Assuming that The Amy x Ed relationship ended more because of actor Zach Woods becoming unavailable rather than running out of story, what sort of direction do you think that would have gone? Do you think Amy needed to have some sort of horrible break up (not necessarily romantic, leaving Selina in S4 could also count) to reconsider Dan?
I think the answer to this changes a lot depending on whether it’s pre or post-Sophie.
Because pre-Sophie, no, I don’t think a bad break-up was necessary. Amy had already warmed up to Dan a lot, and screwing him over in London had the (rather unexpected) benefit of making her feel that the scales between them had been balanced – she no longer felt at a conspicuous emotional disadvantage. Betraying Dan to Jonah, taking his job, while being his emotional support through a panic attack (and having him babble about how wonderful she was)…all of those things helped put them on equal footing.
And once Amy felt that that was the case, I think she was able to acknowledge (at least to herself), that she WAS attracted to Dan, that she did enjoy his company. And since Dan’s default setting around Amy is flirtatious banter, he probably helped her feel…more comfortable having those feelings.
Not entirely comfortable, mind you – she’s very clearly ‘once bitten, twice shy’ with him, and the way he messed with her mind in 4.04 really didn’t help – half the reason she’s so nervous with him in 5.02, and can’t summon up the courage to make an obvious move, is that she’s afraid his flirtation doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. The way Dan had treated her – both in the show and before – made her doubt her perception of his feelings. She’d been wrong before after all. (She almost gaslights herself into the belief that Dan isn’t attracted to her – and Dan does a lot to fuel that belief, though unintentionally, I think).
Still, if Dan HADN’T slept with Sophie, I think it’s reasonable to assume they would have found their way to each other eventually – if not in Nevada, than certainly in New Hampshire after getting Jonah elected. (A drunken celebration seems like the ideal situation for shenanigans to occur).
I also think that it would have been very difficult for the writers to create a situation where Amy found a break-up with Ed devastating. With how they’d written the character, it’s difficult to see Amy ever feeling that way – and Anna Chlumsky really doesn’t have sexual chemistry with Zach Woods (they are fun playing off each other in In The Loop, mind you, but utterly sexless).
I honestly think Amy had more chemistry with Buddy, for all that relationship went down the drain – their initial scenes, where Buddy is simultaneously shocked and charmed by her are genuinely kind of cute, and it’s nice to see a man react to Amy with genuine attraction (that isn’t Jonah-gross).
Bear in mind, the biggest inequity in Dan and Amy’s relationship is that he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that Amy is attracted to him. Amy’s never had that – even after years of the two of them dancing round each other, she still suffers from a very visible insecurity around him. (Which is why giving Dan so many lines in seasons 5&6 implying Amy is unattractive comes across as particularly cruel. If he’d had the same lines in season 1 or 2, I don’t think the audience would have cared – because back then, it was clear Amy didn’t). (This is also why I’m convinced that there was more than just sex in 6.09 – he had to have said SOMETHING, because there’s no way sex alone would make Amy so confident and at ease with him).
Post-Sophie, I think a catastrophic break-up probably was necessary for Amy to fall back into Dan’s arms – a catastrophic break-up combined with the apparent complete destruction of her career, because of Leon’s stories.
Because while she may not have expressed herself on the matter, I think it’s clear Amy was genuinely, deeply hurt by Dan sleeping with Sophie, and his behaviour in the aftermath was almost calculated to exacerbate that hurt in every way possible. If she was already uncertain of whether he was attracted to her, by the end of Thanksgiving, I think she was convinced he didn’t even vaguely care about her as a friend.
Now actually, Dan showing up and demanding her attention implies the exact opposite, but Amy wasn’t seeing it clearly – Anna Chlumsky described it as a “complete humiliation” and that is one of the more destructive human emotions. Particularly because Amy has no way to express how she’s feeling – she can’t yell at Sophie or Dan, because doing so would only confirm to Sophie that she’d succeeded in hurting her little sister, and Dan had already demonstrated that if she brought the subject up he was willing to use her feelings for him as a weapon against her – Amy embarrassed him in 5.03, so he hurt her emotionally.
As a result Amy has no option but to turn all those feelings inward, to swallow down all that rage and rejection – and then she met Buddy. And what I think is particularly important here is that Buddy SEEMED like the complete antithesis of Dan. He SEEMED kind and gentle and willing to be open about his attraction to Amy.
He seemed like a good man, in other words, and I think discovering he wasn’t was pretty disillusioning for Amy. It was the initial break-up with Dan all over again – she’d seen qualities in Buddy, fallen for him on that basis, and they turned out not to exist. Yet again, she’d been fooled in an intimate romantic relationship, only, unlike with Dan, the process by which she learned who Buddy really was played out in the most public, mortifying way possible.
The break-up with Buddy hit every long-standing insecurity button Amy has – the fear that she’s not desirable or womanly enough, that her drive and dedication to politics are repulsive qualities, and that she’s too stupid to see through men who are obviously uninterested in her as a person. I suspect Amy is too hard on herself, but it’s hardly surprising she spends most of season 6 in a kind of funk.
Now, I think it would be virtually impossible to create a similar break-up with Ed – Amy never seemed to care enough about him for a break-up to have that kind of devastating impact. But it’s important, I think, to bear in mind that it’s not the break-up with Buddy alone that puts her in the rather fatalistic state of mind that let her make the spur of the moment decision to sleep with Dan. (Spur of the moment on her side at least, Dan I’m not so sure about). It was the break-up PLUS her career being effectively trashed that did it.
Put it another way, absent an unequivocal gesture from Dan himself (which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, though it is unlikely), if Amy had got the job with Furlong, as his new Chief of Staff, in 6.07, do you think she’d have slept with him again?
I tend to doubt it.
Now, I also tend to doubt that Dan would have allowed their estrangement to persist long-term – we’re never told who got back in touch after Amy dumped Buddy (though we know they weren’t speaking before then), but the entire…pattern of their dynamic, all through the show, implies that it was Dan. Aside from 5.01-02, when Amy is at her most confident with him, she virtually never chases him or makes demands of him personally (professionally is another story), but he does with her.
So I’d say there’s even odds that Dan would have tried to worm his way back into her affections eventually. That’s kind of what he did in the show as is – it’s not a coincidence that when Amy is sad and beaten down and fatalistic, Dan is right there, encouraging her to stay for another drink and stay for another drink and who knows what else. While I’d prefer the show to steer AWAY from making Dan too overtly predatory (especially when it comes to Amy), he has a very good eye for weakness, and pretty limited scruples about using it. (I should be clear here – I really DON’T think Dan is capable of say sleeping with a woman who’s too intoxicated to say no, or anything like that – with the way he’s been set up in the show, I think it’s clear that whatever need for dominance over women he has, it’s expressed through making them desire him sexually, NOT sexual coercion. But he’s definitely capable of taking advantage of a moment when Amy’s emotional guard is down).
Which is a long-winded way of saying, that if the writers wanted to preserve the narrative tension in Dan and Amy’s storyline, by preventing Dan from making any overt declaration of his feelings, then yes, I think the catastrophic break-up was necessary, if Amy was ever going to come back to him.
And I don’t think it would have been possible to write that kind of break-up for Ed – in 2.10 people, including Amy, forget he’s even in the room. TWICE. That’s hard to recover from.