Michelle takes a look at the evolution of Mickey and Gus’ relationship, addiction, and the excellent soundtrack of season 2 of Netflix’s Love.

The second season of Love is spectacular in its honest portrayal of the messiness of life and love. It picks up exactly where the first season ended and in doing so, sets up the following scenes with a strong start. We see what happens after Mickey confronts Gus and confesses her addictions and issues to him in the gas station parking lot, and what kickstarts a commitment in improving and slow pacing. We start to take the strong second half of the first season and build on its momentum to generate a solid first half of the second season. Watching Mickey and Gus navigate through their feelings, insecurities, reservations, etc. translates as the series having a better grasp on the development of any form of a relationship, especially the kind of relationship that develops after you’ve spent some time together. There’s curiosity, caution, observation, adoration, inquiries, slow reveals and up front disclosures, and more. In their attempt at taking it slow and approaching things as “friends”, Mickey and Gus ultimately find themselves in the trap of actually growing closer and liking one another.

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The second season focuses a lot on Mickey’s steps to recovery and sobriety, rather than watching her grapple with her addictions and avoiding responsibility for her actions as we saw in the first season. For the first time, we see that Mickey is taking an initiative and sticking to it, and we can’t help but imagine that Gus provides some influence in those decisions. Of course, Gus becomes a bit of a support system for Mickey in the only way he thinks he knows how- being the “nice” guy. However, this is what creates the biggest test and divide for the pair. No longer is it about just finding interest in one another and hanging out to continue their exploration in knowing each other better, but instead there is now a third party involved in the mix: addiction.

A major cause for the tension that forms over the duration of the season comes from Mickey’s resistance to Gus’ sometimes problematic “savior complex.” In episode 4, titled “Shrooms”, we see a prime example of this developing when Gus “rescues” Mickey from a potential relapse when she considers taking the remaining batch of the shrooms she distributed among Gus, Bertie, and Randy. A gesture that is admirable and initially well-received, it was not warranted from Mickey. It’s the first inclination that this might become routine and substantially problematic. This is also the first time Mickey and Gus make sense as a pairing and can exist as a couple. During “Shrooms” the narrative allows for a “role-reversal” of sorts by allowing Mickey and Gus to exchange qualities, step into the shoes of one another, and expose themselves in a new light.

Their dynamic is also exemplified in the episode that follows titled “A Day” where the evidence suggests comfortability and openness for the first time in their young relationship. Gus waits for Mickey while she attends a meeting, and when she gets in the car she proposes they hangout for the day which leads to a date-like adventure. As the season progresses, Mickey and Gus face trials of conflict, insults, resentment, surfaced insecurities, and a “forced hiatus” when Gus goes to Atlanta for work. This month-long period of separation does more than just create physical distance between the two, but also creates a tension block that pushes them away from one another. It’s interesting that the time away is roughly the amount of time they have known each other, because it’s easy to forget that Love exists within a short timeframe. Realizing there are more problems and unacknowledged resistance between the two leads Gus and Mickey into a realization that they have to figure themselves out first. When Gus returns from Atlanta in episode 12, he opens up to Mickey about attending AA meetings. Attending those meetings assisted Gus in grasping his own problems, especially his issues with co-dependency and the desire to focus on Mickey’s problems over his own.

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We’re able to see the formation of complexity between Mickey and Gus through the push-pull dynamic they’ve created since the first season.This is also established through the brief dive into their personal lives, family stories, past relationships, etc. that are revealed throughout the season. There is a significance in body language that helps move this narrative along, especially in the looks delivered by Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs. Varying glares of hesitation, uncertainty, disgust, agitation, adoration, comfort, and genuine happiness tell their own stories as somewhat subnarratives to the main story. Gillian Jacobs especially uses her ability to manifest Mickey’s emotions and insecurities into expressions which has allowed for her character to not always be explicit in discussing those things. Jacobs has almost perfected the subtleties of Mickey’s looks, and allows the audience to see a bit of Mickey that cannot be revealed on paper through dialogue or character description. It is in these looks and expressions that humanize Mickey, and bring a realistic imagery to her fictional existence. In her loving glances at Gus, we understand that Mickey is invested and unlike what we witnessed in the first season, she is becoming more comfortable in receiving and giving affection. The first season illustrated Gus as the more affectionate, adoring component in the duo, but naturally with falling for someone, a balance forms.

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Returning to the realistic nature of the second season, Mickey and Gus move from being composites of people we all know to actually taking a resemblance to those people. Personally speaking, this season resonated with me more than I expected it to. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts referencing Love, I’ve always identified with Gus. From his pop culture references to his insecurities, he’s always reminded me a bit of myself. But it was in this season that I saw an almost mirror-like reflection of myself and my experiences that made viewing much more intimate and powerful.

