Author’s Note: If you missed the first two seasons of “Please Like Me,” they are now available on Hulu. Also, spoilers ahead!
“Simple Carbohydrates” opens on a personal moment of anguish: Hannah (Hannah Gadsby) is stuck on hold while trying to call about her cellphone. The stress and bureaucratic back-and-forth lead to a personal meltdown in which Hannah takes an object– what looks to be a pestle – and beats her foot. Her behavior can be read as something akin to cutting, in which a person harms him/herself in order to create a tangible substitute for the intangible emotional/psychological pain. This revelation of Hannah’s unseen behavior informs this week’s episode, which focuses on personal revelations and coping mechanisms.
Whereas the opening scene informs the thematic content, the opening credits montage informs the narrative fabric. The montage intercuts between scenes of Josh, Rose, and Alan preparing food for their friends and family (Josh for Arnold and Tom, Rose for Hannah, and Alan for Mae and Grace). The episode is divided into three narrative strands, whose stories intertwine through Josh as a narrative “go-between.” The stakes for each strand vary on their level of urgency, but each is set up through the mundane: Tom admonishes Josh for eating bread (Tom cannot/chooses not to eat bread), Rose wants to go to a lesbian bar with Hannah, and Alan – after commenting on Mae using too much cheese – discovers Mae had an affair while she was pregnant with Grace. The Alan-Mae story has the most weight of the three as it dominates a good chunk of the emotional backbone of this week’s episode.
While Alan tries – and fails – to avoid inquiring about the details of the affair, Hannah overindulges on the booze at the bar and Rose, who tries to keep up with Hannah’s drinking, soon realizes that Hannah may have ditched her. At Josh’s place, Tom wages a passive war against bread while Arnold tells his friends that he wants to come out to his potentially homophobic dad.
The three narrative strands cross as both Rose and Alan call Josh for advice, solace, and answers to potentially unanswerable questions. Rose calls Josh while she is looking for Hannah, but Josh shrugs off Hannah’s disappearance by making a joke that his mom is coming out to him. Alan’s phone call becomes a continuation of the joke (Josh, before letting Alan divulge the affair, declares that his dad is coming out as a lesbian). The joking leads to a sobering realization of Mae’s affair, and Josh tries to offer some solace to his father. Meanwhile, Tom, while building a tiny cardboard city, finally admits his annoyance with the bread consumption (the cardboard city’s psychological implication has yet to be revealed, but it appears to be a coping mechanism that is enabled by all those around Tom).
The Rose-Hannah story eventually resolves itself when Rose finds a drunken Hannah making out on a couch, then admonishes Hannah for not wanting to hang out. The roommates reconcile through an awkward exchange of “I like you” (whether the statement is meant to be friendly or romantic is up for debate). The Alan-Mae story takes a strange turn as Mae calls Josh, fearing that Alan disappeared (he was actually swimming). When Alan shows up, Mae becomes the “go-between” for Josh and Alan. Her repetition of one another’s rants and quips soon reveals the absurd nature of Alan’s behavior (he went for a swim in the cold and canceled a Thailand trip that has a nonrefundable ticket). All three resolve that the best solution would be for Alan to visit Josh in order to take his mind off the affair.
Alan’s visit soon becomes a meta moment as Josh uses Alan as a stand in for Arnold’s coming out. Alan cannot play the role according to Josh’s standards, so Josh completely changes the situation and purpose or the exercise (instead of coming out, Josh forces Arnold to sing, and instead of being about Arnold, it becomes more about cheering up Alan). In one of the loveliest moments of the season (and series), Arnold belts out a rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier” while Alan must abide by Josh’s direction (he is supposed to be grumpy until the change in the song forces him to have a change of heart). It’s a cathartic moment that becomes less about Arnold revealing this personal secret, and more about Alan finding some semblance of happiness (even if it is by proxy). The episode juxtaposes the endings of the three stories by showing Rose comforting Hannah (who is throwing up on the curb) while Alan embraces his “son,” Arnold.
“Simple Carbohydrates” is a revelatory episode whose complexity is revealed through a simple narrative structure and subtle performances from the ensemble cast. It is less about the flashy Gone with the Wind moments (aka Vivien Leigh’s “I’ll never go hungry again”) and more about the subtle damage that these secrets and revelations have on the individuals (even bread has an effect on Tom). “Please Like Me” continues to create a complex stable of characters whose life-altering moments sometimes become subtle episodes that try to explore what is beneath the surface.
ROSE: I want to go to a lesbian bar!
HANNAH: Why would you want to go to a bar? You’ve got a lesbian and a beer right here?
ROSE: Please take me, Hannah! Please!
HANNAH: Is this your way of telling me you’re a lesbian?
HANNAH: Just thought I would ask. Can’t be too careful these days.
TOM: Just – I mean, you know that scene in Aladdin where Aladdin gives the orphan kid some bread? He shares some bread with him.
JOSH: Of course.
TOM: Well that scene makes me furious reflecting back on it!
JOSH: Did you just ask why Arnold’s dad doesn’t like homosexuals?
JOSH: As if we could pinpoint why someone’s homophobic. He doesn’t like being scared of dogs, Tom, okay. He wasn’t bitten by a homosexual as a child.
TOM: Guys, I really want to talk about bread.
JOSH: Oh, yeah Arnold, you should know that while you’ve been talking about this upcoming pivotal moment in your life, Tom has just been furious that you ate the bread.
ROSE: I’m at a lesbian bar.
JOSH: Oh my! Arnold, my mom’s a lesbian!
ROSE: No, I did not.
JOSE: She just came out to me.
ARNOLD: Congratulations, Rose!
ROSE: I did not, Joshua!
JOSH: Well that is inspiring, maybe she can give you tips, babe! She just said, “Mmmmm mmmmm, I love the smell of pussy in the morning!”
ROSE: No – I did not – Joshua, don’t tell them I said that!
JOSH: No no, don’t, I’ll talk to him.
MAE: He want to talk to you!
ALAN: No no, tell him to go to sleep!
MAE: He want you to go to sleep!
JOSH: Yeah, well that has not been his decision since I was 11.
JOSH: [to Alan] I think you should put on this hat, yes. And then, I want you to go in there and be disappointed in Arnold and how he’s defying traditional gender roles with his nancy boy singing. Sit grumpy, then as the song changes, gradually change your mind.
ARNOLD: Dad, I’m not sexually attracted to women!