Tonight’s episode of “You’re the Worst” was a long time coming.
Spotlighting Edgar (Desmin Borges) as his struggles with PTSD take him to rock bottom, “Twenty-Two” brought to light issues that have been bubbling under the surface since the critically-acclaimed comedy began.
“We got away from it a little bit last season, because I wanted [Edgar] to have a life and find a hobby and get a girl and do all of those fun things,” creator Stephen Falk said at the TCAs nearly two months ago. “But it was sort of nagging at me and nagging at me — those kind of things don’t just magically go away. I felt a responsibility that if we were going to bring up combat issues back home, we couldn’t just let it drop. We’d have to at least deal with it in a real way.”
Wednesday’s episode did just that. At the beginning of the season, the army veteran ditched his prescription medication, and his mental stability has slowly declined since then. “Man Get Strong,” the previous episode, foreshadowed what was coming this week by leaving gaps in Edgar’s story: His behavior was clearly off, and while Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) wouldn’t notice that themselves, the audience at home certainly did. “Twenty-Two” filled in those gaps, telling a harrowing story of a veteran in need of help, seeking it out, and being denied by Veterans Affairs before ultimately finding a form of salvation in a fellow army man.
“I think this season is really about taking ownership for who you are and how you want the next phase of your life to be,” Borges said, also speaking at the TCAs. “Within the structural confines that he finds himself in, the VA tells him what to do. His friends kind of tell him what to do. They both kind of bully him, and I think he’s going to say, ‘Stop that shit. I am a person. You need to listen to me. And I’m going to find the best plan of action I can in order to move forward with Dorothy’ — hopefully with Dorothy, for a while, because she’s great.”
Among the many challenging elements of “Twenty Two,” the fact that it’s not written as a comedy still stands out. While “You’re the Worst” has broached dark subject matter before, even last season’s storyline tracking Gretchen’s exacerbating depression featured moments of levity within the most dramatic episodes. This barely has any, and the few that could be funny depend wholly on the audience ascribing humor to a very serious situation. (Think about the line, “You know when the next war is?” and judge for yourself.)
It’s hardly to the show’s detriment. By reversing the perspective, we gain valuable insight into the world as seen by Edgar. On the one hand, it’s healthy to see Gretchen and Jimmy with fresh eyes. Jimmy’s joke about PTSD and cowardice didn’t seem so funny in this episode, nor did witnessing the couple’s backseat sexcapade for the first time. While we’ve long felt for Edgar as he walks through life ignored and abused by his “friends,” this episode could justify a conflict on the horizon should he speak to them the way Borges implied is coming.
Yet it’s far more valuable as form follows function: No, “Twenty-Two” didn’t make us laugh the way other “You’re the Worst” episodes always do, but that’s because the world isn’t funny to some people — even when they’re in the same world, the same home, and the same room as someone who’s having a grand ol’ time. By subverting expectations and forcing us to see an honest interpretation of life for someone coping with mental illness, “Twenty-Two” used its stark tone in a similar way as last season’s “LCD Soundsystem” (when Gretchen became obsessed with a couple and we spent much of the episode following them instead of our main characters).
Both episodes brought up invaluable issues in ambitious and adventurous new ways, but “Twenty-Two” takes it a step further by calling out Veterans Affairs. The episode title alone is a statement, considering it’s the average number of veterans who take their own life every day — a frighteningly close statistic dropped by the tow-truck driver in the episode. But Edgar’s exhausting and impossible search for federally-funded assistance is the biggest joke of the episode — and it’s not funny at all.
Perhaps creator Stephen Falk will catch some flack from fans for abandoning the comedy roots of the series. There are, after all, plenty of comedies going dark these days for the sake of awards attention or to separate themselves from the pack. “You’re the Worst” has done it twice now, but both stories are self-sacrificing, not self-serving. There’s an incredible respect for these characters combined with a worthy message told in a succinct story. It’s 30 minutes, not five hours, and this episode does so much for the funny entries surrounding it.
So if you feel duped out of a half-hour of laughs, please consider why the break was taken and reassess. Odds are you’re a better person — like Edgar and our real suffering veterans — simply for trying.