“Heroes are powerful. Before you know it, the men and women in the wild-oat patch and their kids and the skills of the makers and the thoughts of the thoughtful and the songs of the singers are all part of it, have all been pressed into service in the tale of the Hero. But it isn’t their story. It’s his.”
Ursula K. Le Guin wrote an essay in 1986 called “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” in which she criticizes our culture’s fixation with the hero’s journey. She claims that, while epic tales of valor are thrilling, they are the result of a patriarchal, restricted perspective of what it means to be human. Because early people were primarily gatherers, the first tools were most likely containers or “carrying bags,” despite popular belief that the first tools were weapons. People (men) who took large hunting risks did so because there was an abundance of food.
While everyone else was busy cooking, raising children, and simply vibing, these men went out hunting for a battle and were the primary characters in the stories that resulted. Because no one was telling stories about collecting, the hunters were left to their own devices. When we think of culture as “originating from the use of long, hard objects for sticking, pounding, and murdering,” it’s only natural that we prioritize conflict in our stories. Carrier-bag stories, on the other hand, completely disregard rugged individualism. Sure, there will always be conflict, but it will be a means to a more true, global end. “Instead of heroes, they have individuals in them,” she writes.
The showrunner for “Y: The Last Man“ read this essay. I know because she recently shared a photo of it on her Instagram stories. Even if she hadn’t, it would have been clear during our gang’s farewell party in Marrisville, when Sonia delivers a monologue that finally convinces Yorick to abandon his devotion to Beth and sleep with her.
“You think of all the moments in your life as dots on a line,” she says. “When you’ve done bad things, you hope that that’s not really how it is at all. Because if it is, it’s just the moments before, and the moments after the worst thing I ever did. Which is that I killed someone … If time was more like an ocean, then you can’t just pick one moment out. It’s all mixed together, the good and the bad.”
“Essentially, it’s my sneaky little ‘not all stories have to be masculine spear stories,’” Clark, who also wrote the finale teleplay, told me. (Of course I replied to the IG story.) “Maybe some stories can be carrier-bag stories — or ocean, in our case.”
As the first season concludes, the question of whether or not the show will return remains unanswered, but one thing is certain about this show: it has properly carrier-bagged its source material. The beloved 2002 comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra featured a spear narrative. Yorick Brown was always the titular, proverbial Hero, even if the reader spent time with other characters (pun not intended). To Kimberly, he was the indisputable Key To Putting the Reality Back Together Again in the comic’s gender-essentialist world. As a result, the rest of the world felt compelled to live through his tale.
Yorick, on the other hand, has become a component of a larger whole in the TV series: he is important, but he isn’t the only one. When it came to shifting away from hero stories, Le Guin remarked, “It’s evident that the Hero does not look good in this [carrying] bag.” “He requires a pedestal, a pinnacle, or a stage.” When you put him in a bag, he resembles a rabbit or a potato.” (And while we’re on the subject of rabbits, may all rabbits kind rest in peace.) Yorick has been placed into the carrier bag, so to speak, by the show. He stood out as the protagonist of the comic. The world was occurring to him, with its billions of survivors. He begins the show in that frame of mind, a passive, happy-go-lucky softy living on his mother’s dime and hoping that his lousy magic act will ultimately pay off.
This time, his arrogance doesn’t get him noticed; instead, it turns him into a walking MacGuffin. He’s attempted to coast as he always does — “going through rooms unseen until he wants to be acknowledged,” as Angelica Jade Bastién put it in her review — but in this version of the story, a privileged attitude is equivalent to objectifying yourself. His indifference has turned violent: He hears of his mother’s (assumed) death in the final minutes of the first season, sees his sister’s new cult identity, and watches Sonia’s vicious, sudden murder play out in front of him, all in a matter of seconds. People are dying just to be near him. To counter this, he must take action and relinquish the spear. “I don’t want to be a liability anymore. Or a pawn, or a Y-chromosome with legs,” he sobs to 355. “If we do this, I can’t be helpless.”
