At root, “This Brief Fermata” is about what the entirety of You’re the Worst is about: Jimmy and Gretchen’s ability to be honest with themselves about their feelings. Historically, they’re both really, really bad at it, which is a part of what makes them fun and interesting, but as the series has progressed, they’ve slowly gotten better at it, making those moments where they have emotional breakthroughs genuinely rewarding by showing how they’ve grown and changed.
“This Brief Fermata” shows how far they’ve come, but also how far they still have to go. Feeling guilty over the blowjob he received from the florist in “A Very Good Boy,” Jimmy proposes that he and Gretchen enjoy a “fuck week” where they can have sex with whomever they want without consequences for their relationship. Hilariously, Jimmy is taken aback by how rapidly Gretchen is on board with the idea, agreeing to it before he can even finish the suggestion.
What follows is a nifty narrative conceit, where the progression of the week is marked by intertitles designating what day it is, complete with ominous musical stinger. First we follow Gretchen through her week, and then we rewind and follow Jimmy through his. Gretchen is initially excited over the prospect of new sex partners; like a kid in a candy store, she gleefully eyes all of the hot guys around her at work (one of whom spills a water cooler all over himself), and Lindsay is thrilled to have Gretchen go “day dicking” with her.
However, Gretchen’s plans go sideways when her potential new client, Nock Nock, proves to be tougher to sign than she anticipated. Gretchen spends much of the week bemoaning her need to work on her pitch to Nock Nock rather than enjoying new sex partners, and in doing so, she displays some character growth – she’s actually trying at her job. However, her most honest emotional moment comes near the end of the week. After finally signing Nock Nock, she tries to find a guy to sleep with, but in the process realizes she’d rather just go home and celebrate her work victory with Jimmy. Older versions of Gretchen would have been horrified by this turn toward normalcy, but this new Gretchen is fine with it, perhaps even relieved.
Then “This Brief Fermata” rewinds to Monday. However, even before we start following Jimmy, the split timeline has created opportunity for curiosity: during Gretchen’s half, we see snippets of Jimmy’s week that make us wonder about his behavior. Why is Edgar mad at Jimmy? Is Jimmy really having sex with other women, even though it seems like “fuck week” is a way for Jimmy to absolve himself of the guilt of the blowjob from “A Very Bad Boy”? A lot of the evidence of his hookups seems staged for Gretchen’s benefit, but what else could explain why he doesn’t come home the night that Gretchen decides she doesn’t want to sleep with anyone else?
Jimmy’s half of “This Brief Fermata” provides answers to our questions in the form of punch lines: the lipstick on his collar is from his own lips; he paid a prostitute to give him a hickey (and nothing else); he posted a photo of his own butt on Instagram; he was out all night because he got sick after taking some old ecstasy, and Edgar is mad at him for not telling Gretchen the truth about his indiscretion with the florist.
It’s in this behavior that we see Jimmy has a lot more work to do than Gretchen in terms of his emotional honesty. Jimmy makes his intentions explicit when explaining his behavior to Edgar, but refuses to accept Edgar’s accurate summary of the situation: he is trying to rid himself of his guilt, but in a way where he never has to admit that he cheated on Gretchen. Edgar lays out the episode’s theme explicitly when he tells Jimmy to be honest with Gretchen, but how can he do that when he can’t even be honest with himself?
Jimmy’s hubris come back to bite him when Sam convinces him that Gretchen – a pathological liar – is only pretending to be too busy to sleep around in order to protect Jimmy (using a fun metaphor: “Your burgers are not safe!”). Jimmy discovers he is actually jealous of the men he imagines Gretchen with, and his dishonesty haunts him further when he learns that Sam was wrong, but that Jimmy’s fakery worked so well that Gretchen has decided to sleep with someone else anyway to even the score.
In the climax, Gretchen again demonstrates her greater emotional growth and honesty when she tells Jimmy that she slept with someone else, but that she doesn’t want to anymore and that Jimmy makes her happy. In a misguided act of sympathy, Jimmy tells Gretchen he was faking his fuck week activities because he feels the same way, little realizing that this will horrify Gretchen by making her feel like she cheated on Jimmy. He tries to correct for his mistake by telling her the truth about the florist, and then he makes things worse by unconvincingly spinning their mutual realizations of contentment as a reason to be happy.
Hurt equally by Jimmy’s indiscretion and by his underhanded attempt to absolve his guilt, Gretchen shames Jimmy, but she wraps it up in her own self-loathing, sarcastically telling him she’s happy that he’s just as much a dishonest, disgusting liar as she is. Effectively, Jimmy’s inability to be honest both with himself and with Gretchen has sabotaged Gretchen’s own growth: rather than the breakthrough she thought she was making with Jimmy, she angrily fakes crawling back into the shell of her former self when she realizes the depths of his dishonesty.
It’s a somber note on which to end “This Brief Fermata,” but a fitting one – it’s always one step forward, two steps back with Jimmy and Gretchen, and it wouldn’t be their story if there weren’t a few more hurdles to step around. Rather than a cathartic emotional breakthrough, instead we’re left with some heartbreak. It remains to be seen if this latest snag will spell doom for the couple, although it’s the third episode in a row to feature a flash forward, this one returning again to the scene of Jimmy finishing up his affairs at his now-empty house. This ending to “The Brief Fermata” certainly provides more cause for concern about their fate.
– “The Brief Fermata” is a good episode for lists. Before Jimmy can suggest “fuck week” as something fun for them to do to take their minds off wedding planning, Gretchen rattles off other possibilities: mailbox baseball in Beverly Hills, shrooms at the Museum of Tolerance, and egging golfers at Griffith Park. Later, Lindsay lists places for them to pick up guys: Barney’s Beanery, the Museum of Tolerance (evidently an all-purpose activity location), Trader Joe’s on La Brea (“the one with all the hip fuck dads”), and Runyon Canyon, a popular scenic trail where people go to see and be seen.
– Nock Nock’s teeth are corn-yellow. Ick.
– Two episodes in a row, Nock Nock inadvertently solves other characters’ problems: last week, Gretchen used him to save her job; this week, Gretchen uses him to fix Lindsay’s conflict with Shitstain, which in turn convinces Nock Nock to sign with Gretchen’s agency. All hail Gretchen’s ability to exploit an idiot savant.
– Sam and Gretchen have always had one of the odder relationships on You’re The Worst. He calls her “bitch” like it’s her job title, but then he’s affectionate with her when they talk about their personal lives, like when Sam instantly forgives Gretchen for not returning his texts when he realizes she’s on a “fuck week.”
– When Sam and Jimmy play video games together, their avatars appear to be custom creations, each looking like their character, and even sharing their names. It’s an odd detail to include.
– Nice stylistic touch when Jimmy realizes he’s jealous: a time-lapse shot that dissolves from day to night as Jimmy sits distraught over his epiphany.
– Lots of use of the word “fuck” in this episode. Hurray for lax standards and practices!
– Funny detail: Gretchen gives Jimmy a card to celebrate fuck week, but it’s just a reused half-assed birthday card he originally gave to her.