How many episodes of “Easy” Season 3 should you watch? All of them. You should watch all of them. Whether you’re a returning fan of Joe Swanberg’s Chicago-set relationship stories, or someone who’s never heard of the search-unfriendly title, the final season of “Easy” is both an attempt at providing closure for existing romantic entanglements and a tantalizing tease at the possibilities that could’ve been explored in future seasons.
One of the more prominent stories in Season 3 belongs to Kyle (Michael Chernus) and Andi (Elizabeth Reaser). Back in Season 1, the married couple entered into an open relationship, where they were both free to have sex with other singles and even hold down ongoing relationships with other people. Season 2 checked in on the progress and things seemed to be going well, but Season 3 introduces perpetually fluctuating individual dynamics next to a growing distance between the core couple. Their baes-on-the-side come and go, creating various tensions and delights for each partner, but Kyle and Andi’s relationship seems strained over two 35-minute episodes.
Swanberg, through his trademark in-depth collaboration with the actors, attempts to explore the cost of an open relationship by observing it over the years, and he even manages to portray a debate, of sorts, between one pro argument and one con argument. The partially improvised and very natural dialogue make you feel like you’re a fly on the wall of Chicago bar, eavesdropping on a married couple with a unique problem. Some viewers may feel like it’s overlong; like the scene (and the episode overall) could be trimmed down to its essence for a more affecting portrait. But Swanberg is invested in the reality, and few series are able to capture that feeling with as much authenticity as “Easy.”
The same can be said for “Blank Pages,” another entry heavy on one-on-one conversations, but that captures a key moment in its characters’ lives with genuine time and attention. Jacob (Marc Maron) is a narcissistic graphic novelist who finds out an old student of his is writing a book that paints him in an unflattering light. Flummoxed and worried about his future, Jacob drones on and on to his longtime friend Annabelle (Jane Adams), trying to talk through a problem there’s no talking your way out of. Annabelle graciously puts up with his ranting, until it distracts from a more important development she needs to discuss, and can’t — he’s still obsessed with his own thing.
The way Swanberg switches perspectives within the episode is impressive. He manages to bring the focal point back around to Annabelle, and even positions the audience behind a new character, Jacob’s old student, played by Melanie Lynksey. Though ostensibly still a turning point for Jacob, how his destructive behavior is exposed lends all the power to these two women, and their characters are fleshed out nicely. There’s a moment when we see Lynskey’s writer standing in the bathroom, literally waiting for Jacob to figure out what she’s known for decades, and it’s as though we’re watching that time play out in rapid succession over the actress’ face. She’s feeling it all right then, and viewers are right there with her.
These kind of moments are the beautiful little glimpses of truth in a series dedicated to finding them. Swanberg and all his collaborators — the actors and crew have a ton of creative freedom here — use the series’ loose structure to drift to different topics, perspectives, and ideas. There’s an episode about a hard-working black street vendor who tries to start his own business, another about two women facing unexpected difficulties after a breakup, and another about a low-level employee at a home security store who gets roped into an undercover assignment at a BDSM party. Some episodes ask you to see one distinct outlook while others ask you to commiserate with diverging visions. Entries tie into one another, as lead characters pop up in supporting roles and narratives you thought were over reemerge.
Over three seasons, Swanberg explored a lot of the city and discovered a cornucopia of romantic tales within it. There’s so much more that could still be done, so it’s a bit bittersweet to enjoy these endings; such a creative filmmaker, working so closely with a variety of other creatives, could concoct more entertaining experiments with more time — but with “Easy” at an end, all we can do is appreciate the discoveries within these new nine episodes. So savor each one.
“Easy” Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.