This review contains spoilers from episode four of You’re the Worst Season Three.
The title of this week’s You’re the Worst is “Men Get Strong,” but it’s the series’ women that set the agenda. As Gretchen attempts to pop Jimmy’s grief “like a pimple”—selfishly fearing that any delay in his bereavement might interfere with their “rad cruise”—Lindsay decides it’s time to take motherhood seriously—proving that she’s a natural, at least when it comes to swaddling, diapering, and administering CPR. In this, it seems, the name of the episode is meant to be ironic: Getting obliterated at Peekaboo Playland (Vernon) and slugging whiskey on the banks of the L.A. River (Edgar) are actions that betray the fragile men beneath the tough guise, of which Jimmy’s decision to brush off his father’s death is another, if tamer, example. Even so, You’re the Worst’s caustic humor isn’t equal to the occasion, segueing, for once, into the cruel.
Though far from sentimental, the series has long been careful to protect its characters in their lowest moments—last season’s “LCD Soundsystem” succeeded so brilliantly, for instance, because Gretchen’s depression was the subject, not the object, of the narrative, allowing us to see the couple at its center through her eyes. In “Men Get Strong,” by contrast, Edgar’s relapse into alcoholism registers as a prop in the background of other people’s stories, shunted aside to create space for the funeral crashing and pottery painting that Jimmy uses as reasons not to mourn; while Edgar spirals, Jimmy stalls, and You’re the Worst nonetheless turns its attention to English breakfasts and foul-mouthed kids. As the insults and indignities foisted upon Edgar begin to pile up, it becomes harder to gloss the roommates’ relationship as innocent ribbing, and easier to understand it as a form of abuse—of Edgar, and of the viewer’s trust. Always the weakest character in the series’ main quartet (no fault of actor Desmin Borges), he’s swiftly become a cipher, the consequence of comedy that punches down, not up.
Whether You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk can bring Edgar’s arc to an adequate reckoning, one that forces us to grapple with the lived experience of PTSD and alcoholism as the second season did clinical depression, remains an open question. But there’s no doubt that “Men Get Strong” suffers, in the interim, from this slipshod construction, a lack of commitment to the dire stakes of “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” that goes beyond Edgar himself. I say this out of love: A series that’s rendered Gretchen’s struggle with mental illness in such bold, surprising terms can do better than “Emotions are dangerous” or “Poop out some tears.” I say this out of love, too: Gretchen’s latest visit to her therapist, another unannounced intrusion on the poor woman’s private life, has the makings of a sitcom pattern, of the sort that You’re the Worst so assiduously avoids.
This isn’t to suggest “Men Get Strong” is without its high points, including a clever allusion to Mad Men (“You never say thank you.” “That’s what the money’s for!”) and that monstrous child—though these are, come to think of it, examples of the series’ more admirable penchant for directing its sharpest barbs at TV tropes, and not the characters’ trauma. To wit, it’s a Gilmore Girls quip that launches the episode’s finest sequence, as Lindsay manages to find the cloud to accompany her silver lining. In the end, “Men Get Strong” aims You’re the Worst’s irascible wit at expectations for women, first in Lindsay’s exasperated “What am I, some baby lady?” and then in her heartfelt, hilarious admission that motherhood might not in fact be the role she was born to play: “What if there are other things I’m meant to be and I never find out?” she asks the new father she meets at the store, before making a pass at him that ruins the moment. “Like a phlebologist, or a dinosaur?”
The series’ sweet spot, of course, is right here, in the space where the (fragile) person we are meets the (strong) person we hope to be—the humor warm, empathic, even as the characters’ choices are wantonly self-destructive. I can only hope that You’re the Worst figures out a way to extend Edgar the same courtesy, though for the first time this season I’m skeptical of its path forward. As Jimmy seems bound to learn, with that cunning final image, we can try to stash the past away, but the drawer in which we’ve hidden it has a way of springing open.
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.