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Off-site episodes are almost always an excuse for changing a show’s typical scenery and testing a show’s typical relationship dynamics. Younger has thankfully invested in these diversions throughout the series so far, increasing the types of stories it can tell and developing this world further. Those familiar with this type of format might think that they know where the central romantic story involving Liza and Josh is heading, but the episode defies certain expectations. Liza accompanies Josh to a weekend-long bluegrass festival outside of New York City where he’s performing. At first, this sojourn seems like another way to illustrate the gulf between Liza and Josh. This is an environment for Josh and his hipster peers, which Liza initially embraces but eventually abandons. Again, the show demonstrates that these two people inhabit different worlds. Typically, this would result in conflict but a pattern has actually emerged on Younger where Josh is tested and he passes with flying colors. He isn’t even really tested here; when Liza gets kicked out off of the festival grounds for getting a little too aggressive about charging her phone, he follows because he wants to be a supportive boyfriend and because this world feels alien to him as well. A situation that seemed to be set up in order to show this couple’s incompatibility ends up functioning as another case where their apparent suitability shines through.

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“Apparent” is the key word here, though, because the episode then reinforces a point that it has made time and time again—Josh is all in and Liza has one foot out of the door. The love triangle has been quietly simmering on the backburner throughout the series and that tension may finally be starting to approach a slightly bubblier simmer—or whichever cooking term appropriately describes what’s going on at this juncture. Liza and Charles may be especially far away from one another in terms of proximity this weekend, but their continuous communication over the phone suggests that they’re closer than ever. Respecting someone’s judgment enough to ask for her opinion on an important matter is an underrated expression of intimacy, and Charles’ decision to go to Liza—as opposed to one of her superiors—for professional advice speaks volumes. One of the best uses of technology on this show is when the writers use it as a way to illustrate how the seemingly small choices that people make can be indicative of something far greater. Here, Liza’s seemingly innocuous choice not to send a photo actually tells a story far longer than it appears on first glance. Purposefully avoiding reminding one’s boss of a boyfriend’s existence isn’t exactly one of the standard cardinal sins in a relationship, but the intentions behind the choice amount to a betrayal of sorts. Location and timing are everything, and the fact that this choice is made at a romantic bed and breakfast following a reminder of this couple’s synchronicity is especially telling.

For now, however, several pieces of this puzzle are missing. Younger is starting to lose its way as it’s losing its grasp on its protagonist. Somewhere, somehow Maggie must sense that she is needed because Liza’s voice is fading, and an apartment chat between roomies would be especially appropriate right about now. At this point, a couple of important developments have transpired. Josh has expressed interest in marriage in the not-necessarily-so-distant-future. Liza is sabotaging the possibility of a future with Josh in maddeningly small increments. Meanwhile, her actual take on all of this is not entirely clear. Throughout the series, Liza has evolved from professional underling to valued member of a promising imprint at her firm. What kind of personal life does she see for herself at this juncture, though? Liza’s attraction to Charles is clearly based partly on his similar experience surviving an “adult” –i.e. failed—relationship, but that attraction doesn’t entirely resonate when Liza’s ex-husband and daughter have been missing in action for the bulk of the season.

All signs point to a new life for Liza, and the reasons behind this strong streak of resistance against a boyfriend who’s passing so many tests aren’t satisfactorily clear. The writers may be trying to draw out this mystery in order to build tension, but doing so is compromising one of the most important elements of a series—the audience’s connection to the protagonist. The love triangle has thankfully been relegated to the backburner for most of the series partly because the spotlight has been on Liza herself and her choices at this crucial juncture in her life. Peter Hermann may not be thrilled that the character of Charles hasn’t been developed further, but this suggests a conscious decision to frame the love triangle in terms of Liza’s personal decision-making regarding her future as opposed to romance alone. When Liza’s perspective on both her future and her relationships isn’t entirely clear, the foundation of the show itself starts to buckle.

At least the A-story offered a few surprises, however. Meanwhile, a fresh take on an old-fashioned mating dance climaxes in a disappointing manner. The verbal foreplay between Diana and Hugh Shirley boasts the tone, chemistry, and timing reminiscent of classic romantic comedies. The dynamic between the sexes has been updated, but the resolution of this B-story cheapens the whole exercise. An awkward trip to the hospital for a bedroom-related accident reduces a fresh take on a classic setup to a scenario that instantly feels dated. In this episode, plots either rely on too much mystery or too much explicitness. Unfortunately, the latter really loses its impact when everyone already knows the punchline to the joke.

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Stray observations:

  • “My grandmother always said I reminded her of an Indian chief. She was a violent racist but I took it as a compliment.”
  • “Oh my God, I really wannna clog.”
  • Did they insinuate that coffee stout is not a part of a balanced breakfast? I don’t even know this show anymore.
  • Why won’t Younger allow me to forget that the Free the Nipple campaign is a thing that exists? Have mercy on my soul, television.

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