After going primarily for laughs all season, Man Seeking Woman tries something new with “Stain,” focusing on Josh’s mental state and delivering its least fun, but most thoughtful entry yet. The meat of the episode is Josh’s disastrous evening at a destination wedding in Hell, stuck at the same table as Maggie and her ridiculously attractive new boyfriend, Graham, but the awkwardness to come is set up right from the opening. Tired of waiting for him to get out of his post-“Gavel” funk, Liz drags Josh out for a night of dancing with her and Leo—competitive couples ice dancing, that is. Josh is completely out of his element while Liz and Leo gracefully glide and pirouette around him and his pathetic attempts to not skate (pretending to see a friend in the audience, pretending to get a text) don’t fool anyone. By itself, the opening does a great job capturing the feeling of being the third wheel, out of one’s comfort zone and stranded next to an utterly oblivious pair of friends. With the context of the episode’s final scene, however, the message of the opening changes: Josh’s problem is not that he’s couples skating, it’s that he’s manifesting his fear of being ridiculed by refusing to participate, trying to run from the awkward situation when he should just shut up and (ice) dance.
More than any episode all season, “Stain” is told from Josh’s point of view. Initially, Josh and Mike heading to a destination wedding in Hell feels like a setup for a pointed skewering of the trend, but the laughs never really come. Josh’s critiques start out reasonable—it’s not enough that they have to get to Hell, and presumably bring a present, they also need to buy a holy weapon?—but the closer the reception gets, the more bitter and resentful he becomes. Josh is dreading Becky and Ben’s wedding, and so the episode drags its feet getting there and once he’s stuck at table 19 with Maggie and Graham, the pace slows to a crawl. Rather than cringe humor, the episode is interested in the audience actually cringing, slowly marching Josh through a routine plenty of drunken, dissatisfied characters have repeated at various fictional weddings, one that can only end with public embarrassment. Well done as it is, it’s not particularly entertaining and had the episode culminated in Josh excusing himself from the reception, it would have been a significant misfire. Instead, Josh goes outside and opens up to himself—and a woman damned for saying the Earth is round—about his frustration over his situation. In finally acknowledging that he’s not okay, Josh has a moment of catharsis and suddenly, the episode comes together.
Jay Baruchel has been a solid and engaging lead throughout the series, matching the tone of each scene wonderfully, no matter how heightened or mundane. Here he’s particularly effective, making Josh’s frustration absolutely relatable while avoiding an undercurrent of entitlement to Josh’s assertion that he’s done everything right. There is exasperation, confusion, and a little self-pity, but not the anger one might expect, and pairing Josh in the scene with a woman clearly far more wronged than he doesn’t hurt. Though the fire ants gag is more distracting than funny, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and Josh’s quick turnaround re-energizes both him and the action.
The end of the episode is joyful and delightfully simple, a clean break with the episode’s earlier tone. Mike’s undermining of Josh’s breakthrough is great, as is Josh actually being able to take Mike’s advice and look past himself to enjoy the party and be grateful for his friends. A weight has been lifted from Josh and it’s nice that this can only happen after he takes responsibility for his behavior and blocks out the voice of the devil on his shoulder (or, in this case, the demon skewered and dumped on the stairs). Josh has spent a lot of time running from responsibility and even more lying to himself. If this awareness sticks, the season’s final episodes could feature a very different Josh, and it’s exciting to see a series in its first season willing to make its protagonist such a miserable git before bringing him out the other side.
- Perspective is a tricky thing in this series. Outlandish situations crop up consistently but are taken at face value by all of the characters, implying that Josh’s perspective is not coloring what’s being shown. Here that changes, and one need look no further than the red wine stain on Becky’s dress for confirmation: When Josh leaves, the bodice is ruined, particularly the right side of it. When he comes back in, there’s a small, partially washed out red splotch on the left side of her dress, just about the only place left unscathed in the earlier scene. Josh, it would seem, is not a reliable narrator and everything shown in this episode, if not the entire series, should be taken with a healthy dose of salt.
- Speaking of Becky’s dress, it’s lovely and having it be shorter is a nice touch, given their choice of destination.
- The ice dancing sequence benefits from Liz and Leo’s faces being clearly visible in at least some of the shots, particularly the instant replay of Josh with his phone, and the commentators get some of the best comedic lines of the episode, including, “Josh being with them is super awkward and weird.”
- The fantastic Brett Gelman is instantly recognizable, even beneath his makeup, as the demon who attacks Josh and it’s great to see him turn up on the show. His demon is just the right blend of needy and obnoxious.
- Miles Fischer’s reaction and the seemingly endless awkward pause makes Graham’s initial exchange with Josh, “I’ve heard so much about you!” “Only good things, I hope…” another of the episode’s comedic highlights.
- We finally see Josh at work! Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see of Josh the Temp.
- Mike feels very different here than he has throughout the rest of the season—not a single comment about hitting on bridesmaids?—but it’s a good look on him and a nice change of pace.