Season grade: B+
Last week on my reviews of Younger, I wrote: “This episode was all about power: having it, wanting it, pursuing it, realizing it.” What I didn’t write, because it seemed obvious, was that it was primarily a table-setting episode for the finale. This week is the payoff, and boy, was it worth the wait. It went a long way towards resolving both the plot and the thematic elements left over from last week, and the season as a whole.
The association of power with comeuppance runs deep in Western culture. It particularly runs deep in Western literary culture, the genre that Younger loves to emulate. That’s why the Hindu concept of karma is one of the few non-Abrahamic religious ideas that everyone in the West is familiar with. It helps us express morality without the misogyny and racism that word can evoke. So, in accordance with last week’s theme of power, this week’s episode focuses on karma.
One expression of karma involves bad actions that inevitably push the actor farther away from their goal. That’s an apt description of how Zane’s career is beginning to suffer from his toxic masculinity. He harasses Kelsey around the office, even interrupting her in the middle of opening a meeting about Marriage Vacation. After taking credit for Kelsey’s Good Morning America contact, he tries to push Charles into publicly reconciling with Pauline, ignoring Charles’s repeated protestations. Zane’s emotional motivation here is subtle but perfect: he genuinely doesn’t understand Marriage Vacation. He’s so steeped in toxic masculinity that he believes it’s about “two people finding their way back to each other.” Of course he does — he’s demonstrated all season that he defines women purely through their romantic potential. He harasses Kelsey not because he likes her, but because he likes pretending to be Mr. Darcy while forcing her into being Elizabeth Bennett. You get the sense that, for him, reading involves the mental subtraction of all female points of view. So all he sees in Marriage Vacation is a wayward wife who’s running back to her husband. I don’t even like Pauline — Marriage Vacation has consistently felt like a parody of shallowly “prestige” memoirs — but this was such an insulting misinterpretation of her work that I’m now completely on her side.
Having firmly established Zane’s terribleness, the episode moves on to his karma. As Charles comes off the GMA set, furious, Zane deploys a carefully calculated strategy: blame every woman within spitting distance. But Kelsey isn’t having any of it. She immediately and convincingly shuts him down, not just when he tries to pressure her into answering for Cece’s actions, but when he tries to present himself as a benevolent male savior. Kelsey, a young editor with a marketing sop of an imprint, has had two NYT bestsellers in the last year alone; Zane’s assumption that she’ll welcome his meddling that is rightly called out as the height of arrogance. As Kelsey puts it, “I turned an advice book from a dog into a million-dollar franchise. I don’t need your help.” Kelsey’s delivery of this line is part of her ongoing good karma this season. She’s such a supportive and giving person that Zane’s failures make her achievements, and her righteousness, feel all the more earned. Hopefully Younger will run with this dynamic, maybe with a Zane redemption arc, rather than resetting them next season.
As much fun as the Zane smackdown is, though, it’s only the B-plot. Josh and Liza’s A-plot is even better and more nuanced. Thanks to her protagonist plot armor, Liza has gotten away with a lot on Younger. Her lie was initially presented as a simple if unorthodox way to get her foot in the door of a job she needed. But over the past four seasons, she’s dragged Maggie, Josh, Kelsey, Thad, Entertainment Weekly, Jay, an unwitting Charles, and her own daughter into it. (That’s not even counting the numerous side characters who could expose her at any time.) Sutton Foster continues to be a national treasure, but Liza’s overdue for some bad karma.
Fittingly for this episode, that comes in the form of Josh’s good karma. It wasn’t much of a surprise when Josh and Clare went through with the wedding, which was foreshadowed by Josh’s acceptance of his powerlessness last week. What was a surprise — an extremely pleasant one — was the way in which Younger grounded it as unexpected character development. Josh is Younger‘s most obvious symbol of youth, which shines through in his sweet optimism and ever-present naivete. But his association with Liza has gotten him nothing but a broken heart and the burden of keeping a huge secret. Ever since Liza came out to him in season 1, he’s been trying to reconcile his feelings for her with his disgust at her pretensions. But he can’t. The only thing he can do to move forward is completely distance himself from her. That he finally understands this is probably Younger‘s biggest character shift to date; when he voices it to Liza, and she watches him marry another woman just to get away from her, it’s the most quietly devastating moment all series. It’s impossible to deny that both Josh and Liza deserve everything they get this episode.
