Pain, in all of its ugly manifestations, is a personal, private burden. Sure, some people will truly understand it, and others will do their best to help alleviate it, and plenty others will inadvertently exacerbate it, but at the end of the day, it’s you, the person in pain, that will be tasked with managing and controlling it. It’s an awful prospect, especially for those living with severe mental trauma the likes of which most will never comprehend. Everybody’s having a tough day, which makes the fact that the onus is on us to figure out how to move forward, burdens in check, even harder to swallow.
Given the direction this season of You’re The Worst was headed, “Twenty-Two” was an inevitable episode, and yet it still feels like it came out of left field. Stephen Falk has always treated Edgar’s PTSD with sensitivity, albeit with some dark humor as well—an actor uses Edgar’s life as material for a role, a V.A. officer finds excuses to avoid giving him medication, “I didn’t know it was a school”—but before this episode, he has never really explored Edgar’s own mental hell with specificity and care. Shot like a war film on home turf, “Twenty-Two” follows a day in Edgar’s life, specifically the events of last week’s episode “Men Get Strong,” as he’s on the brink of a complete breakdown. In short, it’s one of the very best episodes of the series, a moving portrayal of a crippled man and his unique difficulties of engaging with a world that would much rather ignore him.
Directed by Falk, “Twenty-Two” drenches us in Edgar’s subjectivity. We watch as he struggles to fall asleep, only for him to be distracted by a plane flying overhead or the paperboy he sees on his night run. He thinks he’s being watched by an electrical worker, a mailman, a groundskeeper, and a cop, all of whom have the same face, are watching him. Strangers in the grocery become ominous portents of doom, an unfortunate reminder of life-or-death combat situations. Noise invades the soundtrack—an eerie ringing sound, Edgar’s heightened breathing, echoed voices interpreted as murmuring threats. Edgar’s periphery scans danger all around him, rendering simple tasks damn near impossible to accomplish. Falk excels at trapping the audience in Edgar’s headspace, formally conveying the lived experience of trauma, and how it makes living anything resembling a normal life an uphill struggle.
Furthermore, Falk restages certain scenes from “Men Get Strong” from Edgar’s perspective demonstrating how tossed-off words can have a damning effect on someone’s psyche. Edgar serves his “special heart pancakes,” and Jimmy, Gretchen, and Lindsay respond with flippant disregard. He drives Jimmy and Gretchen to the graveyard and they act monstrously—fucking in his back seat, mocking his audio tape clearly designed to help calm him down, calling him an “Uber.” Though Jimmy and Gretchen’s behavior in the last episode felt especially mean and obnoxious, Falk underscores how blind they are to how their actions affect Edgar. They know he has PTSD, but they don’t understand how casual cruelty can send a damaged person over the brink. From Jimmy and Gretchen’s perspective, they’re just acting like their selfish, snarky selves, but for someone who needed some small ounce of compassion or encouragement, it’s especially hurtful.
Though “Twenty-Two” doesn’t quite have a standard plot, its main thrust is Edgar’s appointment with Dr. Tabitha Higgins (Julie White), a V.A. doctor whom he’s been trying to see for quite a while now. Though he’s nervous about it, Dorothy convinces them that he’s got to keep trying to get better, if it means “breaking the rules” in favor of his own advocacy. But of course, the meeting is a bust, even when it threatens to go well. Higgins’ attitude is of the “keep it light” variety; she cracks jokes and tries to deflect from uncomfortable conversations. Meanwhile, Edgar tries to stay focused and keep things on track, playing along while also being forthright. Though Higgins promises to put him in alternative virtual reality therapy, she refuses when Edgar admits he has stopped taking his medication because they weren’t working (“It’s just turning down the volume, it’s not living.”). He refuses to leave and makes a violent outburst, but to no avail. “You’re gonna help me,” Edgar says through tears. “It’s the only reason you exist, to help us. It’s not enough to be fed a one-size-fits-all cocktail of ‘shut-up’ pills!” Higgins replies with an awful smile, “Oh, if we had ‘shut-up’ pills, we would have prescribed them to you by now.”
