After a few middling episodes, Broad City needed to heighten the stakes. With “Burning Bridges,” the show loads those stakes into a cannon and fires them into the stratosphere. It’s without a doubt the most emotional episode the series has ever tackled, but Broad City doesn’t lose its weirdo edge even as it navigates two of its most grounded and real storylines. Last week, I wrote that the writers needed to find their own version of what You’re The Worst did in its second season when it introduced a compelling and complex storyline about Gretchen’s clinical depression. Sure enough, “Burning Bridges” lets all the drama that has been brewing just under the surface of season three boil over. Abbi and Ilana are forced to confront change, and as a result, Broad City goes through a much needed metamorphosis of its own.

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“To new beginnings,” Trey toasts Abbi during their first dinner date—a date Abbi reluctantly agreed to, hoping to just stay fuck friends with him. “But also to how it is now…presently,” Abbi chimes in, trying to make her point. The toast is a perfect metaphor for the show and the direction this episode takes. As its title suggests, “Burning Bridges” is about major, explosive changes for both women. Abbi and Ilana have always seemed pretty averse to change. Ilana especially enjoyed the status quo of her relationship with Lincoln. In her mind, their open relationship is built to last. She could always count on Lincoln to be there when she needs him and go away when she didn’t. But as she learned in “B&B-NYC,” that isn’t necessarily going to be true forever. Sure enough, in “Burning Bridges,” she’s blindsided by his decision to be in a monogamous relationship with someone else. And because the two characters seemed unwilling to change—or incapable of it—the show itself has felt a little stuck this season. Things were becoming too predictable, too familiar. We were starting to see Abbi and Ilana in exact scenarios that we’ve seen before. “Rat Pack” felt like a less funny version of “Hurricane Wanda,” and “B&B-NYC” like a less funny “The Lockout.” Repeating certain beats and structures can work very well, and it has before on Broad City, but at a certain point in season three—probably somewhere around “Rat Pack”—it started to look like Broad City was losing its ability to surprise, to keep its vivid and slightly otherworldly universe fresh. But alas, there were those little morsels of serialized story just beneath the surface. I hoped that they might lead to some more complex storytelling and character development, but I didn’t even anticipate just how significant and visceral these character moments would be. “Burning Bridges” introduces a lot of change for Abbi and Ilana. The characters are facing new beginnings while still holding onto how some things are now, presently. The show achieves the best-case compromise that Trey and Abbi cannot.

In “Burning Bridges,” all the subtle conflict that has been building throughout the season comes to a head. There’s the aforementioned breakup between Ilana and Lincoln. Ilana Glazer gets to finally give a performance that proves just how well rounded she is as an actress. She consistently crushes Ilana’s eccentricities in the series, but this is really the first time she has been given something meaty to chew on. And she nails it. Look, I cried during this episode of Broad City. When Ilana runs out of the restaurant, gasping through tears, I really felt for her. Ilana’s perpetual chillness is her armor, and we finally got to see the character in a vulnerable moment. She really was content in her relationship with Lincoln, and I’m glad the writers didn’t immediately go in the direction of Ilana changing what she wants just to cater to him. She knew what she wanted all along; she just never really thought about the possibility that he could fall for someone else. The breakup hits her hard, and all the other elements of the episode work together to make her breakdown all the more powerful and deserved.

Because as Ilana’s emotionally processing the end of her relationship, her best friend is also lying to her. Abbi ends up in a pretty conventional sitcom plot this week, having to bounce back and forth between two dinners at the same restaurant, but there’s nothing conventional about Broad City’s execution of the set-up. From the moment Abbi kissed Trey, I hoped we would see some real consequences for the characters. Kissing a coworker doesn’t necessarily need to suddenly drum up a bunch of drama, and on Broad City, there are times when the characters can kind of get away with doing crazy shit without there having to be repercussions. The fluid and slightly anarchic nature of the show ensures that it doesn’t need to adhere too stringently to any rules regarding plot. And yet, it would be hard for Broad City to sustain itself on just the promise of Abbi and Ilana getting into some wacky misadventures every week. So the Trey and Abbi relationship has injected something new into the show’s bloodstream, something to create the captivating and moving character moments we see in “Burning Bridges.” Paul Downs has always been hilarious as Trey, and he’s particularly on fire tonight. Like Glazer, he gets to give a slightly more emotional performance, though it’s still filtered through Trey’s very distinct characterization. Trey is still the same old weird, overly genuine, dumb-as-a-doornail Trey, but in “Burning Bridges,” those qualities become a little more meaningful instead of just being annoying and silly. It’s easy to feel bad for Trey about how excited he is for the date and how sincerely he cares about Abbi. The corsage moment is equal parts funny and devastating. Who the hell gives someone a corsage on a first date? But also, aw, he remembered she never went to prom. “It’s funny, but it’s also pretty,” Trey says. What a great and telling line. And by the time Trey overhears Abbi talking about him to Ilana, his reaction is a completely deserved, unironically sad moment. “I’m not a joke Abbi. I thought we were having fun.” That slices deep.

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But at its core, it’s still the same Broad City. The episode marks a sharp change of course for the story, but it’s told in a way that feels true to the show. There are some fun and distinctly Broad City direction choices throughout, like the opening split-screen sequence in which Abbi and Ilana eventually switch frames after swapping a cup of pee. There’s also a very weird and masterfully blocked sequence of Ilana skipping merrily down the street in a tracking shot, unknowingly causing mayhem in her wake. Those more surreal moments balance out the emotional weight of the episode, and allow the show to hold onto its defining details.

In season three, the writers finally seem to know how to best use Bevers. In other words, Bevers has been used very sparingly this season, so his over-the-top foulness hasn’t been too overwhelming. In fact, in “Burning Bridges,” Bevers is actually useful, helping Abbi figure out the perfect outfit that will let Trey know she just wants to keep things at the fuck-buddy level. Bevers is, without a doubt, still the worst, but even his gross behavior has been toned down a bit: Here, he’s seen eating mexicheese straight out the bag. Sure, it’s disgusting, but it’s a relatable kind of disgusting. Who among us has never dipped a hand into some loose cheese? And by making Bevers useful to Abbi in this episode, the writers have justified the fact that he’s still around and doesn’t need to be trotted out just to cause mundane conflict. Like Trey, he doesn’t feel just like plot dressings in this episode. They’re both real characters.

Broad City didn’t need a full makeover. The writers know what they do well, so it makes sense that they would just keep on doing what they do. But there was undeniably something off about the past few episodes. “Burning Bridges” effectively puts to rest concerns that the show—and its characters—can’t evolve. The episode peeled back the layers to Ilana, revealing more depths to the character than every seen before. Abbi Jacobson has a great episode, too, playing all the complexities of Abbi’s swift spiral out of control over the course of the episode. Broad City packed a whole lot of emotions into its humor tonight, gave purpose and dimension to multiple relationships between characters. It needed the change.

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Stray observations

  • “Madonna, Rihanna, Ilana!”
  • I loved the scene where Abbi was trying to get a chair from a man who she thought was rude and ends up pulling off his prosthetic leg. Ilana, meanwhile, gets an extra chair from a friendly gay couple without any conflict. It seemed to me like a new take on the bit from “Co-Op,” when the girl in line for churrons snapped at Abbi’s attempts to strike a conversation but responded very congenially to Ilana.
  • Eliot, after Trey saves his mom from choking on a lychee: “Kirke Steele!”

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