SPOILER ALERT: This summary and interview contains details about tonight’s series finale of You’re the Worst.
Few things cater to the needs of scripted ensemble television better than a wedding. That’s why it’s one of the go-to options for major series finales (like The Office, Private Practice, True Blood, The Mentalist, and New Girl) and accounts for a steady procession of season finales (among them Big Bang Theory, This Is Us, Empire, Lethal Weapon, Suits, Criminal Minds, and Once Upon a Time). The gimmick was taken to ludicrous new heights last year by Gray’s Anatomy (when six characters were hitched in the ABC show’s Season 14 closer) but now, thanks to tonight’s series finale of You’re the Worst the trope was dragged back to earth like the battered aluminum cans bouncing behind a newlywed’s car bumper.
The episode “Pancakes” was written and directed by Stephen Falk, the show’s creator and executive producer, and it finds the two main characters — Jimmy (Chris Geere), a self-centered writer, and Gretchen (Aya Cash), a self-destructive publicist — on their wedding day. It was a bookend for the series, which launched back in July 2014 with the couple hooking up right after they’ve each left a wedding reception early (Jimmy because he was ejected, Gretchen because she was stealing a wedding gift). Their relationship since that meeting has been, well, an odious one. But somehow all their flaws, lapses, lies, betrayals, and moments of recklessness somehow only pushed them further forward toward their wedding date with destiny. Throughout all of it, the characters have been charismatically awful and watch-ably unlikable, a credit to the cast and the show’s savage brand of humor.
The finale episode begins with preparations underway for the big day. Jimmy boorishly chides the confused catering staff and puffs on a cigarette while tersely editing his typed wedding vows with a red grease pencil. “Now that I’ve pulled a thread it’s all started to unravel,” he mutters.
Jimmy’s presumptive best man, Edgar (Desmin Borges), shows up to say he was serious with his threat to boycott the wedding. (The reason? As Edgar explained in the previous episode: “You guys hold how you don’t judge each other as this great thing but it’s really not. It’s just a justification for your guys’ selfishness. You love each other but that’s not the same thing as being good for each other.”) He gives Jimmy the rings and says he will wait in the car outside the ceremony in case Jimmy comes to his senses.
The entire episode is a pitched comedy of ironic precision humor. Pretty much everyone lives up to the title of the show, too. And Jimmy and Gretchen? In a series of compromising situations and selfish choices, the couple wobbles ever closer to the decisive hour when they will stand in front of every one they know and promised to love each other for ever. When it’s finally time to take the long walk with the vow waiting on the other end, Jimmy pats at his tuxedo jacket. “Left my lighter,” he says, just before deftly ducking out. But a screeching Gretchen catches him on his way to the waiting get-away car. The pair debate their next step and decide…to go get pancakes.
Waiting for their food, the pair chew on the ludicrous finality of wedding vows and swallow hard as they consider the uncertainty of the universe (not to mention their shoddy history with commitment). Scenes of their future play out in an elaborate montage that masterfully tweaks relationship montages in years of rom-coms and also winks at viewers who think they are a step ahead. For Falk and the show’s creative team the cryptic (and crafted to be misleading) flash-forwards have been a linchpin element for most of this final season. Some have been great sight gags (for instance, there’s a diner scene where Gretchen appears to be reaching under the counter to grope Jimmy but the camera perspective flips and shows her hand is actually rocking the handle of a baby seat with an infant in it) others have been pump-fake fun with the narrative for the writing room.
“There’s a trend these days of time jumps when shows run out of story or when they don’t want to go through the machinations of getting from point A to point B, y’know, a pregnancy or whatever,” Falk said. “It seems to be a shorthand these days but it obviously offers something narratively. So we get the best of both worlds, I think. And it helps us deepen a mystery that is really not that interesting of a mystery, at the end of the day. It’s, ‘Are two people going to get married?’ You know, it’s not, ‘Is the president going to live or die?’ or anything like that. It’s fun to do things like that and mislead and play with time, too.”
One of the previous flash-forwards, for instance, depicted what appeared to be the destined break-up of Jimmy and Gretchen but (as the finale revealed) was in fact the separation of Jimmy and his roommate Edgar. “That was really satisfying to me,” Falk said of the narrative sleight-of-hand. Another tense flash-forward that was resolved with a soft landing: The mystery marauder in pursuit of PTSD victim and Iraq War veteran Edgar? A rambunctious toddler.
In the waning minutes of the finale, the action returned from the flash-forwards to the present-day and the couple sitting in a restaurant awaiting their syrupy comfort food. Their phones have been blowing up with a text barrage from wedding guests and relatives. Then, before the flapjacks even arrive, the bride and groom have decided to waffle. Jimmy says no one can truthfully promise to love anyone for five years much less decades. They decide they won’t break up, either. They will simply stay together and do so with a daily decision instead of a previous binding oath. (The promise of the present vs. the promise made in the past.) They will also steal the wedding gifts if at all possible
Gretchen stops chewing to air a concern that sounds more like a threat. “You know there’s always the chance that some day I will leave my purse and keys at the house and step in front of a train.” After a beat, Jimmy answers with a shrug and something that falls short of human empathy. “Yeah. But I will go over it really quickly. Like record-setting.” It’s the answer Gretchen wanted. She digs back in to her short stack.
For Falk, the Worst is over but he already looks back on it in the best light. Was the sleek, cynical comedy (with its tricked-out genre-show gimmicks and meticulously engineered wordplay) secretly an old-fashioned romance? Are we all pancakes in a hard-boiled world with grits on the side?
“Our show is a very traditional romantic comedy the kind that we all grew up with and fell in love with, but for a modern age,” Falk said. “It can seem at the heart to be sort of aggressive and aggressively cool and aggressively anti-rom com. But it is in fact a very traditional rom com in wolf’s clothing…and the message at the end of the day is a good one. We are all f—– up and damaged but those really disgusting, dirty, non-ripe parts of us do not disqualify us from being deserving of love. While It seems like it’s just about two a——s who meet and decide to date it’s really about all the dark parts of ourselves that we’re afraid will be seen. It’s a tale of hope that all of that is actually okay.”