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We open with Sean describing his war flashbacks, doing the work. The work Jimmy himself is not doing, as Paul points out, and he’s of course, right, because Jimmy is having flashbacks of his own.
It’s the first of this episode’s well-crafted parallels. Gaby and Jimmy are another one, even if it’s not immediately apparent. She is trying to hook up with hot guys, and can’t get into the mood. It’s her form of trying to move on from her divorce, her cause of grief. And in addition to Paul’s warning to Jimmy, it’s the other time bomb that starts ticking at the beginning of the episode.
“Yeah well, my brain is an asshole.” – “Your brain’s a whole board room full of assholes.”
The episode delivers again on the one liner front. Derek remains a steady comedic relief character, and I love him; even more since we got it confirmed that he’s basically Bill Lawrence’s self-insert. (So what was it like in the seventies, Bill? I got to know). A few more zingers come from his wife: the half-hour sex window is a hilarious tidbit, as is her proving how much her kids love her. “Ties are for wearing”, apparently a riff by Christa Miller as Paul munches on his tie while high is another absolute laugh-out-loud moment. Miller is overlooked as an actress, and I do sincerely hope she will get some recognition this awards season. Between her, Jessica Williams, Lukita Maxwell, and the slew of female writers and co-execs (this episode is written by Annie Mebane), they balance out the male talent on the show nicely. And while we’re at it: Yes, we do clearly need a female version of “getting it up”, the term “lady boner” is just cheating. “Grease the peach” is nice, and hey, if you need a female equivalent for “cock block”, can I recommend “fan ban”? Although that only works in British English. Anyway. Back to the plot.
“If you don’t face the pain, it will eventually come back and get you, when you least expect it.”
Brian is finally proposing to Charlie, but he wants to do it at a surprise engagement party at Jimmy’s house, as his place is much bigger. Jimmy struggles with the idea, as he doesn’t feel quite comfortable with having a party at their place already, but Alice convinces him. There is noticeable tension the whole half hour this week, but especially as soon as he makes this decision, because it’s so crystal clear this all will go horribly wrong. Things do go Brian’s way, but well, they don’t go Jimmy’s way, and this episode is the epitome of that. Brian and Charlie still get engaged, but Jimmy ends up projectile vomiting all over his piano.
Meanwhile, Paul has told his daughter about his Parkinson’s at the end of the last episode and she will now drop everything to take care of him and will arrive the next day (so presumably next week for us). Naturally, he is hugely uncomfortable with this, giving him anxiety to the point that he eats all the edibles Liz gives him. He initially skips the party because he has something important to do – a.k.a. vibing to Hall & Oates while drinking red wine, which is, as so much of this show has been, incredibly relatable – but then turns up super high outside Jimmy’s door.
Another fun term this week, “rawdogging”, does not in fact mean talking to someone that doesn’t want to talk to you, and hearing Harrison Ford say it is yet another moment of comedy gold; especially cause he uses it wrongly with so much confidence, as Alice points out. Of course, his Paul is then the one who ends up talking to Charlie and Brian when they don’t want to hear his advice; another nice bit of foreshadowing. I keep praising Ford’s performance week after week, but it also truly feels like his character is the glue holding it all together. Any line he’s given is either hilarious, or incredibly profound: he is the heart and soul of Shrinking.
“Stay open. Stay open. If your defenses come up, you’re fucked. But two vulnerable people will always find a way to connect.”
Alice still does her 15 minutes of grief and is very much in love with Sean, who, as men are wont to do, is still completely oblivious to this. They’re getting closer because they’re bonding over their trauma and grief, as do Gaby and Jimmy. Parallels, remember? It’s also why both of these storylines end in a kiss this week; or almost, anyway. Sean stops Alice and tells her she’s “just a kid”, and not gonna lie, I am relieved that this is where this went. I am equally relieved Alice is spared witnessing Jimmy’s low point. Meanwhile, however, Jimmy and Gaby hook up, and this is where we cut to credits.
But how do they get there, and how does Jimmy even get drunk enough to embarrass himself this much? Well, people are indeed fucking idiots: Gaby gets a lot of inconsiderate reactions to her divorce from the party guests, and Jimmy has to deal with much of the same. It’s uncomfortable to watch; as short as the montage is, it felt much longer to me on my first watch, because honestly, it’s too familiar. People do not know how to address loss, address grief, address illness. They keep triggering Jimmy into drinking too much to drown out his flashbacks to another party with his late wife. And so we learn that the months before her sudden death, their marriage was falling apart, when everyone thought it was perfect. It makes Jimmy feel like a fraud, the titular imposter, and naturally, he never told anyone. It’s more pain he keeps pushing aside, until he simply can no longer avoid it. Of course it’s Gaby that reassures him that had Tia indeed no longer loved him, she would have told her best friend that. Jimmy asks her to prove it, and Gaby unearths a candid photo of them. The two share love, they share grief over the woman they lost, and naturally all of this pain, all of these feelings, have to go somewhere.
Paul’s line about pain coming back to haunt you, feels like an extension of “grief’s a crafty little fucker, sneaks up on you” from episode three. It’s one that was stuck in my head all through this week, and now, this whole storyline about pain and avoidance? Bullseye. I need Lawrence, Goldstein et al. to get out of my head, honestly. But it’s also reassuring that as overwhelming as grief can be, as absolutely personal as it is, and how lonely it can make you feel, in the end, we all share in the experience of it. “For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same”, a wise man once sang. Until next week.