Review: A ‘You’re the Worst’ tour de force takes a closer look at Edgar’s PTSD

Senior Television Writer
09.28.16 15 Comments

A review of tonight's You're the Worst coming up just as soon as I have a plan to stop being fax-dependent by the time of the next war…

“It's just turning down the volume. It's not living.” -Edgar

Funny story: five minutes into “Twenty-Two,” after that had been no discernible dialogue (when Edgar turned up at the breakfast table, Lindsay and the others sounded almost as muffled as an adult in a Peanuts cartoon), I emailed some folks at FX PR to confirm that there was nothing wrong with the screener. I was told that it was a stylized episode, and all was well. So I just went with the idea that we were experiencing life as Edgar unfortunately was at the moment: tuning out the people around him as his PTSD symptoms worsen, instead focusing on nature and visual and aural hallucinations. It seemed a daring stylistic conceit, but as the episode continued and I got to the scenes between Edgar and Dorothy, and Edgar and the VA doctor, I began losing patience with the idea. “I can't follow this without the ability to read lips,” I wrote in my notes at one point. What had once seemed audacious was now just frustrating…

… which is exactly when I got a second email from FX PR, explaining that there had been a technical error with the screener, and much of the audio – including all dialogue – was missing(*).

(*) This wasn't the first such screener snafu I've encountered. I once watched the majority of an episode of The Bridge that was without subtitles for the Spanish-language scenes, assuming the creative team had decided the audience didn't need its hands held anymore and could follow based on body language. (I couldn't.) This was also a mistake.

All of which is to say that I went into the final version of “Twenty-Two” annoyed I would have to watch virtually the whole thing over again, even though I felt I understood most of it(*), and came out dazzled by what Stephen Falk and Desmin Borges accomplished. That's how good it was.

(*) For the record, I was way off on the Edgar/Dorothy scene, which without dialogue seemed like her finally breaking up with him.

Though there was, in fact, dialogue – some of it repeated from “Men Get Strong,” which this episode was like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of – the finished product still effortlessly puts the viewer inside Edgar's head, hearing what he hears (often insults from Jimmy and the others), seeing what he sees (often innocuous people whom he takes as menacing) and feeling what he feels (utter despair at how things aren't getting better for him). He's juuuust barely able to keep it together long enough for the doctor to recommend him for the new pilot program with virtual reality, but that falls apart when he becomes too candid about going off his meds, and by then even the cassette tape his brother gave him can't make him calm anymore.

You're the Worst has pretty expertly walked the knife edge between taking Edgar's condition seriously without having it completely undermine the comedy (and without having the occasional PTSD joke seem like it's diminishing the condition for him or real-life combat vets). “Twenty-Two” fully embraced the darkness of it all, and culminated in a frank and straightforward conversation (one of the few times in the whole episode when the ambient noise was relatively muted) with the tow truck driver/vet about what his friends have done to address their issues. We don't know what it is Edgar has landed on as the thing he will try to do as his coping mechanism, but the look on Borges' face suggests he's very pleased with the idea.

As with Gretchen's depression, there's always the risk that raising the curtain on a main character's mental illness to this degree will make the comedy much tougher. (As it is, the reprise of “Men Get Strong” scenes from Edgar's POV made Jimmy and Gretchen seem like even bigger a-holes than they ordinarily are.) But this has long been a show that's not afraid to take its characters' pain very seriously, and “Twenty-Two” felt like the kind of episode Edgar's story, and Stephen Falk's interests, had been building to for two and a half seasons. This was splendid, and I look forward to seeing how Edgar changes, and how my view of him does, once we're back to more traditionally-structured episodes.

And because I had mistakenly assumed (with some help from the faulty screener) that this was a silent episode, I got an extra big kick out of seeing Edgar appear in an actual silent movie short at the end, complete with Charlie Chaplin shuffle. So it all worked out in the end!

Some other thoughts:

* Earlier today, FXX ordered a fourth season of the show. This is not a surprise; once it successfully transitioned to the new channel in the eyes of FX management, its fate seems secured for as long as Falk wants to keep making it. Though given the volatility of the characters, YTW doesn't seem built for a long haul, anyway. But in the meantime, let's celebrate Vernon-style with some trash juice and a screening of The Babadook!

* If Shazam wasn't giving you any results for the yacht rock song Edgar kept playing as he drove around town, that's because the tune – “Something Like a Feeling (That Feels So Right)” – was written expressly for the show, with music by Adam Blau, lyrics by Falk, and a vocal by Rick Cowling. If you couldn't get a good look at the cassette, the fake band is Starlight Tidepool, and their album is called “Dreams of Tangier.”

* One of the three people featured on the album cover (along with Blau and YTW writer Franklin Hardy) was Corey Brill, who kept popping up in the background of the episode as the cop with the radar gun, the utility worker in the cherry picker, and several other figures who kept triggering Edgar's paranoia. (The script credits him as “Mysterious Man.”)

* Another bonus of getting to hear the dialogue: the film student acting (I think) as a surrogate for the show to mock Jason Mann from Project Greenlight by complaining about having to shoot on film.

What did everybody else think?

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