This review contains spoilers from episode seven of You’re the Worst Season Three.
Obsessed with his new novel to the point of masturbation (literally), Jimmy goes through “The Only Thing That Helps” with blinders on: Alternately distracted, frustrated, and near despair—a fair approximation of the writing process—he barely acknowledges Edgar, Gretchen, or Killian. Dishes pile high in the kitchen sink. Time passes. His word count grows, slowly at first, and then with new haste, at least until the package arrives that sets You’re the Worst’s latest episode in motion. Jimmy’s father’s ashes (“It’s all chunky!” Gretchen wails) are the intervention we’ve been waiting for, the hinge between stages of grief. As I predicted after “Bad News: Dude’s Dead,” “The Only Thing That Helps” pushes Jimmy from the denial of not caring to the anger of caring more than he can manage, and if the episode itself is a little unwieldy, it nonetheless sets up the second half of the season by allowing us to see Jimmy’s pain.
Though it detours into Lindsay’s marriage and Edgar’s plight, not to mention a running gag with Ben Folds (“I’ve got my piano in the truck”), the episode’s spine is a series of escalating confrontations between Jimmy and the specter of his father, culminating in what amounts to a message from the grave. Throwing himself into work is Jimmy’s favorite form of denial, but when this inevitably fails there are other techniques: Pouring out a whiskey for the silver canister of ashes, speaking as if Ronnie were present; writing an insult-comedy eulogy, replete with a reference to “urine-soaked sweatpants,” to skirt the shoals of real emotion below the surface. With each new development, Ronnie draws closer, first as his friend, Freddie, turns up at Jimmy’s doorstep, and then as his own words interrupt the makeshift memorial in Jimmy’s living room. (The cheap, blurry printouts of photos featuring Ronnie are a nice touch.) In “The Only Thing That Helps,” Jimmy’s memories of his father seem to be chasing him, and by the end of the episode he’ll be caught.
The amusing glimpses of Lindsay’s open relationship with Paul—and the more mundane glimpses of Edgar’s quest for a medical marijuana card—function largely as placeholders, then, keeping their arcs in the air as You’re the Worst focuses its attention elsewhere. The name of the website Lindsay uses to find new partners, “Swingerhole.com,” is as brilliantly crude as Paul’s sexual predilections (couples massages, boudoir photography) are tame. Still, it’s pretty clear that their attempts to embrace each other’s interests are bound to produce further tension: Lindsay gamely tries to follow a bone-dry city council meeting, and Paul invites Raul over to play, but in the end he’s frustrated, even humiliated, by her desire to have sex with other men. “And absolutely, down the line, we can do whatever your thing is,” as Lindsay promises, isn’t an agreement to spice up the marriage. It’s a form of denial all its own.
This is just an echo of Jimmy’s ardent resistance to mourning, but it’s a telling one. When it comes to relationships, whether romantic or familial, there’s no avoiding the reckoning—least of all, perhaps, when we so dearly wish to ignore it. With Folds’ music dramatizing the memorial in gently parodic fashion, calling to mind the insistent scores of daytime soaps or cheap horror, Freddie’s eulogy for Ronnie turns out to be a message from the dead man himself, one last twist of the knife before he retreats into silence forever. Jimmy’s wet eyes and half-befuddled expression, as Freddie’s voice becomes his father’s, soon segue into rage. Fair enough. The eulogy’s a torch job, full of lies and recriminations—”I did my best to love him,” Ronnie writes of Jimmy, “but he rejected me”—that send the son spiraling. In its icy way, the (apparently fictional) quotation of young Jimmy saying, “That’s what I want to do, Daddy, I want to tell stories” might be the series’ most mean-spirited line of dialogue yet. It stings.
This is the thing about grief, with which You’re the Worst admirably wrestles: It isn’t necessarily predicated on love for what was lost, only the bare fact of its absence. When Jimmy kicks the canister toward Tony Shaloub’s mansion, creating a cloud of ashes that rains down on him as he cries, he angrily admits to being defined by the man he despises—by the lack of love, of pride, of genuine connection. “You do not get to affect me anymore” is a plea, and perhaps a promise, but for now the blinders are off. No joke.
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.