There are two things to watch out for in the opening minutes of “Shrooms.” There’s Mickey and Gus telling Bertie that they have a “low-key thing” planned for the evening, a takeout-and-chill situation sidelined by the disposal of Mickey’s stash. Then there’s Randy’s reaction to the bag of psilocybin mushrooms that’s been swept up in the purge: “The last time I did shrooms, I had a really bad trip, and I haven’t touched them since.” “Oh, you swore ’em off?” Gus replies, eager for a) someone else to say they don’t want to eat the mushrooms, and b) someone who can attest to the benefits of swearing off psychedelics. Sorry, Gus: Turns out Randy’s just been waiting for the opportunity to do shrooms properly. As Gus and his film-school professor would be glad to tell you, this—combined with the fact that Bertie has to shout multiple times in order to get Randy out of her bed—is foreshadowing.
But it’s foreshadowing of a not particularly aggressive sort, in line with what turns out to be an agreeably low-key take on a TV drug trip. “Shrooms” indulges in some conventions of the genre, but never tips over into cliché: No hallucinatory visuals, no chopped-and-screwed audio. There’s a brief slo-mo interlude and a troublesome epiphany, but they’re played relatively grounded and straight. To tell the story of Mickey walking the straight-and-narrow, “Shrooms” places us in her sober shoes. It’s a clever choice of restraint, a twist on the fact that Love is always an under-the-influence narrative.
After it’s all over, once Randy has climbed out of a stranger’s bed and Gus is coming down while wearing Mickey’s red bathing suit, “Shrooms” pushes the central couple toward a realization of actual consequence: “You push me a little closer to the edge,” Gus says. “And you pull me back from it,” Mickey replies. It’s a mission statement of sorts for these kooky kids, one Gus might be taking a little too seriously. Just look at how deeply he gets into the idea of Mickey trashing every last pill, powder, or plant she has squirreled away inside the house. As the script (from Paul Rust and Dave King) illustrates, Gus views the world and his life through a sort of storytelling lens: “We’re at that part in a movie where something cool should start happening” he tells Randy midway through their trip. I think he’s trying to fight it, but there’s a part of Gus’ brain that wants to cast him and Mickey in a version of Pygmalion. And he’s so invested in the story he’s telling himself that he takes twice the amount of mushrooms to keep Mickey from taking any.
If they’re going to convert their attraction into something that’ll last, he’ll have to get over it—but it’s a stumbling block at the moment. And it’s interesting to watch Paul Rust act through that stumbling: In Gus’ attempts to persuade Mickey to throw out “ye olde drug box,” his gestures recognize the passive-aggressive tip-toeing in ways his words do not. “My brain’s not friends with my hands right now,” Bertie says later in the episode, summing up a similar mind-body disconnect; it’s the second funniest awkward dance of “Shrooms,” after the actual awkward dancing.
Mike Mitchell underlines this takeaway by more or less running away with “Shrooms.” It’s a breakout episode for the the Birthday Boy and No. 1 Triple-Decker Pancake Breakfast Pizza fan, in which his general affability combines with a knack for unnerving intensity, turning him into Love’s equivalent to Christopher Walken in Annie Hall. His “barbarian” spiel nods toward the earlier, pre-mushrooms scene, before his encounter with the coyote tumbles all the way into bad-trip territory. “Shrooms” orders a mix of amusing and infuriating from Randy, and Mitchell (working within the “it’s going to be a loooong night” tone established by director Maggie Carey) expertly calibrates the two.
Randy also sets up a revelation for Gus, not that it’ll actually stick with him. Trying to rouse his friend from mattress-based reverie, he shouts “You’re on drugs, and you’re going to fuck up all of our lives, so stop being a rude asshole.” Whether or not this address was meant for a secondary audience of Mickey is a subject for another time—what really stuck with me was Gus saying the words “rude asshole,” and not having the self-awareness to realize that he’s the rude asshole a lot of the time. He’s patronizing and judgmental and “Midwestern nice”—all characteristics that Love illustrates in text and subtext. He might believe that Mickey is the one who needs to do more work on herself before she can be in a loving, healthy relationship, but Gus has to make some progress of his own. It’s a major source of tension in this second season, and it starts to ramp up amid all the chemically fueled tomfoolery of “Shrooms.”
- For those who’ve made it through the full season, please enjoy this interview with Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust.
- Randy gives Mickey’s shroom-masking culinary skills a 10/10, would eat again: “This is actually a pretty good sandwich.”
- More gold from Mitchell, while Randy pushes around a mini-lawnmower: “This is a child’s toy, but it is the tool of a man”
- Gus and Bertie on the mysteries of time: “That feels like that was a month ago.” “Well, it was three weeks ago, yeah.”