‘You’re the Worst’ Throws Down the Most Exceptional and Relatable Episode Yet
Tonight’s episode of You’re the Worst opens on an uncanny scene: on the surface, the seemingly perfect-yet-still-cool married couple are entirely unfamiliar to us, and yet there’s something about them that feels familiar, as if we’re glimpsing a near-future-ish version of Jimmy and Gretchen. Gretchen sees it too, and it’s not long before “LCD Soundsystem” readjusts to play its exceptionally poignant hand.
The latest episode begins with Rob (Justin Kirk) and Lexi (Tara Summers), a married couple with a toddler who longingly reminisce about their night club days while maintaining their responsible suburban existence. Their banter is effortless and sharp, they appear casually cool, and they instantly seem like more mature, stable versions of Gretchen and Jimmy — it’s hardly coincidence that the two bear noticeable physical similarities to our favorite anti-couple.
We spend the first third of the episode with Rob and Lexi as they take their toddler to the nanny, plan their day, dryly rib each other, and begrudgingly embrace a coveted meeting with the preschool of their choice. It is almost — not quite — an entirely different show, so when the episode guides us back to the beginning and we view the couple through Gretchen’s lost eyes, Rob and Lexi’s appeal is clear. They are the uncanny versions of Jimmy and Gretchen. Different in so many obvious ways, but similar in some deeper, intangible sense, like a moment of instant recognition that cannot be verbally qualified because it exists on an abstract, intimate plane.
Gretchen knows these people like she knows herself, like she knows her lifelong friend Depression or the way she’s probably memorized the menu at her favorite diner. She knows Rob and Lexi not just because she recognizes kindred spirits — though in this instance, the term “spirit” is far more literal given the cool Largo-loving ghosts of their not-too-distant past. But Gretchen also knows Rob and Lexi from her secret desires and daydreams. She knows them because she might as well have projected them into existence. Rob and Lexi are Gretchen’s ideal couple, the best case happy ending for Gretchen and Jimmy.
Since Season 1, we’ve accepted much of Jimmy and Gretchen at face value. They’ve been hurt a lot and they’ve f—ed up a lot, so they reject the conventional concept of relationships, begrudgingly embracing their desire to be with one another the way Lexi and Rob give in to their preschool meeting. Gretchen and Jimmy are incredibly flawed, and while we as viewers may not always readily identify with their specific problems or actions, their essentially flawed nature is incredibly relatable.
Insecurity is the seed from which all human flaws grow, and for Gretchen, her deepest insecurity is that she’s not good enough for anyone — not for herself, and most certainly not for others — and that she will never be truly happy, or able to maintain a long-lasting relationship. These are the most basic of all human insecurities, and as her depression has taken hold we’ve seen another side of Gretchen: listless, lost, fidgety and contemplative. But Jimmy doesn’t want to hear Gretchen wax existential about the road less traveled and the complex network of choices we make every minute of every day that comprise our current existence. If we had purchased whole milk instead of almond, or ran that red light, or signed up for that book club, or went to a different college, or stayed with that boyfriend…or, or, or.
Gretchen is hopelessly stuck reflecting on herself and her choices, uncertain if she’s where she should be or if there is a better life she missed out on living. So she stalks Rob and Lexi in an increasingly tense portion of the episode, going so far as to nearly kidnap their child before settling for their dog, Sandwiches. Gretch spends the entire day with the dog, living out her alternate life and telling strangers that her husband is at band practice and they’re nervous about a preschool meeting. She tries on Lexi’s life like a new vintage coat — one that is already comfortably worn-in but is still essentially new…to her, anyway.
When Gretchen takes Sandwiches back home and feigns friendly neighborhood heroism, she’s invited in for a glass of wine that quickly becomes two…then three…then four… And it isn’t long before a surprisingly restrained Jimmy comes over and, after some enjoyable discussion, split up into mismatched pairs. Alone with Rob, Gretchen quickly surmises that her singular idea of “Rob and Lexi” is, in reality, fragmented. If the narrative tables were turned and these two followed Gretchen and Jimmy around all day, we might find them similarly projecting their own ideals of youth and freedom.
Reality never fails to disappoint our expectations, which are merely resentments in the making. The truth we fail to even whisper to ourselves is that an ideal is unrealistic and unattainable; an ideal does not exist in the wild. No one and nothing is perfect, and nothing will ever measure up to the fiction we’ve crafted in our heads. Jimmy claims to be spending his days writing (it’s a process, he says, while drinking and playing darts), but Gretchen’s done some mental creative writing of her own.
It is utterly heartbreaking to watch as Gretchen coldly exits Rob and Lexi’s home, her shrewd face slowly crumbling into itself as she begins to cry, her ideal completely shattered over the course of one day. In that moment, we see it all on Gretchen’s crumpled-up face: the reinforced pessimism that people are dishonest and relationships are false, all destined to fail; the despair over the loss of this hopeful thing she secretly clung to; the contemplative sadness that perhaps she and Jimmy cannot last, they cannot grow up together and become more stable and soft because Lexi and Rob are bulls—t.
To Gretchen, they have become a false construct built on all the feelings she’s been stifling for god-knows-how-long, the sensitivity and affection and all the delicate parts she’s walled-up inside of her and rejected because it only leads to pain. For a brief moment, Lexi and Rob represented the possibility that she could let her guard down and give in to all that conventional monogamous relationship crap that everyone else seems to love so much. And then the moment was gone.
Gretchen’s heartbreak is real — not just because Aya Cash sells the hell out of it with an exceptionally subtle performance, but because it’s so damn true. Just like Rob and Lexi, Gretchen and Jimmy are the uncanny versions of those of us who can’t help but feel a sting (however pleasurable or painful) of familiarity when we watch them each week. It hurts to watch Gretchen’s heart break because it’s like spying on ourselves…or myself, maybe, actually, probably. And yet it hurts in a way that feels great, like positive reinforcement for the complex network of choices you did make that allow you to identify so closely with someone who doesn’t even exist — like an ideal, maybe.