In its fourth season, Stephen Falk’s You’re the Worst still hasn’t lost its knack for hitting its audience with emotionally stunted characters and storylines we never knew we needed until we found ourselves relating to them on levels that are as worrying as they are comforting. Worrying, because relating to the likes of “Shitty” Jimmy (Chris Greer) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), suggests we too are stuck in a self-destructive spiral of denial; refreshing, because the show seems to emphasize what we already know but rarely get to see on TV: that we’re not alone in this.
We’re not alone in staring into the mirror, trying to connect our thirty-year-old bodies with our sixteen-year-old ability to feel – so hard – especially in reaction to extreme heartache. We’re not alone in shutting off our vulnerability to those around us for fear of getting hurt. And we’re definitely not alone in being assholes, or, at the very least, shapeshifters.
A lot has happened since Jimmy left Gretchen stranded on top of a hill after having just proposed marriage to her. And as much as I hate him for having planned the perfect, murderous proposal only to devastate her upon accepting it, I hate myself even more for understanding what drove him to bail on her – which isn’t to say I excuse his behaviour.
Season four’s opening double-episode, “It’s Been”, was a study of hiding tactics with both Jimmy and Gretchen desperately attempting to simply forget – themselves and each other. While Gretchen urged her feelings to dissipate in a haze of weed, meth and junk-food induced farts, Jimmy took a more literal approach to hiding. Going completely off-grid in a trailer-park retirement community, he has opted to match his desolate surroundings to his emotional wasteland, and avoids his personal truths by blanketing them in monotony.
Befriending the community grump, Bert (Raymond J. Berry), Jimmy slowly finds himself waking up to the, suddenly very real, possibility of ending up just like his new friend: old, alone, miserable, and clinging on to a life-time of anger brought on by even more regrets.
This season scrapes at its protagonist’s wounds, exposing the rawness that makes up the flesh of their beings. We come to understand them now, no longer as festering ulcers of supressed trauma, but as gurgling pools of obvious confusion and pain, spurting out of old war-lesions, vicious and cold, as if the veins through which these toxic concoctions of human emotions pulse, are already dead. Jimmy and Gretchen are engaging in an excruciatingly lonely game of pretence that only leaves losers in its wake.
While Jimmy throws himself into a naively optimistic future, Gretchen seeks shelter in the past. By going back to Ty (Stephen Schneider) in “Odysseus”, she is trying to revert to her former, non-attached self, happy to be unhappy as long it spares her from opening herself to others, and entering something meaningful.
It’s a skilled, masochistic practise many of us perfect in the aftermaths of a particularly cruel break-up: going back to something you already know is bad for you, is safer than searching for something bad that may end up being good. Like Boone (Colin Ferguson), whom she gladly fucks because she assumes he’s married. Upon finding out he’s not, shit gets entirely too real for her. But just as she is about to bolt, she realizes it may be time for her to let people in and grants Boone the chance to try.
Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Lindsay’s (Kether Donohue) new relationship informs what this season is truly about: finding (back to) yourself, and losing what connected you to your old friends in the process. Lindsay has finally come to stand on her own two feet, with an exciting new job and her own apartment to show for it. Edgar is thriving as a comedy writer, and is finding back to his former self after particularly difficult, and continuing episodes of PTSD.
Previously, Gretchen and Jimmy may have been considered the adults on the show – if only due to their respective professional statuses – but the roles have reversed. Now it’s Edgar and Lindsay who no longer have time for Jimmy and Gretchen’s immature take on work ethics, relationships and life in general. They have outgrown the two people who, up until now, always cast them in their supposedly superior shadow, and it’s as scary as it is liberating to loosen the bonds of their most intimate, if not outdated, relationships.
Jimmy and Gretchen may not be entirely aware of it yet, but without Lindsay and Edgar to look to for constant support, they don’t really have a lot of other prospects where friendships are concerned. Jimmy goes as far as to – in true, shitty style – down right refute Edgars attempts at bonding with him on a profound, grown-up level, and Gretchen is too wrapped up in herself to care about Lindsay’s troubles with winning her work-colleagues over as friends.
When Gretchen returns to her parental home to welcome her nephew into the world, a box of childhood memories has her dredging up the past and contemplating her present self, and unrealistic future. In “Not the Best Bet”, the strongest episode of the season so far, Gretchen finds herself clinging on to dangerously nostalgic territories to escape her current situation.
Entering her paternal home, she immediately hides beneath her hoodie. A sign of her obvious discomfort as she finds herself in familiar limbo – stuck between feeling obligated to play the role of the sweetly catastrophic daughter, and wanting to own her adult self. Although she has returned home to celebrate a family moment, she cannot bring herself to be with them for it would mean honing a caricature of her real identity. Instead, she heads to the local Roller Rink to rekindle her friendship with Heidi (Zosia Mamet), her former BFF who survived childhood leukaemia.
Initial catch-up chatter is somewhat stiff as Gretchen fishes for common ground, but the only thing they truly seem to share, is the fact that neither of them feel their respective lives are what they thought they would be. Sat in the parking lot looking out on the apocalyptic shopping centre that was once home to many a teenage milestone event – Heidi got her ears pierced here while Gretchen got fingered for the first time in the changing room of a fashion shop – they reminisce about the days in which hanging out at a shopping mall was still a thing. Now it’s nothing but a luxurious hangout for meth heads, stray dogs and partying teenagers – and even the teenagers have changed.
Entering the desolate mall armed with booze and smokes, they find a group of junior high schoolers whining about how stressful it is to be a millennial, what, with all the constant bombardment of information and advertisement. The roles are established naturally, with the two thirty-year-olds exercising peer pressure on their younger counterparts in a game of truth or dare. They spend the kind of night together that would have left them reeling with naïve excitement back when they were sixteen, but in the cold light of the dawning morning, Heidi sees it for what it was: a pathetic attempt at escaping adult life, if even for a moment.
Gretchen warned the teenaged mall rats about the fact that “grown up stuff sucks” and that it’s “all downhill from here,” but unlike Heidi, she is doing nothing to help herself with finding peace in being an adult. In her attempt to find a new beginning with old roots, she merely confronted what she already knew: she is but a visitor in a place that no longer is hers, a visitor in the lives of people who easily like or want her, but never get the chance to know her. There’s no going back for Gretchen, or anyone of us. There’s only the long, scary road ahead.