Love plays out more or less in real time, roughly a day per episode, which means following their lazy-yet-eventful Sunday together, Gus and Mickey are back on their respective daily grinds. As I mentioned back in my episode one recap, the show spends a good chunk of its time where its characters do — at their jobs — and “Tested” gets us more acquainted with Gus and Mickey’s respective work situations. And on this particular day, both of their work situations kind of suck. But there is a potential bright spot, and it can be summed up in a single word: “Sup?”
The aloofness of Gus’s initial text volley to Mickey belies the effort he puts into composing it. After a couple of aborted efforts that both call back to his humiliations of the previous day, and after clearing his head with a little self-love, Gus opts for a greeting so nondescript that Mickey barely interrupts her hair-brushing routine to register it. She continues to ignore it throughout her (admittedly eventful) day, while Gus agonizes over a message designed specifically to suggest he’s not agonizing over it. When she eventually responds with a “Sup?” of her own, she does so with the sort of blithe detachment Gus was only feigning.
Mickey’s belated response puts a much-needed shine on Gus’s day, which has been darkened by his sorta-failed attempts to get Arya to pass the state exam required to keep her working, and thus keep Witchita’s production schedule on track. (Not to mention his failed attempts to infiltrate the Witchita writers’ coven.) But it’s unclear what sort of effect Gus’s initial message has on Mickey. She ignores it until she’s sitting in traffic, at which point she’s immediately distracted by some guy yelling at her for rear-ending his car. (So rude!) And when her boss, Dr. Greg (played with perfectly calibrated smarm by Brett Gelman) tries to get her to “open up” to him, she deflects by casually brushing off her for-real-this-time breakup with Eric. When she finally remembers his text at the end of the day, while sharing a carton of ice cream with Bertie (plain vanilla, girls, really?), she responds with the sort of disinterest typically reserved for flicking the ash off her cigarette.
This might suggest that Mickey is simply not as interested in Gus as he is in her, but I don’t think that’s quite what’s being implied here. Rather, the extent to which Gus and Mickey each let that “Sup” affect their daily lives exposes the very different ways in which they relate to other people, as well as their own emotions. Gus is a guy who listens to recordings of his own therapy sessions while driving his Prius. (Of course he drives a Prius.) He’s overly analytical and indecisive, as evidenced by the composition and deletion of two perfectly cromulent initial texts. He’s clearly obsessive, “checking his phone throughout the day and fretting over it with his on-set buddy (played by Jordan Rock, Chris’ brother). And despite his friend’s sound advice to relax, and his encouragement that Gus made the right move (“I’ve gotten laid texting ‘sup?’ plenty of times”), Gus still lets the specter of that text cast a shadow over his already-stressful day.
Gus is incapable of compartmentalizing his life to the extent Mickey is — though the extent to which Mickey compartmentalizes her life is very troubling. Mickey’s selfishness and disregard for other people’s feelings are really cemented in this episode, and not just by her neglect of Gus’s text. Her interactions with Dr. Greg are among the series’ most squirm-inducing, and while neither character comes out looking like a saint (despite Saint Greg’s insistence otherwise), the extent to which Mickey mishandles the situation is mortifying. Yes, Dr. Greg’s advances are highly inappropriate and completely ridiculous, particularly once he gets around to not-so-subtly suggesting that she quit her job so they can be together. Mickey is absolutely right to want to get herself out of that situation, but her attempts to do so highlight her complete lack of empathy. First, she calls Bertie — who is in the middle of a hilariously off-the-rails focus group for some rubbery, filmy, watery, thin, gross, didn’t-want-it ham — to see if she can float her roommate of two days on rent for six months or so. When Bertie gives her a totally legitimate and heartbreaking reason why she can’t (she’s sending money to her senile grandma who keeps losing it), Mickey doesn’t seem to hear anything other than a “no,” and moves on to an even more disastrous plan B.
There’s a deep, dark irony in the way Mickey messes with the mind of a “love doctor” like Dr. Greg, someone who’s trained — at least, I hope he’s trained — to recognize destructive behavior in other people. (“Plaids, polka-dots, infidelity, codependence: You guessed it, we’re talking about patterns!”) But once he realizes her sudden sexual attraction to him is a preemptive strike on someone she assumed was going to fire her, he unleashes all his shrink-speak on her — and, dammit, the jerk is right. Mickey is projecting, and she is a manipulative person; we’ve only known her for an hour at this point, and that is all abundantly clear. (Why it took Dr. Greg so long to figure this out speaks poorly of his love doctor credentials. Well, that and the whole sexual-harassment thing.) Mickey’s primary focus at all times is Mickey, which leaves little room for, say, thinking about Gus.
While the empathy chasm between Gus and Mickey will continue to be a huge driving force on Love, “Tested” also provides a nice peek at how Bertie will factor into their relationship. The fact that we get a glimpse of Bertie’s work life in an episode devoted to the main characters’ jobs is a hint at how important she’ll end up being to this series. (There’s a Bertie-centric episode just over the horizon, and it’s a series high point.) She is both genuinely sweet and naturally self-assured, which makes her the yin to Mickey and Gus’s respective yangs. It’s still unclear whether Gus and Mickey are right for each other, but Bertie is definitely right for both of them, even if they don’t know it yet.
Bertie isn’t the only supporting character who gets fleshed out this episode, either. (Though she’s clearly the best, and I will not hear otherwise.) By re-separating Gus and Mickey after maintaining tight focus on them as a pair in the last episode, Love is able to give mini-showcases to its deep roster of supporting talent, including Gelman, King, Iris Apatow’s Arya, and Tracie Thoms’s Susan, the no-nonsense, always-hungry Witchita showrunner. (Get ready for a lot more of those super-awkward conversations between her and Gus!) This show’s supporting cast may be its biggest strength. It not only gives a spotlight to a lot of deserving performers, but it gives us a strong sense of how Gus and Mickey relate to others.
This all goes back to what I wrote about the first episode, and what I will harp on throughout the rest of this series: Love is more successful as a study of two individuals than as a study of a romantic pair. And while it’s too glib to say Love is at its best when its two leads are separated — there are some truly fantastic scenes between them in the series’ back half — it is generally richer when Gus and Mickey are apart. The shadow of their maybe-relationship hangs over everything they do, and the series is more interesting for it. (And often more painful, too.) It’s that vague possibility, that dangling “sup?,” that keeps Love alive.