You’re the Worst has delivered an outstanding series finale in “Pancakes.” Not only does it manage to satisfyingly resolve all of the expectations built up over the course of this final season, but it also packs in a series of surprises along the way, all while staying true to its irreverent characters and to its own unconventional approach to romance. It’s a truly great episode of the series, and one that’s totally representative at the same time.
The big question hanging over “Pancakes” is whether or not Jimmy and Gretchen end up together. Both Jimmy and Gretchen’s mounting doubts about their upcoming wedding, and the flash forwards that have appeared in nearly every episode this season, have strongly suggested that they will split up, but our own expectations about romantic comedies in general make this seem like an unlikely scenario. It’s also an undesirable one – for as much as You’re the Worst plays with conventions, Jimmy and Gretchen are still likeable characters who seem well-matched for one another, and most viewers are likely rooting for them to stay together. How could Stephen Falk write a series finale that honors both what he’s led us to expect in these flashbacks, but also what viewers want out of a romantic comedy?
The answer is to both satisfy and subvert our expectations at the same time. Last week I wrote about how “We Were Having Such a Nice Day” created suspense because the flash forwards we’ve been seeing all season long had viewers waiting for the other shoe to drop: every scene seemed like it could be the one that would lead to Jimmy and Gretchen breaking up. The other shoe finally drops (or seems to) in “Pancakes.” Jimmy sneaks into Gretchen’s bridal suite to leave her a brooch given to Jimmy by Vanessa, Gretchen’s mother, and discovers that Gretchen had Sam, Shitstain, and Honey Nutz write her vows for her. Combined with Gretchen’s other behavior over the course of the season – which Jimmy cites here – it’s enough to push Jimmy over the edge, convincing him that she doesn’t actually want to go through with the wedding, which he accuses her of when she walks in on him.
When Gretchen protests, Jimmy reminds us of Gretchen’s problems with constraints, and hypothesizes that she’ll end up resenting him for the constraints their marriage will impose (a concern Vanessa raises in their earlier scene together). Gretchen protests again, and Jimmy asks her to tell him she actually wants to marry him. As if to prove Jimmy’s point, Gretchen responds, “Stop bullying me!” Gretchen has trouble acquiescing to an imperative, even when it’s for she something really does want for herself. When she finally relents and tells Jimmy she wants to marry him, she does so with equal parts sarcasm and exasperation, but when she sees the hurt her tone of voice causes Jimmy, she melts and repeats it sincerely. The damage is done, however, and Jimmy leaves the room, telling Gretchen he’s now unsure if he wants to marry her. It’s a powerful scene, because it capitalizes on all of the doubts this season has sewn, both in flash forwards, and in the concern that’s flashed across Jimmy’s face at various points. Here, finally, is the end of their romance, another unconventional turn in a relationship and a show that derives so much of its humor and drama from its characters’ defiance of social norms.
Or so it seems. Fittingly, this scene is followed by another flash forward, but this time, it’s one that provides a series of surprises that slowly but surely reverse the expectations created by the previous flash forwards. Even the transition into this flash forward is a surprise: the episode cuts from Jimmy leaving the bridal suite upset, to Jimmy leaving the wedding venue similarly upset, but it’s now years later: it’s the same venue, but now Jimmy is leaving not from his own wedding, but from a wedding he is attending. The lighting is dim, however, and initially it’s tough to tell that Jimmy has a scruffy beard and that his bowtie is different.
A second surprise: Jimmy reveals that he’s upset not over Gretchen, but over Edgar’s appearance the wedding. Edgar apologizes to Jimmy for warning him not to marry Gretchen in “We Were Having Such a Nice Day,” to which Jimmy responds that it was an abhorrent thing to do, but also the right thing to do, and that Edgar was brave and selfless in attempting it. Edgar denies Jimmy’s characterization, claiming that it was the only way he could get away from Jimmy. It’s a great scene because it resolves their conflict through a mix of feints and half-truths that can only be fully understood in the context of their entire friendship.