Another reason this works is because, initially, the episode leads us to believe Liza’s bad karma is going to come in Clare form. It would have been easy to retread the Liza/Josh story by having Clare be similarly sociopathic, requiring Liza to save Josh while letting him fall right back into his unreconciled feelings. In fact, thanks to Clare’s jealous friend and Josh’s drunkenness, it almost looks like the episode will head that way. The fact that it goes so far down that road, only to completely pull back, is a large part of why Josh’s rejection of Liza carries so much weight.
There’s another nice karma parallel between Zane and Josh, who both spend this episode asking women to cover for them. Zane does so implicitly by blaming Kelsey to Charles, while Josh gets Clare to do his dirty work. But Zane’s request comes from a place of selfishness, while Josh’s comes from a genuine desire to experience love and self-improvement. It’s not hard to see why Josh’s situation works out while Zane’s doesn’t.
Then there’s Maggie and Diana. Their scenes were so brief that I was tempted to leave them out, but I can’t bear to when Younger isn’t going to be back for another year. That scene with Maggie and Clare’s mom…it would be silly to quote it in full, so suffice it to say, it’s made my entire week. Maggie most definitely deserves to meet someone like Maureen. Her parallel this week is Diana, who’s made huge strides since season 1. As usual, it’s easiest to discuss it via her jewelry.
I may be overthinking this, but Diana’s necklace seems symbolic. It would have been easy to write this plot as Diana throwing herself at men out of heartbreak and depression, which would have been reflected in understated or obviously halved jewelry. Instead, she’s exploring her options from a place of strength, with the good karma brought on by her continuing self-improvement. Yes, there are two pieces to that necklace — she is still newly separated — but neither piece is incomplete. The necklace as a whole may seem strange at first glance, but it’s perfect just the way it is. Just like Diana!
So that’s it for this season. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get any Edward L.L. Moore and that it took so long to start handling Zane properly. On the other hand, there was Gift of the Maggie, Aasif Mandvi, hygge, coloring books, and Diana. It wasn’t perfect, but it was still one of the best seasons Younger‘s ever had. I’m going to be counting down the days until next season.
Pandering to the demo: Every time they cut to Ireland, it was the most Irish thing that’s ever happened. The fields of sheep with the fiddle music! The Irish dancing! The drunk guy threatening Josh! (“If you hurt her, I’ll kill you” is one of TV’s most beloved cliches, and yet this scene, in all its drunken Irishman glory, is the first time I’ve ever believed it.) The pubs! The peat bog! The Catholicism! Clare’s flower crown! The only way this could have ticked more Irish boxes is if it was in Gaelic.
– Seeing all the sheep today reminded me of the Matthew Morrison episode where he turned out to be a sheep-fucker. So I have to ask: On Younger, do sheep equal deception? What’s with this anti-sheep bias?
– Diana: “Men are nothing but a distraction.” Enter Zane.
– Liza: “Wouldn’t it be easier to be honest with her? ….I’ll shut up.”
– “Richard and I have basically parted ways. We’re like ships in the night.” This line isn’t even good, but Miriam Shor is so unstoppable that it doesn’t matter.
– “I could have been a bog body!”
– “Technically this is fiction, but how about we call it faction?”
– “They do have lesbians here in Ireland, right?” “We call them nuns.”
– “Isn’t the whole point of dancing to shake your dirty pillows?”
– “It’s a no-phone ceremony.” Wait, what? What’s the point of having a sham marriage if it’s not going to be heavily documented?