Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 3: "American Bitch" - Is that why the Internet is so cool?

Fever delirium retreating at last. One night this week, all night, no matter how many times I woke up panicking, I dreamt I was a thing being baked on an episode of The Great British Baking Show and I was coming apart as they frantically tried to get me from the pan to the tray. I'm just about recovered from the illness but not really from that.

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Four, "American Bitch"

I'm not fascinated by the male author character in this episode so much that it is difficult for me to even discern why this episode-long encounter with him is important for Hannah. It is important for her, I can see that objectively, it's just his comprehensive odiousness.

He's the nadir of the role Ray has mostly played on Girls. I didn't like Ray at all to begin with, and I can't shake a lot of that initial dislike, even though I do admire very much the way the writers have demonstrated Ray's growth. Ray went from a rampaging douchebag whose mission was to be in everyone's face, teaching women lessons about how to behave (it occurred to me since the other week that Jessa, having told Shoshanna that Marnie is cheating on Ray with Desi, Ray is in shape to recognize Marnie is the same person who recoiled and toyed with his former best friend Charlie). He fell in love with Shoshanna, who's a decade or so younger than him, she taught him all sorts of things about self-betterment and, rightly, got frustrated with him and left him when he couldn't be what she needed in a partner, and he has taken her lessons to heart while becoming a person he likes better, and her admiration for him as grown as well. As of last season, he had come around to the fact that he doesn't know anything and can't teach anyone anything, he can only support them in finding what's right for them, a revelation that makes Hannah freak out savagely because she has always taken his teachings to heart. Hannah did not, until very recently ever at all, listen to herself. She lived and died by the directions others gave her regarding most things (except clothes). Ray has been a means to demonstrate how much Hannah takes to heart someone telling her her instincts are wrong. Consider the first season when Hannah did a reading of one of her essays. As nervous as she was, she allowed herself to be talked completely out of the essay she'd decided to read when Ray told her, albeit way, way less gently, "You should be using your funny to tackle subjects that matter."

Girls has done an incredible job demonstrating how Hannah takes so seriously something Ray thinks so little about, and Hannah is just starting to understand the pressures she's internalized from sources outside herself are usually distractions. But she's still vulnerable. Ray is the oldest, probably the most well-read friend Hannah has, which has been enough for Hannah to let him sway her on literary matters. In "American Bitch," Hannah is summoned by a male author whose work—not whose opinions—has inspired her and informed her desire to write. He wants to talk about an article she wrote about him, the contents of which he objects to (several women writers had written about how he took advantage of them and exploited his power over them), and persuades her with what seems like kindness, self-deprecation, unflattering self-awareness, his own sexual weirdness—all things that resonate with Hannah. He thinks he's a big event in the lives of the women he has sex with, and he does not like being material for a story that belongs to them. In the end, he is just using Hannah to fulfill his own kink and puts her in a situation where the story is out of her hands (and something else is in her hand, ugh). She can't tell the story to anyone without it sounding like she wanted everything to happen, she wanted it to end in sexual intimacy.

The fascination with the male writer by the writers and producers on the episode is palpable, but the relevance to the series is with regards to, as ever, what Hannah wants, and this marks the end of her entertaining her desire for approval from an older man. It makes sense that the catalyst for this is someone besides Ray, someone the audience does not even know, just an ambient male-author-ness, a source of silence—it doesn't matter because he acts indiscriminately, and she has seen enough to know the only reason to take it seriously is the gravity she endows it with. The way they seem to her to genuinely connect over prickly, difficult terrain, over not being easy, over his neg-tinged admiration for her willingness to be a "bitch," recalls the hopefulness that buoyed Hannah when it seemed like that's why Adam loved her. Hannah projected a lot of specific hopes onto Adam when their relationship started transforming into something loose and fun into everything Marnie told Hannah she should want it to be. Because she did have hopes for a particular kind of relationship, but had the sense in the beginning of the show to know Adam was not giving her that or could be expected to give her that: they were just having fun. Hannah did not think that reflected poorly on her in any way, but Marnie told her it did. Here Hannah demonstrates how much she's still hoping a particular relationship will conform to the vision she has for it, but she does not go in thinking that: her guard is up until he lowers it, and she swoons over the idea "I hope someone writes a book about what a cunt I am someday." Hannah has let a lot of people waste her time, and it makes perfect sense that she covets the idea of having driven somebody to such rage-filled distraction they write a book about her out of spite. Hannah gets a chance to feel good about her flaws, only to find he was using that and ultimately uses that against her.

The best thing "American Bitch" does for Girls's audience is how it demonstrates, before the show goes off the air, what a complex character Hannah is: she is extremely vulnerable and prone to internalizing things people say to her offhandedly and with no real investment in her wellbeing, but something unwavering in her has reassured her she cannot punish herself for being difficult or resist making demands. There are some things about season six so far that remind me of season three, which does not bode well—the third season of Girls was weak from beginning to end—but even that season was focused around Hannah refusing to give up on herself, even when it felt like the show's writers were. I'm glad as the show ends it seems like the writers still see Hannah pretty clearly.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 2: "Hostage Situation" - You guys literally cracked open the market on athletic denim.

The social club scene was too real for this week: "Also, for those of you asking on our Facebook if the group is open to trans women, the answer is: we don't know, okay?"

