'You're the Worst' Depicts How Depression Affects Relationships

The final two episodes of season three portray the struggles of helping a partner when you can't help yourself.
November 18, 2016, 5:00am
Photo courtesy of FX

There are few shows on television that make me laugh as hard as You're the Worst; there is no other show currently airing that makes me cry as hard as You're the Worst. It's a dark sitcom with both comedic and bleak intentions. Its second season featured perhaps television's ultimate depiction of the dark holes people crawl into during depressive episodes—and the ripple effect this has on family, friends, and partners. The third mostly kept that up but while also throwing more and more obstacles at the six core characters. Most worked, even if others didn't.


If there is one big complaint about season three, it's that it sometimes felt like too much. A small sampling of major events within just 12 episodes: Gretchen begins therapy, Edgar goes off his cocktail of medications and flirts with suicide, Lindsay stabs her husband and later gets an abortion without consulting him, Jimmy gets a second book deal and then Jimmy's father dies, and so on. The quality wavered from episode to episode, often feeling a bit disjointed as it experimented with new formats (episodes that were almost entirely devoid of the main duo, an episode—featuring ambitious long takes—that focuses on a side character's surprise wedding), but at the very least, You're the Worst never lost its main focus: depicting the rough, dirty, and devastating aspects of being in love.

The season concluded on Wednesday night with back-to-back episodes. The penultimate, "You Knew It Was a Snake" was the best of the two but also the toughest to watch. It revolved around daylong fights between the three couples, whose relationships are all in different stages. Dorothy and Edgar, the newest couple, have spent the last few episodes tasked with navigating Edgar's PTSD struggles and the increasing career imbalance as Dorothy watches Edgar quickly take off in the same field that she's been struggling in. Lindsay and Paul, married for years and already having weathered a cheating scandal and a separation, are understandably arguing over Lindsay's abortion and well, generally awful behavior. Finally, Gretchen and Jimmy—who are in the middle stages of a relationship, living together and finally exchanging "I love yous"—are arguing over Jimmy's pros-and-cons list where he told Gretchen that he could never see himself having a child with her. (After all, she's broken nine iPhones.)


All three fights are savage and destructive, with the characters finally tapping into all of the anger, insecurities, and frustrations that have been lurking beneath the surface for the prior ten episodes—or even longer, in some cases. But the most heartbreaking fight, the hardest for the audience to watch, is unsurprisingly Gretchen and Jimmy's. It's not just because they're the core of the show, the ones that we're always laughing at while simultaneously rooting for them to last—after all, there is so much realism plugged into these fictional characters that it's easy to find our own traits, anger, and depression projected back to us. It's difficult to watch because of what they're really fighting about: the seemingly impossible task of maintaining a relationship with two broken people when they are broken at the same time.

Still from 'You're the Worst' (FX)

"There just isn't room for you be broken right now, too," Gretchen blurts out, after Jimmy reminds her that he's still grieving about his recently deceased father. It's the crux of their argument: Gretchen spent season two nearly comatose because of her clinical depression ("I was there first… Here, in shit, miserable," she reminds him) while Jimmy, though confused and sometimes angry at her actions, often attempted to help, tried to pull her out of it, or at least put on an annoyingly chipper face to contrast. But Gretchen still isn't better—though she's quick to point out that she has been trying to work on being better with therapy—and now Jimmy's in a similar boat. The two believe that it's only supposed to be one at a time; Jimmy likens it to a sick person in a hospital bed: One lays there, while the other takes the uncomfortable couch and sneaks home to walk the dog. It doesn't work if both people are sick in the hospital room.

There were times when I had to put off watching You're the Worst last season because it provided too accurate of a mirror of my own clinical depression; I had to take a hour-long break in the middle of "You Knew It Was a Snake" because it felt like a personal attack on common struggles in my relationship and became too much to watch in one sitting. The episode depicts a realistic problem within relationships where both people have a mental illness—I can't think of another time I've seen this on TV— and those times when depressive episodes sync up and overlap.

Depression can sometimes make you selfish because you can't focus on anything but your own shit, so there's the urge to have a depression dick-measuring contest, to write off the other person's issues as not big enough, or to dismiss someone's sadness because you don't think it's as important as yours. ("You just win because your condition is listed in the DSM," Jimmy sarcastically snarks at one point because Gretchen has a diagnosed problem—clinical depression—whereas Jimmy's issues have always been more abstract, never explicitly defined.) It also feels impossible to support and help your partner when you don't have the strength or energy to help yourself, which causes Gretchen and Jimmy to alternate between isolating themselves and lashing out at each other. But what's always been most realistic about You're the Worst is that there are never any set solutions. Gretchen and Jimmy sort of make up over something silly—bonding over the weird incestuous erotic novel he's been writing—but when they go to bed at night, they realize that didn't actually solve anything.

That's a common thread in You're the Worst: There are so many issues within relationships that are impossible to solve and you sort of have to just roll with them and find ways to exist together while knowing these problems won't go away—unless you break up. Such was the fate of two of the three couples—Lindsay and Paul finally, for real this time, get a divorce; Dorothy and Edgar break up and she moves back to Florida. Gretchen and Jimmy, it seems, are willing to just move forward and see what happens, but it's clear that this particular problem can't be swept under the rug, nor can it be solved with the elaborate murder-themed marriage proposal that occurs at the end of the season finale. Things are good for a few minutes—things seem to always be good for just a few minutes on You're the Worst—until Jimmy begins to realize what he's about to commit to and drives away. Once again, You're the Worst ends a season on an uncertain note, returning to the idea that maybe these two people can't be fixed.

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