One of You’re The Worst’s best episodes followed Gretchen’s obsession with an older couple that seemingly had it all figured it out. They both had cool jobs, a great kid, and were seemingly in sync. Behind closed doors, of course, things weren’t as simple or easy as they appeared. The guy is stuck in the past, wishing he could re-live his youth and feel some excitement again. The girl has grown up and doesn’t think settling down is a sacrifice. Their superficial intimacy belied their real differences in worldview and maturity. This devastates Gretchen because she naturally projected onto them a potentially perfect future with Jimmy while in the midst of a depression spiral. In the end, they just represent the mundane issues that naturally arise in a committed relationship.
Three seasons later, Jimmy and Gretchen are older and in a different stage of their relationship with a whole new set of problems, but that doesn’t mean the presence of a new couple can’t still throws things off balance. Written by Stephen Falk, “Zero Eggplants” is essentially a spiritual sequel to “LCD Soundsystem,” only this time starring a similar-aged married couple that comes across as flawed and fucked-up as Jimmy and Gretchen. Rachel (Janina Gavankar) has a personality disorder that used to be channeled into shoplifting, and her husband Quinn (Timm Sharp) has a drinking problem that’s managed by A.A., open communication, and “micro-transgressions.” They meet Jimmy and Gretchen at a cake tasting, but they’re only there to scam the wedding-industrial complex because they spent too much on their own wedding. They’re funny, self-deprecating, and self-aware. Gretchen falls head over heels with the idea of being “couple friends” with them. Jimmy is less than enthused, but goes along with it anyway because Gretchen is still pissed about his blowjob incident with the florist.
“Zero Eggplants” benefits from being a late-series episode because it exploits the audience’s relationship with the characters. We’ve watched Jimmy and Gretchen evolve over the past five seasons and, in turn, watched Chris Geere and Aya Cash adopt a more layered, complex chemistry beyond the writing. Following an evening of drinks with Rachel and Quinn, Jimmy and Gretchen get into a nasty fight that feels comfortably mature. It’s charged with hurt feelings and betrayal, and yet still retains an empathetic foundation that comes from a lengthy, intimate relationship. It’s genuinely thrilling to watch Geere and Cash move fluidly around each other as they take their respective shots. Director Alex Hardcastle’s blocking of the scene deserves much praise.
Their problem is nothing new—Jimmy desperately wants to fix his mistake and Gretchen just wants him to leave her alone—but Rachel and Quinn have added a new twist to the proceedings. They know about Jimmy’s transgression and offer their assistance. For Gretchen, that means hanging out with a normal, non-Lindsay female friend who wants to talk about it without any undue judgment. For Jimmy, that means conspiring with Quinn to find a dick he can suck in order to “make it even” in Gretchen’s mind, a tossed-off suggestion that has become a matter of grave importance in Jimmy’s mind. Neither Rachel nor Quinn have any ulterior motives with their respective solo hangs. This is what friends do after all. They help each other.
Jimmy’s story is reliably absurd and involves him signing up for a Grindr-esque app to find a guy who will let him perform fellatio. He finds a guy, but, naturally, the date goes horribly awry in the most Jimmy way possible, i.e. he won’t shut the fuck up about the Greek origins of the word “calisthenics” as he futilely tries to be sexy. While the broad outlines of this might read as too farcical on paper, it works largely because Geere and Sharp play off each other excellently. Their earnest foray into queer dating has a sweet, nervous energy that’s difficult to resist, like when Quinn offers Jimmy a hilarious pump-up speech: “Remember this is for your lady. It’s just skin.” (Quick aside: as someone who mostly knows Sharp from his role on Undeclared, I could not believe it was the same person playing Quinn and was surprised when I read his name in the credits.) Jimmy ultimately blows Quinn to fulfill his “promise” to Gretchen, but Falk sidesteps the predictability by imbuing the scene with a gentle awkwardness common amongst heterosexual men. They’re in uncharted territory, and yet they forge ahead anyway.
Gretchen’s story, on the other hand, adopts a less comic, more natural tone. She sincerely likes Rachel and worries that her personality and mental disorder might push her away. Except that Rachel immediately knows what she’s getting into with Gretchen. She recognizes the hard exterior and sees through it immediately, but gives her enough time to organically allow her to trust. Rachel shares the story of her miscarriage, which gives Gretchen the space to share her clinical depression and her fears about passing it on to her future children. There’s a gentle sincerity to their interactions that feels like the product of a close friendship-in-the-making if Gretchen allows it to flourish. “Here’s how it is with me,” Rachel tells her. “I don’t let just anyone in, but I don’t lose people. So once you’re in, you’re in for life.” It’s a promise that emotionally overwhelms Gretchen because that sense of permanence feels so close and yet so far out of reach.
It’s to be somewhat expected that Gretchen spectacularly tanks the couple friendship, but when it happens, it’s still quite cringeworthy and tragic. The idea of committing to anything or anyone “for life” inevitably means accepting a fixed version of the future, one that you can’t easily walk out on or blow up at the first sign of danger. So as soon as those words are spoken over dinner, Gretchen makes a preemptive strike and concocts an impulsive lie about her ignorance of Jimmy’s planned blowjob, despite laughing about it and forgiving him the night before. The group frantically talks around the consent and duplicity questions before Rachel and Quinn walk out of their lives forever. “Ehh, she was too much for me,” Gretchen calmly tells a horrified Jimmy, but that’s obviously not true. Panic will always supersede rationality when one feels cornered.
So Jimmy and Gretchen are back to square one, a place they never seem to escape. They’ve grown in so many ways, but they’ve also stayed perilously the same. If Gretchen can’t accept a friendship as open and heartfelt as Rachel’s, will she ever really trust Jimmy? If Jimmy can’t stop fixing problems that don’t need fixing, can he ever really give Gretchen the space she needs? Given the Breaking Bad-esque flash-forwards that open every episode now, their relationship seems heading towards a fall, one that forces Jimmy to leave his house and Gretchen to become sober. After Jimmy falls asleep, Gretchen goes to the bathroom and takes an unknown amount of pills. She smiles in the mirror, but it curdles into a frown. Same as it ever was.
- Gretchen’s end-of-life plan: Either to be tossed off of a great height or to die in a sex-murder. She’ll be on Nancy Grace 24/7 (despite not being on the air for a few years) and a nation will mourn. But don’t let Ron Howard’s daughter play her in the movie. They have beef.
- Jimmy’s end-of-life plan: He wants to be cremated and kept on Gretchen’s mantle. She’s allowed to re-marry but not to anyone sexier than him, except Mark Ruffalo.
- Fun fact: all of Jimmy’s favorite male writers—Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and James Baldwin—have sucked a dick before.
- Quinn’s emotional maturity can be attribute to his sobriety, but he’s not thrilled with his new life direction. “Never stop drinking,” he tells Jimmy. “It’s horrible.”
- “You wouldn’t think kiwi and pistachio would go well together, and yet they don’t.”
- “Micro-transgressions make drinking fucking seltzer water tolerable.”
- “Do you know how disconcerting it is to live with someone who will not talk to you? I just keep pretending I’m Harvey Keitel in The Piano and Gretchen is a fetching mute.”
- “By the way, they’re coming over for dinner tomorrow night. Try not to drop your fork and accidentally suck his dick again.”
- The episode closes with a great track from Natalie Mering, known professionally as Weyes Blood, entitled “Seven Words.” It’s linked below.