Near the beginning of “Not A Great Bet,” Gretchen pulls into the driveway of her family home, walks inside to the atrium, and anxiously pulls her hoodie over her head. It’s a small gesture but it wonderfully captures the uneasy feeling of returning to a familiar place that has moved on without you. It’s compounded when she goes upstairs to her childhood room and discovers that it’s been rented out, complete with a faux-welcome sign that contains the Wi-Fi password. She finds a bottle of booze and a stale pack of cigarettes and looks through an old yearbook, wondering how far away she is from those photos and how little she’s possibly changed.
Though “Not A Great Bet” follows Gretchen as she reconnects with her old best friend Heidi (Zosia Mamet, giving a wonderful reactive performance), it really tracks her emotional journey falling in and out of love with her old life. She arrives home ostensibly for the birth of her brother’s new baby, but completely blows off her family when she discovers that Heidi survived childhood leukemia and now owns a roller rink in town. Gretchen tries to relive old times, when “just hanging out was enough,” and Heidi complies, but she’s distant and a little indifferent. See, Heidi is happy enough in her hometown, living a regular life close to her parents; she doesn’t necessarily want to relive old times because the new ones are good enough. Gretchen, however, needs Heidi, even if she’s just using her as a conduit to less a complicated time.
You’re The Worst’s standalone episodes excel at delving into the fractured psychology of its characters through suggestion, and for most of its run, “Not A Great Bat” is no different. Cash communicates internalized emotions through brief glances and subtle facial expressions—a smirk when Heidi firmly tells Gretchen she likes their hometown; a twinge of guilt buried underneath a confident, yet forced apology for not once visiting Heidi in the hospital; a loaded smile when she talks about a possible future. There’s hurt that lies within Gretchen that she initially embraced and then successfully sublimated into what she thought was an affair. Now, forced to reckon with that pain, she retreats into youth without realizing it wouldn’t necessarily welcome her with open arms.
Gretchen and Heidi eventually find themselves at their old mall, now abandoned and frequented by stray dogs, meth heads, and partying teenagers. Sure enough, Gretchen and Heidi find four teens inside, but they’re not having a party, let alone doing anything illegal. They’re mostly just chatting amongst themselves. Haley (Reagan Alexander) and Rose (Nicholette Dixon) wonder why two 30-year-old women are even near teens at all. They roll their eyes when Gretchen offers them a drink. Colin (Reese Hartwig) and Ornette (Jacob Manown) are a little more receptive to their presence for obvious reasons (teenage boys plus cool, older women; you do the math). Soon enough, peer pressure weighs them all down and a makeshift hangout forms between anxious, awkward teens and adults carrying the weight of adult problems.
There’s a typical, boring way this story goes, and it involves some shenanigans, which leads to someone overstepping boundaries, and then eventually everyone comes to a mutual understanding about the shared difficulty of childhood and adulthood. Thankfully, You’re The Worst decides to go the more mundane, ethically murkier route. After listening to the four teens drunkenly talk about their stress, Heidi forces a brief game of Truth or Dare, which quickly culminates in Gretchen kissing Rose (“Why did you let her do that?” Haley asks her friend with concern.) When Gretchen finds out Haley’s last name, she lets it slipped that she fucked Haley’s dad at high school prom (three-and-a-half times, no less). Soon, time passes and the girls recede into the background and the boys are buzzed and focused on Gretchen and Heidi, who are now stumbling through a conversational minefield. Gretchen tries to compliment Heidi on how she’s filled into an adult, but can’t seem to avoid broaching patronizing territory (“You lived long enough to have wrinkles!”). Meanwhile, Heidi mostly stays quiet and feigns politeness.
But the turning point arrives when Heidi chastises Gretchen for playing dumb about her own maturity. Gretchen nostalgically remembers how something as simple as cinnamon could make her happy and Heidi pipes up that she still makes cinnamon toast to this day. Gretchen balks at this, faux-naively refusing to believe that someone could actually make their own cinnamon toast. She riffs on the ridiculous idea of spice stores or the action of grinding up cinnamon, quickly pushing Heidi to the breaking point. “Don’t be stupid,” she snaps. “I mean, Jesus. You’re an adult.” This brings Gretchen back down to Earth, even though she doesn’t quite realize Heidi’s point. It’s one thing to struggle with being an adult, it’s another thing entirely to forgo the process in favor of errant living.
