Can This ‘You’re The Worst’ Relationship — And Season — Be Saved?

A review of the You’re the Worst finale, and season four as a whole, coming up just as soon as I’m a Grouch…

Sometimes, when a couple breaks up and gets back together, it sticks. That happened with me and my wife: we stopped seeing each other for a few months early in our relationship, and we’ve been happily married a long time now. In other cases, though, the reason you break up that first time is something that’s never going to go away entirely, and no matter how hard you try, the magic never quite comes back.

These last few episodes of You’re the Worst season four were all about Gretchen getting herself to a place where she would take Jimmy back — and to a lesser extent about him deciding he wasn’t ready to lose her, under any circumstances — and even put on the engagement ring he gave her at the end of season three. This was itself presented as a relatively happy outcome: two damaged people who are profoundly unsuited for any other partner reuniting and preparing to spend the rest of their lives together mocking the rest of the world.

The reconciliation mostly left me cold, though, which is how I unfortunately wound up feeling about a lot of the back half of season four. It got to the point where I had nothing new to say, good or bad, and asked my editor if I could just take a break from recapping the show until either the finale, or an episode that was appreciably better or worse than the recent ones. I didn’t hate most of it, but nor did I find myself laughing much, nor caring about what happened to these four people — a lack of feeling that extended to the two-part finale.

It’s a tricky balancing act this show has always done. It wants us to laugh at all of Gretchen and Jimmy’s terrible behavior, while also taking seriously both their relationship and their individual emotional problems. Nudge any one element even a bit out of position, and the whole thing can come toppling down in a hurry. In the case of season four, a lot of elements seemed not quite in place.

Not counting the glorious, too-brief period where Gretchen was terrorizing Jimmy for what he did to her, a lot of her behavior this year wound up hurting other people like the high school kids and Olivia. The show isn’t blind to this — Lindsay’s primary function in these last two episodes is to warn Gretchen she’s about to ruin this little girl the way Lou Diamond Phillips’ absence helped ruin her — but it still made the moment where Gretchen got in Jimmy’s car(*) while Boone and Olivia watched feel somewhere between underwhelming and outright maddening. When Gretchen wails that no one ever fights for her, it’s meant to make her seem more sympathetic (I think), but all the things she did this season (and, frankly, has done in seasons past when she wasn’t battling a depressive episode) suggest this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Olivia was going to be hurt by her association with Gretchen no matter when and how it ended, because Gretchen is still not equipped for adulthood.)

(*) After a brief and unnecessary fake-out — and/or homage to Kelly Taylor on Beverly Hills 90210 — where Gretchen chooses herself over either guy.

Similarly, nudging other components of the show slightly one way or another — Becca becoming nastier than she’d ever been before, Vernon perhaps killing a patient, Edgar becoming invested in a friendship with the supremely annoying Max — was just enough to suck away a lot of the laughs even when we were away from the Gretchen/Jimmy dramatics. And a lot of the late stages of the main arc this season felt either undermotivated or contrived through misunderstandings.

I keep going back to how good the first half of the season was, and lamenting that Falk and company didn’t just go full War of the Roses for the whole year. Then again, maybe that wasn’t sustainable, and the problem was a deeper one: that even though they’re not suited for anyone else, Jimmy and Gretchen also aren’t particularly suited for each other, and once they had such a stark and ugly split-up, it was going to be impossible to convincingly bring them back together.

FXX announced today that next season would be the show’s last, which makes sense. This relationship was never built to support a show that ran for years and years, and perhaps we can look at the faults of this season as a case of a show marking time before the planned conclusion. (See also two other FX shows with wobbly penultimate seasons: Justified and The Americans.) The series has banked enough goodwill from me over the years that I’ll see what a fifth season has in store, hoping that a Justified-level (or Friday Night Lights-level post-season two) creative revival is in the offing. I’d love to get back together with YTW as happily as Gretchen and Jimmy seemed to in the finale, but I fear that once the spark is gone, it won’t come back.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.

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