In this week’s episode of You’re The Worst, things got a little, um, stabbier than some viewers may have been expecting.
In a violent, cliffhanger-ish conclusion to the third season premiere, Lindsay — now officially back together with her husband, Paul, a yawn in human form — gets so freaked out by the prospect of the mundane married life ahead of her that she turns to her spouse and shoves a knife into his side. This is not an accidental knifing; she doesn’t trip while chopping the mushrooms for the salad that’s supposed to accompany the hominy and poblano-pepper pozole Paul ordered from Red Napkin, the You’re the Worst version of Blue Apron. No, she shanks him, hard, in a spot that presumably shares real estate with some important organs.
As I said in my review of the third season, even though the characters on the FXX show have engaged in some despicable behavior in the past, this particular choice feels like … well, the worst thing someone’s ever done on this show. Gretchen, Jimmy, and Lindsay, as well as Lindsay’s sister, Becca, and her dude-bro husband, Vernon, have definitely offended and hurt other people before. But unless I’m forgetting the very special murder episode, so far none of them have attempted to commit homicide, and certainly not to their romantic partner. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that at first. But after further consideration, it became clear to me that this scene is actually a perfect illustration of You’re the Worst living up to its script-flipping mission statement.
My initial response to the Shocking Paul Knifing of 2016 was that it pushed things too far, so much so that it wasn’t clear whether Lindsay actually did something this horrific or if we merely saw her play out a fantasy of stabbing Paul. (Spoiler alert: It was real.) The things that happen on this show are often dark and heightened for our twisted amusement. But even within that context, Lindsay’s action seemed extreme.
In her defense, there’s no question that Paul is the spousal equivalent of Baymax from Big Hero Six, in that he’s a cuddly, blob-like entity whose conversational abilities are deeply lacking. (Who cares how many rows are in an ear of corn, Paul??) But like Baymax, he’s also comforting, considerate, and extremely loyal. (Do you think Baymax likes listening to birding podcasts? I bet he does.)
Paul, played by Allan McLeod with a thermostat set permanently and appropriately on milquetoast, has forgiven Lindsay for every sin she’s committed against him. He has stayed with her and is committed to being a partner and parent with her. As terrifying as it is to Lindsay when he says, “I’m so happy I get to do this with you, forever wife,” it’s also very sweet and admirable, in addition to being, obviously, ridiculously naïve. My point is: He may be super-boring, but Paul definitely does not deserve a knife to the gut.
I mean, imagine if the gender roles had been reversed and the stabber had been a man and the victim had been a woman. Would we be able to accept this behavior, even as a moment of black comedy, to the degree that we can maybe kinda sorta accept it from Lindsay?
That was the thought that made me look more closely at that scene and change my mind about it.
What happens in this episode-closing moment is a total subversion of stereotypical gender roles. In the situation that plays out between Paul and Lindsay, and in keeping with the dynamic of their marriage, Paul engages in what society has trained us to think of as wife behavior: He cooks, he sips wine, and he tries to connect with his spouse by having a pleasant, gentle evening at home. Lindsay, on the other hand, feels the way a conventional man — again, based on stereotypical gender norms — might in this situation. She would clearly rather be at that club, helping Sam, Shitstain, and Honey Nutz do a blistering version of “New Phone Who Dis?” Instead, she’s stuck in that supposedly blissful kitchen, where the atmosphere of fancy fixed-meal preparation feels absolutely stifling. Just before this scene begins, Sam wonders onstage where that “white bitch” is; the answer, the show implies, is that a lot of white (and non-white) bitches are stuck in oppressively “normal” kitchens like the one Lindsay and Paul are occupying.
Wendey Stanzler, who directed this episode as well as a handful of season-two installments, does a brilliant job of visually capturing the details that push Lindsay over the edge (the close-ups of that gray-haired birding couple are like the grim reapers of dull marriage), while Kether Donohue’s eye twitches and facial ticks telegraph how much Paul is killing her, and not softly, with his song. After wanting so much to get Paul back — partly because he was out of her reach, and therefore more alluring, but also because some part of her still believes she’s supposed to play the role of happy, privileged wife — Lindsay realizes she doesn’t want this life at all. It’s not that she wants to stab Paul so much as she wants to shove a sharp implement into the whole notion of what she’s been trained to desire from marriage and adulthood. We don’t necessarily expect a woman to lash out so aggressively, and that refusal to do the usual is precisely what’s so You’re the Worst–ish about that moment.
The guiding principle of You’re the Worst is its insistence on contradicting the expectations regarding romance and human behavior that have been ingrained in us by pop culture. Movies and TV shows have previously taught us that women are never commitment-phobic, but here are Gretchen and Lindsay testifying that, hell yes, they certainly can be. Soldiers who suffer from PTSD are supposed to be addled and maybe a little scary, not gentle, gifted preparers of breakfast foods the way Edgar is. Romantic comedies are supposed to have happy endings and present likable characters with unsullied souls who, once in love, can’t stop themselves from pursuing it with the unfettered enthusiasm of that kid from Love Actually dashing through an airport. While You’re the Worst continues to uncover elements of warmth in its characters and, especially, in the relationship between Gretchen and Jimmy, it still continues to flip the bird at Hollywood romanticism while refusing to take down, by even a notch, the level of reprehensible behavior of which its principal figures are capable.
Obviously it’s shocking and wrong for anyone, man or woman, to do something so violent to a spouse. But by putting the knife in Lindsay’s hand and Paul’s abdomen, You’re the Worst invites us to consider the same truth it’s constantly conveying: that all of us, regardless of gender or societal conditioning, must face the fact that we are capable of doing things that are ugly and awful. In this case, Lindsay might be the worst. But at some point, you, FXX viewer, could be the worst, too.