(This column contains spoilers for the You’re the Worst series finale, and the final season as a whole.)
“Every day, we choose.” -Jimmy
This bounceback final season of You’re the Worst began with one of the series’ most effective off-format episodes, “The Intransigence of Love.” A parody of romantic-comedy tropes (particularly those popular in the Nineties, when much of the story-within-the-story took place), it didn’t even feature Gretchen and Jimmy until partway through, when we realized they were narrating this whole ridiculous story to a pair of baffled wedding planners.
That episode was funny and strange, but it was also an important reminder that this show began not as a rom-com parody but a striking reinvention of the genre: a rom-com about two immature, misanthropic narcissists who would be horrified to learn they were the main characters of such a story. Over these five seasons, the show’s attention and tone could wander to other things. At its core, though, YTW was always about our two heroes (and, to a lesser extent, Lindsay and Edgar) pitting their own emotional limitations against what’s expected of them by society and the laws of popular culture alike.
So when it came time to end the story, creator Stephen Falk had to hit a very narrow target. A conventional happy ending where Jimmy and Gretchen walk down the aisle, have 2.5 children and live happily ever after might be a nice reward for all the struggles and damage we’ve seen them both endure, but it also wouldn’t ring true to the spirit of either them or the show. At the same time, the sad ending implied by all of Season Five’s flash-forwards would also be a sellout of the show’s themes, suggesting that “happily ever after” will always be out of reach for people like these, even after they’ve each made tremendous strides over the last five years.
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The aim of the series finale, “Pancakes,” feels very true, thankfully. It gives these two dummies a happy ending, but on their own terms. Nudged by Edgar to reconsider the kind of person he wants to spend the rest of his life with, Jimmy blows up their wedding day plans by exclaiming, “Goddammit, Gretchen, I don’t think I want to marry you!” But the flash-forwards turn out to have been elaborate misdirection. Jimmy and Mariah the florist aren’t a couple. Instead, Mariah’s the nanny to Jimmy and Gretchen’s daughter, Felicity (the kind of baby name her parents once might have mocked but can clearly appreciate as they mature). Jimmy and Gretchen never did get married — the wedding we saw being planned in earlier episodes was a second-time-around ceremony for Lindsay and Paul — but they’re a couple all these years later, living life on the terms they choose to set rather than the ones society has proscribed.
You can call it hairsplitting — they didn’t even break up back on their own wedding day, but just recognized that the ceremony and the title wasn’t what either of them wanted — but the conclusion feels just about right for the show, the central couple and even the two sidekicks (or, as Lindsay once dubbed them, “sidecars”). For Gretchen and Jimmy, life is good but slightly unconventional. For Edgar, getting mentally healthier and finding purpose to his life was more important than turning his crush on Lindsay into a long-term romance. And for Lindsay, she grew enough over the run of the show that going back to Paul feels not like a punishment but a sign of her own maturity. Paul’s not the most exciting partner she’s had, but we see her slowly realize that she cares about more than excitement, that she appreciates Paul’s devotion to her, and that somewhere along the way she learned to genuinely enjoy his company and his knack for teaching her about grown-up things.
Your mileage will vary on some of this victory-lap season’s choices. The sleight of hand with the flash-forwards helped make plausible the illusion that Jimmy had blown up their relationship again, which made the wedding-day fight more potent, but it’s perhaps more of a cheat than was necessary. And my interest in episodes revolving around Vernon, Becca and Paul has never come close to equaling Falk’s. But it was nice to get smaller closure on other recurring characters like Killian (now a Jack Reacher-obsessed member of a Scientology-esque cult) and Ben Folds (finally making a friend when he and Vernon bond over a shared love of trash juice), even as the finale’s prime focus was on wrapping up Gretchen and Jimmy’s love story.
A romance this acidic, at times incredibly dark (particularly during storylines about Gretchen’s clinical depression), easily could have failed to work. (And occasionally, as at the tail end of Season Four, it did fail.) But You’re the Worst was special for most of its run, up through and including this slightly unconventional conclusion to the cracked fairy tale.