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Three, "Hostage Situation"

The Desi development makes sense, although it's a callback in every way to big moments with Charlie in seasons two and five. Marnie does not bother to look at something and assess what it is based on tangible evidence. The best and most blatant example of this behavior is in "Beach House," when Marnie insists everyone have fun, insists that the activities she has planned are fun, and if no one is having fun, that is their failure, because she's placed the fun right in front of them. Every attempt for Hannah et al to spontaneously make or find fun alienates her. When Marnie and Charlie rekindle their intimacy at the end of season two, Marnie does not scrutinize Charlie's actions in order to determine what they mean. She insists it means they are in a relationship. She does the same thing with Booth Jonathan. Because he does the things she wants a boyfriend to do, he must be her boyfriend. Naming a thing is more important than determining if it really fulfills its function. It's a symptom of her issues with commitment. It leaps past commitment. Marnie has no model for something just being without her having to worry about it. That's why her relationship with Hannah is important to her, and why it's hard for Hannah to relinquish. Marnie insists they are best friends without examining to closely if that works or makes sense, which it doesn't always because they don't always act like it, but that gesture of devotion and reassurance, that insisting, even though it's hollow and borne of Marnie's fear that no one would ever be her friend, her boyfriend, her husband, and so all she can do is saddle them with the labels and hope they follow through—and if they break their promise, because that's what the label becomes, that's what she's used to, AND it positions her as the victim—even though that's why, it looks and feels to Hannah like faith in her, because she is good for it. And her need for that connection keeps her tied to Marnie, and Marnie frequently has no idea what to do with it except treat Hannah like an idiot daughter, but with every season, Marnie comes around closer and closer to scrutinizing Hannah's actions and realizing that this is her best friend. She really sees it when Hannah carts Desi into the car, after he erupts in rage and confronts Marnie with the fact of his oxy addiction. It's a red herring, planted last season when Marnie ran into Charlie for one whirlwind evening. That was the first time Marnie almost assessed what was going on and her rationale almost beat out her wish fulfillment. She still had to wind up in Charlie's decrepit room and discover his needle before facing it, but when their boat overturns in Central Park, it finds her: this isn't what she wants it to be and she can't make it that way, she can't insist on it. No matter what she names it, something is wrong. Marnie won't listen to herself. The audience already knew this. Even though Desi's eruption is played as an explosive revelation, it doesn't come across that way—not because it's out of left field (maybe on a show without Adam Sackler, but with Adam as the baseline for men on the show, it is perfectly excusable to say Desi was calibrated accordingly and his behavior in itself not necessarily a red flag that was any redder than any other flag flown by any other character on the show, which is just a sea of red flags) but because it proves something we already know about Marnie: she doesn't ask questions, she just dictates and expects everything to be the way she envisions it. The revelation is that she sees and believes that Hannah is her friend, that she's there for her.

It reminds me of season one, episode five, "Hard Being Easy," which follows "Hannah's Diary," when Charlie finds where Hannah's written about Marnie's disgust with Charlie, how her feelings for him have curdled. He lashes out at them in the apartment Hannah and Marnie share, insisting he belongs there. To demonstrate his importance to "the community of this apartment," he upends and carries off a table he made for Marnie, with no regard for whether it hits her or Hannah in the process. It doesn't, but just the same, Hannah shouts at him, "That's the kind of thing you do right before you hit us. Don't hit us!" It's trivializing, but it trivializes her and Marnie's ability to be hurt, not the insubstantial threat Charlie poses to them—which may be compensating for the real damage Hannah has inadvertently caused Marnie, who she did not mean to hurt (and if Charlie had hit her, then Hannah's actions wouldn't look so bad by comparison, which follows Hannah's thinking at the time about how contracting a catastrophic illness would at least distract people from the failures she's accrued when it comes to the romantic love/career/money she's supposed to pursue). When Desi breaks the window with his hand trying to get back in the cabin, the site of the Poughkeepsie getaway for he and Marnie, where Marnie has invited Hannah as a cover, Hannah trivialized his threat by swatting at him with a spatula like he's a blanket that keeps sagging onto her while she's trying to work. It's a reaction that makes her seem naive, like she's not accurately assessing the threat posed by an oxy addict who's been deprived of his substance and filled with raw fury at someone to whose face he has mused she's so dumb about the ways of the world that someone will rape her and murder her. But I wonder if Hannah's not just calling that one correctly. Desi's a human disaster, the threat is insubstantial.

While the Hannah/Marnie/Desi triad works itself out in Poughkeepsie, Jessa and Shoshanna get paired with Elijah back in Brooklyn. Hannah and Marnie are one of the vital pairings on the show, and Jessa and Shoshanna are the other. While relationships have always been something that complicates Hannah and Marnie's friendship, Jessa and Shoshanna's issues are squarely with each other, which they and the writers avoid confronting in this episode. Elijah isn't really part of their orbit, so having him there is all for comic relief and for the sake of mirroring Hannah/Marnie/Desi in the other half of the episode. Throwing Ray or Adam into the mix wouldn't serve Shoshanna's outing to "Wemun," a The Wing-like social club for professional women. While it superbly embodies Shoshanna's hilarious ideals, it also feels a little bit out of step with Shoshanna's narrative — although the argument could be made that now that she's made away with the achievements she has in recent seasons, her zeal to succeed has worn to the point that the Wemun women transfix her with envy. It's also visible how concessions were made to accommodate it within the story, since the set piece elbows out any chance at substantial confrontation between Jessa and Shoshanna. It amounts only to a stepping stone, which undermines the effect of Hannah and Marnie's breakthrough, but for all the audience knows, Marnie could backpedal on that by the next episode, and this interaction could have incited real change in how Jessa and Shoshanna see one another or how they interpret their own actions. Girls doesn't really do narrative progression the way other shows do, so my misgivings about the Wemun outing might be off base. It does bode well for consequences that their shame has a witness, which Marnie and Hannah's really didn't (Desi doesn't know what's going on by the end of it). Even if Elijah thought everything was all about him, that only demonstrates he was quite aware of what Jessa, at least, was saying when she told Shoshanna to grow up.

