You’re the Worst spent much of the second season’s ninth episode, “LCD Soundsystem,” on two characters we’d never seen. The third season’s ninth episode, “The Seventh Layer,” focuses on two characters we’ve never seen quite like this. It’s the series’ penchant for the genuine surprise that defines “The Seventh Layer,” then, turning our attention—with the exception of a brief vocal cameo from Kether Donohue’s Lindsay—to the troubles of Paul Jillian (Allan McLeod) and Vernon Barbara (Todd Robert Anderson). A road movie in miniature, a comic redux of Deliverance, a new and mercifully nuanced twist on the screen’s modern man-children: However one might describe “The Seventh Layer,” it notches another victory for You’re the Worst in the war to keep viewers on their toes. “He said one more job ought to get it,” Boz Scaggs sings at episode’s end, as if to point out the pair’s strangely affecting persistence. “One last shot ‘fore we quit it.”
Though it culminates in a sort of epiphanic wisdom, after the growl of an approaching animal sends Paul and Vernon tumbling into a ravine, “The Seventh Layer” is, first and foremost, a bawdy showcase for Anderson and McLeod, so often relegated to the role of second fiddle. Vernon in particular is You’re the Worst’s most grating presence, a paper-thin dudebro with a nagging bitch wife, but “The Seventh Layer” fulfills the promise of last week’s podcast: It turns out he has a thoughtful side, though his smarts are often directed toward selfish purposes.
Speaking into the camera in the opening sequence, for instance, he hits on an incisive explanation for why relationships founder—and then applies its lesson to his spouse, not himself. “Of course, we blame those closest to us for our misery,” he says to the bearded man in the ratty tank top, before haggling over a bassinet big enough for the BFG. “Instead of taking responsibility for being unsatisfiable dick nuggets, we say, ‘Hey there, person I love! I’m unhappy, so clearly you’re failing me.”
Vernon, of course, is the most dissatisfied, dickish nugget of all, to the point that he’d rather fill Paul’s tank with diesel than return to Becca’s strict rules. (Being kept on a budget after shilling out thousands for an online paramour seems eminently reasonable, even charitable, on Becca’s part.) In fact, much of “The Seventh Layer” sees Paul’s defenses against Vernon’s fragile, feckless manhood worn down by increments, as if by continued exposure to an airborne contagion, and the contrast between the characters produces some of the season’s funniest gags. There’s the hum of Vernon’s harmonica over the dulcet tones of Paul’s preferred listening, public radio; there are “rizzards” (Blizzard plus rum) and “jizzards” (Blizzard plus gin) and Paul’s full complement of flares.
The kind of guy who says “Water skeeters, I’mma spit at you!” is bound to break an uncertain soul like Paul, and by the time night falls Vernon does just that. “Okaaaaayyyy,” Paul sighs after his flailing, guttural scream, and it sounds, more than anything, like surrender.
The beauty of the episode is the series of deft strokes, edging toward sincere emotion, by which Paul thwarts his urge to flee to Mexico—and, by extension, thwarts Vernon’s urge as well. “I was trying to be a good husband,” Paul says of his submission to Lindsay’s desire for Raul, and whether or not “The Seventh Layer” gives him the strength to demand better, it’s clear that the courageous thing, the “manly” one, is to confront one’s dissatisfaction rather than run away from it. As Vernon himself admits, perhaps inadvertently, when he calls the Jillians’ arrangement “cool,” playing the cuck requires more confidence than being the asshole: If “The Seventh Layer” has a moral—I hesitate to use the term for an episode that features the word “Rumpleforeskin”—it’s that the traditional mode of “masculine” conduct is the real trap here, blinding its adherents to the fact that the seventh layer of the dip is ultimately their own.
As Paul says of the party snack, which becomes the episode’s sneakily insightful conceit, “The seventh layer can be anything… It’s up to whoever makes it. Whatever makes them happy.” And so he and Vernon decide, for reasons practical and ethical, to take one last shot before they quit it—”it” being, in this case, the imperfect life each man has built, and the uncomfortable truth that comes with disappointment. It’s not unusual to feel hemmed in by the expectations of others, by the recipes for adulthood we follow when we know no other way, but the blame for the choices we make, and the unhappiness we accrue, doesn’t fall on someone else. The only person who can take responsibility for the seventh layer is you.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.