Yes, it was healthy for Edgar to set out on his own, but he didn’t try to stop the wedding in order to force a schism with Jimmy. Edgar did so out of love for his friends, and his concern that they would ruin each others’ lives. When Jimmy tells Edgar he finally understands this, Edgar responds with the sort of casual selfishness that Jimmy would often use to mask his own acts of altruism or magnanimousness (like, for instance, letting Edgar live with him all those years – Jimmy often put on a big show of demeaning and/or using Edgar, and perhaps that’s how their arrangement started out, but over time his mistreatment of Edgar became a veil for their genuine friendship). Not only does this scene let the characters make peace with the situation and demonstrate how far they’ve come, but it also manages to do so without giving away the scene’s next major surprise.
That surprise is, of course, that Gretchen and Jimmy are still together. A cascade of other surprises follow: the child we saw Edgar playing with in last week’s flash forward is Jimmy and Gretchen’s daughter, and the florist is now Jimmy and Gretchen’s nanny, chosen by Gretchen because the blowjob from “A Very Good Boy” removed all possibility of sexual tension between them (thus explaining Jimmy and the florist’s car ride together in a previous flash forward, which implied that they knew one another well). Perhaps least surprising of all, the wedding they’re attending is for Lindsay and Paul’s re-marriage. The rest of the scene is designed as a series of explanations for the other flash forwards: they’re selling Jimmy’s house because it’s a death trap for kids; Gretchen checked into a hotel on her own as a sort of vacation from Jimmy and their daughter prior to the wedding, and Gretchen let the guy at the bar hit on her just for kicks (and as we’ll soon learn, she was technically telling him the truth when she said that she “almost got married”). This scene even explains the location of this flash forward: Paul and Lindsay just copied Jimmy and Gretchen’s wedding venue.
The entire scene is a testament to how successful You’re the Worst has been at subverting the conventions of romantic comedies, which is something it’s done throughout its run, but which it has been especially good at in this final season. The flash forwards established expectations for an unconventional ending where the central romantic couple doesn’t end up together, but then the finale creates a surprise by making a sudden turn toward a more conventional happy ending. You’re the Worst isn’t a show with a lot of plot of twists, generally, but subverting our expectations – expectations established not by the genre, but by the show itself – only to pivot hard into conventionality, is somehow one of the most characteristic things You’re the Worst could have possibly done. Moreover, it’s also a testament to the strength of the show’s writing and its characters that the central romantic couple seemed simultaneously both a great match and terribly toxic. For much of the season, thanks to the flash forwards, it really did seem like Jimmy and Gretchen’s romance could go either way, which is a very tricky balance to maintain.
The one thing that this final, sustained flash forward doesn’t explain is how Jimmy and Gretchen salvage their romance after their wedding day argument, ironically creating an effect similar to the other flash forwards in previous episodes: once again, a flash forward has created expectations about how things will turn out, except this time, rather than waiting for something to go wrong, we’re waiting for something to go right. What follows is another outstanding scene, one which resonates with our extensive knowledge of Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship.
Gretchen chases after Jimmy and confronts him, and Jimmy confesses that he couldn’t write his vows either – the vows we saw him working on earlier were written in the voice of a fictional character speaking to another fictional character. That neither of them could write their own vows proves yet again how perfect a match they are for each other while also speaking to the unconventionality of their relationship. For Gretchen, her inability to write her vows is a symptom of her resistance to placing constraints on her own behavior (made very clear in their previous scene), but for Jimmy, it’s because he doesn’t really believe in any of the things vows are usually meant to convey: undying devotion, promises of eternal love, and so on (concepts Gretchen has questioned herself, as Jimmy reminds her here).
As Jimmy himself reminds us in the prologue, he spent years heckling couples at weddings. This behavior wasn’t simply a symptom of his misanthropic nature, but was also a product of his genuine belief that weddings are a sham, a series of false promises no one should make, because there’s no way of knowing that they’ll be able to keep them. As he tells Gretchen here, “This ceremony is a fiction! It’s a false guarantee that protects us from exactly nothing. It’s Novocain. It’s an opiate. It’s a lie.” It’s easy to imagine Jimmy heckling newlyweds with these exact statements, yet here, these sentiments become grounds for despair given his love for Gretchen. It makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to write traditional vows, because he would be betraying himself (or more appropriately, the writers would be betraying the character). Gretchen, for her part, agrees with him – she feels similarly about weddings, in addition to the other problems they pose for her.
