The end of “You’re the Worst” Season 3 was a reversal of the ending to so many rom-coms. On top of a mountain, Jimmy (Chris Geere) proposed to Gretchen (Aya Cash) with fireworks in the background and a personal twist to popping the question. (His proposal was themed around local murders — her favorite thing.) She said yes and they kissed.
Except the credits didn’t roll. The mood was sour, not celebratory, despite the two happy faces. Their kiss was in darkness, with just the dim light of Gretchen’s phone illuminating their faces. Under the pretense of getting her a hoodie from the car (to lay on during sex), Jimmy walked away from Gretchen as the fireworks began. Instead of celebrating under the brightly lit sky, he fled the scene, leaving his new fiance without a clue to his whereabouts or why he walked away from the bond he proposed.
An ending became a fresh start, though it certainly didn’t feel welcome. For a series that’s always promised “I’m going to leave you anyway,” the actual timing of Jimmy and Gretchen’s break-up came as a complete surprise, devastating viewers who invested in a couple worth rooting for,
in spite of because of their bad habits.
Season 4 acknowledges the seriousness of its last-minute switcheroo. The first episode finds the formerly co-habitating couple living in different cities and on opposite extremes. Jimmy is a quiet recluse in a mobile home retirement village, and Gretchen has shot beyond her own high bar for extreme behavior. It’s a jarring shift, and one that changes the rhythm of a series very comfortable in its rat-a-tat back-and-forths, between not only the central couple, but their extended group of friends.
Creator, showrunner, and director Stephen Falk uses Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar’s (Desmin Borges) abandonment as a means to acknowledge the change, as well as to dig deeper into a new group dynamic. Through the three episodes provided for critics, it’s still unclear how the foursome will function together or if they even will. But the uncertainty has buoyed the series’ creative spirit, creating exciting new scenarios and tumultuous emotional challenges.
Even when you know Jimmy has to return to Los Angeles, it’s unclear what (or who) will nudge him back to civilization. Gretchen’s stubborn commitment to ignoring the world around her is equal parts empathetic and aggressive. Her pain is obvious to everyone within shouting distance, but her intense attitude is intent on masking it.
And here’s where the cast’s talents come up huge. As Jimmy and Gretchen choose to repress what happened and live in isolation, Geere and Cash are called on to toe the line between consistent hilarity and inescapable sadness. To separate comedy and pathos is one thing, but finding both simultaneously — as these characters demand — is an entirely different challenge.
Gretchen’s damage, from being inexplicably and suddenly dumped, might be the trickiest to capture, given how her outwardly extreme reaction could easily slide into falsities. Too much would read as trolling for laughs when she’s still suffering, and too little would turn scenes into an unfunny bummer.
Cash, as if there was any doubt, hits the right medium. A whirlwind introduction in Episode 2, via a roaming one-shot, illustrates the boundless energy of someone trying to feign health with non-stop activity, but a crack in her voice and a missing light in her eyes makes Gretchen a risible broken heart, even when you worry about her well-being.
Geere, meanwhile, is as meticulous as ever in building Jimmy’s new persona. There’s guilt and sorrow and regret all rolled up in a man whose new life as a retired cocksman isn’t all that it seems. He too is hiding; not for fear of retribution from Gretchen, but for fear of re-engaging in a life he knows he’s ruined. Geere hints to each aspect with subtly, even when Jimmy’s actions are more decisive. He’ll drop his gaze for just a second (before firing off a clever insult) or open up into a grin because he knows it’s about to disappear. Each beat is carefully plotted without ever feeling calculated — perfect for a character who feigns self-assurance at every turn — while Cash acts out Gretchen’s messy life by amping up and down as needed, but keeping the fire perpetually lit.
Through their physical separation and independent performances, Cash and Geere help “You’re the Worst” become more of a black comedy than a romantic comedy in Season 4. It’s a study of fragility and insecurity from two people who act as if such things don’t exist — not for them. Not these two tough, hard-hearted lugs. Fiercely independent minds aren’t easily swayed, and Falk is patient in drawing each character out of their shells, but efficiently injects laughs while doing so.
It’s a perfect pace for a series that’s starting over. The bomb detonated at the end of Season 3 is still spraying shrapnel at all four parties, and what’s left if or when it’s done inflicting harm makes for an enticing, unpredictable adventure. Hollywood dictates that you’re not supposed to spoil a happy ending, so what comes after a proposal gone wrong? “You’re the Worst” makes you want to find out.
“You’re the Worst” Season 4 premieres Wednesday, September 6 at 10 p.m. on FXX.