Most of the time you can see disaster coming from a mile away. We all like to think that misfortune only happens suddenly and to other people who probably exist on TV. It’s comforting to believe this because the truth is a much harder pill to swallow: Catastrophe is ordinary. It happens to everyone and it’s oftentimes our own actions that are its catalyst. But catastrophe also isn’t always grand or drastic. Sometimes it’s being completely unaffected by the world, or taking bad love advice, or just a good relationship that slowly dissolves because the two parties aren’t able to stop each other from drifting apart. Now, that’s a disaster.
Written by Eva Anderson and Alison Bennett, and directed by Matt Shakman, “A Rapidly Mutating Virus” is the shit-hits-the-fan episode of the season, but unlike its first season equivalent “Finish Your Milk,” it’s much more subdued and subtly more tragic, even though nothing truly unexpected happens: Sam’s beef with HoneyNutz and Shitstain comes to a violent, yet ultimately amicable end; Gretchen unceremoniously kicks Jimmy out of her life; Jimmy hooks up with Nina the bartender. These are plot developments that could have been reasonably predicted weeks ago, but Anderson and Bennett frame them as the inevitable outcomes to a disaster-in-the-making, which add a much-needed sense of dread to the proceedings. The bad moon has been rising since Gretchen snuck out at night to cry in her car, and now it has risen just in time for her to rail Adderall in the morning so she can feel something.
Aya Cash has put in stellar work this season playing a clinically depressed Gretchen. Her restrained performance hasn’t played into the tired clichés of “TV depression,” but it also means that the character’s sullen mood and low energy sometimes keeps her out of focus mainly because the lived experience of depression isn’t ripe with dynamism. Yet I don’t know if Cash has ever been better than when she’s playing Gretchen as a hollow shell, drugged out of her mind and numb to the world. Her sunken expression and general apathy gives her a compelling edge that’s difficult to pin down, as if she can do anything even though she’s mostly do nothing.
When Gretchen attends Sam’s radio interview with Trace (Erik Griffin of Workaholics fame) at FIRE 103 for the release of his new single “New Phone. Who Dis?”, she’s unable to control the room when Sam walks out after some callers trash the song. But that’s nothing compared to what happens during the follow-up interview with HoneyNutz and Shitstain when Sam lets loose on everyone, including a caller who calls him a bitch. Later when that caller and her two friends drive up to the studio and beat the shit out of the rap trio, Gretchen pulls a Walter White and flashes a gun, courtesy of Jimmy’s eccentric father, and tells the lady gang to run. It’s not that Gretchen pulled a gun on some thugs, it’s that she did it without an ounce of feeling. Watch as Shakman cuts between the crew’s violent beating and Gretchen’s vacant expression. Watch as she calmly lights her cigarette afterwards while Lindsay looks on with disbelief. Later when she tells Lindsay that she felt bored during the encounter, it feels like a turning point, like she finally realizes that it’s not a tenable option to walk through life disaffected and indifferent.
That’s not before she pushes Jimmy out of her life. The scene when they “break up” (I put that in quotes because it’s unclear if it was official, but it sure as hell felt like it) is short and sweet, but it’s what goes unsaid that’s ultimately more important. Gretchen tells Jimmy that she feels nothing about anything, including their relationship, so it’s best that he leaves. But what’s really being said is that Gretchen believes Jimmy will never truly understand her or her depression, and because he wants everything to magically go back to the way things were, there’s no point in trying any longer. Of course, all of this might be stymied if the two of them had some open dialogue, but since Jimmy and Gretchen aren’t the most open of people, all there is just crushing silence, a stolen liquor bottle, and a pillow covered with coke.
That’s obviously not to say that Jimmy’s behavior has been out of bounds. Creator Stephen Falk has done a great job at depicting the lived experience of mental illness, and not just those suffering with it, but those who have to live with them as well. Jimmy tries to understand Gretchen’s mental state, trying to give her a good day or staying out of her way, but he also becomes understandably frustrated when he wants to vent about his problems and she can’t muster up the energy to care. He tries to keep his distance away from Nina, the cute bartender who flirts with him all the time, because he honestly does like Gretchen. Yet the gulf between them gets larger by the day as neither is able to even attempt to bridge the divide, and suddenly Nina’s innocent flirtations become home visits to watch the Buckle Your Shoes holiday special. Though Jimmy initially backs off, he gets hammered on red licorice when Gretchen calls it quits and then finds himself in Nina’s bar, drinking scotch and eventually making out with her.
In many ways, You’re The Worst has always been a coming-of-age story, but instead of focusing on the traditional signifiers of adulthood, they take dead aim at the moments that go unrecognized. You’re The Worst understands that “getting your shit together” isn’t just something you say to a friend over drinks, it requires an active effort that means shedding tired preconceptions of self, abandoning certain ideas of coolness, and making major changes in behavior. In other words, it’s hell for fuck-ups who, as I’ve said before, revel at being stuck in neutral. It’s easy and it’s fun, but it also leads to a consistent disregard towards anything remotely important. Jimmy and Gretchen are great together, even though they’ll never admit it, but they’re also cut from the same cloth, unable to face the demons they share together head on. Jimmy finds a new girl without any entanglements and Gretchen sits with Lindsay tired and bored with herself. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
- There were two other subplots tonight. The first involves Edgar’s date with Dorothy at a barbecue with her old comedy friends. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with her comedy cohorts, Edgar gets stoned and acts like an asshole. Dorothy and Edgar eventually make up after they leave the party. It was a sweet storyline, but not too memorable.
- The second subplot is a little bit more interesting: Vernon is in debt with an online financial dominatrix and he’s been stealing from his family’s Disney cruise fund. At first I thought this came out of nowhere until I remembered that it was quietly foreshadowed in “There Is Not Currently A Problem” when he begs Lindsay to take some money from him in exchange for her discretion with Becca. It’s funny pretty much because Todd Robert Anderson’s comedic delivery is wonderfully on point.
- Major, major, major props to Brandon Mychal Smith who absolutely kills it as Sam this week providing several of the funniest lines of the night.
- Also, if you were wondering, Sam’s reference to the “future-ass cell phone ho” from The Circus, that 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie, is unfortunately an urban legend.
- In case you’re interested, Kiff VandenHeuvel and Georgie Guinane play Heathcliff and Beatrix respectively in Buckle Your Shoes.
- Jimmy swiping the red licorice vodka was a nice callback to first season shenanigans.
- “950 grams. They say the human soul weighs 21 grams…”
- “Man, my tempo shifts are unmotivated on purpose!”
- “I think it’s important to consider side projects separate from the main artists. Temple of the Dog. Chris Gaines. These are really old references. I’ll look stuff up. Anyway, context!”
- “Then do someone else’s best! Like Hilary Clinton, or Tori Amos circa-Little Earthquakes.”
- “When I was 12, me and my buddy Slider jacked off next to each other on a camping trip.”
- “Red licorice vodka? Were you expecting Chris Hansen?”
- “I told you I don’t like hanging out with those rich USC assholes!” “Your dad is a lawyer for CBS!”
- “Maybe I just make bad decisions! I bought a chocolate fountain. Who does that?”
- “My life flashed before my eyes: Dick, following Smash Mouth around Europe, negative after negative customer service interaction, divorce, more dick. I realize I really need to get my shit together.”