Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for March 11 through 18 is “Shrooms,” episode four of the second season of Netflix’s Love.
If Love had started with its second season instead of its first, there’s a very good chance I would’ve loved it.
The first season of Netflix’s entry into the “LA assholes suck at love” genre was a meandering mess. The stuttering romance between acerbic addict Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and aggressively Midwestern-sweet Gus (co-creator Paul Rust) wandered around in excruciating real time, and was often myopic enough that even I — an LA asshole who sucked at love — couldn’t find much of anything to relate to.
The worst offense Love’s first season committed by a long shot was a typical Netflix original faux pas: Every episode would’ve been better if it were 10 minutes shorter. By the time I finished the first season, I was irritated and bored. But I could — and did! — acknowledge that the final episodes were exponentially better than the bloated first, which makes sense. The show was ordered for two seasons at once versus the usual one at a time, so Rust and his co-creators, Lesley Arfin and Judd Apatow, probably approached the two seasons as two halves of a whole.
But the second season — which dropped March 10 on Netflix — proves that Love winding up to the pitch for a full season only delayed the best of what the show has to offer. Episodes never go over 30 minutes; most every scene is there for a reason. As Mickey and Gus start getting more real with each other, Love gets more real with itself and stops being as aimless as its characters.
Love is still — as the Ringer put it — “a romantic comedy set in slow motion.” This time, though, it’s stopped indulging itself just because it can, and has become a much stronger show for its trouble.
To show you what I mean, let’s get into “Shrooms,” the episode that made me realize I was finally watching the show Love was trying to be in the first place.
“Shrooms” gets Love to move past the basics
The most compelling part of Love’s first season, by a wide margin, was Mickey reckoning with her own addictions (not to mention Jacobs’s unsparing portrayal of her character’s most unflattering tendencies). So it stands to reason that it continues to be a crucial part of season two, which has Mickey genuinely trying — for the first time in her life — to overcome her ongoing dependencies on love and sex, alcohol and drugs.
Season two picks up right where the first left off, when Mickey told Gus she needed to take a break from dating. But it’s clear the two of them, unlikely pairing though they may be, are magnets that won’t be able to resist each other for long — and “Shrooms” is the first episode that makes them being together seem like not just a decent idea, but a really good one.
Mickey, restless and antsy after giving up all her favorite vices, decides that the best way to say goodbye to her past life is to gift a particularly good batch of magic mushrooms she finds buried in the back of her freezer to her friends. Gus has never done them before, and is obviously nervous about the whole idea, but decides to trust Mickey anyway (or at least try to impress her with his tentative daring). So he, his burly friend Randy (Mike Mitchell), and Mickey’s chipper roommate Bertie (Claudia O'Doherty) agree to turn their low-key night upside down, taking a psychedelic trip together with Mickey as their amused sober guide.
Making characters who are drunk or high funny in a way that’s not just funny to them in the moment while they’re drunk or high is deceptively hard. “Shrooms” sidesteps that issue by making the episode less about the actual tripping and more about the complicated dynamics at play between everyone who’s trying so hard to have an awesome time.
By the time the night is over, Love sets the stage for the season ahead
As you can maybe guess, “Shrooms” doesn’t go so great for everyone — but it does do great things for everyone’s season arcs.
Randy ends the night by chasing after a coyote he thinks is leading him to enlightenment, but instead leads him to break into a stranger’s house. That paired with the disturbing shit that Randy — who stands heads above everyone else onscreen at any given time — starts saying about how he could crush anyone’s skull if he really wanted to sets off a million alarm bells, especially for the very tiny Bertie, with whom he’s been sleeping for weeks. O’Doherty has always been one of the brightest spots in Love; opposite Mitchell’s Randy from “Shrooms” on out, she gets the kind of substantial screen time and storylines she deserves.
As for Gus and Mickey, her shepherding him through a drug trip is the smartest kind of role reversal. Gus, who routinely takes half an hour to drink any beer darker than a golden retriever, lets himself lose control in a way he never has. And Mickey, who never met a drug she didn’t want to obliterate herself with, has to play the responsible one. Her making it to the other side is a huge triumph — and it’s something she and Gus work toward together.
The turning point comes at the “peak” of the night, the moment when the shrooms have well and truly kicked in and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Mickey knows and craves that feeling, and for second, she considers trying to chase it with the stray leftover stems still cluttering the Ziploc bag. But even through his drug-induced fog, Gus knows it would be a terrible idea, and instinctively grabs the stems out of her hand and shoves them down his own throat.
To be clear, this is a terrible idea. Not only does it guarantee that Gus’s mushroom trip is about to get a whole lot more intense when it’s already pressing down on his eyeballs, but it foreshadows issues the couple is going to have about Gus sacrificing himself in ways Mickey doesn’t ask for in order to save the day.
But in this particular moment, the gesture is exactly what Mickey needed — and she knows it. The smile Jacob lets spread over Mickey’s usually grim face says everything. By the time the night ends and the two end up in bed, legs intertwined and a pair of headphones split between them to watch Die Hard, it’s easily the most comfortable and convincing moment the two have ever had. From there on out, Love is the believable and intimate romance it always promised.
The first two seasons of Love are available to stream on Netflix.