Younger: S4E11 “It’s Love, Actually”

Grade: B-

Note: This review talks about some of the big plot twists that previously happened in Younger. If you’re reading this to see if you want to watch the show, you may want to skip this recap.

Younger has always been a bit of a soap opera — I mean, it’s about a woman who pretends to be fifteen years younger than she really is — and never does that shine through more than in its penultimate episodes. S2E11 is when Thad died; S3E11 is when Josh saw Liza kissing Charles, and Kelsey started breaking up with Colin; and now we have S4E11, which tosses an even larger stick of dynamite into the plot. Of course, Younger also prides itself on its literariness, so let’s try to find a more literary way to say this. This episode was all about power: having it, wanting it, pursuing it, realizing it. Diana achieved the peak of her power, both in her relationship and her career. Kelsey and Zane reached for power, only to be knocked back. Liza realized she has less power over Charles than she wants to. And Josh and Clare accepted their powerlessness — which I’m guessing means they’ll be the only happy ones next episode.

That’s not to discount tonight’s tonal weirdness. Take the Josh and Clare bedroom scene. They had a beautiful discussion about success and how it, like New York, requires perserverance. It was the most interesting thing that’s ever happened in their relationship. Heck, it was practically the thesis statement for the episode. And then, Josh made this face:

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I’m concerned: is Nico Tortorella physically unable to cry without making a duckface? Or is this a searing commentary on the social-media-induced emotional shallowness of my generation? I mean, it’s definitely one of those two. I’m just not sure which.

But anyway, speaking of power and success, Diana Trout.

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(BTW, sorry for the weird letters and status bars in the screenshots — the episode hadn’t shown up on Amazon when I wrote this, so I had to use the TVLand player.)

Diana is winning an award for editing P is for Pigeon: The Sleeper Hit of the Year. That’s the subtitle now because I can only assume that, like Diana’s jewelry, P is for Pigeon is going to be the sleeper hit every year until it takes over the world and we all grovel at its feet. All of us, that is, except for Kelsey:

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Who has apparently been taking lessons in making this statement:

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Kelsey isn’t happy with the idea of Empirical swooping in and grabbing Marriage Vacation out of Millennial’s hands. I can see why. Her frustration with Charles and Diana mirrors my own frustration with Younger’s weird dismissiveness of millennial culture. (Where’s my cannabis coloring book, Liza??) On the other hand, why is Marriage Vacation a Millennial book? Most millennials haven’t even experienced marriage yet. The author and editor are both Gen X’ers, and judging by what we’ve seen of the book, that’s also the target audience. The obvious thematic argument, as conveyed through Charles’s head voices, is that it’s about undergoing a millennial experience to better understand oneself. But no one’s presented that argument in-universe. So…why?

Unfortunately, it seems that tonight’s answer involves Zane. Ugh, Zane. Charles Michael Davis is super hot, but Zane is a creepy asshole with no boundaries, and he’s a large part of the tonal problems tonight. It seems Kelsey’s annoyance is there to justify why she would even entertain the idea of talking to him again. Turns out Zane has the perfect pitch for her state of mind: leveraging Edward L.L. Moore’s contract to start their own company, where they call the shots…between licks.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, after all, and no one in this show knows that better than Liza. Even as she draws closer to Jay — and, I’m gonna be honest, I have never rooted for Aasif Mandvi more than I did this episode — she, and we, are conscious of Pauline drawing closer to Charles. As the CEO of Empirical, Charles has always been Younger’s ultimate symbol of power. But now that symbolic nature has taken on a new dimension. He’s the stable, intellectual, upper-middle-class life that both Liza and Pauline want as the finale to their journeys of self-empowerment. But (unless this show takes a very different turn) only one of them can have him, and right now, that looks like Pauline.

The most obvious intersection of power and relationships this episode is Diana’s plotline. Richard and his son have been making her feel increasingly powerless over the season, and tonight she showed them who’s boss. In a great move, Younger actually made her styling the centerpiece of her arc. First there was that “She’s the Boss” jacket. Then, while talking to Richard, she wore only her clothes: for Diana, that’s the height of nakedness and vulnerability. But after breaking up with him, this happened:

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BOOM. Power restored.

I have to admit, though — I liked Richard. I liked the way he pushed Diana out of her comfort zone and caught her when she needed it. I liked that she was happy enough with him that she could focus on her work without constantly thinking about Charles. And I’m a little confused about why she broke up with him so suddenly. The conversation with his ex made it seem like his past was full of shadiness. But when Diana confronted him, she only mentioned that he’d lied about the circumstances of Fleshlight kid’s arrival. Which…so? Why not just sit down and have a conversation about his inability to clearly express his wishes? I’m guessing the answer is because the ex told her it wouldn’t help, but I wish this episode had actually shown us that instead of forcing us to infer it.

Back to Kelsey, who continued to be Diana’s story parallel:

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Like Diana, Kelsey pulled a power move by completely shutting down Zane and his startup publisher idea. Unfortunately, it turned out Zane had some power moves of his own…like getting a new position at Empirical. I noticed his title at Empirical is Executive Editor — does that mean he’s Kelsey’s boss? Either way, I hope he doesn’t last there for more than another episode.

Finally, there were the two plots of powerlessness this episode: Josh/Clare, and Liza. There’s not much to say about Josh’s move to Ireland that Lauren hasn’t already said. But the Liza/Jay/Charles plot hit harder than I thought it would. I was a little annoyed at how upset Liza was about Charles — I mean, she just broke up with him — but Jay seemed really, genuinely devastated upon learning about Liza’s feelings, and that somehow sold the entire thing for me. Poor Jay really was just a good guy trying to do the right thing and find happiness where he could. Although, I do kind of hope he’s not such a good guy that he’s above telling Charles about her age. Because, good Lord, if this isn’t leading up to her telling Charles the truth, then where is it going?

Pandering to the demo: Holy crap, Katie Lee is a real person! She was so beautiful that I completely assumed she was a fictional representation of someone like the Barefoot Contessa, because no “real” person could be that unearthly gorgeous.

Stray observations:
– How are Diana’s ears still attached to her head?
– Similarly, how did Kelsey’s boobs not fall out of that dress?
– “He is a viable, legitimate prospect.” “You make him sound like renters’ insurance.”
– I loved Zane’s avatar on Kelsey’s phone. That’s exactly the kind of picture a guy like Zane would use.
– “And what I regret most was not trusting him enough to show him who I really was. I had to put on a facade to survive.” Gee, I wonder if this applies to any non-Pauline character in this show.
– “Quick, take these before he gets here. They’re Grandma’s secret recipe.” “That’s just straight whiskey.” “That’s the secret!”
– “You poor beautiful idiot.” Missed opportunity to say “You sweet summer child.”
– “Stoop, please.”
– “Uh oh. You know that Brooks Brothers mannequin that runs your company? He’s coming this way.”
– So, I haven’t seen the preview for next episode, but if Zane is at Empirical, does that mean we’re going to see Edward L.L. Moore again? And does that mean…PRINCESS PAM-PAM??