It’s a throwaway line, at least at first, but Gretchen’s defense of her mother’s draconian parenting soon becomes a step toward healing: “If I biffed a tennis match,” she says, as her therapist’s face contorts in astonishment, “she would take away my sheets and pillows.” Tonight’s You’re the Worst finds Gretchen mimicking the same sternness, hissing her criticisms in hushed tones, and though Jimmy, Lindsay, and Edgar are no better off for their friend’s interference, “Genetically Inferior Beta Males” nonetheless builds to a convincing conclusion.
Gretchen’s adoption of her mother’s mores is not the subtlest note in the series’ history, but by the end of the episode it’s clear that her suffering stems from old wounds. As she inadvertently reveals in her conversation with Lindsay, Gretchen long ago came to confuse “bossy” and “maternal,” though perhaps this is just another way of saying that we’re not so strong at the broken places after all.
Unplugging modems and filling celery sticks with peanut butter, Gretchen is the glue that holds “Beta Males” together, checking in on each of her (self-appointed) wards to ensure they’re achieving their potential. Since this is You’re the Worst we’re talking about, she’s an aggressively permissive mother figure: She’s fine with Lindsay fooling around with Raul and Edgar encouraging his viewers to “Smoke more weeeeeeed!” (On a related note, props to series creator Stephen Falk for sneaking “cuck” into the show, the first use of the term I’ve heard on a scripted TV series since the presidential election / implosion of America began.) Still, Gretchen’s a taskmaster—she learned from the best, apparently—and the episode is peppered with sudden slips into her mother’s patois: “Just because you got your period at 11 does not make you a woman,” she warns Edgar, an adult man, on the subject of his web series.
Because Gretchen’s the kind of person who falls asleep in her therapist’s office during a session, her attempt to wrangle her friends is all for naught. Jimmy, of “Jimmy’s Spectacular Zoo of Wonder and Animal Friends, Plus Cinnabons (No Edgars Allowed),” is procrastinating on “word-having” by tending to his digital elephants, but his trip to the Silver Lake Reservoir—”Do you guys watch Mr. Robot?”—only sends him further off track; she urges Edgar to expand the audience for Dr. Weed, but ends up pushing him into a propaganda video.
“Beta Males” recognizes the distinction between the supportive friend and the meddlesome one, dating back to Gretchen’s own bout with depression last season, in which she reminded Jimmy that her couldn’t fix her—that she didn’t need to be fixed. In You’re the Worst, people aren’t broken, but parts of them are, and it’s only the injured party that can do the mending.
It’s this that ties Lindsay and Paul’s exceedingly smutty, hilarious subplot—”I’m a worm! I’m a worm! That’s my wife!” nearly killed me—to Jimmy and Gretchen’s more restrained self-realizations. Now that she’s getting what she supposedly wants from the gorgeous Raul and, later, his equally attractive friend, Lindsay seems to see that there’s no simple solution to her marital problems. “Beta Males” is full of funny images—Lindsay with her fish-netted legs in the air; Paul presenting his cock cage—and riotous lines—”You’ll see. I’ll be the best cuck ever. For our family.”—but there’s no denying its more downcast complexion. Lindsay can no longer depend on Paul’s meekness to save their relationship. (In fact, it horrifies her.) She’ll have to save it, or destroy it, herself.
As Jimmy finds new purpose on Vernon’s podcast, and Gretchen once again surprises her therapist out on the town (“Order mozzarella sticks like a person!”), You’re the Worst points to one of the central injustices of adulthood, which is that we’re all shaped by a past we cannot escape. Though it’s as tempting to me as it is to Jimmy, Vernon’s question doesn’t strike me as quite the right one to ask: Living in reaction to one’s parents is ill-advised, to be sure, but emulating them exactly turns out to be no better.
You cannot be fixed. You don’t need to be fixed. You can only try to come to grips with how you feel and who you are—remembering your mother, as Gretchen does, as the camera retreats down the length of the table. This is the work of You’re the Worst (to mend, to heal), and the fact that it continues apace might be the series’ most sublime feature.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.