For the lovebird jerks living at the center of You’re the Worst, Edgar is always on the periphery. He’s the chauffeur, the housekeeper, the maker of butt-shaped pancakes. But in tonight’s episode, Edgar is finally promoted to protagonist status.
“Twenty-Two” is a tremendous structural and tonal break for YTW. It reveals Jimmy and Gretchen to be even more callous than they previously seemed, while showing us exactly how Edgar sees the world. Through his eyes, it’s a mash-up of normalcy, nightmarish hallucinations, surround-sound confusion, and horror.
Edgar’s self-described “mild-to-medium battlefield psychosis” has been baked into the show from the get-go. In the very first episode, we learned that he suffers from “nightmares and the crying and how I want to do heroin all the time.” While plenty of sitcoms just have characters appear at each others’ homes at all hours for no apparent reason — even YTW does this with Lindsay; how is she up and dressed so early to be at Jimmy’s place for breakfast? — we know that Edgar is living with Jimmy because, after serving two tours in Iraq, he found himself in Los Angeles with nowhere to live. (For obvious reasons, solid stats are hard to come by, but in 2010, it’s estimated that nearly 13,000 Iraq vets were homeless in the U.S.) In season one, Edgar tried and failed to get medication from the VA because the man working there dismissed Edgar’s all-consuming nightmares as “bad dreams,” a symptom of “Domestic Civilian Transference Syndrome by Proxy,” a.k.a. Jimmy’s fault. And last season’s best, most brutal recurring joke hinged on Edgar being haunted by a wartime error, a mistake that left him screaming in his sleep: “I didn’t know it was a school.”
Yet this is the first time we’ve spent an entire episode inside Edgar’s battered brain. It’s just one night and day, but it’s plenty. At first we’re as disoriented as he is — what night is it? where are we? — but when Edgar bops into the kitchen (after surveying a massive stash of pill bottles, which have been piling up since he stopped taking his meds) we see that Korean gel mask on Jimmy’s face and learn that we’re watching the same day as last week’s episode.
Edgar does try to do all the things he says he’ll do, like swing by the British specialty store and pick up all of Jimmy’s writing snacks — including shrimp-flavored crisps, Wallington’s Choco-knockers, Lemingtons, Fluffingtons, and Rum Christophers — but Edgar’s traumatized mind transforms the store, like every other public space, into a war zone. Everything is blurry and bright and dangerous. He doesn’t get any of Jimmy’s snacks. Instead, he buys a British-flag balloon and brings it to Dorothy.
Dorothy is the only person in YTW who seems to give any fucks about Edgar, and thank goodness she is there. Otherwise, who would tell him that the look on his face is scary, that he needs to be his own advocate, that he’s brave? She may not realize the severity of Edgar’s condition, but her compassion and empathy are nevertheless crucial.
Edgar, who is definitely in the right headspace to be operating a motor vehicle, drives Gretchen and Jimmy to their cemetery thing. Along the way, he mostly ignores their snark about his cassette tapes, which were a gift from his brother. Do we know what happened to Edgar’s family, by the way? And then he meets with Tabitha, the chief at the VA.
Tabitha so admires Edgar’s grit and determination. “Should it take grit and determination to get help?” he asks. Good point, Edgar! Tabitha tells him that his next treatment option is a virtual-reality trainer: “They actually build a video game out of your trauma. It’s so fun! But scary, of course.” Tabitha offers to sign him up, until Edgar reveals he isn’t taking any of the 11 meds he’s been prescribed. The sequence that follows is excruciating. Tabitha tells him that they seem to be at “an impasse,” and Edgar stages a brief sit-in. “I’m not leaving. You’re gonna help me. It’s the only reason you exist,” he says. “It’s not enough to prescribe a one-size-fits-all of shut-up pills.”
Tabitha’s reply: “Oh, if we had shut-up pills, we would have prescribed them to you by now.”
Faced with yet another setback, Edgar starts breaking chairs. Needless to say, he does not get on the list for the virtual-reality trainer. He does not get on the list for anything. He gets back in his car and immediately starts hallucinating again.
I love how the heartbreaker of a moment that finds Edgar sobbing against a broken highway fence is undercut by such a perfectly obnoxious L.A. interruption: Edgar sees a paper boat sailing down a river, like some kind of cosmic sign that he shouldn’t run into traffic after all. But, of course, a couple of jerky film students put it there. “What, you just thought a paper boat was sailing down the river on its own?”
Perhaps so the entire episode doesn’t leave us feeling completely wrecked, Edgar discovers a glimmer of hope in the form of a tow-truck driver who turns out to be a fellow veteran. They bond over their shared horror: “I saw a sniper on the overpass,” Edgar admits. “Roadside trash is the worst! Why can’t they just throw it away?” They get high together in the tow truck. It’s really nice! I mean, “nice” enough, considering that everything else is horrible. The tow-truck dude offers his take: “The military’s job is to sand down our humanity just enough so that we can take a life,” and then a totally separate branch of the government is supposed to fix them. This, as he explains, is “impossible.” And so, tow-truck dude got a companion dog. Starving for some joy in this vicious universe, I wrote in my notes, HOLY SHIT CAN SOMEONE GET EDGAR A COMPANION PUPPY CAN IT BE A BORDER COLLIE PLEASE.
Then this tow-truck angel says, “This other dude I know locks himself in his bedroom and stabs his closet door.” Honestly, I’m still a fan of the puppy strategy, but to each his own.
“I know you don’t want to hear this,” he tells Edgar. “But the minute you stop looking for someone else to cure you, the minute you start living again.” I’m not sold on this takeaway — as we’ve seen with Gretchen and her clinical depression, the DIY method often isn’t enough, and there’s no shame or failure in recognizing that — but it does seem like if Edgar can’t keep waiting for the VA to step up. If he expects them to take care of him, he will never be taken care of at all.
The worst: Our nation’s infuriating failure to provide adequate care to veterans
Runners-up: PTSD, hallucinating snipers on the overpass, running out of car booze, Tabitha, insomnia.
A few good things: Getting not-fax-dependent by the “next war,” Edgar’s silent-movie look, companion dogs.