I finally understand why I feel such kinship with Lindsay (Kether Donohue), and it’s not just because we love junk food and dick. In “This Is Just Marketing,” the stylist’s assistant dispenses with the fear that she’ll “shit work” as her boss does, propelled by a fear that’s far more acute: “I never want to feel that way again,” she says to Priscilla (Kathleen Rose Perkins) of cradling her infant niece. “I never want to care about something that might go away. So, I choose for my job to be my everything.” Lindsay can’t have a very long employment history if she believes that jobs don’t “go away,” but she stumbles upon an honest point: At the office, or on the page, it seems plausible to go through life without dropping one’s defenses. If you distract yourself with meetings, phone calls, to-do lists, tasks, according to this logic, you can ward off the magical feeling she describes—and with it the fear that it will one day be lost.
Unspoken in Lindsay’s monologue—a rare flourish for You’re the Worst, certainly when set against that climactic montage—is the pall Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) cast over the episode. Theirs is the experience Lindsay wants to avoid. Once hardened against the slightest sentiment, both became vulnerable to pain through the ease of affection; now, Jimmy’s whipping up cottage cheese-and-water smoothies as a substitute for milk and Gretchen’s eating liquor-store lunches of beef jerky and 40-oz. micheladas. Neither is ready to feel any way, except drunk, or lonely, or angry, or blue, and I imagine Lindsay looking at them and saying, “No thanks.” Especially after Edgar (Desmin Borges) joins in on the “comeback” of negging (“like pubes and racism”): Along with the moment in which she comforts Tallulah, his come-on is proof that she’s susceptible to such feelings, and her instinctive reaction is to shut it down, fast.
Were it not for Edgar acting the cad in the aforementioned montage, I’d be more certain in my belief that he’s not negging her, not really. His own monologue has the air of a face-to-face love letter, with its poetic embrace of his fuck buddy’s flaws, and he delivers it with more conviction than any stupid skit—either he’s suddenly a much more skillful performer than You’re the Worst has let on, or there’s honest emotion beneath his words’ surface. (Then again, I may simply find the idea of “negging,” with its “pick-up artist” origins, too repugnant for a series as sharp-witted as this, and for a character as sympathetic. Maybe the point is that dating apps turn men into rancid, right-swiping assholes? That our culture is one in which this is “the game”? Now I feel like punching a TV show in the neck, so I’ll stop, but if you’re reading this, Stephen Falk? I’m going to need reassurance.) I suppose, since so much of the episode comes through Lindsay’s perspective, that the real purpose of the scene is her weak-kneed response: When you haven’t felt love, as she admits she hasn’t, being treated like trash starts to feel like a kiss.
When you have, as it happens, life’s no bargain, either. You might, for instance, dedicate your novel to the person you jilted, and then find it marketed to “horny airport women” by the imprint Silk Sheets. (Jimmy’s arc offers the episode’s best line, courtesy of the terrific Merrin Dungey. After revealing the cover of Jimmy’s novel—phallic bombs, a Union Jack, a halved peach—the publisher’s head of marketing describes an imagined reader lighting candles and slipping into a bath: “She’ll squirt so hard that tub will overflow!”) Alternately, you might find yourself on a friend’s podcast discussing your broken engagement, drawing inspiration from a woman so frustrated with marriage and child-rearing that she dreams of living her life out loud where the sea meets the sky. (Gretchen’s arc offers the episode’s second-best line, as Janet Varney’s soused Becca attempts to recite ad copy: “Are you ever in the mood for a spinach and fried leaf frittoto?”) You might strip down at a reading for the warmth of the crowd, or plot the most scintillating revenge against your ex. You might be desperate to find a replacement for that heart-swelling feeling you had and then lost. But the truth is, there is none. There is the feeling Lindsay describes and there is its absence, and when you’re in either place everything else sounds wrong. Like your cat started barking.
You’re the Worst is not the series to point to one or another path as the “right” one; it is a comic air raid on the popular understanding of romance, an emotional siege on your entire psyche. But Lindsay is the ultimate unreliable narrator. It’s not just that she’s wrong about Priscilla, who ends the monologue with a record-scratch interruption. It’s that work is no protection against love or pain, affection or rejection, hope or disappointment: At the office, or on the page, other people still have a way of sneaking under our armor. As Jimmy discovers, both the having and the losing tend to insinuate themselves into everything, always marching in when we least expect it. “For Gretchen,” his dedication reads. Thank you for being alone with me.” It might be just marketing, but it rings true to me.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.