You're the Worst Review: Mutually Assured Destruction

(Episode 4.05)

TV Reviews You're the Worst
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<i>You're the Worst</i> Review: Mutually Assured Destruction

A friend of mine calls it “the kamikaze maneuver”: The moment in a relationship when one of the parties is in so much pain that he or she chooses self-immolation. It needn’t come after said relationship’s end—my friend coined the term to describe a misplaced profession of love—but it most often does; that’s when the hurt’s so urgent and all-consuming it becomes a form of derangement, convincing one that destruction is the only escape. Though “Fog of War, Bro” relies on happenstance to bring the nuclear option to the table—if Jimmy (Chris Geere) doesn’t accidentally notify Sam (Brandon Mychal Smith) and Shitstain (Darrell Britt-Gibson) of Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) whereabouts, I’m not sure how the plot gets from point A to point B—it’s the decision to employ the kamikaze maneuver that the episode takes as its subject, and with it the wounds such a decision implies. Cash channels so much fury and sorrow into Gretchen’s mic-drop last line that it can’t really be read as spiking the football—it’s something more frightening, more fraught, planting heartache itself in the nose of her missile. “Shouldn’t have texted the boys,” she says, sounding the warning after the bomb blast. “Mushroom cloud, bitch!”

In this, “Fog of War, Bro” has more in common with horror and suspense than it does romantic comedy, which You’re the Worst underlines at every turn. If Gretchen’s atomic language recalls Dr. Strangelove, or Twin Peaks: The Return’s astonishing “Part VIII,” the score’s tense twinkle reminded me of the ticking time-bomb of Hitchcock’s Sabotage, run through a screwball synthesizer; the exchange between Gretchen and Edgar (Desmin Borges) in her blood-red bedroom turns the shards of a broken engagement into a sitcom spin on The Ring. Breaking up is hard to do; in fact, it’s a horrorshow—and director Stephen Falk cannily applies tight, off-kilter close-ups and uneasy movements of the camera to turn an installment of People’s streaming series, Where the Magic Happens, into a jingle-jangle two-step along the edge of a cliff. Gretchen’s steely-eyed brinksmanship is so effective that I found myself ruing the series itself. C’mon, I thought, you’re better than this! And so it is: When she and Jimmy plunged toward the proverbial rocks, I flashed back to the doomed romance of NBC’s Hannibal, in which the protagonists’ final embrace is of the unknowable void.

The knock-on effect of the episode’s dire backdrop—(self-) hatred, vengeance, abject terror, dread—is to lend much of the humor an unsettling edge; from the sight of Gretchen shotgunning a box of “cheesy bitches” to Edgar’s leap off the balcony, “Fog of War, Bro” mimics the mania of being bumped off your axis. There are exceptions—Edgar’s failed text chain, Ben Affleck’s appearance, Jimmy’s hall-of-fame reference to Oscar the Grouch as “the green fellow in that puppet slum”—but in the main, tonight’s You’re the Worst is a perfectly nasty reminder of why it sucks to be vulnerable. As far as I can tell, no romance can sustain perfect equilibrium, at least not for long: Someone is always in so deep they’re in danger of drowning, and “Fog of War, Bro” is twenty-some minutes of thrashing for air.

Lindsay (Kether Donohue), describing the fallout from the break-up as if it were a divorce (“We get two Christmases now”), may be right, in the long run—it’s clear that neither Gretchen nor Jimmy is ready to reckon with who they are in the absence of the other, and until that time comes there’s no way to know where this Bang Bus is headed. For now, though, You’re the Worst is content to capture the delicious feeling of ruining everything, of the plunge off the cliff and the blinding explosion, of the decision to hurt the person who hurt you. For such fleeting satisfaction, of course, Gretchen surrenders the moral high ground; in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, there are no innocent parties. This is the insight of “Fog of War, Bro,” the one that bumps me off my own axis: It acknowledges that the pain Jimmy causes Gretchen doesn’t absolve her of culpability for the pain she causes in turn, that all’s not in fact fair in love and war. The kamikaze maneuver is both a common response to heartache and its most dangerous propellant, which in the end is the episode’s scariest feature. We know, and I suspect Gretchen does, too, that there’s no choice we can make that will wipe love’s chaos clean—and yet it’s possible to hurt so much, to become so goddamn vulnerable, that we go ahead and blow it up anyway.

Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.