Wheel of Fortune has had its day, though one wouldn’t know it from the most recent seasons of Transparent and You’re the Worst: In both, including the latter’s “Talking to Me, Talking to Me,” the long-running game show’s bright wedges and blank squares suggest the abrupt and arbitrary nature of change, the unfathomable intersection of choice and chance.
The metaphor itself—life’s wheel of fortune—is hackneyed, perhaps, but Wheel’s element of risk is all too apt: Its contestants’ fundamental error is overconfidence, attempting to pile up the cash and prizes before they solve the puzzle, only to see their winnings disappear. As “Talking to Me, Talking to Me” reaches its sudden, cruel conclusion, then, with Jimmy confessing to Gretchen that he doesn’t recognize his life, their earlier sense of contentment—her mindfulness, his treehouse—comes to seem slightly foreboding, a moment of high hopes still to be dashed by Wheel’s familiar womp, womp. “I don’t know if I’ve made any of the right decisions,” he adds, solving the puzzle without her. “Everything could be wrong.”
The Wheel of Fortune conceit is more compelling than it might appear, but I’ll admit that Jimmy’s arc this season has fallen short of my expectations. The slow, careful introduction of Gretchen’s depression, which I described at the time as a “brilliant long con,” edged up to the subject until it burst forth; by contrast, Jimmy’s airborne epiphany is so precipitous, and so total, that it sweeps away the season’s groundwork in favor of a single scene. Whatever it is that Jimmy sees through that window, watching Gretchen’s evening routine from on high, neither the construction of “Talking to Me, Talking to Me”—written by Alison Bennett and directed by Wendy Stanzler—nor Chris Geere’s performance manages to capture it. As far as the audience is concerned, his own adventure in mindfulness produces no more than a mirage.
This may be the episode’s intent—the title of Gretchen’s self-help text, Mindful Innerness, frames the very idea as a kind of New Age claptrap—but as You’re the Worst’s third season enters its home stretch, it’s a curious decision to cap the disjointed narrative of “Talking to Me, Talking to Me” with Jimmy’s unsubtle proclamation. (Even the hackneyed reference to Wheel of Fortune is more effective.) Still, this air of skepticism creates one of the season’s funniest gags, in which the indispensable Kether Donohue narrates Lindsay’s inner monologue: “Strawtini. Chew, chew, chew. Little fart.”
As she scares off the waitress, briefly becoming Gretchen’s “secret mindfulness guru” in the process, this glimpse of Lindsay’s thoughts, or lack thereof, comes closer to the truth than the episode’s end: There is no stratagem, no technique, for warding off the wheel of fortune. It’s not that Lindsay’s abortion and potential divorce aren’t painful—”Name one family that’s just one person!” she keens—but that Lindsay, unlike Gretchen and Jimmy, casts an eye toward the future. No, therapy isn’t “time travel.” Once you land on “BANKRUPT,” there’s no going back.
There is, however, the chance of another round, another spin, another solution; Edgar’s “Dr. Weed” persona is gaining traction, for instance, to the point that he inks a deal with “the pot comedy guy” to write for his new series, set to air on dashboard-mounted GPS devices. (Talk about “peak TV.”) Of course, the “outside perspective” is as limited as the inside one, and Edgar fails to see Dorothy’s disappointment—he’s been so focused on himself, and his own health, that he’s become blind to the challenges she faces as an aspiring actress. (The moment she’s asked to audition for “overworked mom” instead of “hot yoga girl”—and adapts to the news as best she can, with a tight smile—might be the most dispiriting in an already slyly bleak episode.)
In Edgar, Lindsay, Gretchen, and Jimmy’s distinct reactions to success and failure, “Talking to Me, Talking to Me” either sets up the remainder of the season to resolve its dangling conflicts with aplomb, or otherwise slink toward the finale a lesser series than its remarkable second season seemed to promise. As Gretchen learns, patting the space on the couch next to her as Wheel’s womp, womp sounds, there’s no feeling quite so hard to absorb as that which comes with dashed expectations.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.