Sweet Tooth and the End of All Things
There is… so much to unpack in the first season of Sweet Tooth. Let’s start with the premise.
The world gets hit by a deadly plague so pervasive it’s known only as “the Sick,” and as it spreads, all children start being born human/animal hybrids. Naturally, everyone takes a calm, measured approach to all of this, doesn’t leap to any conclusions, and stresses empathy over I’m kidding, obviously I’m kidding, society collapses, people blame the infant hybrids for the Sick, a hate-group militia called the Last Men takes over what’s left of the US, everything is terrible. And while this happens, a man (Will Forte, one of two big names in the cast) retreats into Yellowstone National Park to raise his deer-hybrid son, Gus. Ten years later, and one year after losing his father, Gus teams with a reluctant wanderer with a dark past named Jepperd to try to find his mother in a place called Colorado. Along the way they encounter First Men militia, regular people just trying to live in a post-Collapse world, and a group of teens devoted to saving hybrids from the First Men and any other adults, led by a girl calling herself Bear, who due to… unpleasantness… joins Gus and Jepperd on their journey. She’s my favourite.
Oh and it’s called Sweet Tooth because that’s what Jepperd calls Gus after watching him be easily lured into a trap by poachers because they used candy as bait. Gus calls Jepperd “Big Man” because Jepperd also called him “little man” when they first met, and also because it’s a very accurate description.
It’s certainly grim, as we explore the post-plague-apocalypse US (played here by mid-plague-apocalypse New Zealand) from three perspectives: Gus experiencing the world beyond his fenced-in home for the first time (while his companions warn him it’s not a great place); Aimee, who finds her place in the post-sick world by starting a sanctuary for hybrid kids in an abandoned zoo; and Dr. Aditya Singh, living in one of the few remaining vestiges of suburban life, desperately trying to conceal his wife’s recurring but manageable case of the Sick, while also finding himself put in charge of perfecting the treatment and possibly finding a cure… which seemingly can only be done by slicing up hybrid kids. And all are constantly under threat from the Last Men, the vicious group who’ve taken over, under their leader General Abbot. Gus and Aimee’s plots have a consistently present feeling of menace, as they try to stay out of Last Men hands, but Singh’s is one of constant threat. Constantly in fear for himself and his wife, tormented by the knowledge that the only way to save her is to commit atrocities.
The bleakness of the world is sold by everyone’s amazement that Gus can talk, as most hybrids can’t, but it seems clear to me that’s only because nobody ever taught them how. I mean Jesus Christ, if all newborns are hybrids now, maybe people should have considered not treating them as pests or lab rats, just a thought. I get being freaked out that your baby is partially porcupine, and I get certain sectors of society would freak out over hybrid babies even if there weren’t a deadly pandemic happening at the same time. Anti-vaxxers would rather their kids be dead from whooping cough than neurodiverse, they’d absolutely freak out over a kid born with bird wings. But if every baby is born a hybrid, and it doesn’t stop… maybe more people should be seeing that they’re the only future humanity has and not, say, vivisect them for their body juices.
That’s not a complaint against the show, I think we all know that’s precisely what we’d do. If anything I’m complaining about how flawed we are as a species that this reaction absolutely checks out.
Oh and flowers grow everywhere the Sick takes root. Distinct, possibly toxic flowers. That really pushes the Sick into “punishment from God” territory to me, even if its origins may still be Big Pharma and the military playing stupid games and winning all of humanity stupid prizes.
Also I very much dig the hate mob calling themselves the “Last Men.” Something about the name “The Last Men” just screams “Yes society is ending, but we’re gonna be assholes right to the last drop,” and that’s refreshingly honest branding for a fascist militia that hunts and tortures children for personal gain. Honestly there are so many big signs shouting “God chose the hybrids” but the Last Men will go to the grave not accepting it and the name makes that clear.
So, let’s talk about that suburb Aditya and his wife live in. They’re devoted to coming as close to life before the Collapse as they can without television or internet, but there is so much underlying darkness. Which tracks. Suburbs have never been as wholesome as they seem, thanks to red lining and other racist home-ownership policies. Here, it’s the paranoia lurking under the happy surface. In the solar-powered fenced-off suburbs, if your neighbours think you have the Sick, they saran-wrap you to a chair, burn your house down with you in it, and sing “Auld Lang Syne” while you die in agony, and that last bit is the worst part for me. That’s what really made it cult-level creepy. Man, fuck Auld Lang Syne. Anyway, it was a great contrast to the ruins reclaimed by nature that is most of what was once America: one privileged group with solar panels and horses and armed guards attempting to force normal life back into existence, even if it means the neighbourhood watch becomes a mini-gestapo.
It’s certainly a well-crafted world. Satellite dishes and skyscrapers overrun with plants, cars half-swallowed by the Earth, herds of freed zoo animals running wild in the prairies. And the cast is doing well; Gus and Jepperd are great leads, Bear’s addition breaks up what could have been boilerplate Lone Wolf and Cub stuff, as she and Jepperd both care about Gus in sometimes conflicting ways. Also I think it goes without saying that given she was running an anti-adult militia when they meet, their relationship starts on rocky ground.
You wouldn’t think a show about a deadly plague would be entertaining viewing right now, and it’s definitely not comfort viewing, but it’s still a solid start to the saga. Yes it’s obviously a saga. Don’t expect a lot of closure from the finale, but season two is already greenlit and on the way.
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