When You’re The Worst first began, “worst” was a fairly superficial term used to separate Jimmy and Gretchen from the hordes of “regular folk” who subscribe to the rules of polite society. As initially envisioned, the two of them are obnoxious, selfish boozehounds that don’t give a good goddamn about anybody or anything. They’re not “bad” necessarily, but at best they’re grossly immature and flighty. In other words, they’re made for each other.
That’s still more or less the premise in the show’s third season, but “worst” has been redefined and recalibrated over the last two years to become something a bit broader, and ultimately more potent. Jimmy, Gretchen, and the rest of the You’re The Worst clan, are just messy, messy people, filled with maddening flaws, both major and minor, and they stumble forwards, backwards, and sideways down their own paths. They’re all “the worst” because they’re all half-broken fuck-ups who constantly crash and burn only to get up once more to try again. One of the best parts of the series is how downright frustrating these characters are in ways that feel true to life. People don’t just automatically “grow” at a certain crucial moment; they don’t just “get better” or “move on.” Sometimes they run in place. Sometimes they fall ass-backwards into misery. Sometimes they stand up to fight only to sit down for a drink instead. So why do we keep watching? In the words of Jimmy Shive-Overly, “Maybe there’s beauty in the struggle against near-certain failure.”
“You Knew It Was A Snake” and “No Longer Just Us” function as a climax and a denouement respectively. It makes sense to air them back-to-back given that they tell a complete story of two couples’ fractures and one couple’s stop-start development, but both operate in completely different tones. The former, written by Eva Anderson, depicts the claustrophobia of three fighting couples under one roof and has the feel of a Albee play, while the latter, written by Stephen Falk, Franklin Hardy, and Shane Kosakowski, is more of sprawling finale episode that ties up loose ends and effectively establishes the next season. Though “You Knew It Was A Snake” is the better of the two episodes, both achieve what they set out to do with elegance, and more importantly, disrupt the natural order of the series’ relationships.
Jimmy and Gretchen are still reeling from the harsh “cons” that they admitted to each other at Shitstain and Jacqueline’s wedding, and though Gretchen takes her words back, Jimmy won’t budge, putting these two at odds with each other. They start wondering what they’re doing with each other, fantasizing about the ideal mates they each had in mind—for Jimmy, it’s a classy first chair violinist for the Philharmonic; for Gretchen, it’s an international movie star with a giant dong—only to return to reality and admit something to themselves: Neither was prepared to carry the weight of the other through their own personal pain. Both snap at each other that there’s only room for one person who’s stuck in shit because the other has to dig them out.
Of course, this isn’t really true, and eventually Jimmy comes through with the closest thing resembling rousing encouragement after acting like such a colossal, judgmental dick got him nowhere.
“I mean, the vast majority of all human effort, however great or miniscule, ends in failure. So what are your options? You just admit pre-defeat because the odds are you’re gonna be right? Or do you do it anyway.”
They come to terms with the fact that their friction is what gives them life, and that giving up because it’s too hard is a weak move given that everything eventually sucks by the end anyway. Jimmy realizes that it’s Gretchen who had been his primary inspiration for his erotic fiction and both get a kick out of being needed by the other. After the fights and the yelling, they stabilize, subconsciously understanding that what they have is strong enough to weather even the harshest storms. Though they openly acknowledge that they didn’t “solve” anything, they’re committed to being together regardless.
As for the other two couples, the storms are just too much to bear. Dorothy and Edgar finally come to a head when Dorothy’s jealousy and depression finally make their way into nasty jabs about affirmative action at Edgar’s expense. Though she’s clearly not trying to be offensive, she still traffics in that territory because it’s the thing that’s keeping her afloat. Edgar soon blows up at her, accusing her of only liking him when he’s suffering and unsuccessful, which obviously prompts a tearful Dorothy to finally admit that her dream is dead. It’s a painful series of scenes that confirm Edgar and Dorothy are on completely different paths and no amount of sacrifice is going to change that. Finally, Edgar lands a job in Doug Benson’s writer’s room and Dorothy moves out of her apartment to return to Jacksonville, Florida, coming to terms with the fact that some people don’t get to do what they always wanted to do. Worn out by Dorothy, Edgar confesses to Lindsay that he’s kind of glad she left, which on face reads as somewhat cruel, but is probably the clearest indication that Edgar has shed his “poor” status and become something resembling a self-sustainable human being.
