Paul Rust (Photo: Suzanne Hanover/Netflix)

Being a chatty, generally low-key comic examination of a developing romance, Love doesn’t seem like the type of show that would end its second-season premiere with aerial footage of a police manhunt. But that’s exactly how “On Lockdown” climaxes, with Gus Cruikshank caught in a helicopter spotlight, encircled by officers of the LAPD. It’s out-of-character for Love, but it’s a damn splashy representation of all the red flags Gus and Mickey have ignored on their way to one another. Their attraction has caused emotional injuries before; Gus’ encounter with Los Angeles’ finest makes those injuries physical.

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Before “On Lockdown” can get to the siege at the Springwood, it picks up right where season one left off. It’s a momentous evening for our star-crossed lovers, one in which they have plenty of opportunities to part ways, yet never do. Circumstances keep forcing these two together, bonded by the shared awkwardness of gas-station-parking-lot confessions, overheard moaning, and the chaos at Gus’ apartment complex. The episode begins very small—just a girl, standing in front of a boy, filling him in on her various insecurities and addictions and telling him that she shouldn’t date for at least a year—and ends up pulling a small community and a band of municipal employees into the central couple’s orbit. Love is simultaneously all about Mickey and Gus, and much, much bigger than the two of them.

It’s a weird episode, but it reminds me of why I came to like Love in the first place, which is really all you can ask of a season premiere. It all comes down to Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, that unique chemistry that’s on display when Mickey and Gus accidentally eavesdrop on Bertie and Randy having sex. I delighted in watching the actors puzzle through their emotions together, as Mickey realizes Bertie isn’t the roommate she thought she was and Gus figures out how Randy and Bertie hooked up in the first place. The scene does the horror-movie aspects of cringe comedy very well: All logic suggests that they should beat feet to the front door, but we want to watch them comment on the situation, tiptoeing ever closer to the edge of being discovered. In these roles, they’re a double act whose specialty is playing with fire.

But Love is also good at capturing the sweetness and the irrefutability of their connection—in spite of so much evidence that they should run screaming from one another. Rust and Jacobs express this, silently, when Gus and Mickey catch each others’ eyes from across the restaurant patio, the sentiment of the moment underlined by Chance The Rapper’s “Smoke Break.” They know the risks involved, but the potential reward seems worth it. Even after the episode gets to the Springwood, it’s awash in a warm afterglow that complements director Dean Holland’s compositions, like the ones below, in which Gus and Mickey aren’t playing with fire, per se, but are certainly close to it. They might have faked their way through those smiles earlier, but there’s an honest kindness, affection, and vulnerability in this shot.

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Screenshot: Netflix

Does that intimacy gel with outlandish chopper-and-Maglites finale of “On Lockdown”? Not necessarily, but like I said before, it’s certainly in line with the show’s “Don’t go in there!” approach to romantic comedy. And it also sets up a clever callback to the very beginning of the show, pre-meet-cute, in which Mickey and Gus lie on the same sides of different beds. (Callbacks on callbacks: Both scenes follow moments of major humiliation for Gus.) In a bit of role reversal, Mickey recognizes the rom-com tableau she’s in and tells Gus, “If we were going to kiss, it would be right now.” But “On Lockdown” isn’t interested in things these two are supposed to do. They’re not supposed to be mistaken for the culprit who slammed their car into “The Real Divorced Dads Of Sherman Oaks.” They’re not even supposed to be in the same bed together. But doing the wrong thing is what this couple does best, and “On Lockdown” is a worthy reminder of that.

Stray observations

  • Welcome to The A.V. Club’s coverage of Love’s second season! We’ll be posting one review of the show per day through March 21st, written by either myself, Esther Zuckerman, or Molly Eichel. Esther’s on episode two tomorrow, Molly’s on episode three on Sunday, then I’m back on Monday—and so forth.
  • Gus on his prospects as a modern-day Casanova: “I’m not Warren Beatty. I’m not even Ned Beatty.”
  • Gus’ dorkiness was no secret to Mickey: “Dude, you took me to The Magic Castle. I already knew you were a dork.”
  • Great, seemingly improvised tag when Mickey and Gus get back to the Springwood: “It’s weird that you call your bathroom a restroom.” “I know, while I was saying that, I was like, ‘That’s weird.’”
  • We can all agree that Claudia O’Doherty is the most reliably funny member of Love’s supporting cast (and we can also agree that there isn’t enough Claudia O’Doherty in “On Lockdown”), but Chris Witaske makes a strong case for himself here. I love his memory of the cultural climate post-9/11: “Aw, I remember those days, man. Before that, you could bring a box cutter on a plane. But then after, it was a whole thing.” The way he says “a whole thing” is just great.
  • Jokes based on the title of Nancy Meyers’ hit film from 2009 always get me: “Bit of a Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin situation.” “Huh? It’s complicated.”

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