This post discusses the Nov. 2 episode of “You’re The Worst.”
Between the final game of the World Series, the Country Music Awards and the ongoing and general cacophony of the election, most American television viewers were probably occupied last night. But while their minds and eyes were elsewhere, “You’re The Worst” told one of the most quietly audacious stories about abortion that pop culture has seen in years. Lindsay Jillian (Kether Donohue), the sweetly self-absorbed best friend of Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash), terminated the pregnancy she’d induced via turkey baster while estranged from her husband. And she felt fine about it.
When I spoke to series creator Stephen Falk before the third season of “You’re The Worst” premiered and raised the possibility that Lindsay might have an abortion, he told me that was “a very viable option.”
“I like to believe that our show operates in a feminist space, and not only that, in a space where that is just presumed, that that’s not a choice or decision or stance, but that is the norm,” Falk said at the time. “I’m from Berkeley. It is the norm for me. I realize that my extreme lefty viewpoint was not the norm at all, and actually controversial, which blew my mind. The show thereby operates in a space where pregnancy does not necessarily at all end in a child. The tension becomes when you’re married, and you’re in your 30s, it’s kind of a different playing field. The decision is maybe a little more complicated.”
Falk established that abortion was a routine procedure in the second season of “You’re The Worst,” when Gretchen reconnected with an old friend who she’d accompanied to have the procedure in the past. And the abortion that Lindsay ultimately chooses to have in “Talking to Me, Talking to Me” proceeds exactly along the lines that Falk described where her pregnancy was the first step in a decision-making process, not the last one.
When Lindsay does walk into that clinic, she’s not terminating her pregnancy because it’s a threat to her health or because her child is too compromised to survive. She isn’t even choosing to have an abortion for mental-health reasons. Instead, Lindsay gets an abortion because she doesn’t actually want to have a baby or to be a parent, at least not at this particular moment, and because she doesn’t want to be tethered to a husband she doesn’t actually love. Her total unsuitability for motherhood is so convincing that the anti-abortion protester she meets at the clinic tells Gretchen that, “Actually, I was going to tell her to do it. In my book, there are extenuating circumstances: rape, incest and whatever this is.”
Given how rarely abortion is depicted in pop culture at all, it’s audacious for “You’re The Worst,” a show with a nice track record of broaching difficult subjects, to have Lindsay terminate a pregnancy simply because that’s her choice. There’s no attempt to ameliorate the decision, to attribute it to anything other than her preferences and her self-actualization, and the episode doesn’t apologize for her choice.
And while “You’re The Worst” has made Lindsay’s husband, Paul (Allan McLeod), a more sympathetic and complex figure than the killjoy nerd he was at the beginning of the show’s run, this episode is clear in its conviction that the decision about whether to continue the pregnancy is Lindsay’s and Lindsay’s alone. He may be a decent person who wants to do the right thing, but in giving himself over to the prospect of fatherhood with dogged loyalty and a conventional sense of what it means to do right, he’s making a choice that can only end in everyone’s unhappiness.
Last season, “You’re The Worst” suggested that Lindsay’s decision not to tell Paul that she was pregnant so he could be happy with his new girlfriend was a selfless, loving act. Now, terminating that pregnancy, however frightening it might seem, is the most mature decision Lindsay could have made. Rather than letting the trappings of adulthood settle on her, no matter how poorly they fit, Lindsay embraces Gretchen’s promise to help her figure out how to become “a real human being” on her own terms.
Given the entertainment industry’s previous track record, it will probably be some time before we see another television show tell an abortion story. But when it does, “You’re The Worst” will be the new standard for what it means to be feminist and unapologetic about the choice to end a pregnancy.