“Hi, my name is Bernadette and I’m a Love addict.”
As a frequently prescribed patient of Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, and the like, I’m finding myself more and more saddened by my somewhat persistent memory loss when it comes to the deeper intricacies of television and film. As a notorious binge-watcher, common side effects are: plot hole omissions, infatuation, tunnel vision, and a lack of perspective. So when it was announced that Netflix’s Love would premier its third, and last, season on March 9, 2018, I wanted to make sure that I revisited the characters I had so deeply fallen in love with before watching their swan season. With the sheer overwhelming quantity of television programs, it’s so easy to get hooked on a show but only have the time to give it the “one and done” treatment, which is a real shame for the shows that really move you. Luckily, in its short three-season run, Love provides such a concise and honest story of love and all its foibles, that its characters manage to live beyond the finale as your friends, who will attempt to have your back in your next time of love-riddled need.
Created by Judd Apatow and married duo, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, Love has a character for everyone, no matter which stage of impending adulthood has entrapped you. What it excels at is depicting multiple stages of love and the way it affects us all differently, all the while remaining a universal language at the same time. The storytelling is so trusting of its audience, that we only see facets of what are very full lives. It allows these extremely real characters to breathe out of frame and take a break from us, the audience, which is indicative of a healthy relationship. Love’s main relationship is between people-pleasing Gus (Paul Rust), and multi-addict Mickey (Gillian Jacobs), who are drawn to each other by their stark differences. As if they are the sun of their Love solar system, their friends and co-workers orbit them in their own love dilemmas. Mickey’s roommate Bertie, (hilarious newcomer Claudia O’Doherty), falls too quickly for Gus’s friend Randy (Mike Mitchell), and that relationship plays out differently than Gus and Mickey’s focal relationship. Cut and copy that about twenty times and you have the couples featured in Love, an ever-challenged group of individuals just trying to let someone into their lives without completely losing themselves in the process.
Every one of Love’s three seasons homes in on a different stage of love and argues both for, and against, the pursuit of said love. When we first meet L.A.’s Mickey Dobbs, she is just beginning to refocus on her sobriety with drugs, alcohol, and sex and love. Her very core is chaos, and she knows she feeds on it. With any addiction, going “cold turkey” is commonly partnered with emotional outbursts of egregious proportions. Mickey does not escape these outbursts, and on multiple occasions, she provokes them. During this period of imbalance, she meets Gus: a good guy who is an alternative to the manic men that Mickey has dated in the past. And while Mickey is strangely drawn to Gus, she doesn’t allow herself to pursue him, and instead pawns him off on Bertie, (claiming they are the two nicest people she knows who should surely hit it off). Her sobriety plays a major role in her behavior. She remarks on several occasions that she doesn’t want to binge on Gus, and is trying to curb her desires instead of spending all of her time with him. Personally, in my own relationships, I never had the self-awareness of the dangers of binging on an individual. In the first season, Mickey attempts to master her id by strengthening her ego through AA and SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). This, however, is only the first step towards mastering her domain.
Upon Gus Cruikshank’s introduction we find that he too, is constantly dissatisfied with his lot in life. He is tricked into breaking up with his girlfriend because she claims to have cheated on him, (when in reality she hadn’t). He is ruthlessly belittled at work as a tutor for young actors and actresses on the fictitious show Wichita. His living situation at the Springwood apartments is a clear downgrade from where he thought he would be at this current stage in life. And to top it all off, he wasn’t able to choose the color he wanted for his living room area rug. He almost has no agency in his own life. The most fun he has is through his hobbies: writing fake theme-songs for movies that have none with his close group of friends, and his membership at The Magic Castle, a private magicians’ club in Hollywood. Gus clearly finds joy in manipulation and rewriting history as a means to assuage him of past missteps in his own life. When he first introduces Mickey to magic, he’s taken aback by her lack of enthusiasm. Mickey, albeit being a recovering drug abuser, is trying to move past those elements of manipulation, no matter how juvenile Gus’s hobbies are.
While Gus and Mickey are definitely trying to impress each other early in the first season, they manage to lay out a good deal of their cards at the very beginning of their friendship. By the end of season one, they have established that they want to pursue some form of relationship, (although more tentatively than most). Mickey finally confronts Gus about her addictions and habits, initially wanting to remain single for a year. At the beginning of season two, our main couple are already starting to project their baggage onto each other: instead of respecting Mickey’s boundaries, Gus acts on his addiction to Mickey, and strongly pursues her against better judgment. With every step forward they take, they take two steps back.
As is common with any toxic relationship, the longer they’re around each other without being truly honest with one another, the more transference begins to roar its angry, jealous head. Mickey’s ex-boyfriends have always either mentally abused while in their relationship and then turned a 180 afterwards, or vice versa. Mickey’s belief is that she’s going to be mistreated one way or another, and she subconsciously waits for the other shoe to drop with Gus. Meanwhile, Gus’ professional life becomes more erratic. He and Mickey have to spend a month apart while he tutors his main student, Arya, (precocious Iris Apatow), on location in Atlanta. Gus already lives in a world where his coworkers either use language to demean him to his face, or demean him behind his back, and the director on the Atlanta film is Korean and uses a translator to communicate with his crew. There are no subtitles for the director’s dialogue, which is mirrored by the lack of physical language that Mickey and Gus share. Gus is completely on his own during this month, which is highly representative of anyone’s psyche when it’s rewiring to a new relationship. When the mind begins to process a new person, it struggles between recognizing familiar patterns of human behavior and attempting to treat this new person as an individual.
The critical reception of Love has been, on the whole, extremely positive. It’s unfortunate, however, that the characters are usually lambasted for their faults. Either Gus is seen as the gentlemanly hero and Mickey the one who unrightfully damages him in her pursuit of sobriety, or Gus is seen as the villain who can’t learn to deal with his bottled up rage in a healthy manner, thereby inflicting his lifetime of damage upon Mickey. Both viewpoints are correct. Love is a show that doesn’t shy away from the deeper complexities of what it means to be an adult in the here and now. Neither character, no character for that matter, can be fit into just one box. Most sitcoms follow the mold of casting individuals into different character traits of one overarching character: this is the serious one, the funny one, the lothario, the spaz, etc. But each character in Love possesses all of these characteristics, and in some cases, true to real life, they juggle these different characteristics very poorly. I have personally been the Gus, the Mickey, the Bertie…the list goes on and on. So if the storylines in Love cause any discomfort, it’s because it’s acting as a mirror, making viewers face their own shortcomings head-on.
Love’s final season is the perfectly flawed capstone to our brief insight into Mickey and Gus’ relationship. We get the chance to see a lot of growth among all characters, but not necessarily resolution. This is exactly on par with Love’s commitment to reality. In life, we truly never see absolute resolution. Sometimes we act horribly, and never face any tangible repercussions, and sometimes our most noble acts go completely unappreciated. That’s just life. The important part is that Mickey and Gus make a commitment to each other: they accept that their relationship, any relationship, is a marriage of understanding reality and curbing expectations. I may have broken Mickey’s rule of not binging on Love, but ultimately, both characters realize that love is not something that can be monitored in doses or intake. You can only learn how to love a person once, and you learn it while it’s happening. Through Mickey’s sobriety and Gus’ acceptance of his own flaws, they come to understand themselves better, and in turn, each other. The typical rom-com formula results in the two main characters coming together in the finale, and their story closes. But Love’s entire premise is happiness doesn’t lead to an ending. Apatow and company have once again crafted a well-told story where the characters will continue to make decisions and age off-screen so long as I, or any fan, shall live. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend taking a shot at Love; it never hurts to laugh at yourself.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.