Author’s Note: If you missed the first two seasons of “Please Like Me,” they are now available on Hulu. Also, spoilers ahead!
The charm of “Please Like Me” comes from the multiple character arcs and narrative strands that weave in and out of each episode (think of an Almodóvar film, but with fewer colors and less camp/kitsch). Yet the most poignant episodes of the series are those that focus on one or two storylines. This week’s episode, “Natural Spring Water,” falls into the latter category by focusing on a simple story that yields the most emotional results. It is akin to last season’s “Scroggin,” which is by far the best episode of the series.
Arnold, Josh, and Tom throw caution to the wind and take MDMA. Josh and Tom immediately pop the pills, but Arnold’s apprehensions start to fuel his anxieties. When he finally takes the pill, Arnold has a panic attack and tries to deal with the waiting period before the pills kick in. The opening credits montage (filmed as jump cuts of long shots) shows Arnold pacing around the house while Josh and Tom trail behind. The distancing effect of the long shots juxtaposes with the immediate close-ups of that trio’s euphoric faces. They spout off semi-coherent nonsense as they give into tactile pleasure (kissing, hugging, massaging, etc.). Tom randomly calls Alan, but ends up interrupting Alan and Mae having sex. The awkward phone calls and general cavorting transition to colorful music cues [“Love Is Strange” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”] and a visit to a local dance club. At the club, the gang meets Ella (Emily Barclay), a manic pixie dream girl who rambles a lot of unfiltered opinions and suggests that the quartet should randomly run into the street. The euphoria of the drugs continues during their run, but it comes crashing back to reality as Tom falls and breaks his arm.
Following an ambulance ride in which Ella and Josh poke fun at the hot EMT, the quartet splinter off with Tom resting in a room and Josh, Arnold, and Ella sitting in the waiting room. The waiting room trio discusses the possibility of time travel, but their conversations circle toward Josh and Arnold’s unaddressed feelings about monogamy and Ella’s two-timing boyfriend. Ella, taking a cue from Arnold and Josh, decides to break up with her terrible boyfriend. After calling her boyfriend, Ella returns with multiple bouquets of flowers, which she bought to cheer herself up after her boyfriend’s nonchalant response to their breakup.
The most sobering “crash back to reality” comes with parallel editing of three distinct conversations: Alan calls Tom, Mae calls Josh, and Ella talks to Arnold. Alan, Mae, and Ella talk about their problems and emotional baggage. Each comes to the conclusion that they want something more than what they have been dealt. The camera pulls back into long shots of the characters (there is a lovely long shot of Mae and Alan occupying two different spaces in the same frame) in order to give the characters moments of cathartic release (Mae breaks down following her conversation with Josh). The emotional weight of the scene is counterbalanced when Tom inadvertently tells Alan that he, Josh, and Arnold were all high. Alan rushes over to the hospital and admonishes the group, using them as a proxy for all his feelings about Mae. He ridicules them for their behavior, but his anger subsides once he finishes shouting everything he is feeling. The quintet (including Ella) all pile into the car and drive off.
Written and directed by Josh Thomas, the episode effectively uses its temporal and spatial qualities to create a pause from the shenanigans that usually surround each episode. The drugs free the characters of their inhibitions, but the euphoric effects cannot completely take them away from reality. At some point they have to come crashing down, and when they do, they have to deal with the immediacy of their hang-ups and issues. We, as audience members, are immersed in this world and its euphoria, but we are given these distancing shots of sobering moments in order to fully consume their emotional weight.
TOM: Arnold, on a scale of 1 to 10, how elastic is Josh’s face?
ELLA: Oh no, Josh!
ARNOLD: That’s Tom.
ELLA: Oh no, Tom!
ELLA: How did you fall?
TOM: I don’t know. The ground was there and then it wasn’t there anymore.
ELLA: How fast am I moving?
ARNOLD: It’s relative.
ELLA: Relative like your mum…who’s someone I had a sex with.
JOSH: Why are you always telling my dad things, it’s weird? Are you trying to steal my dad? I feel like I’m in some sort weird dad-son triangle.
TOM: He was just being so open with me. I can’t lie to him. His heart is too gentle.
JOSH: You betrayed me like Judas.
TOM: You aren’t Jesus. You know this, right?
JOSH: Tom thinks I’m not Jesus.