Are we miserable because we expect too much from those we love or are we miserable because we don’t expect enough? How much personal humiliation can one person stand for the good of the next generation? Does domestication inherently beget or breed emotional castration or are “crisis of masculinity” fears simply a product of the natural existential malaise that comes from middle age? These are the questions enervating underneath the surface of “The Seventh Layer,” a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-esque story about two minor characters in the throes of their own personal Hells. If nothing else, it’s the most touching episode of You’re The Worst that also features two men furiously masturbating into a campfire.
The two men in question are Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) and Paul (Allan McLeod), the two put-upon men tasked with purchasing a bassinet for Vernon’s child and end up lost in the woods overnight. Fearing their respective homes and spouses, the two bond over their shared plight and plan to run away to Mexico only to ultimately return to their homes for the good of their prospective children. Though a familiar story—frightened fathers avoid their impending responsibilities—Stephen Falk enlivens it not just with his trademark bite and dark humor but also a bone-deep empathy for two side characters historically relegated to comic relief. “The Seventh Layer” is the best kind of digression, the one that shades in and sharpens characters we’ve only briefly gotten to know before.
It also helps that Vernon and Paul have polar opposite personalities: One’s a boisterous, jubilant frat boy and the other’s a bookish, quiet nerd. Naturally, this dynamic leads to inevitable conflict, epitomized by the initial car ride with Vernon obnoxiously rocking out to Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle” while Paul tries to concentrate on the road. Though the two don’t share much when it comes to interests or childhoods, they do share one thing in common: Their spouses. “We goofball married a couple of straight meanies,” Vernon says as they search for a creek. That soon becomes the theme of the evening after they’re forced to make camp because they got lost in the woods when Paul’s car suddenly died.
But first, Paul figures out why his car died: Vernon purposefully filled his car with diesel gas in order to stall for time. Now that Becca keeps him on an allowance after his stint being under the thumb of a financial dominatrix, Vernon uses any chance he can get for fun. Though he’s a bit coarse and boorish, Vernon is ultimately harmless, and his “fun” is mostly limited to eating seven-layer-dip-flavored gas station candy, swimming in dirty creek water, and pretending pinecones are grenades. (His childlike instincts are far and away Vernon’s most endearing quality.) But he feels that inner spirit slowly fading away now that he’s trapped in a less-than-ideal domestic situation without any chance to cut loose.
However, Vernon has nothing on Paul when it comes to depressing home lives. In an effort to save their relationship, Lindsay has decided to cuckold Paul, reducing him to a more pathetic state than usual. While Falk and co. has mostly played the cuckoldry for laughs (lest you forget last week’s dick cage), it becomes a serious issue this week. Watch Paul as he breaks down when he realizes he won’t be able to get home in time for Raul and you see a man desperate to be emasculated if only because he can be in the room while it’s happening. It’s clear that Paul and Vernon are two sad, broken men, wore down by the demands of their wives and domestic responsibilities.
Falk walks a fine line with “The Seventh Layer,” which could have easily devolved into the standard sitcom male complaints about nagging wives in the hands of a worse writer. But here, he grounds Paul and Vernon’s grievances in a) the legitimate reality of their wives’ actions as Becca and Lindsay have emotionally, and sometimes physically, mistreated their husbands and b) their fear that they will pass their misery onto their children. It’s less that Paul and Vernon are seriously aggrieved, although Becca shoving Vernon’s head into a toilet for a minute is very intense, it’s more that they don’t want their emotional states to affect their parenting, as the two of them suffered through emotionally unavailable or inattentive fathers. When Vernon suggest they high-tail it to Mexico, it doesn’t read as the quickly conceived plan of a young man, but a serious belief that an unhappy father will raise an unhappy child.
But despite reclaiming their manhood by jerking off into a fire, surviving a night in the woods, and using Paul’s knowledge of the squat-billed bushtit and Vernon’s harmonica to find their way back to the car, they don’t run off to Mexico. Paul realizes that he can’t squander the opportunity to be a father, even if means contending with Lindsay’s sexual needs, and Vernon was one step away from hitching a ride to San Diego, but when he sees that his child’s bassinet was stolen, he becomes enraged and realizes he can’t leave just yet. Falk underscores that the two haven’t “gotten over” their feelings, nor have they forgiven their wives, but have come to a subtle understanding that their presence is important for their families, even if it’s marginalized. They are necessary parts of their family’s life, especially when faced with hardships.
“When you think about it, aren’t we all special needs?” says Vernon in his opening monologue. “I mean, we have this set of ways we want to be treated, right? But the question is: Is it real or is it just a reaction to life constantly disappointing us?” It’s interesting how this idea runs through the episode. Are Paul and Vernon just “unsatisfiable dick nuggets” that blame their loved ones for their own unhappiness, or are their wives taking their misery out on them? Falk doesn’t answer this question definitively not just because it’s likely a combination of both parties projecting their unhappiness onto the other, but also because “The Seventh Layer” exists to present a point-of-view from two people who haven’t voiced it yet.
But at the end of the day, the burden is on Paul and Vernon to make a choice for themselves, to stand up for their own feelings and beliefs. If the seventh layer of a seven-layer dip is whatever makes the cook happy, then it’s up to these goofballs to make their own layer in their lives. At the very least, these two are giving it one more shot before they quit it.
- Vernon and Paul comes up with names for Blizzards when combined with different alcohols: When you add rum, it’s a Rizzard; when you add gin, it’s a Gizzard; when you add wine, it’s a Wizzard.
- There are too many funny things that Vernon does and says in this episode for them all to be recounted here, but my favorite might be him aggressively fucking with ants.
- Vernon calls Paul Corey Hart, singer of “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night,” on account of his prescription glasses.
- A male squat-billed bushtit falls silent after he mates, and then spends all his time tending to his mate and children, and after he’s no longer needed, he jumps from a tree and does not fly. Sounds familiar.
- Vernon is a fan of the TNT series The Librarians but Becca keeps “accidentally” erasing his shows so he missed all last season.
- It’s genuinely sweet when Vernon and Paul mumble through “I’ll miss you’s” when Vernon is about to leave.
- “Nah, I can’t get sick. To build my immune system, I lick weird stuff at the hospital all the time. In surg, they say, ‘Scrub up,’ I just fake go through the motions.”
- “I saw The Grey. I’m not bottle-fighting no woofs!”
- “People forget I’m a doctor and that I know shit.”
- “Picture it: Casa Vernon e Paul. Just the two of us eating shellfish, drinking margaritas and Wizzards. I could take bullets out of cartel members on the DL, you can be their accountant or whatever.”
- “I know I mess around a lot and I like to have fun and Becca thinks I’m a baby but I’m really a good person with a good heart. And I believe there’s someone out there who’ll love me, hopefully a Mexican hottie with big naturals.”