So, where does that leave Jimmy and Gretchen? Neither of them wants to get married, but neither of them wants to split up. They decide to ditch their own wedding and go to out for pancakes instead. And it’s here, sitting in their usual booth at their usual diner, that they decide what their romance means to them, and where they give their own unconventional version of wedding vows that are perfect for their own unconventional version of romance: each day they’ll choose whether or not they still want to be together, and they’ll take it one day at time. For Jimmy and Gretchen, it’s a perfectly romantic moment of sincerity, one that is more genuine than all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding their now abandoned wedding, and after a few more jokes, they seal it with a kiss.
Jimmy and Gretchen momentarily forgot themselves in the lead up to the wedding, going through the motions of the social norms they’ve become accustomed to, but here, in this last scene, they remember who they are and what makes them work, both individually and as a couple: not conformity, but nonconformity. Not only socially acceptable concepts of love and affection, but also their own concepts of these things, societal norms be damned. It’s wonderful resolution that is perfectly characteristic of idiosyncratic love and their distaste inhibitions of social norms.
The series concludes with a lovely epilogue consisting of a flash forward montage sequence showing a series of happy moments we missed between now and Paul and Lindsay’s wedding: Gretchen’s pregnancy, Edgar moving to New York, Paul and Lindsay dating and Paul’s proposal, Gretchen and Jimmy raising their daughter, and so on. However, it’s not all wine and roses: the last of these vignettes is of Gretchen sobbing while Jimmy sleeps soundly, their inconsolable baby crying between them. Suddenly, in one final turn toward the unconventional, we return to the diner scene where concern washes over Gretchen’s face. As if envisioning the last vignette we just saw, Gretchen alludes to the chance of her depression returning and becoming so severe she kills herself. Jimmy’s response is perfectly characteristic of You’re the Worst’s nonchalance: he knows there’s a chance, but he’ll move on quickly. Ultimately, it’s another way in which this finale is great: it doesn’t attempt to solve Gretchen’s long term struggle with mental health, and in doing so, it turns away once again from convention. Romantic fulfillment doesn’t “fix” or “save” Gretchen. Her depression is something she’ll continue to struggle with, but that’s life. In You’re the Worst, there’s no such thing as “happily ever after.” Instead, for Gretchen and Jimmy, there’s just an agreement to keep choosing to live their life together each day, for as long that continues to be what they both want.
Other thoughts: – In addition to his scene with Jimmy, Edgar gets a lot of other good material in “Pancakes” as well, particularly the scene where he tells Lindsay about his fight with Jimmy, and the scene where Gretchen confronts him later. When Lindsay learns about what Edgar said to Jimmy, she refers back to “The Pin in My Grenade” by calling Edgar the dumb one, but really, Edgar is the opposite of dumb here. His emotional intelligence is so high that he could see what nobody else was willing to admit: that marriage would be a mistake for Edgar and Jimmy. Gretchen’s scene with Edgar is also interesting, because it parallels last week’s scene where Jimmy is defensive with Edgar. Gretchen tells Edgar that Jimmy will never respect him, but just like with Jimmy, this is a form of self-defense, rather than a harsh truth. Both Gretchen and Jimmy are relying on Jimmy and Edgar’s previous dynamic to try to steamroll Edgar and invalidate his objection to their marriage. Although here, it’s unclear if Gretchen is aware that Edgar and Jimmy’s dynamic shifted considerably over the last few episodes.
– The Serial-like podcast Edgar is listening to as he’s watching Jimmy and Gretchen seems like a bit of a comment on Edgar’s own actions in both this episode and “We Were Having Such a Nice Day.” Once Jimmy and Gretchen leave the wedding venue together, Edgar is knowingly satisfied, and immediately turns on his podcast again to hear the verdict in the podcast case: “Not guilty.” Also, Edgar’s intense investment in the podcast is funny because it shows him getting super-invested in someone else’s story, which is exactly what he did with Jimmy and Gretchen.
– “Pancakes” is also impressive stylistically: there are a series of long takes at the wedding reception, one of which begins as a point of view shot and ends with Jimmy moving out from behind the camera.
