Warning! The following contains spoilers for the Last Man Standing episode "The Two Nieces Of Eve." Read at your own risk!
Last Man Standing was able to wrangle actress Kaitlyn Dever back for its final season, which fans may know has been an increasingly difficult task. The Fox sitcom brought Eve back to the Baxter household for a fun but harrowing episode in which the daughter struggled to connect with her new nieces.
CinemaBlend's Nick Venable spoke to Last Man Standing's showrunner Kevin Abbott about Kaitlyn Dever's return in the final season and asked about contingency plans for the episode had the actress not been able to return. Would the episode still have found a way for Mike to feel inferior/ignored as a father? Abbott commented on that and the necessity Eve played to the story of the episode:
No, in that particular instance, we would have just lost the story and then come up with something different, because that one was specifically designed to have Kaitlyn in it. Because we do love her, we always, for the last three seasons, have tried to highlight [her character]. If we can get Kaitlyn, we want the story to be about Kaitlyn, you know? We want it to be an Eve story; we want to use her as much as we can. And those tend to play very specifically into the Mike and Eve relationship.
Throughout the course of Last Man Standing, Kaitlyn Dever has gone from television child actor to one of Hollywood's more in-demand stars. It makes sense Last Man Standing would want to use her whenever they could, especially after her commitments got so numerous. Eve was given a soft exit from the sitcom via the character's acceptance into the Air Force Academy, which allowed Dever to bow out her series regular status and pursue other opportunities.
Last Man Standing fans are often happy to see Kaitlyn Dever return as Eve, as is another key member of the cast. Kevin Abbott went on to say that while the show is always eager to shape stories around Dever when she's available, there's also another member of the cast who has pushed for her return:
Tim has such a personal relationship with Kaitlyn and it just feels so fatherly towards her anyway. He was really always there, every season, he’s on me: ‘Can we have Kaitlyn a couple times? Can we have Kaitlyn a couple times?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, Tim, I’m gonna. If we can get her, we’ll get her.’ This will always be something we tried to do. They’re always kind of, in my mind very special episodes, because there’s always an extra layer of emotion to it; the off-camera emotion kind of carries on in front of the cameras, which I love. And no, if she was not able to do it, we were just going to lose the episode.
Last Man Standing started way back in 2011, so it's no surprise Tim Allen and Kaitlyn Dever have that dynamic. He practically watched her grow up and out of the show, so it's understandable that the two have a dynamic that translates to the on-screen relationship of a father and daughter.
Kaitlyn Dever's return for the final season is a real treat for fans, especially considering production shutdowns in 2020 ended up affecting her appearance in the two-episode Season 8 finale. Last Man Standing ultimately aired Part 1 of the finale, but as Kevin Abbott explained, Part 2 never got to happen:
Obviously, we talked for a while about trying to adapt it to something else. Because I hate to lose [the story]. You know, we work hard on these things. But there just was no way to kind of mend it, much like last season’s season finale. I loved that episode. You know, we got all the way to Sunday night, the night we got canceled, and literally we were gonna shoot it all on the Monday. We got pulled Sunday night; I got the call at 9:00 p.m. that we were not going to be able to do it. So I mean, we got right to the finish line on that one, and I loved that episode. Kaitlyn was featured heavily in that one, too. We just were never able to shoot it, and when we came back, it just could not be readapted. So we just lost that episode, unfortunately.
The lost episode will definitely always be a "what could've been" for Last Man Standing, though the sitcom has done a solid job shoring things up in its final season. All signs point to positive the Tim Allen sitcom will stick the landing and be a great watch on streaming from start to finish for years to come.