In “Odysseus,” Jimmy (Chris Geere) returns home, perhaps expecting a hero’s welcome. He’s been gone three months, after all, and without a word in the meantime—long enough for Edgar (Desmin Borges) to search message boards for news of his death and Lindsay (Kether Donohue) to forget that she’s mad at him, long enough, certainly, for Gretchen (Aya Cash) to earn that appearance in his apartment. (“Hey! Dot! Dot! Dot!” she rages, repeating his callous text.) She knows, as Edgar suggests, that Jimmy is not doing her a kindness by “checking in”: Though he’s still unable to say it aloud, he’s coming to grips with his grave mistake, and he’s desperate to turn back the clock. Because what he’s asking for isn’t forgiveness—that would require an admission of guilt. No, he’s asking for a free pass, for Gretchen’s permission to pretend none of it happened. And then he tosses her a galley of his book.
Edgar and Lindsay’s astonished faces when Gretchen’s arms remain outstretched is enough to know that the gauntlet’s been thrown, but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. That may be a function of—well, disappointment seems too strong, but “Odysseus” is neither as rambunctiously funny nor as poignant as “It’s Been,” and much of the episode is spent moving the characters into place for the climactic confrontation. It’s not that there aren’t flickers of comic invention—Edgar and Lindsay’s “friends with benefits” dap—or moments of intense emotion—more on the one that stuck with me in a moment—but the episode does feel sort of thin on the ground. I never find Ty (Stephen Schneider) as funny as I’m supposed to, for instance: The “yoga brunch slash crossword jam” Hollywood stereotype isn’t terribly fertile ground for fresh humor, even if Gretchen’s self-destructive interest in Ty is, or could be. For me, the few hard laughs in the episode fell (as usual) to Donohue. For one, there’s that great detail of Lindsay continuing with her hand what she can’t with her mouth, an almost imperceptible motion under the covers as Jimmy appears in the bedroom; for two, there’s her perfectly downplayed delivery—very un-Lindsay-like—of “Mmmm, I wouldn’t go over there,” when Jimmy first floats the idea that reconnecting with Gretchen wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I wonder if part of the problem is that the title’s a misnomer: Jimmy returns, yes, but other than that he has nothing to do besides walk in on Edgar and Lindsay fooling around. In terms of the episode’s action, “Odysseus” belongs to Gretchen: If she weren’t the polar opposite of the Greek hero’s wife, you might even call it “Penelope.” In a way, I think this is what You’re the Worst’s getting at, or at least trying to—that stories often focus on warriors, adventurers, sojourners (men), expecting those left behind to sit idly by until the reunification. For “Tragic Taco Girl,” of course, this isn’t an option, nor should it be; if she wants to fuck Ty’s friend in the backseat of the car and scream at the man who spurned her, that’s her prerogative, and it might even contain some fleeting satisfactions. (Idea: a Cash-led comedy about Penelope while Odysseus is away, doing drugs and listening to punk and bedding every last one of her suitors.) The episode’s defining line, in fact, is her admission that pain begets pain, that only new pain can replace the old—because, and in this “Odysseus” functions not as a criticism, but instead as a warning, her choices, like Jimmy’s, are not those of someone who’s doing “fine.” “Have you ever had a day that starts with one bad decision?” she asks her consort. “And then it’s just a cascade of bad decisions until you’re like, ‘Well, might as well burn down the whole town tonight!’”
Burn, baby, burn: The fire that erupts in the trash can in the episode’s final image, coupled with Jimmy’s line (“This is fine”), is a clear reference to K.C. Green’s now-famous, much-memed illustration of a dog sipping coffee until he’s engulfed in flames. Though I can’t say that “Odysseus” does a particularly effective job of building up to the moment, there’s promise, plot-wise, in where Gretchen and Jimmy go from here. What if Penelope had felt abandoned by Odysseus’ departure, and Odysseus recognized that he’d made a mistake? What if she’d fucked other guys and gotten wasted and yelled at him for forgetting about her? What if she decided that his pain must match hers, not as revenge, but as restitution? There’s a kind of caustic perfection in the choice to burn it all down, and I suspect You’re the Worst will give us plenty of that. But it’s just as sure to show us the ashes.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.