This sends Edgar straight over the edge, and after seeing a “sniper” on the overpass, he pulls over to the side of the road and takes Jimmy and Gretchen’s car booze with him. He receives an obnoxious phone call from Jimmy demanding to pick him up, as well as a text that reads “ZERO STARS,” all of which pushes him further to the brink. Falk captures Edgar’s barren surroundings as he contemplates suicide by jumping into traffic, with nowhere to turn and no one to help him. But just as he reaches the edge of the throughway, he sees a small paper boat out of the corner of his eye floating down the river. For whatever reason, it provides him with momentary relief, a sense of wonder that the world hadn’t provided him for such a very long time. It ends up being a prop in a student film, but nevertheless, it saves him. We don’t choose the things that give us life. They choose us.
“Twenty-Two” ends with a potent conversation between Edgar and a tow truck driver (Brad Hunt, excellent in his minor role), who recognizes he’s a fellow veteran and takes pity on him. They share a joint in his truck and discuss their respective PTSD, but when Edgar blames the V.A. for holding him back, the driver provides a different, nuanced view that encompasses how the military-industrial complex inherently leaves its veterans to fend for themselves back on their home turf:
“Here’s what you gotta understand: They’re not evil. None of them are. The military’s job is to sand down our humanity just enough so we can take a life. That’s it. Afterwards, some totally separate branch get to deal with all these purposely broken motherfuckers. Not only is that impossible with the resources, that’s just impossible. Period.”
The only way forward, the driver continues, is to figure out what works for you and you alone. Sometimes it’s yoga and hunting, other times it’s a companion dog or stabbing a closet door in the dark. Edgar has been stuck waiting for a broken system to fix him when the truth is that that’s never going to happen. “I know you don’t want to hear this,” he says, “but the minute you stop looking for someone else to cure you, maybe you start living again.”
Just like “There Is Not Currently A Problem”, “Twenty-Two” tackles important issues regarding veteran’s rights and hidden trauma without reducing them to afterschool special pabulum. Much of the credit goes to Falk’s writing and direction, which is both deeply empathetic and unsparing, but the star is obviously Desmin Borges, who provides a 24-minute tour-de-force performance that rivals anything else on TV. Borges has always been a standout on You’re The Worst, but here, he’s given a platform to showcase every facet of Edgar’s personality, from bone-deep fear to uncontrollable rage, all while tactically reacting to the external paranoia that occupies his life. “Twenty-Two” is a difficult episode to watch and it’s because Borges’ vulnerability stays on the surface the entire time, an impressive feat in it of itself.
In truth, I had been worried about You’re The Worst for the past few weeks. It felt like it was becoming broader and less emotionally nuanced by the episode, losing the thread about these characters being truly broken souls and instead focusing on their maliciousness. But despite “Twenty-Two” breaking from the formula, it single-handedly gave me hope for the rest of the season, reaffirming its emotional and thematic core. When Edgar sticks his head through his car’s sunroof while he’s being towed, finally feeling a brief moment of liberation, it thrilled because it feels specific to that character on this show. In other words, it reminded me of why You’re The Worst is one of the best shows on TV.
- Check out Esther Zuckerman’s interview with Desmin Borges!
- The episode ends with the silent student film that stars Edgar as a brokenhearted Chaplin-like figure who threatens to jump in the river, sees the paper boat, pisses in it, and then attracts the attention of a stranger.
- A very nice touch: Edgar putting on a smile before he serves breakfast, as if to put on a face for the world.
- “Oh my God, are we in the Smithsonian? Do obese Midwesterners gather around your car pressing their faces against the glass to marvel at your ancient relics from an erstwhile time of low fidelity and inability to fast-forward through songs quickly?”
- “We have a plan to stop being fax-dependent before the next war.” “You guys know when the next war is?”
- “What you just thought a paper boat was floating down the river on its own?”
- This is the song Edgar was listening to in the beginning. It’s phenomenal.