– Putting aside the problems inherent to Lindsay and Paul becoming romantically involved again (which I wrote about in my recap of “We Were Having Such a Nice Day”), the one flaw in “Pancakes” is that I don’t for a moment buy the lavish extent of Paul and Lindsay’s second wedding. It’s one thing to throw a big wedding if you’re entering into a second marriage with someone new, but for a second take on the same marriage? I feel like their attitude would be “been there, done that.” At least there’s some acknowledgement of it: Jimmy describes Paul and Lindsay as making the same mistake twice.
– Nice touch: in the prologue, while checking the setup for the wedding, Jimmy dips his finger in a drink and tastes it like a chef might taste a sauce.
– In this same prologue, the florist seems bitter or resentful of Jimmy. Did she expect him to leave Gretchen after one blowjob?
– Just like the completed wedding to-do list from last week, Jimmy also gives himself an author’s credit on his wedding vows we see him working on. Initially this is a joke, but in the context of what he tells Gretchen about how he wrote those vows, it makes more sense.
– Loved the outfit Lindsay makes for Gretchen: a grotesque pre-wedding gown set of pajamas covered in pictures of Lindsay’s face.
– Killian shows up at the wedding in some sort of military uniform, but it doesn’t appear to be one from the US Armed Forces. It has elements of the marines and the navy, but details are off. While I like the idea that Killian’s life took another insane turn where he joined military in the time between “Four Goddamn More Days” and the wedding, it’s also pretty funny if this uniform is a part of the cult he seemed to describe joining in his last appearance.
– Lots of good Vernon material in this episode, particularly his joy in being asked to replace Edgar as Jimmy’s best man. I liked how he makes Jimmy rush through a series of goofy poses in the wedding photos, as if he’s worried best man honors might be suddenly revoked again should Edgar return. Likewise, his way of telling Jimmy that Gretchen looks beautiful in her wedding gown is to tell Jimmy, “I’d hit it!” What prevents it from being sleazy – and what makes it funny – is the genuine enthusiasm of actor Todd Robert Anderson’s line delivery. Vernon even gets a moment the final montage, where we see he’s finally realized his dream of an outpatient medical service food truck (called, hilariously, the “mobile vern unit”).
– Paul is played by Allan McLeod, and that’s McLeod’s real son in the scene where Paul proposes to Lindsay.
– It’s a bit of a contrivance for Vanessa to give Jimmy the brooch rather than just have Vanessa give it to Gretchen herself. It’s designed largely to get Gretchen and Jimmy into a room together so that they can have their big argument. However, it works because it also provides an opportunity to remind viewers about Gretchen’s psychological issues, particularly Gretchen’s resistance to others telling her what’s best for her, which will become extremely relevant to her and Jimmy’s argument later. It also serves as a nice reminder of how terrible Gretchen’s smothering yet distant mother is – even her genuine attempt to offer advice to Jimmy comes across like a warning to stay away from Gretchen.
-Stephen Falk even manages to sneak jokes into Jimmy and Gretchen’s fight scene. I laughed when Gretchen tried to spin a negative into a positive by claiming that she cared so much about her vows she hired a professional to write them for her, even citing Shitstain’s credentials.
– Another thing the revelatory flash forward implicitly explains: in the flash forward from “Zero Eggplants,” Lindsay asks Gretchen if she’s okay that some unnamed man is attending the wedding. It’s clear now that she’s referring Edgar, not Jimmy.
– Jimmy admitting that he couldn’t write wedding vows also provides some retrospective insight into his fight with Gretchen. It’s clear that his anger with her over the vows isn’t about her, but about his own disbelief in the things weddings are meant to symbolize. His anger also might be a product of his own shame over his failure – he is a writer after all, and a proud one at that.
– Jimmy and Gretchen ditching their own wedding is like their pulling one final wedding prank, but this time it’s on all of their guests. Moreover, it gives Kether Donohue another chance to showcase her singing chops when Lindsay sings the song she wrote about all of the dicks Gretchen has known. Very nice.
– The scene of Jimmy and Gretchen in the diner begins with a perfectly characteristic shot of the characters, each of whom look a bit dumbfounded over their own actions: Gretchen has the deer-in-the-headlights look she usually sports when she’s shirking responsibilities, while Jimmy looks concerned, like he’s puzzling over a difficult problem or inexplicable behavior (his own, this time).