One thing that’s important to remember about Jimmy Laird is that he can be selfish. When he lost his wife, he spent a year burying himself in sex, booze, and drugs, forgetting that his daughter had lost a mom, too. Even when he is in a stable place, Jimmy tends to make everything about himself, projecting wildly and following his misguided whims to distract himself from his grief. He wants to do better and be a better dad, but progress is slow because he keeps getting in his own way.
Before we get to perhaps Jimmy’s ugliest moment of the show so far, let’s talk about the multi-pronged clusterfuck of bad therapy that gets Jimmy to this point. First, he finds out Grace didn’t leave her husband for long, if at all, and he still can’t get through to her. Grace’s main two (related) issues are her chronic people-pleasing and her toxic marriage, so this represents a big backslide on multiple fronts. Jimmy thought Grace was making great strides in combating the people-pleasing, but lying to her therapist about the state of her marriage (and even her current city of residence) is the ultimate people-pleasing move.
The second patient Jimmy mishandles is Wally (Kimberly Condict), who has OCD. When Jimmy visits Wally at her home and pushes her to sit down beside him on the couch in her outdoor clothes, it leads her to make a move on him … twice. (It was only a matter of time before Shrinking introduced a subplot about erotic transference.) For the second time in the episode, it’s easy to see how Jimmy’s supposedly genius new therapy technique directly led to unintended consequences.
And then there’s Sean, the real central patient character of Shrinking. All Sean does to ruin Jimmy’s day is continue to shut him down about discussing his time in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s Paul’s comment that gets under Jimmy’s skin: Sean thinks of Jimmy as his friend and roommate now, not a therapist, and that’s why he can’t open up. It’s a verbalization of the same issues that are getting in the way of progress with Jimmy’s other patients.
But the real rock-bottom moment for Jimmy and Sean’s relationship happens during Jimmy’s angry trampoline therapy later on, when he tells Sean, “I’m tired of you not opening up. I really need a win today.” The “fuck you” Sean delivers in response is well-deserved, and his explanation near the end of the episode hurts worse: Sean used to like living here because Jimmy never made him feel guilty the way his parents did, but now Jimmy ruined that. He apologizes and seems to repair things, but it might be hard to fully course-correct now that the two hang out so casually. Paul’s words are likely still running through Jimmy’s mind — especially now that he knows Liz and Gaby were right to suspect Alice had a crush on Sean.
There’s compelling tension and solid jokes in these patient-focused storylines, and Segel’s innate likability helps Jimmy come across as well-meaning despite his frequent callousness. But I’m less fond of the story around his overprotective-dad reaction to learning about Alice losing her virginity to Liz’s son Connor. Liz and Gaby are certainly right when they later point out that teen girls are horny, and Jimmy will have to get over it — but his reaction just feels too predictable, like something Blockers should’ve already settled five years ago.
It also leads to Jimmy’s unpleasant verbal explosion across decks, in which he bans Liz from his house after accusing her son of taking advantage of Alice. He blames everything on her interference, including Paul’s coldness towards him. (He’s more right there, but also, it’s still his fault.) He even tells her, “Find your own purpose. Find your own friends. Get a life.”
The whole tirade is totally uncalled for, and while the show clearly understands that, it feels a little forced and over-the-top. Jimmy’s rage toward Liz has always seemed unmotivated, and this latest overreaction is the most cartoonish yet. At least it leads an overhearing Gaby to soften toward Liz and invite her to get drunk, solidifying another new friendship. As played by Christa Miller, Liz is an easily sympathetic character, and I felt for her during her rant to Gaby about gradually losing touch with her best friend.
Jimmy may be lost without having his mentor to anchor him, but Paul has more serious matters on his mind than babysitting a coworker. His daughter Meg (Lily Rabe) is in town to give a talk on alternative energy, and Brian is urging him to meet with her to sign a medical power of attorney, giving her the authority to make important medical decisions if Paul can’t. Brian and Paul are the latest unexpected preexisting pairing in this show, another sign that the writers view Shrinking as a real ensemble hangout comedy akin to Lawrence’s Scrubs and Cougar Town. You can quibble about the unlikeliness of how casual their relationship feels, but in this case, it makes sense that Jimmy would refer his estate lawyer friend to a colleague.
What makes Paul’s planned meetup all the more complicated is his fraught history with Meg. When he and Meg’s mother split up, she took young Meg to live on the East Coast, so they’ve never truly gotten to know each other the way he may want to. In fact, she still doesn’t know he has Parkinson’s, something he’ll definitely have to bring up if he asks her to sign the form.
The meeting, while slightly awkward, mostly goes well when it comes to Paul’s efforts to reconnect; he makes it clear that he’d really like to see Meg and his grandson more, and Meg seems amenable to it, even if progress will be very gradual. With her professional obligations, Meg can’t stay long and have the real hours-long heart-to-heart they might need. A car is on the way, and in the end Paul can’t bring himself to tell her the truth about his diagnosis.
Paul defaults, too often, to privacy and compartmentalization, while Jimmy defaults to bluntly publicizing and distracting himself. Both guys have their own issues communicating truthfully, with both themselves and other people. Maybe they do need each other.
• Watching Harrison Ford sing and dance along to “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray … powerful.
• And when Jimmy tells Paul he has a great daughter, Ford’s acidic sarcasm provides my favorite line reading of the episode: “I’m so relieved you think so.”
• I did enjoy Jimmy’s swift no to Connor’s suggestion that he should’ve asked Jimmy’s permission to sleep with Alice.
• “No one wants a powerful handjob.”