(Photo: Suzanne Hanover/Netflix)

I’m starting to believe—based on completely anecdotal evidence from friends, comments, and tweets—that there are two camps of Love fans. There are those that believe Mickey is awful, and those that believe that Gus is. Sure, the show has established that neither one of them is truly a great person, but I’ve found that viewers tend to think one is the more damaging party. I’m Team Gus Sucks, and the excruciating (in a good way) “Marty Dobbs” lays the groundwork for that conviction. It does so by undermining the familiar-set up it presents. As soon as Mickey invites Gus to come along and meet her father, it’s obvious the situation is doomed. Even with less dysfunctional characters, parental meet-ups are never smooth. But while Marty himself may be a jerk, it’s Gus’ insidious need to be mediator and quintessential “nice guy” that causes a rift between the couple.

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Marty—played by the inimitable Daniel Stern—is like a ghost of Mickey’s former self. Forgive the cliché, but the apple does not fall far from the tree in the Dobbs family. He’s a manipulative alcoholic; She’s a recovering manipulative alcoholic. While Mickey was cagey about her past in “A Day,” here it’s laid bare. She rebelled by following in her father’s destructive footsteps, and he was both enemy and enabler to her.

Stern portrays Marty with a mix of oily charm and gruffness that can turn sinister at a moment’s notice. However, it’s Gillian Jacobs that’s doing the truly phenomenal work in the episode. She allows a mix of embarrassment, cynicism, frustration, and genuine hurt dance on her face as Mickey listens to her father wax about her childhood troublemaking as if it was a joke, and then ultimately berate her for going to AA. It’s barely contained pain that Gus fails to recognize.

Now to be fair to Gus, Mickey did not prep him at all for what he encounters. At first he’s just aggressively and annoyingly trying to win Marty over. Though Mickey only invited him to join at the very last minute, he acts as if they are both playing host. “We’re so glad to have you in town,” he says, totally overstepping. As the day progresses his desire to be the hero turns into condescension toward Mickey. He tries to be devil’s advocate; He asks her if she’s “tempted” by being at a bar, rubbing her wrist in a gesture that’s more controlling than affectionate. When left alone with Marty, Gus tells him that the should be “proud” of Mickey, speaking about her like a child.

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The key to “Marty Dobbs” is the story Marty relays over lunch after Gus asks him for anecdotes about Mickey. He describes an instance in which a stubborn pre-teen Mickey gets out of his car at a light and is lost in Jersey City until he finds her alone, eating fries in a Burger King. Mickey remembers it differently. She was a crushed kid who missed her friend’s birthday party because her dad was preoccupied. He was yelling at her so intensely that she followed his orders when he told her to get out of the car. She wasn’t content at the Burger King; She was frightened. And even after listening and sympathizing to the woman he is dating, Gus tries to give Marty the benefit of the doubt.

As Mickey and Gus are on the way home we see a version of this scenario. Mickey, rightfully hurt, confronts Gus about telling Marty that she is sober. “I can’t even be in a car with you right now,” she says and pulls over. She becomes her parent in that moment, doing to Gus what was done to her. Or perhaps she turns into her 11-year-old self, irrationally leaving the vehicle. Either way you look at it, she’s forced to revert into someone she was desperately trying to avoid. Gus wasn’t ill-intentioned, but he couldn’t see how his actions were torturing the woman he was ostensibly trying to help. That’s why their reconciliation reads almost as tragic. Mickey is buying into Gus’ narrative about her without realizing how harmful it really is.

Stray Observations

  • Are you Team Mickey Sucks? Do you think I’m completely off-base? I want to hear all the opinions.
  • Gus’ actions here are a continuation of what Erik identified back in “Shrooms.”
  • Bertie puts half-eaten yogurts back in the fridge and then eats them. This is wonderful.
  • Random, fun fact: Did you know Daniel Stern’s son Henry is a California State Senator? Now you do.

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