The Spool / TV
Younger Recap: No One Wins With “Stiff Competition”
It's Charles vs Liza as the rivalry between upstart publishers turns anything but fun.
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It’s Charles vs Liza as the rivalry between upstart publishers turns anything but fun.

It’s been a long time coming, but the battle between Millennial and Mercury has finally found its way into the heart of Charles (Peter Hermann) and Liza (Sutton Foster)’s relationship. For weeks now, the conflict has been presented as professional, rather than personal; while Kelsey (Hilary Duff) loses her hair and winds up as a disembodied head on the Highbrow/Lowbrow cultural meter, Liza has mostly coasted along as a mere bystander.

“Stiff Competition” takes the opposite approach by focusing on Liza as a businesswoman first and a romantic partner second. The result? A fundamental shift in how Liza and Charles view the impact of their competition. Let’s just say that the gap between their understanding is vast.

Early in the episode, Millennial and Mercury each try to woo a bickering married HGTV couple who are pitching their DIY/relationship book called “The Third Leg.” Not only does the title pay off later in the form of an innuendo-laden dismissal from Liza to Charles, but it also provides the episode a framework to highlight the growing rift between the lovers. The term is simple in its application: couples must have a third interest in common, more than just romance, in order to keep the relationship alive.

When Charles unceremoniously gloats at dinner after Mercury snags the book, it comes out that he used his and Liza’s shared love of publishing as their third leg. At the time, Liza is upset but relents because the reality – that they both love publishing – is, in fact, true. At episode’s end, however, when Liza challenges him to acknowledge what the competition between the two companies is doing, he plays naive by suggesting that, because of his residual ties to Millennial, regardless of who lands future book deals, “It’s still all me.”

Oof. There it is.

Let’s just say that the gap between their understanding is vast.

With a single line, Charles reveals a perspective that could doom his whole relationship with Liza. While he may believe that the competition simply resides in a place of whispers and butt slaps that act as foreplay, with this line of dialogue, he foolishly reveals that he is either unaware of what’s at stake for everyone else…or that he simply doesn’t care. Throughout “Stiff Competition”, Charles’ repeated refrain is about how concerned he is for his own well being because he’s worried about what will happen when his finances are exhausted. It’s a realistic concern, but it’s also only about him.

As silly as it is, the brief subplot about Kelsey and Diana (Miriam Shor) winding up in jail is positioned as a direct result of Charles’ activities. He’s certainly not responsible for making them pee in the street or accidentally threaten a police officer with an axe, but these activities occur as a result of Kelsey and Diana’s simmering resentment about their recent setbacks (which have more to do with Charles’ ability to throw around vast sums of money than anything else).

Younger has slowly but surely been building a case this season about how destructive Charles and Zane’s actions have been to the women of Millennial and how the pair, who are happy to bed these women at every opportunity, repeatedly fail to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the fallout from their lies and deception.

Younger "Stiff Competition"

But Liza does. When she reminds Charles at “Stiff Competition”‘s end that there’s no room for “us” in his equation, it is clear that she both sees and understands how singularly narcissistic and self-obsessed he is (and how clearly he misunderstands the “third leg” of their relationship). The fact that she walks away from him may just be a predictor of things to come.

Random Thoughts:

  • The fact that it took nearly 10 minutes into “Stiff Competition” for Liza to make the stiff/Third Leg sex joke feels like the Younger writers are really maturing into their craft. Lol.
  • Having recently gone axe throwing, I can unequivocally state that there is no way that Kelsey or Diana would be allowed to throw axes in this fashion without a stern lesson about safety. Kelsey’s form, in particular, is really dangerous.
  • No Clare this week (thank god!). Instead, the running B-plot is how Lauren (Molly Bernard) is using Gemma, Josh (Nico Tortorella)’s baby, as an Instagram baby influencer. This is obviously a trifle of a storyline, though it is certainly amusing how quickly Josh’s faux outrage lasts – approximately one hot second – before he succumbs to the perks of free swag that come with selling your baby to capitalism.
  • I hate to be that guy, but someone has to say it: that baby is definitely not cute enough to have 5K followers. My takeaway is that Lauren must actually be damn good at her job if she can turn a generic tyke into that kind of social media mogul.
  • Maggie (Debi Mazar) appears for a brief, single scene and I will not stand for this lesbian erasure.
  • Finally, Diana’s line to Enzo (Chris Tardio) about her statement necklaces “finding her” gave me life. The character’s neck accouterments have arguably been one of the shows’ most consistent visual signatures over its six-year run and are arguably Younger‘s most significant callback to series creator Darren Star’s Sex And The City. In all seriousness, though, the idea of a necklace “finding” Diana is both hilarious and totally on point.