Gus’ position in the narrative of season two, especially with Mickey’s recovery, felt relative and personal to my own experiences within this situation. My own experience with fitting into the life of a recovering addict and trying to understand what that meant, what I should and could do to help, and how to be the “best” person to them played out in front of me with every scene involving Gus. A major factor in how Gus behaves, reacts, and responds to things is insecurity, and I registered that clearly. His “savior complex” and desire to please people comes from a place rooted in the invalidating feelings of never being enough. A glimpse of maybe where this come from is heard when Gus is telling Mickey about his family dynamics. He is one of four, sitting somewhere in the middle of the perfect child and the rebellious one who got away with everything. Feeling insignificant might be aligned with feeling like he wasn’t ever seen. Of course the added touches of being a Midwestern, Catholic doesn’t help in detaching himself from those insecurities and perpetual guilt, but there is deeply rooted fear that he can never be what Mickey would ever want or need. This forces him into a spiral of co-dependency and “doing what is right.”

During “The Work Party,” Gus is vulnerable in an unfamiliar place and lets Dr. Greg (Brett Gelman) get inside of his head by hitting those insecurity buttons. Dr. Greg “disproves” the current evidence that Mickey is into Gus and convinces Gus that she’s bound to toss him for someone else, because that’s her style. Outside influences like this work on Gus because they exploit his “good guy” demeanor and tickle the crippling insecurities he harbors within him, much like drugs and alcohol do to Mickey. These things find exploitation of their weak points and intoxicate them with an overwhelming feeling of either euphoria or negativity, fear, resentment, and self-doubt. Gus falls back on being a nice guy who just simply cares for Mickey in the heat of their arguments, but this is the most problematic point he could make. By labeling himself as “good” and using it as a badge of honor, he’s slapping a ton of unnecessary pressure and blame onto Mickey by unintentionally comparing the two of them. “I’m good, you’re bad. I care, you don’t. I’m fine, you’re not.” Gus doesn’t realize this is the case until he attends an AA meeting. At this meeting, which is paired with a montage of Mickey engaging with an ex, Gus is able to recognize and accept the toxicity he has brewed between Mickey and himself and the change of pace required to have any form of success.

Watching their fights, seeing Gus and Mickey’s individual responses and managing the stress of these issues, the tension visibly on camera, etc. was not only bizarre to witness due to it’s relationship to my own experience but it also served as a therapeutic lesson I wasn’t aware I needed. Examining Gus and baring witness to what he was going through as a part of the equation, helped put into perspective why things happened the way they did in my own life. Taking a seat on the sideline and understanding that stepping aside was something I should have always done, just like Gus realizes when he comes to terms with the importance of Mickey pulling away. Mickey’s success within her groups and her increased involvement at meetings are key for her, but without the knowledge of these things, Gus sees it as a personal deficit and attack. It helped establish a connection with who I was during these moments and helped define the experience in terms I wasn’t able to acknowledge with my “Mickey.” There’s an accuracy in this portrayal of addiction and relating to someone in recovery that feels very significant for a show that finds it’s pulse on the line between comedy and drama.

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There are plenty of other great things that come out of this well-developed season of Love. Bertie (Claudia O’ Doherty) receives some deserved attention and character development, and as always, she’s an incredible asset to the series. Other supporting characters receive similar treatment and we get a glimpse inside their lives outside of their relationships to Mickey and Gus. Gus’ boss Susan, Witchita star Arya, Mickey’s coworker Truman, Gus’ friend and Bertie’s love interest Randy, and more are all exposed more to help provide some reflective and comparative insight to the “mess” of our stars Mickey and Gus. Another fantastic element of this season is the soundtrack. The first season had a great list of music featured throughout the show, but the curation of tracks used in this season feel intentional and no longer like placement music for a scene. From Flume’s “Holdin’ On” used during “Shrooms” to the beautiful (and personal favorite), acoustic version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Hysteric” that plays over a montage of Mickey and Gus walking in “A Day,” the songs help drive the narrative and stir up more details to the surface of the scene. The soundtrack also feels more eclectic this season than it did in the first, and puts light on the stark differences between Mickey and Gus. Featuring Kurt Vile, Fleetwood Mac, Weezer, Icona Pop, and more, you can find the complete soundtrack here.

Overall, this season was an awesome sophomore success that takes realistic tendencies, characteristics, conflicts, and more and puts them into the fictional tale of Mickey and Gus allowing the audience to connect with these characters. I’m excited to see what season 3 will bring us, and I can only hope that as it is in production now that we will continue to see the show grow to impress us with every new season.

Every episode of Love is streaming now on Netflix.