Spoilers for the Season Four finale of Younger below:
For four seasons, Younger has long been a sexy, quick, summer hit. It runs during the warmest months of the year, and is then stored away at the end of the season along with your shorts and sandals. The show’s billed as a “guilty pleasure,” one you’re surprised to find other people are watching and don’t often discuss during dinner with friends. However, in its latest season, Younger got serious. Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) has spent four seasons unveiling her big lie: She’s not the 26-year-old she purports to be, but a 40-year-old recently divorced mother who shaved years off her age so she could get a job in publishing. Her carefully constructed deception is the glue that holds the entire show together, but personal loss was the season’s guiding theme—one that pushed Younger from a sleeper summer hit to serious must-watch television.
Youth doesn’t grant us hindsight. Those of us in our 20s might believe that we’re wise, but there’s certain wisdom that’s only born through hurt, grief, love, and—as each character discovered this season—loss. In season three, Josh (Nico Tortorella) planned to propose to Liza, but lost her after witnessing her kissing her boss, Charles Brooks (Peter Hermann). By this season, Josh and Liza have settled into an amicable, if awkward, friendship, but the memory of their relationship taints the season. Their passion anchored the show, even after Josh discovered Liza’s secret. Watching them navigate new relationships gives Younger a sense of maturity by revealing how those formative relationships of our 20s teach us valuable lessons before turning to ash. Through his relationship with Liza, Josh learns the importance of honesty.
When he meets and falls for Clare (Phoebe Dynevor), a bartender that Liza introduces him to, Josh realizes that two consecutive losses may permanently wreck him. He decides to follow Clare to see if their relationship has a future. Traveling across oceans for love is impulsive and unwise, as Liza points out to him, but it’s a decision rooted in the pain of loss. That’s a sentiment Charles learned through loss this season as well. Charles’s estranged wife, Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt), sells Marriage Vacation, a book about abandoning her family so she can find her way back to herself, to Millennial. Since Liza is editing the book—and becoming close to Pauline, she puts increasing distance between herself and Charles. She loses him, and he loses an opportunity to move forward without his wife.
Marriage is difficult, and leaving a marriage is even harder. Younger has demonstrated the way that youth is coveted in the publishing industry—and in life in general—so delving into the demise of a marriage is one of the most mature plotlines the show has ever fleshed out. Though Pauline has already lost Charles because he’s in love with Liza, she spends the season attempting to persuade him to reconcile. Divorce isn’t Younger’s terrain: The show devotes time to the dissolution of Charles and Pauline’s marriage for the same reason they separated Josh and Liza—to show how growth must be predicated on the loss of something. And Liza’s supervisor, Diana Trout (Miriam Shor), loses her boyfriend Richard (Mather Zickel) after discovering that he manipulated her into allowing his son to live with them. Through their breakup, Diana discovers that being alone is better than being used.
There’s much to be learned from loss.
By choosing to anchor the season to the concept of loss, Younger found its stride and encouraged us all to brace for impact. We will, at some point, lose something or someone, and we won’t have control over how that changes us. For now, Younger’s just one model for how to move forward in the face of loss. I’ll take it.