Every week, 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 January 6 through January 12 is “The Intransigence of Love,” the fifth season premiere of FXX’s You’re the Worst.
There’s an unheralded type of TV episode that I really love: the final season premiere.
A final season premiere subtly but surely shifts the focus of a show from keeping the story going to wrapping it up. A final season premiere is often just as interested in setting the tone for what’s to come as it is in anything else. And a final season premiere already carries with it the whiff of senior year — everybody involved is excited to move on and do something else but also already so, so, so sad about closing this particular chapter of their lives.
Think of how The Americans’ recent final season began with an episode that instantly shifted the show’s central married couple dynamic (and opened with a montage set to “Don’t Dream It’s Over”). Or how Lost began its final season with an episode that completely shifted the dynamic between its present-day, on-Island story and the stories it would cut away to off-Island, which were no longer flashbacks or flash-forwards but, instead, flashes to some sort of parallel universe where Oceanic flight 815 had never crashed. Or how Mad Men began its final run with the complete emotional disintegration of Don Draper.
Well, FXX’s bold and bawdy anti-rom-com You’re the Worst began its fifth and final season with an episode that both satirizes the romantic comedy tropes it has always juggled, while also acknowledging how indebted it has always been to those tropes. It’s an episode about how falling in love feels different for everybody, but also exactly the same — at once a summation of everything up until this point and a nod toward a final stretch of episodes that grapple with just how much this particular show should be tied up in a big, red bow.
You’re the Worst has always loved structural gimmicks and gambits. “The Intransigence of Love” offers one of its best.
For roughly the first half of “The Intransigence of Love,” none of the characters from You’re the Worst appears onscreen, outside of the opening credits sequence. Instead, this section of the episode is devoted to a very ’90s rom-com about Jake (Morgan Krantz) and Gemma (Caitlin McGee), who meet-cute in a video store, then set a date to watch a famous, supposedly impossible-to-find, incredibly filthy French film called The Intransigence of Love. (The film is an invention for the show, but the idea of two movie buffs bonding over the quest to locate an elusive release is one any film fan can relate to.)
But fate keeps intervening in Jake and Gemma’s relationship. She has a boyfriend who prevents her from realizing her obvious destiny with Jake. He, meanwhile, wastes away in the video store, waiting for something new to happen to him, even as time marches on. Jake would love to be a filmmaker, but it’s Gemma who turns out to have an eye for the perfect shot, and the two keep intersecting at random through the years, without ever quite connecting.
Midway through “The Intransigence of Love,” You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk, who wrote and directed the episode, cuts away from the ’90s action to reveal that this is a story that the series’ central couple, Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere), are telling to wedding planners. Rather than tell their actual story, they’re making the most of the free wine offered at the wedding planners’ boutique by spinning a yarn constructed almost entirely out of rom-com clichés.
The reason the two land on, when they finally consider why they’re not just telling the real story of their relationship, is that they don’t think their love story is all that interesting.
Yet their love story has been the subject You’re the Worst’s first four seasons, from their meet-hate-cute at a wedding, to their undeniable sexual chemistry, to Jimmy standing by Gretchen after she reveals she has clinical depression, to a separation and a reconnection and an engagement. Falling in love is different for everybody, but it’s also exactly the same.
After the revelation that Jake and Gemma are just stand-ins for Jimmy and Gretchen, Geere and Cash play Jake and Gemma for the rest of the episode. This is in keeping with a show that loves to try out big structural gimmicks and gambits, like when it separated Jimmy from the rest of the cast for its season four premiere, or spent an entire episode on the couple’s across-the-street neighbors whose life Gretchen subtly coveted.
But the gambit in “The Intransigence of Love” is one of the show’s best to date. Falk has great fun with ’90s movie clichés, including a take on “big twists” in those movies that I won’t dare spoil here, because it might be the funniest gag the show has ever come up with. Yet even amid all of the piss-taking, the snarky jokes, and the reveal that Gretchen kinda sorta believes Princess Diana is still alive, the heart of the episode celebrates the way that we keep listening to love stories because we like to believe in happy endings. Eventually.
“The Intransigence of Love” begins a final season that digs into the show’s biggest question: Is true love even possible?
At the heart of You’re the Worst is one simple idea: Relationships are doomed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good. Eventually, somebody will get tired, or do something stupid, or die, and then the other person will be left to pick up the pieces. And in the midst of that heartbreak, it will feel like the relationship was a bad thing. But no, it’s not. A bad ending doesn’t invalidate the happiness that existed at other points.
This is where the final season premiere’s nod to rom-com tropes is most effective. Sure, they’ve lied to us about what true love is, but just the idea of “true love” is a lie in and of itself. People change. Hearts are malleable. Nothing lasts forever.
But that doesn’t mean the thrill of falling in love isn’t real, nor does it mean that the hard work of building a relationship that lasts 10 years or 10 weeks isn’t worth it. Most of us, like it or not, long to have some sort of relationship with other human beings, no matter what permutation it takes.
And at a certain point, the feelings that arise from our relationships are so primal and so universal that we’ve been telling stories about them for millennia and still haven’t quite worn them out.
In 2019, we might be more aware of what those stories look like. We might think that we’re above them. But we’ll always, on some level, be trapped by them all the same, because we’re only human. Gretchen and Jimmy believe they’re cooler and smarter than Gemma and Jake, but they also are Gemma and Jake, who start out as a winking remix of our main pair, then literally become them.
Even the little ways that Gretchen and Jimmy twist the story of Gemma and Jake for the benefit of entertaining (or perhaps befuddling) the wedding planners nod to why the two are so perfect for each other. Gemma says in a press conference for her debut film that she was so happy to make a movie that everybody loved that contained so much graphic murder and sex. Jake gets sidelined into a lengthy subplot that mostly exists to make fun of ’90s movies’ depictions of the internet, featuring an over-the-top French film professor named Soufflot.
There has always been a tension inside of You’re the Worst between the only words in its theme song — “I’m gonna leave you anyway” — and the entire rest of the series, which is about two people who don’t think they can fall in love going ahead and doing just that. The final season (which I’ve seen most but not all of) explores this tension in a way I haven’t seen since the show’s second (and best) season.
That tension is present in “The Intransigence of Love,” too. Jimmy and Gretchen try to tell a story that mocks the rom-coms they feel superior to, but when it comes time for the part in the story where Jake and Gemma are torn apart by circumstance, they’re as heartbroken as anybody. Every love story is interesting, and every love story is a little bit boring, including theirs.
You’re the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10 pm on FXX. The first four seasons are available on Hulu, with the fifth season premiere available on FX’s streaming platforms. The series finale will air April 3, 2019.