The fact that she offers to train him isn’t the most shocking thing 355 does in this episode. She’s finally let someone into her forcefield, and she’s already feeling the rewards of exposure. Sure, it takes waking up in the middle of Main Street one morning and admitting that the only thing that’s ever helped her sleepwalking was a sandbag, but when 355 lets Allison curl up against her shoulder that night (!) and she wakes up wrapped Allison’s limbs (!! ), she’s forced to admit that human contact might be worth the trouble.
Perhaps it is this warming that prompts her to offer not only to leave the mission, given that the president is (allegedly) deceased, but also to tell the whole story of her own orphanage. It weaves together the lounge singer and small-handed survivalist she hopes of becoming; her grandmother, a singer, took her to a club when she was 12 years old, inciting her parents’ wrath. On the way home, a drunk driver swerved their minivan into a tree, killing the entire family. She’s finally in a place where she can make sense of her past, whether it took a full night’s sleep or a smidgeon of physical affection: “I should’ve died, but I didn’t,” she tells Yorick. “I survived. You will too.” She doesn’t even seem all that worried about being followed and called in by what’s left of the Culper Ring.
Sonia’s ocean of time may have struck a chord with Hero, too, if she hadn’t killed the woman. She’s killed a number of people and hasn’t done much to redeem herself. If this show were a spear, her acts would have been restricted to Yorick’s character development. Instead, the flashbacks in this episode provide some context for how she got here, and her spiral begins to make more sense. Watch your brother’s flimsy magic act get applauded while you get chastised for getting an EMT instead of a Bachelor’s degree; watch your father openly cheat on your mother without comment while your own shady romantic choices are torn apart at the dinner table; watch your father openly cheat on your mother without comment while your own shady romantic choices are torn apart at the dinner table; watch your father openly cheat on your mother without comment while your own You might develop a drinking problem if you’re “grilled for like, nine hours” because your mother is being screened for vice president, while your brother glides through his interview in 30 minutes. “We both spent our whole lives trying to be perfect,” Nora remarks, comforting Hero as she reels from the (false) news of Jennifer’s death. “You just cracked sooner.”
Beyond a few equestrian riding awards, it’s irrelevant whether Hero ever aspired to be flawless. That’s just one of Nora’s — or should we say Victoria’s? — winning strategies for gaining her devotion. Victoria instinctively realizes that the spear story is not long for this new world, having lived her entire life in the shadow of those who made themselves the main character. “The story is approaching its end,” she realizes, as Le Guin put it. The problem is that we’ve all allowed ourselves to become enmeshed in the killer story, and as a result, we might be finished along with it.”
If Victoria hadn’t tallied the score swiftly and made her huge move at the perfect moment, it would have been all of them. Victoria, it turns out, has always shared Le Guin’s view of conflict: it’s “just one of those damned things you have to do in order to keep collecting wild oats and creating stories.” She suggests techniques to reduce violence while also accounting for unknowns. She knows how to use Roxanne’s insults against her. A split second before the snipers on the roof open fire, she knows them. In the middle of the shootout, she adjusted to Mack’s new maturity. And she surrenders on their behalf, only a fraction of a second before 355 shoots Roxanne for attempting and failing to rush her. Victoria has already won by the time Roxanne throws her tantrum in the community pool they’ve designated as their base.
“I’ve known a million men like [Roxanne]. She wants to change you,” she tells the mourning survivors, interrupting Roxanne’s tirade berating them for their cowardice. “She wants to brand you, chip away until you’re exactly what she wants you to be. Any of that sound familiar?” She draws a rifle and points it at the demagogue’s face. Roxanne tries to make fun of her, but she doesn’t get a chance to finish her statement before the bullet pierces her gut and her body is submerged.
“We don’t have to remake ourselves,” Victoria tells the survivors, who are astonished but not furious. Hero sits at her side, solidifying their new leader’s authority, having just revealed to her new mother/leader her latest most treasured secret – that Yorick is still alive.
Victoria is perfectly content with a carrier bag narrative. If worst comes to worst — come on, networks, give her her time to shine — she can always beat someone to death with it later.