Spoilers below for the final episode of Last Man Standing, so be warned if you haven't yet watched!
The past year has been a wild and bumpy one for Fox's Last Man Standing, which brought its time-jumping ninth and final season to a close with an episode that managed to mostly bring Kaitlyn Dever's Eve Baxter back while serving as a reflection of the season premiere. The second episode in the one-hour finale, "Keep On Truckin'," wasn't able to physically get Dever back into her family's arms, but showrunner Kevin Abbott & Co. did indeed keep Eve's history and relationship with Tim Allen's Mike at the forefront. Plus, as CinemaBlend learned from showrunner Kevin Abbott, there's a fairly surprising story behind how her Zoom call appearances happened.
The final episode's plot revolved around Mike's long-treasured and long-tinkered-with Ford F-100 being stolen and eventually stripped for parts, inspiring the family to come together for a memorial scene that doubled as a chance for the cast to say their goodbyes to Last Man Standing itself. That scene marked Kaitlyn Dever's first appearance in the finale, mourning the truck she'd worked on many times with Mike, not to mention having learned how to drive in it. Then, just before the final vlog scene, fans got a sweet final family moment with Mike (and Nancy Travis' Vanessa, of course) being proud of Air Force Eve for breaking the sound barrier.
When I talked to Kevin Abbott ahead of Last Man Standing's final episode ever (at least until another network hopefully steps up to the Outdoor Man-branded plate), I asked him how important it was to give the final spotlight to Mike and Eve, with Kaitlyn Dever unable to be physically there for the episode. In his words:
Yeah. Obviously, we wanted to get Kaitlyn whenever we could. She's just an enormous part of the show and our family over there. Before COVID, what we had working against us is that she's a phenomenal actress and gets a lot of work. [Laughs.] She was always wanting to do the show, but she just was working a lot. And then of course, COVID comes in and that's really difficult. . . . But when it came time for the series finale, she was working on something in Atlanta, and unfortunately, we were not going to be able to get her back in time and to go through all the quarantine protocols. So we tried everything we could, and we were only able to get her on Zoom on the show. But you know, I thought that actually worked pretty well because it gave us a head-fake ending in the memorial scene and then a really compelling, emotional moment between Eve and Mike. You know, Tim feels very fatherly towards Kaitlyn, so that also had a personally large meaning to him. So it all worked out. We would have loved to have had her, and had we been able to guarantee that, we would have written the scene differently. But I was just as happy in terms of the end product to go the way that we went.
When Last Man Standing was picked up by Fox following the ABC cancellation, fans were ever so grateful that Kaitlyn Dever didn't join former stars Molly Ephraim and Flynn Morrison in exiting the sitcom. And though Eve definitely hasn't been around as much as viewers would have wanted in the past three seasons, it's always nice to know how much care is taken to make sure the storylines hinge on her father-daughter relationship with Mike.
Now, if you were perhaps like me and assumed that Kaitlyn Dever was far away and in the middle of another project when she filmed her final Last Man Standing moments, showrunner Kevin Abbott said that wasn't the case at all. It turns out Dever was actually there on the show's set to film those Zoom calls, but as it went for several botched attempts to secure the actress earlier in the season before she actually appeared in Episode 914, timing and COVID safety got in the way of a more up close and personal ending. According to the executive producer:
We were able to get her on the stage for the filming of that. She couldn't be with the cast, because the cast was all going to be maskless, and we couldn't get all the protocols done for that. But for the crew, which was all masked up, we could. She came in Monday to shoot that the day before our final day of taping. We were able to physically see her, but we couldn't put her physically in the scene. There was a big push to try to cheat and put her in that scene anyway - [Laughs] - which we resisted, Because I thought the scene had been written a certain way, and it would have been written very differently if she was going to be in the scene. Somebody of Eve's presence, of Kaitlyn's presence, would emotionally change the scene if she walked into it, so you'd have to have addressed that. Not that we couldn't have, but it worked the way it did. So it kind of was the best of both worlds where she's in the show, and the cast and writers who were there got to see her again for one last final time, and that was great. It was really special.
While Kevin Abbott didn't go into full-on details about how they would have had to cheat to make Eve's physical appearance work, it likely would have involved an awkward filming situation with shots of an obviously alone Kaitlyn Dever intercut with shots of everyone else together without Eve. While that probably would have been fine for some people, it's best to just avoid that kind of TV fakery and go with something more organic. Like going faster than the speed of sound in a jet. [grunt grunt grunt]
Plus, one should always count their blessings in situations where there are no guarantees, so it's awesome to have learned that even though audiences didn't get to see it, at least Tim Allen, Nancy Travis and quite a few other cast and crew members were able to celebrate the final episode with Dever in person rather than over a laptop or tablet.
Last Man Standing has now officially wrapped its non-topical Season 9, with all 194 episodes available to stream on Hulu. While waiting for more from our interview with showrunner Kevin Abbott (and to see more from Kaitlyn Dever in the upcoming drama Dear Evan Hansen, remember there are tons of great shows coming to the 2021 Summer TV schedule,