In episode five of season four of You’re the Worst, Gretchen (Aya Cash) returns to her home town in a quietly tragic depiction of unhappiness spun into the past. Upon her arrival, she does everything in her might to fight off having to face her family as her sister is in labor – the reason she’s returned home in the first place – and in stead directs her focus on an old childhood friend who, unbeknownst to her, had survived a bout with cancer many people assumed she’d fall victim to. Much of the episode is spent revisiting this friendship, both tenderly and with a pinch of that sucker punched cynicsm that has made the show stand out from all the rest. While we begin to believe there was a falling out that Gretchen is forgetting, or purposefully omitting, we aren’t execpting the rug to be pulled from us in the manner that it is: they weren’t friends. Or at least, they stopped being friends after middle school, meaning that Gretchen has taken this link to the ideal “happier times” and once again managed to make an absolute mess of it. Here is one person who Gretchen can’t weave fanciful lies to or brow beat into begrudgingly becoming friends with, and if we’re to believe Aya Cash’s face as she leaves her family in the hospital, who are welcoming in her niece or nephew into the world, she knows it too. And that’s heartbreaking.
Being an adult is tricky and it can be devastatingly lonely and awfully fulfilling but at the root of it there’s a sense (to many of us) of being a step behind where we’re supposed to be, kicking the heels of what adulthood looks like and how close behind we fall in its shadow. You’re the Worst hasn’t even totally been about a group of people in arrested development, but rather a group of individuals aggressively fighting off the fact that they’re persistent want to pretend that they aren’t like the rest of the world has been negatively effecting the rest of their lives and, most crucially, their relationships.
Jimmy and Gretchen worked so well together initially because they were one and the same. Two broken spirits who believed they were better because they didn’t conform to what adulthood looked like. Their biggest hurdles, initially, were if they could accept conformity enough to want to be together exclusively. Then entered Gretchen’s depression and we had Jimmy having to learn to be supportive, to not expect a relationship to just be two people walking side by side but in step, together and in sync. They were a unit. But season three upended it by having Jimmy freak out after asking Gretchen to propose and, in possibly the most immature act on the show (and that’s saying something) decided to run away from both him problems and the promise he’d nearly just made. It was devastating, darkly wicked in how it happened, and prompted the idea that maybe You’re the Worst wasn’t a show about these two crazy kids in love making it work but, instead, a show about how when toxic meets toxic, the best option is the exit.
But that felt inaccurate, even as we began to explore the two on their own as season four has plugged along. Gretchen, in her relationship with Boone, has found a stability she’s never had before, with someone who isn’t willing to put up with her lack of boundaries and other bullshit. There was a moment in this weeks episode where it was easy to contemplate the two being an endgame sort of couple, complimenting one another in ways that she and Jimmy hadn’t seemed to in forever, even when their relationship erred on the side of healthy. Lindsay has found a job and has separated herself from the breathing sore that is Paul while Edgar has found someone who is actually interested in what he has to say. And Jimmy? Jimmy’s had to watch as his mistakes unraveled in front of him, promoting a book dejectedly when once it might’ve thrilld him. Cash recieves a lot of deserved credit on the series for how she handles the difficult balancing act that is Gretchen, making her equally repulsive and wildly sympatheic, but Chris Geere has been knocking it out of the park this year with his silence and long, gazing looks that the camers capture beautifully. This is a man who, somewhere in the back of his mind, knows that he’s royally fucked up.
But it’s all of this that makes season four feel like such a triumph, even as characters graze lows they hadn’t touched in the past. This is the characters, begrundgingly and heels in the sand, growing up, even if they don’t want to. It’s made the characters both more intriguing (and yes, they already were) but it makes the show feel more whole. It has the ability to grow from stand alone episodes such as Gretchen in her own town, a sort of more encompassing bottle episode, and ones where she reigns terror over Jimmy’s house and have them all feel subsequent and natural. Over time the show has become less and less about the punchline and just how awful these people are (and they really are the worst sometimes) but more about why we’re supposed to be invested in the first place. By tearing Jimmy and Gretchen apart they’ve doubled down and why we’ve loved them so immensely since the very start.
All of which means that when Jimmy receives a surprise phone call, right after she’s promised a willingness to travel the “road” (to commitment, presumably) with Boone, it means we’re thrilled to see the two reconnect, no matter how ill advised. Together or apart they’re disasters but that chemistry is undeniable as they once again fall in sync, the direction intelligently mirroring the very first episode when they first began to really fall for one another. Now at very different moments in their lives, albeit, mainly with one another, the show seems to be promising the hint of a fresh start. But if the show is committed to having the characters grow up, what will be most interesting will be to see if they’re going to be able to shake off the baggage or have to deal with carrying it with them.
Regardless, the remainder of season four should be a treat to dive into.
You’re the Worst has always been about imperfection and about the ways in which people behave heinously, selfishly and untethered to what society asks as a baseline of common courtesy. But beyond that and the laughs derived from it, the series, at it’s heart, has been about Gretchen and Jimmy trying to make it through this world and trying to do it with a companion without ever trying to reveal too much of themselves, in fear of the unknown. The unknown has happened now, we’d like to think they’ve grown a touch wiser, and now we’ll just have to wait and see how they wander into their next self-made disaster.