TRIGGER WARNING: This episode contains bedbugs.
But, actually: When I saw the title of this week’s episode, I had a hard time bringing myself to watch it. Nearly every New Yorker I know has a harrowing bedbug story — an infestation, or perhaps just a terrifying false alarm — but it’s risky to even bring up the topic in NYC circles if you don’t want people avoiding you like the plague.
(My story: I found a single bedbug in my apartment in Harlem in 2014. I’d only been living there for six weeks, but I was so scarred that I packed up all my things and moved back to my parents’ place. It turned out the bug was a lone soldier — the exterminator never found any others — but that one was enough to make me wash every article of clothing I owned in scalding hot water, check the pages of every one of my books, and never return to that apartment again.)
So, even though the show has tackled racism, sexism, gun control, and abortion this season, this might be their riskiest topic yet.
As the episode opens, we learn that Abbi is still unemployed and has taken to cashing in empty soda bottles. She also tries to return expired Dunkaroos to her bodega, but the teenage girl working at the counter explains, “All Dunkaroos you see are from the ‘90s. They’re literally from before I was born.” The girl agrees to let Abbi return them if she can remember her name; Abbi, of course, cannot, even though the girl remembers Abbi’s. It’s not incidental that this girl is brown and wearing a hijab; the show is drawing our attention to Abbi’s not-so-generous treatment of the people who serve as a sort of backdrop to her life in New York.
Ilana, on the other hand, is flush from her job as a server at Sushi Mambeaux. It’s Christmastime, and she’s going on a gift-giving tour: giving Lincoln a puppy, Eliot an iPad, and Abbi a purse that cost $1300. Although Abbi tells Ilana she should bring the purse back, Ilana insists Abbi keep it.
Ilana returns to the apartment to deliver Jaimé his new bike and the episode quickly turns into a scene from a horror movie: The camera zooms in on loose clothing strewn haphazardly on the floor. Ilana drops her keys, terror on her face as she desperately searches for Jaimé, the sound of a heartbeat pounding. Jaimé is showering, all of his clothing on, mascara running down his face.
“We have bedbugs!” he cries, falling into sobs in the bathtub.
Violins rising to a fever pitch, Ilana runs to her bedroom and throws the sheets off her bed to find an infestation on her mattress. She drops to her knees and screams. This, it turns out, is the sunken place.
She and Jaimé, scratching furiously, try to figure out whom they got the bedbugs from. Jaimé insists it can’t be him because he hasn’t slept with anyone for two months. Ilana refuses to believe it could be Abbi or Lincoln. They get an exterminator to come and inspect (Lea DeLaria), who discovers the source: Ilana’s cash that she keeps under her mattress. The exterminator tells them that they literally have to burn the money (“When it comes to bedbugs, it’s illegal not to burn infested cash.”)
“Why couldn’t we have just gotten herpes?” Ilana cries. “Then we could have kept all our stuff and I would’ve learned how to use concealer.”
Abbi, meanwhile, is strolling the city, her day turned around because of her new purse. She looks and feels like a million bucks. Feeling confident, she walks into the Anthropolgie in Rockefeller Center and asks to talk to the manager. Lisa (Cynthia Orivo, a delightful guest spot for this Broadway nerd) interviews Abbi, who is more confident than we’ve seen her in a long time, thanks to the new bag. Lisa tells Abbi she has the job.
Ilana calls Marcel (RuPaul) about the bedbugs. But Marcel already knows: It turns out their coworker, Brenda, was running a prostitution ring out of Sushi Mambeaux and now the restaurant is closed for fumigation indefinitely, which means that Ilana is out of a job. So now Abbi has a job, and Ilana doesn’t. How quickly the tides turn.
Back in Brooklyn, Abbi notices that she’s being followed by a creepy man (Steve Buscemi, obv). He pulls a gun on her, assuming she’s rich because of her purse, and walks her to the nearest ATM, which happens to be in the bodega where Abbi tried to return Dunkaroos earlier. The same girl is working and seems totally unmoved by Abbi’s pleas for help. Abbi opens her bank account for the mugger; she pulls up her balance, and Buscemi pulls out his reading glasses to take a closer look. Even he is in shock of how little’s in there. She takes out all $374 in her name and gives it to him, who turns around to find a rifle pointed in his face.
“Get out of my bodega, motherfucker,” the girl says. (“Maybe you could have gotten my money and the bag,” Abbi says to her afterwards, to which the girl responds, “Maybe you could have remembered by name.”)
Afterwards, Abbi sits behind the counter with her (her name’s Masooma, for the record) and they eat candy together. Masooma tells Abbi that she and her family take their responsibilities as business owners very seriously and know their Second Amendment rights. Masooma also says that she can’t wait until she can vote and be more active in the political conversation; this first-generation American clearly knows much more about the laws of this country than Abbi does.
Ilana calls Eliot, then her mom, then Lincoln, all of them completely refusing to let Ilana with her bedbugs into their homes. But then she shows up to the bodega (Masooma texted her) and asks Abbi if she can come to her place. Abbi accepts Ilana into her house with open arms — though she has to cover herself in garbage bags from head-to-toe, plus ski goggles.
In the last scene, Abbi goes to her new job at Anthropologie, dressed in a long mustard sweater, a skirt, and booties. But Lisa walks her all the way downstairs and to the security office, handing Abbi a black blazer to wear over that cute outfit. Turns out she’s been put on security detail. Poor Abbi can’t catch a break.
This was another great, only in New York episode, with a good smattering of political overtones about race, class, and gun control. The character arc of Masooma is particularly strong, and the image of Masooma and Abbi eating sour straws together — after Masooma literally saves Abbi’s life — is a sweet one.
Once again, the episode is also a testament of the strength of Abbi and Ilana’s relationship. After all, only the very best friend would allow their other, recently bedbug-invested friend into her home.