Jessa says this after accusing Shoshanna of coveting the career that her college friends have and blaming Jessa for distracting her from it. Jessa wishes Shoshanna could look at her and see someone worth being with, but she doesn't in part because of every behavior Jessa has demonstrated on the show. The first scene between Jessa and Shoshanna here reminds the viewer of some real obvious information that, in its obviousness, is shocking considering Jessa's storyline throughout the show: she and Shoshanna are cousins. They share a grandmother, who they create a video voicemail for together. All Jessa wants, all she does on the show, is fit herself into other families. She's in constant pain over her own family's rejection of her. But Shoshanna is her family, and she has accommodated Jessa, and Jessa has never recognized it. They wind up squabbling about Adam and Ray—Shoshanna takes a dig at Jessa for stealing Adam, then Jessa exploits her feelings for Ray who, whether or not she still has lingering feelings of love for him, he has proven to be her friend and has enabled her to become the person she would like to be, and she cares about him. Shoshanna cares that Ray is happy, and he is happy with Marnie, and Marnie, Jessa informs Shosh, is on a weekend getaway with Desi. It's another case of the men representing red herrings. This brief confrontation isn't about Adam or Ray, but about Jessa's covetousness and Shoshanna's priorities. Jessa would probably reason with Shosh that the "friendly" thing to do would be to tell Ray that Marnie is cheating on him. She might read Shosh's allegiance to Ray as exploitative in itself, since they broke up, but she's been able to work toward some of her professional goals by helping him win his local zoning board seat and revitalize his business, all of which may superficially appear like Ray taking advantage of the lingering attachment Shosh still harbored for Ray by the end of season three, but which is framed as and certainly is in Shosh's eyes big chances she needed and met in order to show herself what she can do. She wants validation for that, and she has none. She would rather have validation for that at this point than close friends, since the gamble she took on that with Jessa has not paid off. There would be more tension to this episode if, as a counterpoint to Hannah and Marnie realizing why they're friends, the fallout between Shoshanna and Jessa would have felt more consequential, but their relationship has been so insubstantial for so long—Shoshanna's been trying to avoid Jessa, arguably, since she saw her having sex in season one—there is not much poignancy in them pissing each other off again.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 1: "All I Ever Wanted" - It's a boundaryless hinterland of sexuality and emotion.

Considering I had to stay up until 3 a.m. recently in order to find the time to dye my hair, I'm not saying I deserve any accolades for maintaining this commitment—I have dawdled on a draft about BinderCon since November (since when writing about any good fortune felt morbidly absurd). But still:

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Two, "All I Ever Wanted"

The show Girls is all about what Hannah wants and, superficially, the premiere of the final season seems like she gets it. Hannah gets published in the New York Times, gets a job offered to her for her shtick, and meets an idiosyncratically tender, dashing guy on assignment. Girls has shown the audience over and over since 2012, though, that that's not what Hannah wants, but because Girls lives in the same universe as its critics, it appears to the people around Hannah and to the audience that she is forever squandering and dodging the steps to, according to the other characters, adulthood, and to the audience, narrative momentum. At crucial dramatic moments throughout the show, Hannah went back to Adam, she quit her job at GQ, she quit Iowa, she broke up with Fran, she quit teaching—because those breaks were, in the first place, illusory. Hannah's relationship with Adam was casual until Marnie encouraged her to feel insecure about it and make him commit to her, then judged Hannah for how strange he was and how strangely he treated her. Her jobs were all things she has performed begrudgingly, since she makes the distinction in the pilot between working and dedicating herself to her writing. In passing, GQ and Iowa seem like working as a writer, but Hannah pursues both for positive feedback from others and some confirmation that she is doing something right. Hannah does not trust her voice at all and the people around her tell her what to do and how to feel about her decisions, either because they feel free to because they're assholes, because that's part of who they are and can't help it, or because they think this is an appropriate way to express their investment in Hannah's life. Hannah's mistake is that she listens, but she listens less and less, and that is the real arc of her character, not "having it all" in the form of a relationship, a career, and money. The inciting incident in Girls was Hannah declaring what she wants and everyone shutting her down. The rest of Girls has been Hannah going "what would you rather I do instead?"—and no on except Marnie actually cares, but they all feel free to tell her, mostly in order to project their own anxieties, furies, and desires onto her. One of the reasons Ray's arc is so compelling is that he has pulled back from this: he started out thinking of Hannah as someone who needed to be taught a lesson, and his purpose was to teach her, and his experiences have since awakened him to the fact that he has enough to learn himself, and Hannah has to discover things the same way he has to. That's one of the reasons Hannah goes so berserk when Ray stops judging her. It doesn't look compassionate, it looks as cruel as it feels, like he has abandoned his investment in her. So Hannah went right for an act Ray would sharply and woundingly tell her she was terrible at.

That's what makes the opening montage so poignant and harsh: all the people in Hannah's life read her Modern Love column. They are absorbed, they smile, they react to it. Since Marnie sees Hannah as an extension of herself, Marnie celebrates it as if it's a victory for her. Jessa won't read it, since it's an adaptation of Hannah's Moth monologue about losing Jessa to Adam. Adam reads it and shakes. This is what Hannah said she wanted to do in the pilot, and everyone told her to worry about her relationship/career/money. They have been irritated, angry, and disappointed with her for the past half a decade, and here they are finally happy with her, impressed by her, respecting her, unnerved by her capability (Shosh, though! "That's unladylike"—Shoshanna lives to police the adequacy of other women because she thinks it is a good, strength-giving thing to be as good as possible at being a woman, and Hannah is on the exact opposite side of that spectrum of feeling). It came as a result of the one thing Hannah did not quit crumbling in her hands: one of her friendships. Her friendships come off to the audience like the things she needs to quit, but Hannah's priorities are friendship, writing, and wearing what she wants. It's not more or less self-flagellating than being committed to relationships, career, and money. But it's enough that even the writers have had a hard time staying on Hannah's side throughout the run of the show, so ingrained is the impulse to punish someone like Hannah, who has privilege and access to what women are supposed to want.

"All I Ever Wanted" sees Hannah get something she wants—she's done right by herself, written and submitted something for a prestige publication, done something the achievement of which no one can deny. But one of the things that has kept Hannah spinning is that she does things for other people. However halfhearted and dismissive their judgments of her, she strikes back by absurdly, exaggeratedly trying to meet their standards, showing off how ill-equipped she is to do so, focusing on any entertainment factor the spectacle might have—and while they don't care, they don't change their behavior and leave her to make her own decisions, either. That's happened so many times, it's how Hannah's programmed. It's also prevented her from evaluating and carefully considering what it is she wants, because she's so busy reacting to what other people want her to want. When Girls started, Hannah wanted to write. Does she still want that?

