The last time we saw Jimmy, he was abandoning Gretchen. Not just breaking up with her, not just walking out. He ditched her in a spectacularly awful fashion, literally minutes after proposing to her. He went to the car for a hoodie — a soft surface on which to have celebratory sex — and then just slid behind the wheel and drove off.
The hour-long premiere of You’re the Worst season four is divided evenly between Jimmy and Gretchen. He gets the intro, which means we spend all of her panicked, manic half-hour with knowledge she doesn’t have about his whereabouts. (I wonder how everything would have landed if the order were reversed, but then we wouldn’t have ended the episode as we did, with Edgar and Lindsay together.)
Jimmy’s stretch is a hazy, slow one. It has an almost Breaking Bad aesthetic, with its long silences and nowhere-desert color palette. Also, he has grown some breakup scruff. I am usually extremely pro-scruff, but Jimmy’s facial hair, like everything else about him at this juncture, is depressing. He’s now leading a modified monklike life in an RV draped with Christmas lights at the High Mountain Retirement Motor Court: A Senior Community. He is as unplugged as it gets for a millennial these days, ignoring his phone and emails and sticking with analog forms of entertainment: rented DVDs from the library and porn magazines. Though he rises at a decent hour and exercises regularly, he mostly passes time with Bert, his curmudgeony senior companion of choice.
Bert is a little like the Ghost of Jimmy’s Future, a 71-year-old man who rejects everyone before anyone can reject him and does not look his age. (As Jimmy puts it before Bert clocks him across the face, “Jesus Christ, what were you, a Nepalese Sherpa?”) Bert rebuffs the affections of Gail, a fellow High Mountain retiree who took his car keys to save him from himself. (Jimmy responds to this information, which he did say he was not interested in, with a list of things Gail can’t do anymore: “Bend down, read without glasses, menstruate.”) Jimmy tells Bert the whereabouts of the keys and immediately regrets it, as Gail was obviously right: Bert can’t drive anymore. “I used to find it amusing,” Jimmy says. “But you are dangerous.”
Something about his time with Bert gets into Jimmy’s bones. After three months in self-imposed exile, he sets up his buddy with some farewell gifts — including money for a film projector! It’s very sweet — and returns home to Los Angeles. Remember Jimmy’s erotic sibling-incest novel, The Width of a Peach? The uncorrected proof is on his doorstep, thick with dust. He turns on his phone and it slowly glows to life, bringing with it the rapid fire of PING-PING-PING with three months’ worth of missed messages and calls.
While Jimmy’s time has been, at least on the surface, serene and leisurely, Gretchen has taken a, uh, different approach. She came straight to Lindsay’s single-girl digs after Jimmy left and hasn’t set foot outside the apartment since then. She’s done so much other stuff, though! Have you seen those beads in her hair? And also that dinosaur mural? Have you listened to Jack FM? It is not your father’s radio station. Also, she has crack! Can you believe it was only $10?! What a way out of a rut.
Gretchen says she’s Skyping with her therapist (do we believe her?) and is tricking Honey Nutz et. al. into believing she is in Europe. “There is a surging hunger for American hip-hop in Europe right now,” she tells them. “You know, because of Brexit.”
Meanwhile, Lindsay is doing remarkably well: She’s working as a stylist’s assistant, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from gainful employment and responsibility. “It’s like having people expect you to be somewhere makes you want to go there,” Lindsay says, in the awed voice of someone watching the total eclipse. Lindsay is still reliably hilarious — “The free food is a nice perk!” “… We don’t have free food” — and her workplace is a perfect fit. She gets promoted to full-time, and this is where her patience for Gretchen starts to crack. (Too soon for crack puns?) After getting over the initial shock of her new, longer hours (“but work is for day”), Lindsay takes to her new assignments with impressive passion and focus.
