Well, someone’s certainly watched “Juno.”
That was my immediate thought during the big “twist” of tonight’s episode of “You’re The Worst,” although I put twist in quotes as I’m fairly certain Stephen Falk’s script and direction wanted us to see what Gretchen could not, turning this episode into another ii-tragedy for what is now unquestionably the central character of this show. For a while, you could argue Jimmy and Gretchen were co-leads, with the show equally interested in their respective views of life and each other. Lindsay and Edgar? Even though they didn’t want to be seen as sidekicks, let’s face it: They were important but secondary, augmenting the proceedings, and sometimes even stealing it, but never supplanting the central duo.
I don’t want to convey that Gretchen’s centrality is a negative. But it’s certainly a reality. What turns this episode into more than just a “Juno” rip-off is Aya Cash’s performance, justifying the increased reliance on Gretchen to drive the show’s narrative and producing a performance I’d argue (even though I imagine it’s sacrilege) even more devastating than in “There Is Currently Not A Problem.” Tonight’s episode was that final scene (in which Gretchen confesses her condition and begs Jimmy not to fix her) stretched out over 20+ minutes.
Viewers of the show were probably panicked when the first act of “LCD Soundsystem” featured a couple we had never seen before. (Hell, I got a screener, and I didn’t know what the hell was initially happening.) The effect is that we as audience members get the same, insufficient view into this marriage between a married couple played by “Weeds” alum Justin Kirk and former “Ringer” Tara Summers. They are so perfect that OF COURSE they aren’t perfect, but Stephen Falk’s script doesn’t portray them as closet monster people. They just aren’t perfect. But that very fact sends Gretchen into greater depths of despair than ever before.
After all, Gretchen needs something to hold onto at this point. She needs to know there’s a point, period. Even if she can’t be fixed, things can certainly get better, right? There’s the possibility of better, of growing old and being more stable but not being completely dull. Right after college, I directed a version of “Romeo And Juliet” in which everyone’s greatest fear was becoming just like their parents. All the parents were in identical outfits and all wore masks to depict the viewpoint of their children that there was this mass, faceless entity called “adulthood” that none of them wanted to be part of because none of them saw a way for them to grow old and still be themselves. It wasn’t an original idea. It was a pretty corny execution of that idea. But it’s the same type of idea that drives Gretchen’s desire to believe this couple can be the exception to the rule: You can drive a sensible car, have a kid, hold down a mortgage, still have tons of sex, and live life in more or less the same way.
So Gretchen more or less “tries on” the role of these people, not simply peeping them from across the street but borrowing their dog for the day just to see what it feels like. Gretchen hates herself at this point, but enjoys the idea of this wife. Of course, the reality that comes crashing in when Kirk’s character’s desire to “spin vinyl and chill” is that much worse thanks to her brief glimpse of hope earlier in the day. She’s not right back where she started. She’s much further back than that, and it’s unclear from Gretchen’s horror-stricken face if she can actually recover.
This is all heavy stuff, so heavy that I don’t think the show can ever truly go back to the original “Sunday Funday” frivolity. But that might be the point. No one criticized “Breaking Bad” for evolving into its natural state. While you could easily argue that “Breaking Bad” started off much closer to where it ended than “You’re The Worst” has gone from its pilot until now, the premise holds true for both: TV shows shouldn’t be beholden to what it was as it figures out what it is. Potentially realizing that the show’s long-term fate wasn’t guaranteed, Stephen Falk followed his own bliss, even if that’s meant illuminating Gretchen’s intense pain. Getting to this place has made this a more uneven season overall than the first. But holy hell is this a bolder, more interesting, more engaging one. I’ll take that over perfection any day.
I have no idea where the show goes from here. And how many programs can you really say that about these days? Even in the era of Peak TV, few shows surprise as much as this one does right now.