The only thing "All I Ever Wanted" really addresses, with regards to that question, is that she still does not want a job, although with genuine support she might begrudgingly do the job she now has. If her tryst with Paul-Louis, the surf instructor, informs her of anything—in the end she is still enjoying his company, despite the revelation that he has a girlfriend to whom he is committed to going back to when they are in proximity to one another—it is that she wants the kind of consideration and support he provides. Taking that back to Brooklyn with her is a better move than staying in Montauk because it seemed to her like that's what he was suggesting he wanted her to do. But after she suggests this, Paul-Louis is quick to assert that he only wants Hannah to do what she wants to do, and the fact that this comes with affection, unencumbered by expectation, is something Hannah may have only learned that she wants because of the events of the past few years. What the story winds up doing for Hannah is objectively better than what it does as a story. It hits a lot of the same beats that "Queen for Two Days" did last season, with Hannah surrounded by older women who can afford to pay a lot of money to prioritize their desires by ceding determination as to what those desires are to corporate destinations that convince them that declaring their desires is also work and also what they need a break from. It does mine Hannah's defense mechanisms more clinically than that episode, which was a tiny bit more of a romp (by Girls's standards), exploring how Hannah's only means of resisting these kinds of activities, where she can't assert what she wants, is to flake out, quit, and exercise her agency by trying to get aid for a perceived violation against her body. It seems dramatic and babyish and, duh, calls attention to her body, all of which provokes people into writing her off, which is exactly what she wants. She wants to not be on people's radars. She wants to do what she wants to do. This mechanism is like an infantile shriek, demonstrating how basely bananas it is that so much is done to relieve people of their agency. It doesn't merit a rational response. But when Hannah does this by faking an injury to get out of activities at an expensive surf camp, it comes off as stone-cold petulance, because that's the joke—of all the things one may have to do in life, no one has to be at surf camp. But Hannah's lack of agency stalks her everywhere, and the laid-back atmosphere of the beach throws into relief how, even when no one is actually making her do anything, Hannah has internalized this powerlessness. Other critics have observed that when Hannah leaves Paul-Louis to get a draft of her article together and cry, she is demonstrating how her ambitions as a personal essayist puts pressure on her to create tension between herself and what's in front of her, for her to act in opposition against whatever she's doing, but I perceive it as less of a self-conscious quality. One of the things that move Hannah as an essayist, as far as I can perceive it, is that she does not react to everything like she is supposed to. What others find fulfilling, she doesn't. What others dismiss, she can work with. This is demonstrated a lot on the show, but so is Hannah's consciousness of what makes the kind of essays she wants to write and the value of accruing experience. In this case, though, she does not want to incongruously insert her isolated, indoors-dwelling, physical-activity-hating self into surf camp. She wants to cry in her room alone, in a "Sundays-in-high-school way," because she is not having the same experience as everyone else, not just wanting what others want, unable to feel like her agency is being compromised, feeling wrong.

Hannah has the space to gain some clarity about herself in this episode because she largely spends it alone or with Paul-Louis, who makes himself into a vehicle for Hannah to learn a lesson instead of a new set of expectations to which she must be accountable. Everybody else is back in New York. Adam and Jessa are settled into the kind of relationship he and Hannah enjoyed in the first season, with shades of "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too" in their mostly-nude sharing of yogurt in the middle of the afternoon. There is no place for Ray in the apartment he had taken over from Adam in season three. He can't stay with Marnie in her Manhattan studio because, unbeknownst to him, Marnie has no intention of wrapping things up with Desi. Marnie can't turn off any potential spigot of love. The way Hannah scraps things, Marnie clings to them, appearing equally stalled out. Christopher Abbott, who played Charlie, seemed to have left the show when it became clear Marnie and Charlie would never leave each other's orbit (ergo Charlie would never seem to grow as a character), and that didn't make narrative sense. But Marnie never leaves an opportunity to feel loved on the table, and it worked out that Abbott's return as Charlie last season gave Marnie a glimpse at the possibility that maybe chasing the loves of these men didn't give leave her with the life she wants. But Marnie doesn't think anything is wrong with herself, and no one in her life but Hannah is there to urge her to consider she isn't doing right by herself. Because she won't let Ray all the way in, he goes back to Shoshanna's, where she was embarrassed to realized he'd moved in without granting her the process of initiating that level of their commitment back when they were dating. In this case, she makes space for him, and they get along with the affability and deference of two people who have helped each other and learned a great deal from each other. As a viewer, I don't need them to get together, and I hope this bodes well for them recognizing each other as the excellent, supportive friends they are. They respect and see the best in each other and they are very similar. Shoshanna raised Ray's standards for his own behavior and taught him to draw strength and satisfaction from improving yourself, and Ray, if nothing else, validated Shosh's feelings and opinions and intelligence. She did much more for him, and that vitally course-corrected Ray's dedication to lashing out, shaming, and finger-wagging lessons aggressively at Hannah and Marnie. That Marnie still wants Ray to do that—shame her, correct her, judge her—is something I do hope the show acknowledges on its way to a resolution for that pair.

I don't reserve hope for anything else, I'm just preparing for the end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What can you do with a sentimental heart.

Do you remember when people wrote on the internet like no one was watching? Writing that was not necessarily destined for another set of eyes, hanging in space? Did you ever follow people who kept personal websites that were not professional websites? Did you ever fall deeply in esteem or solidarity or even something crush-ridden and irritating for somebody through their writing about their life?

Sometimes I want to revisit those spaces and they're not like books. Some are locked or I can't trace them. But to have found them and read them and had the chance to be moved by them — I was so lucky.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Interlude.

Technically I'm still on deadline, but not for anything paying — I've had less to do in the last week than all of 2016 so far. Guess what's filled the vacuum? Suspicions of encroaching doom have totally tried, but I've written 25 pages of fiction and Dennis Cooper's blog is back from the dead so I'm not upset I've wandered into this clearing. Even though it's nice to be working all the time when that work is primarily incredibly fun. Not as much when it comprises two huge projects with soul-throttling deadlines that test new skills and happen to be assigned and due in the space of a month bookended by two weddings of significance (not a long list!).

