This review contains spoilers from episode five of You’re the Worst Season Three.
Wide awake in the dark of night, staring at the milk-white moon, Edgar illustrates the insomniac’s dilemma. To wait for sleep is an agonizing experience, full of sighs and sips of warmish water and the sound of the seconds ticking past on one’s watch; to abandon it altogether is a dispiriting one, the relief of sloughing off the blanket also an admission of defeat. As he dances to “Starlight Tidepool” in the bruise-colored light—damn if Desmin Borges can’t work it—the camera fastens to his face before the room recedes, leaving only Edgar’s disconnected restlessness. The beautiful “Twenty-Two” thus distills its central conflict in the opening minutes, presaging the struggle between Edgar’s need to get well and his desire to stop fighting. In the process, it redresses the shortcomings of “Men Get Strong” by rewinding the tape, this time from another angle. As I wrote last week, awash in disappointment and doubt, “Whether You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk can bring Edgar’s arc to an adequate reckoning, one that forces us to grapple with the lived experience of PTSD and alcoholism as the second season did clinical depression, remains an open question.” After “Twenty-Two,” I confess I needn’t have worried. It turns out the answer was “Yes.”
And a resounding one, at that: As with “There Is Not Currently a Problem” and “LCD Soundsystem,” “Twenty-Two,” if more blunt than its forebears, is an attempt to imagine psychological states often excised from half-hour comedies. As Edgar follows his dancing with a midnight run, for instance, a truck delivering newspapers—”Panda Disappears,” the headline reads—becomes the object of his paranoia, the ducking and darting behind cars and tall trash cans accompanied by the foreboding hum of an action film’s score. A face from the cover of a cassette tape turns up on a mailman, a landscaper, a freeway sniper; a high-angle shot of an empty store reveals that the figures he believes to be tailing him are no more than a self-created delusion. The point is, Edgar’s illness is the subject of “Twenty-Two,” and no longer the object of his friends’ taunts. We see the world through his eyes, forever blemished by his memories of the war.
Edgar’s perspective is clearest when set against Lindsay’s, or Gretchen’s, or Jimmy’s, and Falk’s most ingenious maneuver may be to recapitulate scenes from “Men Get Strong.” Determined to draw the contrast, Falk frames Edgar’s interactions with the terrible trio with a feverish cast: We see his shaking hands and hear his heavy breathing, not to mention the high-pitched buzz that in film and television often signals an explosion. With the camera peering down from Edgar’s height in Jimmy and Gretchen’s kitchen, his friends appear cruel and distant, diminished by the warp of the light to the monsters they often are. Set against X’s concern, their self-obsession registers once again as the root structure of their own sadness, as worn and comfortable as an old sweatshirt. X’s lesson is one Lindsay, Gretchen, and Jimmy have yet to learn: “I don’t need you to apologize, I just need you to keep trying,” she says, still wary of Edgar’s aggressiveness. “They can fix you, but you may have to fight for it.”
“They,” the Veterans’ Administration, turns out to be a nightmare of red tape and false promises, and it’s here that “Twenty-Two” (so named for the number of veteran suicides each day) reveals its admirable, if didactic, statement of purpose. Though guest star Julie White lends her VA official’s wan smile a bracing edge—”Oh, if we had shut-up pills, we would have prescribed them to you,” she says icily—the scene in her office, culminating in Edgar’s destructive tirade, is a reminder of the episode’s somewhat indelicate construction, always working toward an argument. Maybe it’s necessary, though. Maybe it’s courageous. There is still space, “Twenty-Two” suggests, for polemical comedy; there is still the need to wage the argument. “What if I hadn’t kept asking and asking?” Edgar inquires, recognizing that veterans deserve care from their country without having to demand it. She ignores the question, of course—perhaps we all do—but her silence on this point speaks volumes.
By the time Edgar finally defends himself, to a sniping film student on the banks of the L.A. river, “Twenty-Two” returns to the site of last week’s most wrenching image, and sketches in its outlines with vigor. Playing the romantic lead in a black-and-white silent, befriending a fellow veteran before his car is towed, Edgar comes to realize, as I see it, that the fight itself is what matters, that battling to survive the day is a victory in its own right. Turning back from the gash in the chain-link fence, he notices the headline from that morning’s news on a tiny paper boat, bobbing in the current’s trickle, and for a spell his despair slips away. “Twenty-Two” is You’re the Worst at its best, both empathic and enraged: A commitment to Edgar’s struggle against the impulse to add to that number.
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.