Eventually, the cops bust up the “party,” and just in the nick of time, too, seeing as Gretchen was about to blow Colin on an impromptu dare (he proudly ate a whole can of cat food). Gretchen and Heidi ditch the cops and Gretchen’s rental car in a cornfield and walk back to town. This is when “Not A Great Bet” takes another unconventional route but still retreads familiar territory. The whole episode primes the audience for a climax involving Gretchen’s failure to be with Heidi when she was stricken with cancer, but instead writer Stephen Falk refocuses the final scene on Gretchen’s inflated view of their whole relationship. The truth is that Gretchen and Heidi stopped being friends in the eighth grade. Gretchen never went to the hospital because she wasn’t invited. Heidi tells her that she became a shape-shifter, someone who changed their personality depending on they’re with, and never let anybody know the real Gretchen. “Everyone liked you or wanted you, but nobody knew you,” Heidi calmly tells her.
Heidi’s point is that people don’t invest in Gretchen because they sense that there’s nothing below the surface, or if there is, that they’ll never get access. Ideally, Heidi’s words should have weight, but instead they feel a bit too obvious. Throughout the series, Gretchen has struggled with her inability to be vulnerable around her romantic partners, and we’ve seen her ebb and flow between being emotionally available and entirely closed off. Thus, Heidi’s disclosure isn’t exactly a revelation to the audience, but rather something obvious made more explicit. To her credit, Cash plays the moment well enough by first making a last-ditch effort at opening up to Heidi and then turning against her completely when she refuses her offer. Nevertheless, the episode’s big scene doesn’t quite work because it takes the unconventional approach and moves into entirely conventional territory.
With that said, the final montage contains potency almost in spite of itself. Gretchen returns to the hospital to see her whole family in a room with the newborn baby. They got on completely fine without her after all. Instead of joining them, Gretchen simply leaves her father’s eye drops by the door and walks away. She knows the sad truth: They never got to know her, so she never got to know them. Gretchen chose not to be with her family during this occasion, and Gretchen’s family accepted that choice, maybe not happily, but definitively. If adulthood is the sum of the choices you make, then Gretchen’s life starts to feel smaller and smaller each passing year. The more you refuse to choose, the less you have to carry with you on down the road. Gretchen chose Jimmy and Jimmy left, but it’s still unclear what she took away from the experience. Is the lesson not to choose at all to stave off future pain, or is it to make better choices in the future? Only time will tell.
- The episode’s logline states, “In a Gretchen-focused episode, Gretchen goes home for the birth of her brother’s baby, but instead ends up reconnecting with a friend from her past, who inadvertently reveals why Jimmy may have left her.” I find that last clause specious at best. Unless some new information comes to light, Jimmy didn’t leave because Gretchen wasn’t a “great bet,” or because she never showed him anything “real.” He left because of his own fears of intimacy.
- Gretchen meets her old teacher Mr. Collins at the car rental kiosk. He says he “retired” from teaching but she later finds out from Colin that he got fired because he posted upskirt shots of students in a Panty Slut subreddit.
- Some of Gretchen’s goals on her “Twenty Year Plan” list: Get rich, go to NYU, go to Lilith Fair, be a Rowdy Grrl Groupie, move to Los Angeles and go to The Viper Room, meet and kiss Johnny Depp, own a restaurant, tell Mom to go to Hell, go to Thailand, have a guest house for all her friends, buy leather pants, buy Banshee a diamond collar.
- Hayley tries to the stop Colin from drinking by saying, “We have that AP History essay!” which is very sweet.
- The funniest moment of the episode is when Ornette, shocked that Colin finished the whole can of cat food, quickly asks Gretchen if she has another can.
- “I don’t understand what we’re expected to do. You raised us to need the constant feedback that comes from this.”
- “This is so sad. Our mall is dead.” “Do you buy everything online?” “Totally.” “Then this is your fault.”
- “You know this is the best time, right? It is all downhill from here, for real. I mean, you do get hotter, and get to do or eat whatever you want, and that’s awesome, but things are new right now. And you feel things so hard and that is beautiful. Grown-up stuff sucks is what I’m saying.”