At my day job, the person who sat behind me took a new job with my former employer, and I think my guidance was nonthreatening, but there is no easy way to break cafeteria-style seating to somebody. Especially somebody who was, until now, enjoying their own desk. My desk still holds a lot of charm and novelty for me. A bust of my favorite composer adorns it. Insofar as a space can be self-aware, it knows it's a luxury.

For a while this year I was so busy I tried to take up a new hobby. My criteria for which: it had to be visual, some element of construction had to be involved, the results would not be ephemeral. I landed on arranging fake flowers, which has some overhead, so I didn't get in too deep. I'm always alert to an excuse to not get in deep, because otherwise, I'm ready to go too deep, all the time, always. I am relieved to be bad at it and to be reminded of it every day with the cartoonishly funerary arrangement I brought to work. It's a welcome counterpoint to my constant stressing to myself that everything is finite. These fake flowers will be preciously goth for the decades they take to turn.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episodes 9 & 10: "Love Stories" & "Love You, Baby" - It didn't feel like very much when it was happening.

Because it's been several months and because last week feels several months away nowadays, I watched Girls' fifth season again to wrap up writing about it, finally. I noticed: Shoshanna seemed to be forcing herself to appear as if she loved Japan in "Wedding Day" and "Japan" to keep people from trying to get in her head and to make herself feel better about her decision to move, which escaped me at the time. I forgot about how Shosh had demonstrated her mistrust and lack of respect for Marnie, Hannah, and Jessa, and how that operates underneath her continued involvement with them. Both Shoshanna and Marnie believe that if they say something is a certain way, it will be that way, although Marnie believes that that is exactly how it works while Shoshanna is aware that it's just an act of hope on her part, a little bit of self-deception to keep her feeling in control. Neither of them have a tolerance for chaos. Shoshanna was a college student until last season, and when she couldn't find a job, she was miserable and ashamed, having associated the chaos of Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's life with their uneven-at-best, nearly-nonexistent careers. But she was surprised to find that a relationship and a career, even without Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa interfering, could be just as untenable and chaotic. That it took half the season to get here and included the loss of her job and her scramble to stay in Japan threw me off. But it's visible now and makes more sense than it did when I was watching the show from week to week.

I also forgot about Shosh's Sheryl Sandburg reference, recalling the conversation she and Hermie had in the season four finale when Scotty the Soup Mogul wanted her to abandon her pursuit of a career and date him and Hermie urged her to move to Japan and lean in — in all likelihood, just to get her away from his friend Ray. Shosh brings it up in "Japan," when tries talking to herself about dating her boss. Shosh has one of the most intriguing — to me — relationships to her work life and her romantic life. Her ideas about what she should want are informed by celebrities and specific cultural touchstones from Sheryl Sandburg to Sex and the City, and unlike Marnie, whose idea about who she should be and what she should want are also based on cultural touchstones and white middle class expectations, Shoshanna gleans strength from their examples and acknowledges when an expectation turns out to be a fantasy and at odds with reality and what she really wants. She is more interested in determining what she wants and going for it than she is in her desires and pursuits conforming specifically to those cultural touchstones, which is a lesson Marnie has not even learned yet. Where Hannah wants success in her art and a relationship on her own terms, Jessa wants to be part of a family (whether or not that means a relationship will give her that remains to be seen) to the exclusion of work concerns, and Marnie is so insecure about being seen as desirable, she'll gladly ignore her professional ambitions or focus them through her relationship, Shoshanna — I think — has discovered/is discovering that work is fundamental to her, and relationships are more ancillary. And even going into the last season of the show, that dynamic is unresolved and full of potential. I am really looking forward to seeing where Shoshanna ends up.

I also didn't notice that Pamela Dunlap (Henry Francis' mother from Mad Men) is in "Queen for Two Days" as part of the band of retreat-goers who dismiss Loreen's problems.

Girls, Season Five, Episode Fifty-One, "Love Stories"

This season leaned hard on so much character development that has accumulated throughout the seasons. It represents a course correction for every one of the major characters without introducing much in the way of any new elements to the story except Fran, who shouldn't feel like a new element to people who've been watching the show (and, alright, the nation of Japan is also new, but its appearance is more of a cameo). It gives the appearance of the story having barely moved an inch, but all the tension is in how the characters crawl upon or collide into the understanding that they're not doing right by themselves while they prioritize the dismissal of their feelings or pernicious advice from others.

Fran is all over reasserting this motif. In "Homeward Bound," Hannah broke up with him and now he's ballistic. He blames her for his actions while Hannah asks why he's trying to fight her over ending things. She doesn't like him. He tells her it doesn't matter that he doesn't like her because he loves her, which is echoed in the following episode to great effect when Jessa identifies one of the realities of friendship (in a way that is a little too nuanced for the screaming fight she is in the midst of having with Adam). Fran taunts Hannah: she said she'd never been in a healthy relationship before, so how could she rely on herself to determine what she wants? Hannah sticks to her decision to end things with Fran because she does know what she wants, she just denies it over and over again and allows herself to get talked out of it by people who tell her they have her best interest at heart.

When Hannah submits her resignation to Principal Toby, she bombards him with the kind of nonsense Hannah invokes when she would rather be laughed at or dismissed than risk saying what she feels and be dismissed for being honest with herself about what she wants. Even though Hannah wants to write and not teach, leaving her teaching job, where she's gotten some positive — possibly misguided — encouragement and been allowed to thrive in her own way, is the big leap that Fran flatters himself into believing the end of their relationship was. Principal Toby sending her off with genuine well-wishes is nice for Hannah, but will it have consequences? Will she draw strength from that experience?

