Once upon a time, there was a janitor and a scientist who worked at the same research facility and shared a love for the Grateful Dead. Sweet Tooth is fixated on beginnings, and of all the starts this series has shown us, this is the one that feels most like the story’s true origin point. Gus probably wouldn’t be alive if these two lost souls didn’t meet at Sal’s Bar on that fateful night, finding each other right before the world descended into chaos. “When Pubba Met Birdie” is the big revelation episode, taking us back in time to when the Great Crumble began. It gives concrete answers about the start of the H5G9 virus and why Gus is older than the other hybrids, situating Gus and his “parents” at the core of the pandemic.
“When Pubba Met Birdie” opens with some scientists on an expedition in Alaska, where they discover some sort of microbe deep in the ice. Cut to one year later at Fort Smith Research, where Pubba (real name: Richard Fox) works as a janitor, cleaning up pools of fluid and watching scientists inject chicken eggs. Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” plays over the montage of Pubba on the job, which ends with him seeing one of the scientists raging at something her colleagues are doing. Clearly something is wrong, so when he sees Birdie (Amy Seimitz) at the bar, he’s compelled to ask her about her day and make her feel better. She’s cagey about responding, but then Grateful Dead starts playing and they start talking about their favorite songs, calling each other out on how basic their picks are.
Grateful Dead music does a lot of the heavy lifting in Pubba and Birdie’s courtship, starting with her favorite song, “Friend of the Devil,” playing as they get to know each other in the bar. His favorite song, “Ripple,” plays when they make their way to Birdie’s place, and both tracks create a very chill, inviting atmosphere for affection to bloom. At the bar, Birdie explains what she and her team have been working on, telling Pubba about how they’ve been injecting microbes into chicken eggs in hopes of creating something that could save a lot of lives. The flip side is that if they inject the wrong microbes, all hell breaks loose. And all hell is about to break loose.
When they go to Birdie’s place for hot chocolate, she reveals that her late husband died of HPS (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome) and Pubba talks about his dreams of being an artist who works on children’s books. Even though he’s often cast in over-the-top roles, Will Forte is great at playing characters with understated charm. Pubba is an unassuming figure sketching at the bar, but when he strikes up conversation, his warmth and compassion shines through. He genuinely wants to know what Birdie is dealing with and how he can help her feel better, and that endears him to her a lot. He has very sweet chemistry with Seimitz, who plays a character with much more confidence and conviction. Birdie is the one who tells Pubba to sit closer when they’re talking on the couch, and they’d be kissing if she didn’t get a phone call telling her the military is taking over the lab and seizing everything.
Everything except Birdie’s experiment, which is hidden in a storage closet, waiting to be retrieved. Birdie doesn’t have her keys anymore but Pubba does, so they go back to Fort Smith together, make their way through the armed soldiers in containment suits, and find the baby Gus. “We accidentally made a miracle,” Birdie says as she shows Pubba the world’s first hybrid, a meeting that will change the course of his life forever. They successfully sneak away with Gus, and Birdie asks Pubba to take the baby because nobody will come looking for the janitor. Birdie goes back to get her research, and that’s the last Pubba sees of her. The show successfully sells that these characters have created a connection strong enough that Pubba would give up everything to help her, and Pubba knows that when Birdie says “miracle,” she means it. Gus is more important than any of them will ever know, and that means he needs to be protected.
Aimee and the Singhs are absent in this episode, which is entirely focused on revealing the truth about Gus’s conception to both the audience and the character. Gus and the gang stop by Sal’s Bar as they enter Essex County, with no idea how important this location is to Gus’s survival. Bear and Jepperd have serious doubts about Birdie being alive and debate how to prepare Gus for the worst, but before they can say anything to him, he spots smoke rising from a chimney in the distance. They’re shocked to find it coming from Birdie’s house, but she’s not there.
Instead, the house is occupied by Judy (Jodie Rimmer), Birdie’s colleague who helped her sneak the baby Gus into the supply closet. Judy found people ransacking Birdie’s house in the early days of the pandemic, and was severely beaten when she tried to stop them. Birdie helped her recover, but then left to find Gus, leaving Judy with the home she’s had for a decade. Judy gives Gus the key to the attic, where the secrets of his past are waiting in a folder labeled “G.U.S.1: Genetic Unit Series1,” full of photos and documents detailing his creation at Fort Smith.
Gus is distraught after learning that he wasn’t born to human parents but conceived in a lab, and Bear tries to make him feel better by telling him that she was adopted. They weren’t her birth parents, but that didn’t make them worse or their family less legitimate. Unfortunately, no one has any words to ease the pain of finding out you were created in a lab and treated like an experiment rather than a child. Christian Convery makes Gus’s heartbreak and betrayal feel very real in this moment, and it’s the final straw after a string of encounters opening his eyes to the lies his Pubba told him.
So much of Gus’s hope hinged on finding his mother, a journey that leads him to a truth he’s not at all prepared to hear. Birdie isn’t his mother. Pubba isn’t his father. He doesn’t have biological parents at all, just a lab full of scientists who worked together to create him with some microscopic organisms. Everything about his life has been a lie, and it’s too much for him to take. He lashes out at his companions and tries to get as far away as he can, and as he angstily runs through the forest, he’s joined by a pack of deer who recognize their own kind. This moment speaks to Gus’s true nature as the first of a new species; he doesn’t have a normal human life because he’s not supposed to. He’s something different, something more in tune with the planet and its wild creatures. He feels alone right now, but maybe that’s because he’s looking for company in the wrong places.