The characters on “You’re the Worst” are best described as, well, the worst. These disaffected Angelenos are by turns narcissistic and callous, disinterested and egotistical, bitterly cruel and relentlessly, hopelessly broken. In the stellar part one of the season three finale, “You Knew It Was A Snake,” Gretchen (Aya Cash, “Easy”) says as much to Jimmy (Chris Geere, “Urge”): that the two of them are fundamentally splintered and subdued souls, and there’s not enough space in this wheel-spinning relationship for that much chaos.
The exchange could serve as a sort of thesis statement for the series as a whole. “You’re the Worst” is interested not so much in human relationships as it is in the futility of trying to be in one at all.
How much will we endure, really, to be with the ones we love? The underlying toxicity of the three principal relationships has never been more explicitly rendered than in “You Knew It Was A Snake.” The episode functions like a twisted Edward Albee play, tracking the downward spirals of Lindsay (Kether Donhue, “Pitch Perfect”) and Paul (Allan McLeod, “Life After Beth”), Edgar (Desmin Borges, “Preacher”) and Dorothy (Collette Wolfe, “Interstellar”) and Jimmy and Gretchen in cross-cutting scenes of flared tempers and aggressive hostility. It’s riveting — and excruciating — to watch.
Dorothy’s jealousy and resentment over Edgar’s instantaneous success is a somewhat odd pivot, especially given the weight of his storyline earlier in the season. But Lindsay and Paul’s standoff is a marvel of dark comedy. Their storyline this season ranged from comic absurdity — it’s easy to forget that Lindsay both microwaved a used condom to inseminate herself and literally stabbed her husband in the back — to the most nuanced of scenes, as the show’s treatment of her abortion was one of its more successful moments.
But if theirs was the most outright hilarious, then our principal couple’s devolvement was the most devastating. Gretchen and Jimmy haven’t traversed the traditional television rom-com route: they got together, and then stayed together. And in that subversion, the show has become more brutal and unsparing in its depiction of their relationship.
“You’re The Worst” is not an easy watch. It’s a comedy, and a romantic one at that, but it also rejects the idealization of love and monogamy that we so often succumb to. Creator Stephen Falk (“Orange Is the New Black”) takes no prisoners: Gretchen and Jimmy need each other, and it’s impossible to imagine them apart, but it’s also inconceivable that watching their relationship won’t be akin surveying a car crash on the side of the road.
Take, for example, the closing shot of the finale. It’s an explicit callback to the final shot of the penultimate episode: a split screen of Jimmy’s and Gretchen’s faces as they both drive in separate cars, right next to each other, but still separated by a barrier they can’t breach.
The finale ends on a strikingly similar note. Jimmy, having just proposed to Gretchen, is completely shaken by her casual use of the word “family.” In perhaps the show’s coldest moment, he immediately leaves her, newly engaged, and drives away. The left side of the shot is Jimmy’s panicked face; the right side is Gretchen’s signature pout, fireworks incongruently bursting behind her. I’d call it cliché if I weren’t so emotionally shaken.
The show is full of dramatic ironies like these, but at what point do we stop praising the show for its subversiveness and simply commend it for being its own entity? “You’re The Worst” is constantly defined by its relationship to other rom-coms, but it’s defiantly singular in its willingness to stand, unflinching, and stare down the barrel of the emotional difficulty of human connection. Intimacy and warmth and genuine meaning — these take grueling work. But the alternative? That’s the worst.