[This is part 1 in a series of essays reviewing TV shows in 2017 that have dealt with mental illness]
I initially was planning to write about several shows in one essay, but as I was working on this, I realized the shows are so different, not only in the mental illness they tackle, but the ways in which they do so.
There have been a lot of articles that have talked about the representation of mental illness in FXX’s You’re The Worst, especially in terms of how Gretchen’s depression manifests–all you need to do is searching “you’re the worst depression” and you’ll find a plethora of articles. One thing that I haven’t seen covered quite as well though, is why Gretchen’s abandonment issues, especially in terms of her mental illness, is so important.
One of the ways the shows reinforces a lot of its themes is through mirroring certain moments to emphasize their significance.
These include the all night phone conversations between Jimmy and Gretchen:
Jimmy proposing to Becca…
…in the same place he later proposes to Gretchen
(Side note, this was confirmed by creator Stephen Falk)
There are plenty more (here,
But the one I think is the most significant is the progression from Jimmy asking Gretchen not to go on a trip with her ex…
…to when Jimmy decides to stay with Gretchen when she’s going through her depressive episode, and accepting that he can’t fix her…
…and him driving away, leaving her after proposing.
Season 4 primarily deals with the fallout of Jimmy leaving, but ultimately, Gretchen believing that whoever she’s involved with will eventually leave her (hell, it’s in the damn theme song). The ultimate revelation in the season though comes when Gretchen realizes, though she wants someone to fight for her, for someone to not leave, for someone to love her–she doesn’t need it. She needs to fight for herself, to stop running from the things that are hard, to love herself. What she does is chooses herself. She doesn’t need Jimmy’s love…but she does choose it at the end. Realizing that she doesn’t need Jimmy’s love doesn’t mean she has to shut herself off from it.
However, through the course of the season, Gretchen exhibits a lot of REALLY harmful behavior, both for herself and other people. I think a lot of this has to do with Gretchen never really learning how to properly process negative emotions, and instead covering it with drinking, drugs, and other risky behavior. In addition, she also seems to believe that her actions exist in a bubble, and that their consequences only effect her. You see this throughout the season: with her shirking her work responsibilities and not realizing the impact it has on the band; when she returns home and her and Heidi play a game of suuuuuuper messed up truth or dare with a group of underaged teens and not realizing just how messed up it is until the end; pretty much everything she does with Boone and his daughter. While Gretchen is hellbent on self-destruction, she doesn’t recognize that she’s effecting other people’s lives as well.
That said, while the show explains that these behaviors are largely rooted in a fear of abandonment, it doesn’t excuse them as a result of mental illness. This is where I feel the show is really differs from many earlier representations of mental illness in media, and is what makes it great. You also see this in other shows like Bojack Horseman, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Love. The point, though, is not that these characters are necessarily bad people, but rather that they’ve never learned healthy coping mechanisms.
The reason this is really significant in terms of talking about mental illness is to combat the idea that mental illness is easily “fixed” (whether by love or medication) or that a person with mental illness can’t live a regular life (those outdated, dangerous representations like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or any of the plethora of “single white female” movies–something I’ll discuss more when I get to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). While Gretchen does learn to cope her depression in season 3 by going to therapy, and continues to take her medication, she’s not “cured.” Nor should she be.
One of the things that SUCKS about mental illness is that, many times, it’s chronic. Yes, medication can manage it; yes, therapy helps to talk things through as well as to help find coping mechanism; yes, identifying the root of certain behaviors in order to overcome them is helpful. But for many of us, including myself, it is a constant battle, and it can be exhausting knowing that it’s not as easy as a healing from a broken bone or the flu.
BUT that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of living “regular” lives. We have jobs. We have relationships. We mess up. We love. We do helpful things. We do harmful things. We are human.
I’m interested to see where the show goes from here, especially since they’ve said the next season will be it’s last. I’m hopeful that the final season of You’re The Worst tackles that combating this is a constant, ongoing process.