What Went Wrong with You’re the Worst?

(Episodes 4.12 and 4.13)

TV Reviews You're the Worst
What Went Wrong with You’re the Worst?

At the midpoint of You’re the Worst’s two-part finale, Gretchen (Aya Cash) abandons Boone’s bed to start one last fire and Jimmy (Chris Geere) abandons his house to find his convertible ablaze. The bridge from “Like People” to “It’s Always Been This Way”—the latter’s title carries a whiff of “It’s Been,” the first episode of a season that’s nearly choked on the past—is Weyes Blood’s “Used to Be,” with its forthright thrum of longing, and it so perfectly encapsulates the season’s warped shape it almost reads as a mea culpa. For Gretchen and Jimmy, returning, in the end, to their postponed engagement; for Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Lindsay (Kether Donohue), largely unable to move forward despite their chances to do so; even for Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) and Becca (Janet Varney), entering an arrangement with Paul (Allan McLeod) in order to avoid a real reckoning, the way things “used to be” has become an obsession without an outlet. I suppose I should cop to feeling the same about You’re the Worst, a series I’ve hoped against hope might recapture its voice in the season’s last stages, though I realize now that tonight’s forced emotional fireworks reflect the musical cue’s main concession. “I won’t fight fate,” the lyrics promise. “It’s now too late.”

Has it always been this way? Have the characters’ frailties always floated to the surface at the most convenient moments, emerging from leprechaun costumes and leaping from trash cans and swinging their fists in a stranger’s kitchen to stir up drama that was otherwise absent? Have their meltdowns always possessed this nightmarish quality, awaking to an absent partner or a spurt of blood as if the series were prone to sleepwalking? If the answer is “no”—I’m not ready to consider the other option, to be honest—then the explanation for You’re the Worst’s dismal season is, for me, central to the finale’s foremost shortcoming. The characters’ arcs come to a head time and again, in forlorn faces, crying jags, brutal arguments, fisticuffs, but the series has done so little to set up these payoffs that scenes intended to play as profound instead read as shallow. The new title sequence added earlier this season, with its montage of unrelated sight gags, turns out to be strangely telling: You’re the Worst wants to get us to a place as slyly affecting, as wise, as the series used to be, despite being incapable of connecting the dots.

See, for instance, Lindsay turning on Gretchen, with a “For once?” that cuts deep but comes with no warning. See Jimmy’s dialogue, suddenly rid of its studied phrasing, pared down to precise nuggets like, “I came back to town to face the music, but it didn’t want to face me.” See the ease with which Paul transforms back into the man with love in his heart, a conclusion to his misconceived arc as pat as Lindsay’s plan to save her sister’s marriage. See, most especially, the threadbare symbolism of the traffic light in the closing sequence, the careful insertion of “You fought for me,” the will they/won’t they structure of the entire hour, replicating in miniature the season’s stasis—circular narratives are catnip to me (see The Leftovers), and yet none of these elements close the circle with conviction. The season’s “lessons,” such as they are, appear in the end more stolen than earned, like an undergraduate writing EXACTLY in a novel’s margins.

Whether it’s “realistic” for Jimmy and Gretchen to hash out the same argument in the last sequence that they do in the first, her “force field” damaged by his impulse to flee, it’s neither terribly compelling—not when the series has spent 11 episodes inspecting this very dynamic—nor particularly wise; You’re the Worst has finally come up against the problem implied by the title, which is that owning one’s worst-ness can become a way of excusing it. There’s a certain satisfaction in the shared penance of their climactic exchange, in the line of symmetry dividing “You left because I suck” and “I left because I suck,” but hasn’t it always been thus? Haven’t we spent four seasons—four seasons reflected by the reappearance of “neighbor boy,” who seems to have aged approximately 10 years—knowing that Gretchen and Jimmy’s attraction contained this kernel of repulsion, so ill-suited to deal with each other’s foibles that they became the perfect match? It’s one thing for You’re the Worst to mine this for humor (though that, too, is hit-or-miss), but to smuggle it into the finale’s many “moments of truth” as if it were some major breakthrough is beneath its intelligence, beneath the series it is, or used to be.

With Lindsay and Edgar more or less kneecapped by their fruitless detours this season, there’s no turning away from the frustrating sense that You’re the Worst drops us down where Season Three left off, and a handful of valiant line readings notwithstanding (Lindsay pronouncing Patron as “patron,” for one), I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all been for naught. Besides Gretchen’s trip home, I wonder if I’ll even remember it—it’s already evaporating, a comic mirage, though I laughed hard enough at Lindsay’s misapprehension of voicemail, or “Is there anyone in this house who hasn’t fingered my wife?!” to be more disappointed than angry. With all the sobbing and hollering, all the punching and wrestling, all the accusations left dangling to be papered over by episode’s end, the finale has the feeling, as Dutch (Steve Agee) says at one point, of the couple’s “Hail Mary before the divorce,” and though I’m morbidly curious to see a You’re the Worst wedding, I fear this marriage—mine, to the series—is already over.

That tune, “Used to Be,” features another lyric that struck me, one that describes You’re the Worst at its finest, You’re the Worst as it used to be. For the series, which has touched greatness, even sustained it, once managed to scythe past its characters’ defenses, to unearth their blackened, damaged cores, without ever suggesting that apologizing is the same thing as being forgiven, without seeing their embrace of their worst-ness as enough to carry the action. This happens with TV series—they love you, then leave you, or lose their luster, or evolve in a direction that’s no longer your own. And maybe you remember with a thrum of longing, as Weyes Blood sings, that it “Used to be the one that knew me / Saw through me.” Until one day it didn’t, and you said your goodbyes.

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

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