This review contains spoilers from episode two of You’re the Worst Season Three.
If there’s one complaint to be lodged against You’re the Worst’s focus on Gretchen’s depression—and its potent echoes in Edgar’s PTSD—it’s that Jimmy’s own arc has lately seemed stymied, the one with the shallowest roots. As I wrote after last week’s season premiere, the series is “a portrait of toxic people that acknowledges the pain behind their appalling behavior,” and of the main characters his is the least specific: the defensive pretension of the writer desperate for acceptance and praise. If this reflects the balance one strikes in the course of a relationship, stepping back to support one’s partner through life’s inevitable rough patches, it’s not the ideal approach for a fictional protagonist, and for much of “Fix Me, Dummy” it continues apace. The details of his scatological, incestuous novel-in-progress (“So many descriptions of semen on stockings,” Dorothy sighs) may be ludicrously funny, but Jimmy’s lacerating self-obsession is a glorified shtick. That is, until Gretchen opens the mail.
The newspaper clipping, a death notice for Jimmy’s estranged father, reaffirms Gretchen’s belief that even the most minor task might camouflage an emotional trapdoor. “They always want money,” she explains to her therapist (Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley), the intensification of her voice conforming to her rising panic. “Or you have jury duty. Or your grandma sent you a check for your birthday and then you feel guilty that you never call her and then you can’t get out of bed for a month.” It’s no surprise, given Gretchen’s reluctance to discuss her mental health, that she decides, for now, to keep the news to herself—though she might rationalize the decision as one designed not to ruin Jimmy’s moment of triumph, the episode’s final image, with the camera closing in on her face to the strains of a downbeat tune, suggests that this is about her, too. As its title implies, “Fix Me, Dummy” turns to the challenges of self-improvement, and the strategies we employ to avoid the real work it requires. It’s easier to deflect the criticism, stalk the therapist, pretend the envelope never arrived—to be fixed, rather than fix yourself. “I took responsibility, and now it’s in the past,” Lindsay says on this point. “Whoosh! Gone.”
“Gone” is not “forgotten,” of course, and as Gretchen spars with her therapist—sitting in the corner, in one memorable image, surrounded by pistachio shells—You’re the Worst displays a keen understanding that the artful dodge is a form of emotional Whack-A-Mole: Deflect one problem and another pops up. Attempting to stoke another argument, Gretchen recalls her undemonstrative mother; tending to Paul’s wound (which, gross) in a sexy nurse costume, Lindsay comes face to face with her guilt; addressing his impotence by going off his medication, Edgar opens himself up to relapse. It’s the latter subplot that sees “Fix Me, Dummy” at its most clever and complex, redirecting Edgar’s editorial instinct from Jimmy’s proposal to the hoboes’ signs in a manner that’s both charming—his concern, rooted in personal experience, is real—and foreboding—his charitable act assumes an edge, a certain manic energy, that seems destined to spin out of control.
Whether high in the hills above Los Angeles, or in the heart of WeHoCa (“West of Homeless Encampment”), there is no “winning depression” or ignoring the past, much as the characters might wish so: There is only the choice between the now and the later, and the hard-learned lesson that the later is bound to be worse. As “Fix Me, Dummy” establishes the season’s central conflict—Gretchen, Edgar, and Lindsay’s respective attempts to sidestep themselves in the hope of simple solution—it’s fitting that Jimmy should encounter a complication that can’t be ironed out with a well-timed quip or refashioned sentence. Not opening the mail might ensure that ignorance is bliss, but it can’t erase the fact that the item inside exists.
Matt Brennan is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, Indiewire, Paste, Slant, The Week, Flavorwire, Deadspin, and Slate, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans and tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.