They don’t say which Law & Order she took inspiration from, but my mind goes immediately to SVU, though she lacks Olivia Benson’s empathy. I know we’re supposed to be horrified at how she’s manipulated these women—and that is sociopathic—but at the same time my heart goes out to this idea of a middle-aged woman whose husband left her during her cancer treatment, who was facing down the loss of her job after her medical leave, who tried to find small comfort in binge-watching TV that no one else wanted.
To retrace Roxanne’s steps back in time so that we saw who she was pre-Event was crucial: It’s fascinating to note higher-pitched voice, dangly earrings, and French tips that mark her as someone softer, someone more passive. Missi Pyle’s embodiment of both Roxannes in the same episode makes the case that either could be her real self and either could be a performance.
That it’s Nora who provides the much-needed spin for Roxanne finally justifies the character’s existence. For so many episodes she hadn’t quite fit in as one of the TV series’ original creations; even her moments of relatable humiliation at not being “essential personnel” seemed fleeting bits of post-apocalyptic commentary. But the savvy with which she makes herself useful is only going to be more fascinating as this arc continues. She’s not wrong that while man-hating was the right hook for this particular subset of the cult, it won’t sustain them. In the comics, the Amazons discover Yorick’s existence early on and dedicate the majority of their work (when they’re not burning down sperm banks) to chasing down the last cis man. Since that’s not the case here, it makes sense that Nora would have Roxanne lean more into the female empowerment aspect.
I do wonder, though, if it would have hit better if Roxanne’s girls weren’t already holding metaphorical funerals and rechristening themselves with the names of ancient Greek warriors. We’re still unclear on if that was something the girls came up with, or if Roxanne were bingeing Wonder Woman in addition to L&O. Her final speech bringing together the renaming ceremony, plus the Amazons’ apocryphal practice of removing one breast to better shoot arrows, still feels a bit jumbled. Then again, her point about “when I was picking myself back up, looking at all the pieces of my life, trying to see what it was for” sounds exactly like Nora scripting an automatic rebuttal to my criticism. Here’s hoping the next time we see this cult, their branding is a bit clearer.
Roxanne’s sneering “that must have been fun” reaction to Sam’s past life working in theater was so scathing, especially now that we know her whole thing is walking performance art. Seeing him link up with Mrs. Blackwell strengthens my thinking that he’s going to wind up starting some artistic movement of his own, whether through musical theater or some visual art that can become as pervasive as what we saw in Boston in “Mann Hunt.”
My only frustration is that all this is happening with just two episodes left in the season. Yorick, 355, and Allison are in Marrisville, which they’re only just starting to realize might have some issues… we’ve just found out that there’s an active resistance group operating on Beth’s Pentagon intel… Kim has just gotten her very personal reason for taking Jennifer down… and now the Amazons are just finding their unifying ethos. Two episodes is plenty of time to bring all of these elements together, but I imagine it’s going to be a very jam-packed two hours in order to get us to a good boiling-over point.
- “’Cause being in a cult is fucking exhausting“—Sam with the snarky line read of the week.
- Don’t think I didn’t notice the flaming X in priceMAX go toppling over in the fire…
- It didn’t occur to me on Roxanne’s first appearance on the horse, but I think this was a nod to the arc in the comics where a playwright-turned-comic-book-writer comes up with I Am Woman, a story about an XX apocalypse that spares one cis woman and her beloved horse.
- I’m super curious to know if the girls’ deliberate wearing of pink at the “fuck ’em” party is about reclaiming the color (in a Barbie/Legally Blond way) or an homage to the iconic breast cancer pink.
- Clever music cue in that scene with Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey.”
- Apparently the Ring of Solomon is a real bit of palmistry and not just Kelsey bullshitting Hero (or a nod to the MacGuffin-esque Amulet of Helene from the comics), but Kelsey’s prediction of “that means you’ll serve others for the good of mankind” sure sounds like trying to butter Hero up to dedicate all of herself to the cult. For one, this sounds like what she was already doing as an EMT; for another, brief research doesn’t yield this specific interpretation, but more along the lines of someone who knows how to discern truths from falsehoods… which is exactly what the Amazons don’t want Hero to be able to do.
- Showrunner Eliza Clark tweeted that unfortunately, Y will not have a second season with FX on Hulu. It’s a shame, considering that this show has really picked up momentum and a strong voice as the season has gone on, and I hope folks will watch the last two episodes to see how the season concludes. Even moreso, I hope the show can pull an Expanse and get picked up elsewhere…!
Two episodes left—which of the three plot threads are you most interested in following? Or do you want to see where Beth or Sam are branching off to?