Wednesday, September 30, 2015

You're the Worst 2x03 "Born Dead" (Enliven Me) [Contributor: Anne]

"Born Dead"
Original Airdate: September 23, 2015

“Born Dead” made me anxious. The entire episode was centered around death and life, both the literal and the figurative. Vernon was born dead; Mimi died in an appalling bicycle accident. It made me anxious to encounter so many discussions centered around death in a series that, only one week ago, featured its two main characters racing on electric wheelchairs in the local mall.

It makes sense that You’re the Worst would do this, though. I’m reminded of Stephen Falk’s seasonal structure and the fact that the first act is approaching its close. With that close comes the introduction of issues that, of course, will frame the entire season: there’s the kiss between Edgar and Lindsay, most notably, but also the recurring reminder for Gretchen and Jimmy that they are more human than they realize and crave attention (either from their friends or from each other). There’s Paul’s lingering look at Lindsay as he is hugging his girlfriend, Amy.* The use of death so liberally in this episode is just a reminder that death is only the absence of life, and these characters are far less dead than they believe they are.

Take Vernon’s speech to Jimmy. Vernon was born dead for 15 minutes and he now feels that this is the moment in his life he regrets the most. Jimmy, meanwhile, has been living in the shadows of a rough childhood: an uncomfortable home life, a terrible time at school, and the construction of a big wall that separates Jimmy from any serious emotional attachment.

That wall is what makes Jimmy so pretentious, unbearable, and emotionally unavailable. At his core he is not really “the best” — I can’t imagine any version of Jimmy that didn’t call a child’s artwork “derivative” — but he’s so much more than what he has become as a result of how he’s been treated and how he’s conditioned himself to accept this.

I mentioned last week that there is something to be said about writing in stories; when a character is a writer, it almost always is a reflection of the main plot (for example, any character who writes a book that mirrors their life, or any character who writes a news article that is supposed to be about How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and instead is about falling in love. Way to stay on assignment, Andi!).This is a) because real writers are too focused on their story to really try to develop an entire other one and b) because we as readers or viewers don’t really care about the content of the novel — we care more about the characters who wrote it and what their novel reflects about them.

Jimmy’s critically-acclaimed but ignored novel is called Congratulations, You’re Dying. According to Vernon, though, Jimmy hasn’t even begun to live.

I was surprised, but happy, to see Jimmy warm up to Vernon. I don’t want it to be permanent, but I think that the interactions between them were honestly some of my favorites in the entire series, for this reason: I never thought I could care about Vernon until this episode. He’s always been a fascinating character to me — I think I read a review once that called Vernon a guy stuck in the past, the saddest character on the show — but with this episode, he gained dimension. He became the sort of person that wasn’t just the butt of the joke but the giver of advice and a person who could actually, plausibly, have something in common with Jimmy. Like hating Paul.

Vernon acts the way he does because he’s always been trying to stay alive. This is a character trait that has been mostly milked for laughs, and in a welcome way; I love trash juice and “commune tabes.” But it’s also a driving force in his life that is fascinating to me. At least he knows that trying means more than allowing yourself to remain dead.

And Jimmy is so explicitly hellbent on staying one way that it is surprising to him when, despite himself, he enjoys Vernon’s company, laughing at his jokes, playing darts with him. At the end he snaps out of it, but of course the implication is still there: even though Jimmy wanted to hole up during the party, Vernon got through to him, and even though Jimmy wants to keep his house the way it was, and even though Jimmy wants to keep things as they are, he can’t help himself from trying to stay alive, because his defeatist, defensive shell is falling apart. For the first time in his life, Jimmy is surrounded by people who love him, and his journey toward maturity is helping him grow to love them too.

What about Gretchen? Her story’s not that special in sitcom land on the surface; in a story like this, she was never going to reunite with people who no longer defined her, and she was no longer going to identify with the worst version of herself as shown in Cory. I like that at least Gretchen continued to reject her adult friends’ lives even as she realized what a mess Cory was. She is in limbo; like Jimmy, she’s changed so much without realizing it, but she is not fully changed.