Exiting the school, Tally Schifrin, carefree as can be on a bike ride, pedals over to Hannah, acting as if they're close and telling her she's writing about "the tyranny of political correctness" at Oberlin. Hannah tries but barely to keep her vulnerability from Tally and gives in to her invitation to hang out. To Hannah's surprise, Tally is empathetic about everything Hannah tells her. Rather than being surprised Hannah went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Tally not only sees that Hannah would wind up there but that she would also feel constrained and understands why she left in a way that is supremely validating to Hannah. When Hannah tries to derail her with the fact that she no longer wants to write, Tally says she's exhausted wit it, too—and when Hannah clarifies that she does not only not want to write but does not write any more at all, Tally is aghast. Although this is enough to establish Tally as the person who's been the most sincerely kind and loving to Hannah ever on Girls, it is a pleasure when Hannah retreads the mess that was Mimi Rose only to find out Tally knows her and can verify that she is a loathsome person. Hannah has had so many of the same kinds of scenes with Marnie where Marnie takes opportunities like that to define herself against Hannah, recoil from the force of her feelings and try to find something good in someone like Mimi Rose just to demonstrate that she can find good in things because she thinks that's a good quality to possess.

Hannah gets into the issue of Adam, who she refers to as "the only man she's ever loved, probably," being with Jessa. Tally remembers Jessa from a meth-cooking incident at Oberlin, and because Tally has that frame of reference regarding Jessa and Hannah's friendship, she knows what kind of deep wound Hannah's discussing. Even though all of Hannah's references to Jessa are ones of admiration and love, the fact that Tally knows that Jessa and Hannah have been friends since college and the burden to prove that she loves Jessa is not on Hannah adds a lot to this scene. Hannah is so rarely taken at her word. She acknowledges that she can't have Jessa in her life and that her instincts are telling her to lose her shit about it, but that would just fulfill the expectations she believes Adam and Jessa have for her, and she wants to surprise them. "That hurt me to hear that," Tally tells Hannah as she hugs her. Hannah revels in Tally's embrace. Finally someone is validating Hannah's feelings and treating her like a friend.

Even when Tally urges Hannah to steal a bike and smoke weed with her, the night does not devolve for Hannah. They ride through the city and then get high in her bed, where Hannah feels comfortable enough to reveal to Tally how jealous she is of her and how she measures her own achievements against hers. Tally says that's crazy but doesn't place the onus of the craziness on Hannah, which is what would otherwise happen, but acknowledges that her life is enviable — but only the way it appears. She is obsessed with how she is seen by others, living to see if the Financial Times runs a flattering photo of her in a roundup or if Gawker, rest in peace, has something shitty to say about her. "Tally Schifrin," she says, is a creation of hers that is "exhausting and boring at once" to feed, even though she knows she's too smart to be exhausted and bored by what she's doing. Complete with a reference to a book of essays she's dreading writing, it's a fabulous exorcism of what Lena Dunham's experienced as a public figure.

Hannah, as far as Tally can see, has the better thing going on: she is living, she has material, she is facing challenges. Tally doesn't feel she has anything to write about because she hides and Googles herself and is trapped in a cycle of obsession with how she's perceived. It's not surprising that Hannah responds to Tally telling her "You have so much to say" by asking her if they should have sex. This is an unprecedented level of validation for Hannah in one single sitting. Instead of sex, they just smoke a lot more and dance, a much different expression of intimacy than when Marnie and Hannah danced together in "All Adventurous Women Do."

As Hannah and Tally leave the apartment, they run into Adam and Jessa, who are walking in to bring groceries to Laird's apartment. Hannah and Tally babble like stoned baby bats, entertained as fuck with the sight of them, and palpable embarrassment settles over Adam and Jessa as they retreat to take care of a baby that no one is watching, one must assume, since they were both out of the apartment at the same time.

That's the only business Jessa gets in "Love Stories," which is otherwise devoted to resolving the season five stories of Elijah, Shoshanna, and Marnie. The episode makes quick work of Elijah's resolution, as he Pretty Womanizes himself and throws away his old clothes in an attempt to win Dill, who he confronts as he prepares for a broadcast. Elijah delivers to Dill the opposite of the speech Hannah delivered to Adam in season four, warning him that he doesn't have much in his future since he's surrounded by people who take advantage of him, but he deserves to have someone who loves him and sees him. When breaking down how Dill acknowledges that Elijah isn't wrong, he is looking for someone special, but that someone isn't Elijah, it is easy to side with Dill — but only with some distance between the viewer and Andrew Rannells' performance. He puts everything into Elijah's pitch and winds up stone cold disappointed and heartbroken. But not only is he negging Dill, it's his only card to play. He treats Hannah the same way.

Shoshanna finds Ray at his empty coffee shop, reading, and he's elated to see her, noting that she's grown and clearly still enamored. He introduces her to helvetica, "those gender neutral monsters" that are the source of his business woes. Declining to prod after details regarding Hannah and the coffee truck, Shosh vows to help market Ray's — after her experience in Japan, she is not going to pass up the chance to do what she does best for the person who thinks the world of her. A fact-finding mission across the street leads Shosh to determine that Ray's needs to react against helvetica's cult-like atmosphere by branding itself a destination for the "anti-hipster" that sells coffee "to the people with jobs" — a perfect, hilarious manifestation of the distaste for Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa and their aimlessness that has powered Shoshanna all along.

Marnie ends her role in season five by retreating to positions she's already occupied in the last few seasons, but with new implications. She struggles to continue to work with Desi, but his girlfriend Tandice supervises their interactions and warns him that any conversation with Marnie longer than eight minutes is "re-immersion." Marnie hates to let men go once she's had them, and even if Desi has to be dragged away by being brainwashed — I'm on board with that, it's the best Desi-storyline yet, and if it's the last, I welcome that.

As Marnie is losing Desi, she has a vivid dream, a "love dream," and wakes up gasping and wet. It was a dream about Ray, she tells Elijah, "I was brushing his hair." He was "like Khaleesi from Game of Thrones," and she was getting him ready for school. He was like her daughter, Elijah points out. Marnie acknowledges that the dream is bananas and wonders what's wrong with her. I love every last thing about how it's a female-female intimacy dream, but she has to ricochet those feelings off Ray. It's displaced longing for Hannah that, in classic Marnie fashion, has been redirected to a man she knows is willing to acquiesce to her no matter the circumstances. That's how she loses respect for men, though — it happened with Charlie — and even as she confronts Ray about it, stroking his hair and planting a hard kiss on him, she maintains that "It can't be you." "I think it is," he tells her.

