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“I’m sorry I don’t believe in magic.”

Mickey says that at the end of her first official date with Gus and it’s one of the more devastating lines that Love has ever delivered. Romantic comedies live or die based on this concept of magic. Two people meet and fall in love and encounter issues that would normally separate a lesser couple. But the magic inherent in true love — or at least what movies have tried to sell us as true love — is what keeps them together. Mickey isn’t really apologizing, she’s pointing out that what Gus so desperately wanted to believe was never going to happen that way that he wanted it to.

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Mickey and Gus each prepare for their date with different expectations. He gets his car cleaned and seeks out a sexy scent. He’s full of anticipation and excitement. Mickey, on the other hand, is inherently hesitant, as she has been about Gus all along. “He’s definitely afraid to fuck me,” she tells Bertie and Syd. Gus proves her wrong though. After acting as a bug killer — as protector, and low stakes savior — he does just that, and does not seem at all afraid of the act. It’s a show of compatibility. She’s afraid of bugs (“Every bug can fly, is poisonous, and has Ebola until proven innocent”) and he’s not. He’s not afraid to fuck her, in fact he’s pretty psyched about it.

But the first sign of trouble comes post-coitus as they determine what they’ll do that evening. Mickey wants to get pizza and hang out, Gus wants to get gussied up and go to the Magic Castle, a private club where magic abounds. When they have this disagreement, Mickey’s mind goes to booze. “Can’t we just go to a bar?” she asks. Sex is the easy part, they’re running off the excitement of bugicide, and they can connect physically. But that’s only one hurdle, and when they don’t seem like they’ll be able to clear the other — actual intimacy — Mickey gets a little freaked. Maybe she had a right to be. They have fundamentally different ideas about what is fun about the Magic Castle that speaks largely to who they are as people. Gus experiences amazement through the magic itself. He can turn off his brain for a couple hours and watch a guy pull a tie out of a magazine. For Mickey, she has to experience the, excuse me, magic of magic through other people’s amazement. She can’t turn off her brain. Instead, she experiences joy through osmosis.

The other devastating part of “Magic” comes in their car ride home after Mickey refuses to play by the rules of the club. Once again, Mickey is displaying the the dark of this free spirit persona. This no rules, fuck authority attitude is fun to be a part of, especially for a guy like Gus who is all rules. But then when he actually has to deal with the consequences, he’s not ready for it. Mickey is a person who tries to avoid consequences at all costs, so that doesn’t help the date either. But it’s not the kerfuffle in the club that’s so devastating. They could have laughed that off. Instead, it’s when Mickey says to Gus, “It’s no fun to take someone someplace and demand they have a specific reaction to it.” (And I will fully admit to feeling this way because I’ve had that fight before.) Mickey’s never going to live up to the concept of her that he has of her in his head. She’s going to be an apologetic shitshow and she hasn’t been secretive about that. It’s Gus who can’t wrap his head around the idea that who she is will not always garner the reaction or the situation that he wants from it.

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Romantic comedies spend so much time getting us to the root for the central couple. That’s why a rom-com is all about the chemistry of its central couple. But Love is strange (sorry) in that getting us to root for Mickey and Gus is largely not its goal. As the episodes progress, and especially in “Magic,” the writers (in this case co-creator Lesley Arfin) is making the outcome of that case as ambiguous as possible. Gus believes in magic, Mickey never will. And that’s never going to change. But other things might. Gus may not have been afraid to fuck Mickey initially. But when he sees her with her vibrator at the end of the episode, his face telegraphs something that could be construed as fear that he’s not entirely necessary.

Stray observations

  • This episode was directed by Steve Buscemi! John Slattery has done a couple too. It’s like character actor Bingo over here.
  • Once again, Claudia O’Doherty is a treasure and I’m so glad Love brought her to my attention: “Hello! We were just talking about Christmas!” “I’m going to book club. We’re reading Dianetics. We just want to see what it is.”
  • Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but I love Kerri Kenney as Syd. She never plays this lowkey and she’s so perfect.
  • “Don’t make me get Carlos.”
  • Okay, is it just me or do you really want to go to the Magic Castle right now? I have no strong feelings about magic but I have so many requests for ghost piano player Irma.

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