Did anyone else’s heart drop when they realized this was going to be a pandemic episode? Every piece of media that has attempted to depict the year 2020 has done it in such a surface-level manner that it fails to articulate anything worthwhile. But that’s the problem with trying to be the first. What can you say without the hindsight needed to fully comprehend how the pandemic era has affected the world? How can you define this moment in time when it isn’t even over yet?
Unfortunately, “Marcus Watkins” isn’t going to be the definitive cultural artifact of the pandemic. Though if people in 100 years want a CliffsNotes summary of 2020, this could probably do the job. Starting from New Year’s Day and ending with the countdown into 2021, the speed at which this episode ticked off every single rona talking point — *deep breath* mask-wearing, quarantine relationships, sanitization, social distancing, Zoom, outdoor dining, bread baking, random hobbies, pandemic weddings, anti-vaxxer parents — in 25 minutes is, frankly, exhausting. Was it necessary to make multiple jokes about hoarding toilet paper??? The point is that Marcus had the same year as all of us, I suppose.
Marcus starts his year hoping for a fresh start after his scarring breakup with Mia and the disastrous camping trip with the Boys. But by March, he’s been sent home from the office, and he’s stuck in his apartment with the girl he kissed at midnight, Angelie. The episode transports you right back to the paranoia of the first weeks of isolation. Angelie is dismissive of the virus’s severity, taking socially distant yoga classes over staying indoors. Her hand washing routine is certainly shorter than “Happy Birthday” sung twice. Intense close-ups on the way Angelie’s unsanitized hands rummage through the cutlery drawer speak to Marcus’s discomfort over his living situation, and he quickly breaks it off with her. He’d rather be single than catch the rona.
If the pandemic has forced Marcus to reprioritize his relationships, it’s also caused him to rethink his career. The performative allyship of Sutton Court in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests has only crystallized how he’s been taken advantage of and sidelined. An offer to give his approval for a statement of solidarity from the company is the final straw, and he calls out his boss for only supporting Black people when the moment calls for it — not in the least, Trae Lang, who Josh only cared about once he became a best seller. “I bring you Black writers with good, and I mean really good, manuscripts, and automatically you’re just, like, I don’t get it,” Marcus says over a Zoom call. “But what really sets me off is that I don’t think you even actually care to.” Josh is the kind of ally who will post a black square on Instagram but won’t put in the work of actually uplifting writers of color. And Marcus has had enough, so he quits with a ceremonial slam of his laptop.
A surprise phone call from Mia finally finds closure to the cheating debacle with the TaskRabbit. When you’re in the middle of a global crisis, those things seem less consequential. She tells the truth about what happened in Maryland and asks to apologize in person, but it’s clear that he never got over Mia, and the truth hurts just as much as not knowing. But as he stands as Ida’s Best Man at her intimate wedding, he realizes that Mia is probably the closest thing to real love. If his sister is willing to have a hastily thrown together ceremony attended by a dozen people and their parents on a FaceTime call, all because she loves her wife so much that she can’t wait any longer, then why should a little road bump matter to Marcus when it comes to the rest of his life? (“Having witnessed his imperfect sister find happiness in an imperfect world with an imperfect partner, Marcus’s mind went back to Mia.”)
So he agrees to meet Mia for lunch (Outside, naturally). And she catches Marcus up on what she’s been up to since that tumultuous trip to Maryland: Her mom is bipolar, and she didn’t know how to handle it, but she’s been in therapy for ten months, and she’s working on herself. They’ve both been looking for the perfect relationship, terrified of showing each other the worst parts of themselves when in reality their version of perfect is standing right in front of them — if they could just compromise. So they meet each other halfway, literally, as they walk back on their good-byes. “I always want to be there for you, even when you’re being an asshole,” Marcus says. “But I don’t want you to be anything other than what you are because that’s who I love.” It’s not a grand, poetically composed confession of love, but it’s real. It’s laced with the understanding that he won’t bail the second things get tough because they will. He’s happy with Mia the way she is.
It’s been a whole “fucking saga” for Marcus and Mia. And not for one second has it been the peak of romance, just chance and maybe even fate bringing them together until the time was truly right. It feels strange to describe Love Life as a rom-com because it lacks the markers of that genre. Their meet-cute, if you can call it that, was awkward small talk outside a dive bar. Their entire relationship has been messy from the start, but it feels true to life that such a connection would take almost half a decade to cultivate before it could actually work. And now the time is finally right. Marcus went into 2020 thinking that it would be his year, and now that he’s ending it with Mia sleeping by his side, maybe it really was.
• Kian calls in from what looks like a beach house, meaning he was one of those wealthy people who flew away to somewhere glamorous to ride out the quar. “Eat the rich” includes you, Kian; sorry, bud.
• How quickly do you think Marcus’s neighbors filed a noise complaint against him when he started learning the trumpet as his quarantine hobby?
• Ida, when Marcus says he broke up with Angelie: “Oh, good for you. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
• I will be so embarrassed if Marcus and Mia break up in the next episode after I just wrote all that.