The Women Have the Floor
Even in a show about horrible people trying to put aside their horrible in the name of love and friendship, the running line in the previous season of FXX’s “You’re the Worst, “love is putting someone else’s needs above your own” seemed ham handed. So much so that the audience tended to side with the characters’ “ew” responses at every utterance. However, the artistry of this show rests on its ability to show contemptuous characters in moments of vulnerability and attempts at care for each other (successful and nah). As the show enters its third season, only the women on “You’re the Worst” are consistently displaying a developing ability to give more than a shit about those around them (except Edgar, and even that is still a maybe due to his personal history, but that’s another essay for another time). In actual life, as well as TV life, women are the caregivers in their personal relationships, the heavy lifters when it comes to emotional labor, so this imbalance is not surprising, but how much longer can it remain entertaining?
The third season of the show opens with our primary couple of concern, Jimmy and Gretchen, engaged in vigorous fucking (a call back to the absolutely artful pilot), an activity in which these two emotionally delayed/damaged/whatever people are the most with one another. Mid-coitus, Jimmy asks Gretchen why she always announces it when she’s going to come. Her response is that when she comes, she gets to have the floor. So when they simultaneously culminate, Jimmy visibly holds back his own moans as his acknowledgement of Gretchen “having the floor”. It’s a very sweet moment, and such moments is what the show is ultimately built on.
That is clearly the theme of the new season, further explored by the A story-line, feeling more tangential than a narrative spine, of Jimmy still being amazed that there is still so much he doesn’t know about Gretchen: she competed in horse stuff as a child, she doesn’t eat blueberries, and speaks fluent Spanish with gringa aplomb. Gretchen never flinches or seems surprised that he still holds blind spots to show she is as a person. And we shouldn’t either. Last season, Gretchen’s belongings were relegated in the corner of the house they lived in together and Jimmy was unable to give her space until she commandeered it. She wants to talk about her growing anxiety but it infringes on Jimmy’s writing…errrr…drinking and darts time. And in the most critically acclaimed story-line of the young show wasn’t so much about the depth of Gretchen’s clinical depression, but more about Jimmy’s culminating frustration that he couldn’t “fix” her, leading him into an almost affair with an easy to please bar owner (who he physically hides himself from when she finally asks something of him).
Gretchen deals with it with as more grace and patience than expected because this is what she does with the men in her life. She puts on an act of the perfect preppy daughter for her father (while suppressing passive aggressive barbs from her mother) and a superwoman publicist for her mercurially difficult rap superstar client. None of the men in her life are ever satiated by her efforts to supplicate herself to their definition of what the relationship should be. She follows the orders of her client, even after she tells him it’s a horrible idea to not tell anyone about his band’s “secret” reunion show and then saves the day when it turns out to be a disaster. She tells Jimmy that saying “I love you” is not a promise that can’t be broken when he expresses terror at the commitment of it all (and she says nothing about when he says that to her less than a season after she discovers he was going to propose to his last girlfriend). Not surprising that after all that performing, she shuts down emotionally for period of time and self-medicates heavily while she’s in an “on” period.
Same goes for Gretchen’s best friend, Lindsey. Lindsey is the beautiful (despite the regular reminders that she is also “fat”, through shots of her slovenly eating) and vivacious wife of Paul, a frumpy investment banker. Lindsey is a velvet rope chasing party girl; Paul is a relatively sober outdoorsman. Lindsey is vapid; Paul has a treasure trove of nerd hobbies like recumbent bikes and holds a membership to the museum for metallurgy. The show commits strongly to these stereotypes, setting the stage for us to assume the typical dynamics in such a coupling like Lindsey is only with Paul for his money and Paul is the victim, having fallen in love with a woman out of his league. In the second season, Paul asks Lindsey for a divorce after meeting the woman of his dreams in a home brewers’ chat room, who is Lindsey’s opposite, the female version of Paul himself. Lindsey goes through an easily foreseen stages of grief: the loss of her personal identity as “wife”, a complete inability to complete survival tasks like paying her power bill or cashing her support checks, being catfished through online dating, slovenly binge eating, and a telenovela favorite — machiavellianing a pregnancy to trap her estranged husband. But in every good character arch, there must be growth. She pays her bills with the support and guidance of Buffalo Bill, she signs Paul’s divorce papers and makes peace with his new girlfriend, and hides her pregnancy in order to keep from ruining his new life.
Lindsey and Paul get back together because, of course it’s a television rom com story line after all, he found out about the baby and dumps his new paramour to build a family with his ex-wife. The beginning of season 3 looks promising. Paul tells Lindsey that he realizes that there has never been any room in his hobbies for Lindsey and what she wants. Previous episodes have led us to believe that it is Lindsey who does not care to be involved in Paul’s passion du jour, but the smile on her face when she sees the garage’s contents boxed up tell us the flip interpretation is more likely: that she is instead looking for distractions in a relationship in which she is not welcome to fully participate in. It is not a surprise that she always preferred partying to astronomy but this is the first time the show concedes that Paul never made room for her either. However, as the episode progresses it’s clear that Paul is still doing whatever he wants to do despite his repeated insistence that it’s in the name of “family” and not his own selfishness. He gets them a meal plan with six months of food determined in advance, thus removing any chance of spontaneity from her favorite creature comfort, plays bird calling sounds while they cook, and in an act of what had to be targeted cruelty, tell her about the wine he got himself and informs her she will get none of it. Her final response was…on point.
The season premiere leads us to believe this season is going to be about what happens when Gretchen and Lindsey start speaking (errr…stabbing) up for what they want and need from their men. I’m sure Lindsey will play off the stabbing as an accident, blaming her ditzy demeanor to get out of trouble. And it will be viewed as evidence of her incompetence at being a fully formed human, rather than an act of resistance. Gretchen will continue to utilize her public relations acumen as a crowbar to get herself deeper into Jimmy’s heart. But what will be the most telling about the future of this show is not only if the men will listen but how the narrative will build upon what they’re hearing. And if they don’t, which in all realness they won’t because if they did there would be no show, how long will the women’s frustration continue to be entertaining and not just another depiction of one the worst parts of living amongst the worst?