My instinct is to say "poor Ray" — he loves the sight of Shoshanna and Marnie so much and wants to be around people who see good things in him, even if he's willfully deceiving himself about their intentions. They both want something from him, although Marnie wants to exploit him outright while Shoshanna's scheme is at least mutually beneficial for the two of them, but he loves them both like crazy and that's why he helps them. I want to say "poor Ray" but considering how this situation is comeuppance for Ray's season one behavior, it's entirely justified and I would not hate to see it get worse next season.

Girls, Season 5, Episode Fifty-Two, "Love You, Baby"

As Hannah runs down the street, she looks alternately fierce and barely more game to run than when she ran with Adam in "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too." She tries to evade Tad and Loreen, who wait for her on her stoop while she extolls the virtues of endorphins, the same chemicals she once said didn't affect her. Hannah's changing! Even the presence of her parents, who are trying to present a united front for her despite the strife in their marriage, doesn't sway Hannah back into old habits. Instead of trying to get them to validate her feelings about Jessa and Adam or about Fran or her job or anything, she writes and gets ready to read live at the Moth. Because she's withholding, Loreen is in the mood to hear all about Jessa and Adam — and responds to Hannah's admission that it's on her mind by telling a story about the time someone stole a boyfriend of hers. It's exactly the kind of thing that other people would shame Hannah for doing. It isn't clear how Hannah feels about her mother doing it, but Becky Ann Baker does nail it.

Back at the apartment, Tad hangs out and Elijah bangs in and gives Tad a big hug. Elijah hasn't slept "since Wednesday," probably since the events of "Love Stories" when he tried unsuccessfully to pledge his love to Dill. He asks Tad if he's in town for a "gay-for-all," but Tad acknowledges that he's there with Loreen, doing his best to deal with everything. Elijah challenges him to do better than his best while demanding access to his "bosom" — bosom buddies!!! Elijah wants to give up, but Tad admits he feels like he's just starting. This is resolved at the end of the episode when Tad goes to see the guy he hooked up with in "Good Man"! He smiles! Go Tad! Elijah, delightfully, gets drunk on the street with Loreen and admits that he does have a lot ahead of him after he listens to Loreen fret about being single at her age. "I'm like three beers away from trying to fuck you," he tells her. I am hoping season six might yield even a b-plot dedicated to Elijah's place in the Horvath family.

Marnie hoists high all her red flags when she apologizes to Ray for not coming when they have sex. "I can't come unless I kind of hate someone," she says. She's working on that with her internet therapist, she says. Ray has to support her work with Desi at the expense of the health of their relationship, she says. Ray has to come support her on the road, she says. She plays on his desire to be with her and it works impeccably. "You're so cute when you beg," he concedes, despite how he is prepared to acquiesce to any of her offers. The subsequent scene-and-a-half of Ray acting the Gary Walsh to Marnie's Selina Myer while Desi drinks in the affection of his fangirls are perfectly sufficient in and of themselves, but I would not hate it if next season picked up with them embroiled in that dynamic on the road.

In Shoshanna's hands, Ray's booms. She has The New York Times style section interested in them and their "hipster hate" angle. But after Hermie's season four advice to "lean in" has animated Shoshanna all season, ferrying her to this moment where she's succeeding at her favorite thing to do, he turns around and tells her to "lean out" — she's too powerful. He probably isn't crazy that after telling her to lean into her career so she would stop hanging around Ray as his campaign manager, she's leaning into Ray's business. Hermie has never been on board with Ray having Shoshanna in his life, but he does not make that the thrust of his rant, as he twirls around and revels in how his shop is now "a haven for normal people"! I'd like to see Hermie reconcile Shoshanna's influence on Ray with Marnie's.

Adam and Jessa finally come to blows over baby Sample, who they've been taking care of since "Homeward Bound." Jessa starts to troll Adam in the manner of Hannah about Hannah, provoking him outright while also reminding Adam that Jessa is more like Hannah than most people he could have pursued. When Laird comes back — and Adam challenges him to look him in the face to promise that he hasn't used — he is allowed to take Sample home, leaving Jessa to chomp down hard.

Jessa asks Adam if it didn't upset him when Hannah saw them and called them "miss" and "sir." Adam denies that it's of any consequence because Hannah's not in their lives, and that assumption on Adam's part sets Jessa off. She can't not have Hannah in her life. She isn't willing to be with Adam at the expense of having Hannah's friendship, but of course she can't just choose Hannah — she has to make Adam acknowledge Jessa's terms because she can't be smoted. If Adam made her choose him over Hannah, she says, "We could die in the same bed and I'd never forgive you." He starts to destroy his belongings, smashing bikes and frames and furniture. She runs after something to pitch at his head. They wreck the apartment as Adam insults Jessa for loving Hannah. He screams that he hated Jessa for such a long time because Hannah hates her. This is where Jessa calls back to Fran's remark to Hannah in "Love Stories," telling Adam that he doesn't know, but that's what having friends is. Jessa recognizes that friends matter, so you have to work off steam about them. She is not afraid that Hannah sees all her faults because she knows Hannah still loves her. She overturns a bookcase and screams they'll never be done with Hannah. After Shining-ing his way into the bathroom where she's hiding from him, Jessa tells Adam that Hannah tried to tell her everything about him, but she dismissed her — and she was right about him. Jessa does listen to Hannah, but she projects too hard onto her to take what Hannah has to say to heart. Maybe not anymore.