Meanwhile, Lindsay and Paul are on a whole other explosive level, with Paul furiously confronting Lindsay for aborting their child without consulting or informing him. Their two-part separation and divorce runs the gamut of devastating to funny to just plain cruel, but arguably the best part about it is that the decks are evenly stacked. Paul expresses justifiable fury at Lindsay for her selfishness and abuse, while Lindsay chastises him for using a veneer of niceness as a weapon and for trying to change her into something she isn’t. While the two come to an initial understanding about their separation, Paul suddenly grows a backbone and turns nasty during the divorce proceedings. He provides her with a paltry monthly allowance and insults her intelligence, but in spite of that, Lindsay keeps her held up high, finally free of all personal entanglements. It’s Paul who’s left with no family while Lindsay has a close circle and takes over Dorothy’s own shitty apartment. It’s this subplot that best demonstrates You’re The Worst’s fundamental evenhandedness: Both Paul and Lindsay have behaved terribly in their own ways, but both are ultimately understood and heard.
But as always, the show circles back to Jimmy and Gretchen, who go on a mission to see a murder scene in “No Longer Just Us,” which ends up being a big ruse for Jimmy to propose to Gretchen. Believing that they need each other to transcend the mundanity of life, Jimmy requests her hand in marriage overlooking the city of Los Angeles, filled with all those people they hate. Gretchen tearfully accepts and requests they have sex underneath the fireworks, but just when Jimmy goes to retrieve a hoodie from the car, Gretchen gives a speech of her own about how the two are family now. It’s one of hope for the future about how they’re no longer just themselves, but a unit fighting against the daily current. This sends Jimmy spiraling, as he only recently labeled himself “post-family,” believing that family’s prescribed closeness is “often the very Charybdis that yanks [people] to the fathoms.” So what does he do? He gets in the car and drives away, leaving Gretchen standing on top of the hill, as the fireworks shine above them, having permanently affected the state of their relationship.
One could quibble with this development, how it’s one surprise on top of the other, how it renders Jimmy almost too much of an asshole, how it cheaply gooses the drama, etc. But I don’t buy it. As I’ve said before, this season was about the limitations of self-awareness and how actual physical and emotional work is required to change, then this finally showcases the potentially insurmountable gap between Jimmy and Gretchen. All season long, Gretchen put in the time to become a more emotionally conscious, mentally healthy person, while Jimmy went the other direction following his father’s death. Though Gretchen began as the first person to jump ship at the first sign of struggle, she’s now the one willing and eager to take a leap. But it’s Jimmy who doesn’t have the follow through this time, abandoning Gretchen immediately after his romantic gesture because he just couldn’t hock it. The two were fine not solving anything, knowing that they could get through, but the elephant in the room reared its ugly head at the worst possible moment. Some things change, some things remain the same. And all the while, near-certain failure surrounds your vision until it’s the only thing you can see.
- The best choreographed scene of these two episodes? When Jimmy and Gretchen kick into action when they see a DUI checkpoint coming up ahead. They get into disguise, abandon the car, and set their booze on fire in a trashcan. Beautiful.
- Best insults about Becca’s baby: 1. Gretchen: “It looks like the fox in the Nine Inch Nails video that’s being eaten by ants.”; 2. Jimmy: “It looks like it should be screaming at an old lady in an Aphex Twin video!’
- Gretchen responds to Jimmy’s suggestion that she doesn’t how to rear a child with an accusation of sexism. “Am I living with a Gamergater?!”
- Steve Agee returns yet again as “The Guy Who Keeps Listening To The Gang and Subsequently Keeps Losing His Job.”
- Doug Benson also returns as a unconventional hard-ass who eats sushi off of naked women and chastises Edgar for wasting his time.
- Samira Wiley makes her final appearance as Gretchen’s therapist who’s moving to Iowa with her less successful boyfriend, but promises to still Skype with Gretchen.
- Paul tries to get Vernon to flee to Mexico but he quickly declines. “I love her so goddamn much, nerd. Plus, I can’t leave her with Bec. She will JonBenet her fo sho, or leave her on a bench at the Marina del Ray Rosé fest or some shit.”
- As much as Paul acts like an asshole in the divorce proceedings, it’s still pretty badass the way he lights a cigarette and swipes a bottle of whiskey from Jimmy’s house.
- “It’s like being molested by an audiobook!”
- “What? I’m supposed to wear pajamas like an old?”
- “Name one family that’s just a bunch of cells!” “Osmosis Jones!”
- “Lindsay is reciting all the spoken word parts of Lemonade.”
- “You know in high school, you wouldn’t even exist to me.”
- That’s all for season three, folks. Thanks to everyone who stuck around with these reviews and in the comments. I’ll see ya, next year.
- Season Grade: A-