Commentary: ‘You’re the Worst’ just aired the best depiction of clinical depression. Ever.
The end of Wednesday night’s episode of FXX’s “You’re the Worst” did something truly revolutionary. In a touching, emotionally honest moment, Gretchen (Aya Cash) admitted to her boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere) that she was clinically depressed, that it was something she was dealing with, and that he couldn’t fix her.
It may have been the best explanation of clinical depression that television has ever produced.
Created by Stephen Falk, “You’re the Worst” focuses on a group of four friends caught in the caustic, uncertain malaise of their late 20s and early 30s. Though the characters sometimes do terrible things, the series always manages to ground their awfulness in something inherently human, protecting the audience’s ability to root for the characters.
That the series is tackling clinical depression shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that military veteran Edgar (Desmin Borges), one of the show’s four leads, suffers from PTSD after his time spent in combat, an issue “You’re the Worst” addresses repeatedly. But what makes Gretchen’s depression storyline so astute is how the series chose to divulge the character’s condition.
In the final moments of the episode, Gretchen, drunk, lashes out at her friends after spending a day trapped in the house, trying to distract herself. After her outburst, best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue) approaches her and asks if Gretchen’s depression is back -- the first audiences have heard about the issue -- and insists that she confide her illness to Jimmy. “I can’t tell him my brain is broken,” Gretchen quietly responds -- a devastating exchange, and one that instantly summarizes clinical depression.
Gretchen can’t tell Jimmy about her illness because he won’t understand. Jimmy won’t understand Gretchen’s depression because Gretchen doesn’t understand. Depression doesn’t make sense, and “You’re the Worst” understands that.
To reveal such pertinent information about one of your leads in the middle of the second season of your show displays a huge sense of confidence, counting on the audience to inherently trust the storytelling process. HBO’s “Girls” made a similar move in its second season, revealing that Hannah (Lena Dunham) suffered from OCD, a move that received mixed reviews from audiences.
The reason “You’re the Worst’s” reveal works as well as it does is the seeds it’s been planting about the issue since day one. Gretchen and Jimmy have long opted for self-medication when it comes to alcohol and casual drug use, a choice that Gretchen could have easily used to mask her underlying illness. Audiences have always known Gretchen to be somewhat aimless, drifting through her life as though she had no say in where she ended up, and a diagnosis of clinical depression clarifies her previously inexplicable malaise perfectly.
But this storyline doesn’t work without Cash’s incisive performance as Gretchen. The silent work she does in the background of scenes is mesmerizing, and you can see Gretchen’s happy mask slipping whenever she’s left alone.
At its heart, what “You’re the Worst” understands that most shows, most individuals, don’t, is that clinical depression often functions as a sine wave. There are good times, times when you’re as close to normal as you ever manage, times where it feels like you’re finally free of the shadow of illness that stalks your every move, and you hope those days last forever. But nothing gold can stay and soon you’re suffused with darkness again.
Often, the moments before a recurrence are brutal, as evidenced by the anxious and frantic lengths that Gretchen goes to in an attempt to stave off the depressive episode she knows is coming. She sneaks out of the house and drives to a scenic L.A. overlook to quietly cry in her car. She drinks and dances to try to block out the sadness that resonates in her bones.
But given the title of the episode, “There is Not Currently a Problem,” it seems clear that the show intends to dig into the repercussions for everyone in the wake of Gretchen’s revelation. While her clinical depression is certainly a problem for her, as it’s a battle she’s been fighting on her own for years, it’s unclear how prepared her friends are for the fallout that ensues when someone you love has a problem that you cannot fix.
“With the right attitude, this could be a fun adventure for everyone,” Gretchen assures Jimmy, before adding, “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be OK with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.” Jimmy wavers before saying, “Can’t I though?”
“You’re the Worst” explained clinical depression in a single, jolting episode. Now the only question is if its characters can weather the aftershocks.
Follow me on Twitter at @midwestspitfire
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