Gretchen is getting in the way, on top of being a source of serious concern. “You’re listening to poor people radio,” Lindsay says. “You have the bush of an old Italian man. You smoked crack.” But Gretchen has a perfectly logical explanation for her shut-in status: “What if I run into him and then I die?!” She wonders if Jimmy was paid by “one of my enemies” to leave her in the lurch. “Probably Jason Mraz for when I called him a fedora-wearing diarrhea.”
Exasperated, Lindsay meets up with Edgar, who has taken over Jimmy’s place and reveals that he, too, was abandoned. (On the bright side, Edgar’s sketch-writing thing seems to be working out. Great job with “Guido Baby.”) Lindsay thinks Jimmy must have “drove back to England” and reports back to Gretchen that she won L.A. in the breakup. This gives Gretchen the courage to go outside, but not enough courage to go anywhere Lindsay isn’t. After Gretchen crashes her workplace, Lindsay has no choice but to dish out the truth. (I loved her “Are you goddamn kidding me?” reaction to Gretchen clinging to the notion that she and Jimmy are “still technically engaged.”)
I also enjoyed watching Edgar and Lindsay at the end of the episode. It’s a good self-aware moment — like the YTW writers mocking the way they write their own characters — even if their “dope sex” without strings will inevitably go to shit. Whatever, let’s cherish a good thing while it lasts.
Left on her own, Gretchen flings herself back into the arms of that douchey director guy from way back when. When he says, “There she is. I missed you,” and it’s clear from Gretchen’s eyes that she is totally gone … oof. The only thing that’s sadder is Jimmy’s first text to her: “Hey …” (I wrote in my notes: FUCK YOU, JIMMY. I mean, “Hey, dot, dot, dot?” To a girl you proposed to and then ran out on? YOU ARE A WRITER, JIMMY. DO BETTER.)
You’re the Worst is one of the best case studies in the sadcom, and it has leaned harder and harder into its dark side as the years have gone by. There was edge in the pilot, to be sure, and its characters were designed to be just this side of likable, but the episodes were thick with jokes and callbacks. Later episodes have peeled back the less-laughable realities underneath these characters’ bleak worldviews: not just Edgar’s PTSD, which has been handled brilliantly from the get-go, but Gretchen’s clinical depression, Jimmy’s complicated grief and fear of intimacy, and Lindsay’s pent-up aggression. (The girl is a lovable screw-up, but she also STABBED HER HUSBAND #neverforget.) It keeps pressing down on the bruises in these characters’ lives, daring us to care about them even as they seem to care so little about themselves and each other.
It brings to mind not just the central questions of the show — do these characters deserve happiness? Forgiveness? Love? Does everyone? If so, how can they not? If not, how can they? — but also the meta-question that comes up while watching it: What does You’re the Worst aim to be? It feels like we’ve passed the event horizon of comedy; long, lingering stretches of this hour-long premiere go by with little to laugh about. But there’s still something wildly compelling about watching Gretchen and Jimmy deal (or aggressively fail to deal) with how shattered they are.
Maybe the writers decided they needed some balance after last season, when these characters were floundering, lashing out at each other, and self-destructing at record speed. It’s something of a relief to end this premiere with Edgar and Lindsay, once relegated to hapless sidekick status, making their way in their professional lives and actually having fun. Their choices are healthier; their existences more stable. So much so that we find them kicking off a friends-with-benefits situation in Jimmy’s bed, just like their buddies once did in the pilot. And we all know how that turned out.
The worst: Texting “Hey …” to the woman you proposed to and then abandoned by falling off the face of the Earth for three months.
Runners-up: Sharing a toothbrush, singing “One Week” at your friend in the middle of a productive conversation, being awoken from “erotic slumber,” the origins of body dysmorphia, how loud the sounds are outside.
A few good things: Jimmy suggesting he and Bert watch Deadwood because “it takes place when you were a child,” knowing what people are wearing in Japan next year, calling s’mores “fluff-o-grahams.”