A review of tonight’s You’re the Worst coming up just as soon as I eat this entire jar of cat food…
The Stephen Falk-written, Tamra Davis-directed “Not A Great Bet” is an episode that, at least for now, exists outside of any of this year’s story arcs. Gretchen is the only regular character to appear, and she goes back to her hometown not to get away from drama with Jimmy or Boone, but simply because her sister is about to give birth. Even more than many of the show’s other format-busting episodes, it feels like a short story snuck into the middle of the book that is its season.
But what a wonderfully-told and sad story it turns out to be!
Because we only know what Gretchen knows, and are seeing the episode from her point of view, we’re conditioned to believe what she does about her old friend Heidi (Zosia Mamet, terrific playing a much quieter character than Shosh on Girls): that they were BFFs until Heidi’s leukemia got too bad, that Gretchen ghosted her, and that this trip has now turned into an opportunity to set things right after all these years apart.
But everything seems slightly off about this version from the start. Heidi — who, to Gretchen’s surprise, beat her disease and is alive, well, and running the local roller rink (which gives Davis the opportunity to shoot several lovely choreographed roller-dance scenes) — acts neither overjoyed at the reunion, nor bitter over the events of their separation and the fact that it never occurred to Gretchen to look her up until now. The two have very different memories of their childhood, and about their plans for the roller rink itself, and Heidi seems to be going along with the whole evening because it’s just something new to do in a life that’s otherwise become routine and difficult. It’s not wholly apparent at first, because Gretchen in general tends to steamroll whomever’s in front of her, but the little evidence keeps mounting until the supremely uncomfortable moment in the abandoned diner, where one of the teenage boys calls Gretchen’s bluff about eating cat food in exchange for oral sex. Gretchen keeps looking to Heidi to save her, and Heidi’s not obliging — not out of a desire for some petty revenge over Gretchen abandoning her during her hour of need all those years before, but because she just doesn’t care that much about Gretchen, one way or the other, as she finally explains when they’re walking home at dawn following a car chase and a scarecrow collision.
If it’s not quite an M. Night Shyamalan-level twist for us, it certainly is for Gretchen, who has this very concrete idea in her head of who she is, who she was, and what mistakes she made along the way. She thought she was aware of all her sins and flaws, yet here’s Heidi explaining that she abandoned Gretchen because she decided she couldn’t trust the “shapeshifter” her friend had become. This fits with what we’ve seen of Gretchen over the years, particularly in the first episode featuring her parents, but it hits Gretchen like a thunderbolt. She has already been putting off her trip to the hospital, telling lies about when the flight got in, her luggage, the supply of cat food at the house, etc., all in the same affected tone of voice we’ve heard her use with mom and dad in the past. After Heidi calls her out for faking her way through relationships in her life, Gretchen can’t even bring herself to go into the room to meet her adorable baby niece, and simply smiles at her before leaving the eye drops behind and walks away from a family, and life, where she always felt so uncomfortable that she had to become someone else just to endure it.
“Not A Great Bet” is, like a lot of the best You’re the Worst, a deeply sad episode of TV, but one that gets away with it because of how well it understands the character at the center of the darkness, and how well it helps us understand, too. Aya Cash has mostly been in comic mode this year, and wonderful in that mode, but here she carries an entire episode without any of her usual co-stars, where Gretchen is myopic and self-destructive (and just plain destructive to those four kids who only wanted to talk and then get back to their AP History essay, and instead wind up drunk and arrested, one of them reeking of cat food), but also so vulnerable and hopeful for a return to this thing that she doesn’t even recognize was never real.
Beautiful, melancholy, great. Will any of this play into the Gretchen/Jimmy war when she returns to LA? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care. This was enough, for now.
What did everybody else think?