Through Elijah's subterfuge, Hannah gets a shot at the Moth event, the theme of which is jealousy. When Hannah gets called, she discovers she can't take her notes up, but she goes for it anyway. She makes a joke about the validity of her problems that gets a laugh. She rolls right into the story about Adam and Jessa. It gets consistent laughs as she confronts her fear: while they're together, Hannah thinks Adam and Jessa talk about their ideas of her. She is afraid that their poor opinion of her is what brings them together and they want to see her ruined. She reveals that she sent Adam a fruit basket out of a desire for closure, wishing him well, but when she showed up, she heard Adam and Jessa screaming. She heard her name, and she knew she was "free" — she didn't unite them, she is a rift between them.

Before season five ends with Hannah walking in New York at nigh, breaking into a run, then staring squarely at the audience 500 Blows-style, Hermie sweeps Shoshanna up into a dance to celebrate Ray's success, Marnie and Ray knock down Desi's door as he gets blown by a fan, and Jessa turns away from Adam on the floor where they lie, postcoital and surrounded by the furniture they've destroyed. The fruit basket sits in the hallway. While I don't agree with the sentiment behind Wesley Morris' criticisms of the finale, I do love the drama in them — the image of the basket as a bomb waiting to go off. Next season is the last.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 8: "Homeward Bound" - Je ne sais blah.

I've been watching Six Feet Under (2001-2005) for the first time since 2009 or so — the only thing I vividly remembered was the "Lonely Little Petunia" song, the presence of Rainn Wilson, and landing firmly on an understanding of what constitutes privilege thanks to the majority of the characters' actions — and I'm mesmerized by how it's aged.

Girls, Season Five, Episode Fifty, "Homeward Bound"

All four titulars have storylines in "Homeward Bound." Shoshanna returns to New York City from Japan, disgusted with everyone around her and drowning her sorrows in sake. She establishes the tone: everyone is either disgusted with or disgusts the people around them.

Hannah makes a stride in her relationship with Fran — by breaking up with him — and Marnie backslides on her breakup with Desi by exercising some envy over Tandice, played by Lisa Bonet (looking exactly half her age), an old friend of Desi's who sets the terms of Marnie and his new non-relationship: that she "not exist" when she and Desi are not performing.

Hannah exists up a storm. She aborts her road trip with Fran by refusing to rejoin him in his "house car" at a rest stop, compels Ray to come get her, then derails his brand new coffee truck when she gifts him a blow job against his will. Despite maintaining that he did not want it, he does defend his lack of an erection by reminding Hannah which of her friends she can call to confirm for her that he can, in fact, get hard.

The last time Hannah acted like this was in "Sit-In" — she didn't get sexual with anyone, but she did get physically aggressive with Shoshanna and Jessa and was verbally dismissive of everyone around her (and, as "Truth or Dare" demonstrated, wide open spaces bring out the worst in Hannah). Whether or not Hannah understands that Fran treats her like Marnie, she understands she has to get him out of her life, and because he purportedly acts in the interest of Hannah's own good, she hasn't been able to get anyone on her side in her feeling she should break up with him. When she does, it's significant. No one supported her in it, everyone told her Fran was nice and good for her, and she still did it, albeit by running around a remote rest stop shouting, "I don't want to be in this relationship and I don't know how to get out of it!"

Hannah initially balks at the proposition of calling Ray, telling Marnie, who is busy recording, "The last thing I need is a lecture from Ray about my, like, lifestyle choices, okay?" Ray has only recently cooled on living to shame Hannah for her decisions. The occasions on which he has have had serious consequences for her. So when he picks her up, she opens herself up to it, feeling it's unavoidable: "Do you think I made a mistake breaking up with Fran?" she asks.

Ray says, "Listen, Hannah, if you have the impulse to run away in your pajamas, that's a pretty strong indicator that it's not working out. You gotta respect your instincts, you know? Trust your gut."

This goes so starkly against everything Ray has spent years telling Hannah. He has been the most vocal agent in getting Hannah to avoid her instincts and not trust herself, and virtually every character on Girls shares this mission. So her reaction — the blow job — is her attempt to reorient the terms of their conversation. Hannah might not believe Ray, or she is so angry that this is what he has to say after telling her so many times that her instincts are not to be trusted, but she tests him by following — or pretending to follow, which is more likely — the impulse to give him oral sex to see if he stands by his acknowledgement that she might know what she wants.

The consequences are so disastrous, of course, with the truck toppling over, that she gets in the car of a man (played by Guillermo Diaz, whose character slit Lena Dunham's character's throat on an episode of Scandal) who passes them on the road, on his way to the city. He is hyperalert and alarming, making Hannah panic, but he winds up being in a situation similar to hers — inelegantly fleeing a relationship, looking not too together while he does it. The sight of New York City brings out a howl in him. He calls it "a good place to start over" and Hannah agrees.

Jessa inspires disgust in Adam when she joins him in taking care of baby Sample, the nickname of Laid and Adam's sister Caroline's daughter JessaHannah BluebellPoem. Caroline has been gone for three days, but Laird refused to confront that and worry before Adam found a note from Caroline to "Mouse," her nickname for Laird, explaining that she's been "wracked with guilt and shame" since the birth of Sample over her urges to hurt their daughter and herself. Laird splits, leaving Adam with the baby. Adam is impatient with Jessa's presence but welcomes her help. While holding Sample, she takes a call from Hannah who tried to get a hold of her when she was initially stuck at the rest stop. Hannah wants to confront her about the fact that they're fucking, and once Jessa confirms it, she hangs up. Adam won't acknowledge Jessa's dilemma over their involvement and their respective relationships with Hannah. When Sample spits up on Jessa, she screams and begs for Adam's help, but he doesn't budge.

"Why do you need more help than a baby?" he asks her. It's a little exasperating to see this as a reactionary expression on the part of the writers with Jessa's character, which it is easily seen as, but that's a shame, since it also effectively captures why Adam and Jessa's relationship won't work. Jessa has spent the whole show fitting herself into families. It started out with her tumultuous acknowledgement that she wasn't fit at the time to be a mother. Her most significant relationship was with a woman who treated her like a daughter. She might not benefit from Adam's help to any degree, even if he helps her more than the baby, if she doesn't feel like anybody's baby to begin with.