In keeping with the themes of life and death, I think Gretchen’s story connects because she shuns her friends with babies. Babies are literally a representation of new life; they are also, as Vernon says, anchors whose connection sustains you. I don’t think this means that Gretchen’s going to be popping out a kid anytime soon (though how crazy would that be?!); I see it more as an exaggeration of the sort of metric that Gretchen should work towards. Not babies, necessarily, but more the creation of a family, to the point where she one day will choose her loved ones over alcohol and heavy drugs, both acting as distractors (as the first episode makes clear).

So basically, life and death — despite being mentioned by characters — boils down to that central conflict. Will Gretchen and Jimmy keep fighting the tide, or will they let themselves be vulnerable with each other, acknowledge their love for each other, and become alive with each other?

Where does that leave Edgar and Lindsay and Paul and Amy? Their situation is a lot stickier and more complicated. Lindsay has a major emotional moment that deepens her already very deep character. She acknowledges that she is a bad person, that this is not a quality to be celebrated, and that she is afraid that she is the worst of them all. It’s her treatment of Edgar that makes her feel so guilty along with the presence of Amy, a genuine angel.

I love that she reaches out to Edgar. I thought their kiss was smokin’ hot, but I think there’s something to the idea that Lindsay’s connection to Edgar isn’t meant to be sexual, at least not for a while. Lindsay’s life and her choices since the beginning of the series have been rooted in sex. For her, sex is a distraction from major emotional turmoil, and connecting with Edgar here is more an expression of intimacy than any time we’ve seen her having sex on the show.

That’s why Edgar’s action is so confusing and heartbreaking. It can be interpreted both ways: for Edgar, this is his way of reaching out, of explaining to her without words that he loves her as she is. It is an expression of tenderness. However, it comes at the exact worst time, and it comes without any reasoning of why that is the last thing Lindsay needs at the moment. From her perspective, (and increasingly from mine) it’s kind of cruel that he responds to her raw moment of sadness with a romantic advance rather than a shoulder to cry on. And immediately after, she schemes with him to continue kissing to make Paul jealous — so the two very raw actions from these two characters get washed away because of Edgar’s poor timing, and the significance of both is not fully realized. Their connection is cut off; they are not fully alive, and with Paul’s watching eye, I’m worried that it will take a lot before both Lindsay and Edgar return to that vulnerable moment.

I have to say that I am so excited about this episode. I think of the three it is my least favorite, just because “friend group doesn’t work” is very trope-y, but these differences are so small and my enjoyment of each episode (from a non-writer, less verbose angle) is practically equal. I love this show, and am continually impressed by how it approaches storytelling. Because of my high regard for how it tells a story, though, I’m scared of what’s going to happen next. These characters all had flashes of self-discovery this episode, realizing that they have changed and are teetering on the line between life and death. I’m just scared that they’re going to have to die before they can truly live.

Stray Observations:

  • *Another reason I didn’t like this episode is because I don’t like that Paul glanced at Lindsay. I am sure the reason is because it’s less believable that he could leave his relationship without any baggage, but on top of emotionally cheating on Lindsay, cheating on Amy in the first episode, and bringing Amy to Gretchen’s party in this one, I’m beginning to think Paul is a huge scumbag and not in a fun way. Love is putting someone else’s feelings before your own but you kind of suck at it, dude!
  • Kieran was back, and again was just the best. My next season one fave I would love to see is Flo from Progressive, the bookstore owner!
  • Gretchen and Jimmy both looked amazing this episode, Edgar looked very sexy and Lindsay looked so beautiful, especially in the tearful scene she shared with Edgar. I feel like I will say this every review.
  • Jimmy wins delivery with the cold open.
  • Lindsay and Gretchen telling the runner that she dropped something is so mean, but very funny.
  • I adore the recurring bit about Jimmy and coasters. It’s so specific and weird.
  • Also, these friends are bad! Like, peek-a-boo, I’ve 180’d on you and now I’m going to judge you for the person you’ve remained and also bring my baby to a party without telling you in advance and also act all uppity?!
  • I apologize greatly for the delay. Of all the free time I’ve had this week, most of it has gone to sleeping. I hope this review made up for the wait!


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