Episode 6 of FX’s comics adaptation Y: The Last Man got some extra attention when it aired on Oct. 4, due to its provocative title, “Weird Al Is Dead.” The name of the episode comes from a sequence a few minutes into the story: As series protagonist Yorick (Ben Schnetzer) is traveling cross-country with his protector Agent 355 (Ashley Romans) and controversial doctor Alison Mann (Diana Bang), they stumble across a ritual concert where women gather every week to sing songs recognizing the world’s dead men. As a solemn, candle-holding circle of women perform an a cappella version of Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” Yorick talks to one of the locals, a young trans man named Jack (Tsholo E. Khalema).
“I saw Radiohead live,” Yorick tells him. “My sister took me. I think she wanted me to know there was more to music than ‘Weird Al.’” Jack looks stricken, as if realizing for the first time that the death toll includes the musical satirist. “Rest in peace, ‘Weird Al,’” he says.
“Weird Al” himself responded to the episode via Twitter, with characteristic wryness.
Radiohead is the highlight of a series where everything has been linear and lean. It focuses on character development without much time for creativity or reflection. It was inspired by a sequence in issue #4 of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y. The Last ManIt may seem comical, but the original story is quite different. It takes place in a large outdoor festival that surrounds the Washington Monument. For another, the focus isn’t on Radiohead — it’s on the Rolling Stones.
Showrunner Eliza Clark tells Polygon that the series’ writing team decided to update the reference for a more contemporary audience: “The Rolling Stones are so old!” she says, laughing. “I feel like 20 years ago [when the comic came out]Yorick in 2021 would have a different meaning for that reference. I think it says so much about who he is as a person, that he listened to ‘Weird Al,’ and his sister was like, ‘Let me help you here.’ It says a lot about their relationship. It just felt more him to me.”
It was partially for pragmatic reasons that the scene had to be rearranged. “I really love that part of the comic, the memorial,” Clark says. “I wanted to get that in the story, but we were not going to be in DC; we couldn’t do the Washington Memorial. I felt like we could do our own version of it.”
Polygon hears from Destiny Ekaragha the episode director that the sequence looks significantly different in the original draft.
“We planned to have lanterns, and float them out over water,” Ekaragha says. “But finding a location that could accommodate what we wanted in the time we had was near impossible. […]Although we planned for the singers, there were also practical difficulties due to COVID. We were going to have all these singers, and we were told, ‘OK, you can have six singers.’”
Ekaragha said she was able to work with Alexandra Schaller (producer) and Catherine Lutes (cinematographer). They were able to devise the sequence using their resources. Ekaragha focused on the use of candles for lighting. “I wanted some sort of light source in the middle, to bring the scene to life,” she says. “I thought, Bonfires are a great idea., but they’re so played, man. Everybody uses bonfires; I don’t want to see another bonfire. So I told Alex, ‘I want something like a wedding cake, something tiered, that’s a light source.’ She went away and came back with this idea to have these cinder blocks that look like they could come from the location where they were performing, and she put little candles in the blocks and put the singers on top of it. I saw the design, and I fell in love immediately.”
A significant point of the scene, according to Ekaragha, was giving the characters some of the first breathing space they’ve had to actually process the massive changes in the world, and to mourn their losses.
“We all knew we wanted the song to be serene and quite sparse,” Ekaragha says. “When I heard the song demo, I was transported immediately. When I was creating the scene I felt that same sensation, so that I could recreate it I kept the song on the background. I walked the circle myself to make sure it felt the way the song made me feel.”
“It’s a moment for Yorick and 355 to connect for the first time, for her to have a moment of grief for just a brief second, for us to see her mask slip,” Clark says. “Radiohead just popped into my head for the scene. The song itself is beautiful and the words are perfect to tell the story. Radiohead has this very masculine quality to me, and hearing ‘Karma Police’ reframed as a kind of funereal lament with female voices was really exciting. Then Sue Jacobs was our music supervisor. It was amazing. She was like, ‘I can make this amazing!’ So we talked about other songs we could use, but it never got better than ‘Karma Police.’”
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