Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I think he's making Clara nightly.

Just when I thought I had my priorities in order, at work, I was installed on the Mad Men beat. In addition to writing about the episodes as they air — like "Severance" and "New Business" — I am also writing about the motifs that reappear throughout the seasons.

Photo: Dou Hyun/AMC
The characters on Mad Men might drink alcohol to avoid confronting the changing world around them, for instance, but every time the agency takes on a client that sells alcohol, it catalyzes big change in the way they do business (although they frequently respond to that with tantrums that include, among other things, drinking).

Idealistic Peggy and Don both consider Paris a dream place where they can take a proper reprieve from their worlds. This despite the fact that everyone on Mad Men who has been to Paris associates it with some personal disaster — a pivotal lover left Roger there, Sylvia Rosen's son got his draft papers while he was there. Like Carmella Soprano before them, if either of them get there, I bet they will see a ghost.

Don and Roger's changing — or unchanging — attitudes towards women can be charted in their approach to buying fur. And when put that way, it is clear why.

And while Don wants to make people into piles of money so he can escape having to deal with their emotions, Joan — sadly — wants to become a pile of money so she will not have emotions anymore.

Did you notice the story of season one is happening again, quietly, in the periphery of season seven? Actually, a lot of previous seasons are happening simultaneously, but this is the creepiest.

And if Mad Men ended like Twin Peaks, that would not be the worst thing. I mean, even if it ended the way Twin Peaks ended, with a slog through the Red Room, Roger up all night waiting for Don, and evil Don roaming the Earth, I would not resist.

Also: Mad Men is one big ham joke.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I think you have me confused with someone else.

"She's my cousin, but doesn't she look exactly like Laura Palmer?"

What I'm saying is: Mad Men season seven, episode eight, "Severance," is to your cousin what Twin Peaks is to Laura Palmer.


"This is the girl."


"You're going back to Missoula, Montana!"


"Chikadee on a Dodge Dart."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 10: "Home Birth" - Um, yes, I'm familiar with the works of the writer Sheryl Sandberg.

Just after last week had me gasping for air, I wound up all my lingering commitments. And even though this season of Girls is over and I'm going to miss it — I'm looking foreword to next season like I was looking forward to the second after the premiere, that is how much I loved these episodes of Girls — now I'm working on something else that I'm really overjoyed about: I'm covering Mad Men at work for the next seven weeks. Watch it with me!

Girls, Episode Forty-Two, "Home Birth"

Photo: Mark Schafer

"Home Birth" opens and closes with uncharacteristic moments for Girls. First, Hannah plunges out of St. Justine's in a panic, still in turmoil over her father coming out as gay and her mother's inability to handle it. The episode ends with Hannah attempting to reach out to her parents in a vulnerable moment in which she has to face what a wreck they both are, how remote help from them is for now, and how little help she can offer them. The story jumps six months, and Hannah is walking down the street in winter, laughing with and kissing Fran. Fran was there for Hannah when she was running out of St. Justine's, but when she tried to divulge why she was in the state she was in, he offered his support but discouraged her from burdening him with why she was upset.

This is such a compelling place to leave Hannah in as the fourth season of Girls ends! Any time Hannah makes a choice in the service of her own happiness, it is significant, but this one is informed by some of her worst coping mechanisms. Based on what the audience has seen, Fran is patient and funny and unwilling to let Hannah get away with any bullshit. This is a big change from Adam, who has always been oblivious to Hannah and, so, ultimately in no way invested in any bullshit Hannah was into or experiencing. Adam never listened to Hannah even though he professes to, but in his handful of appearances, Fran has told Hannah he will not listen to her.

Throughout season four, there were allusions to patriarchy and misogyny, the oppression, silencing and "bitches be cray" dismissal of women incorporated into episodes in a central, consistent way but, in the end, did not portend anything obvious. But consider the state Hannah is in as of "Home Birth": much like the second season when she started to see her book imploding, Hannah has tried to devote herself to her dream of being a writer by going to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The mortifying and fruitless experience blew holes in some of her most important relationships, and her one great constant, her parents, have their own problems of such a magnitude they cannot be there for Hannah. In fact, they need her to be there for them. That forces Hannah to consider her decisions and how she must set an example for them and be happy. But instead of dedicating herself anew to writing, she enters into a relationship with a guy who has expressed dislike for a real dimension of her personality.

And the latest boost she is riding is from her therapist, who told her she only went to Iowa to please her parents. The subtext of him telling Hannah that her talent is for helping people is that he is giving Hannah permission to excel at something besides writing. She clings to the excuse for all it's worth and she is propelled into season five determined to help with all the force of her shame, defeat, and desire associated with her vocation as a writer.

This is a MAGNIFICENT place to find Hannah next year.

Last year, season three's finale "Two Plane Rides" opened with Hannah learning that Adam's sister, Caroline, was having a baby with Hannah's neighbor-in-recovery, Laird. When Hannah returns from her St. Justine's meltdown in "Home Birth," she hears Caroline's screams from the hallway in their building. She investigates and Laird shows Hannah to the bathtub, where Caroline is shrieking in pain, preparing to self-doula the birthing of her baby.

When Hannah fails to effectively make Laird and Caroline appreciate that their home birth plan is unreasonable ("How can it be crazy?" Laird says. "It's happening."), Adam and Jessa join her. Despite being a part of the season finale, their business at the home birth cite does not contribute to any catharsis with Hannah and is entirely devoted to showing Caroline and Laird how they need to get to the hospital and, in fact, their team effort culminates in them carrying Caroline screaming down the street to the hospital. In fact, rather than unifying them — even though they are all represented in the name of Caroline and Laird's baby girl, Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem Schlesinger-Sackler — the experience splinters Adam, Jessa, and Hannah. It moves Hannah to confront her crisis with her parents, it moves Jessa to both dunk her head underwater to see Caroline's vagina and consider a career talking people down from crisis, and it moves Adam to grope after Hannah's love, taking for granted that she has just been waiting for him to come around after the Mimi-Rose escapade. The scene between Adam and Hannah, who talk over Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem's incubator, is brief and stunning, especially the way Hannah, explaining how relationships end, goes, "What was that? Who was that?" Adam can barely justify what he did with Mimi-Rose and why he is trying to reconnect with Hannah, and she tearfully dismisses him in the way he has dismissed all her attempts to tell him what she needs from him.

A note on Jessa's role in the home birth action: pregnancy and children get Jessa at her most vulnerable. The fact that witnessing what goes into a birth inspires her decision to pursue a career in therapy might mean this was the catharsis she needed to recognize she cannot keep trying to wedge herself into families? But must learn different ways of interacting with people and contributing to their lives? This is early to call, but I want to call it because it's what I want for Jessa.

When Jessa shares the news of her new ambition to Shoshanna, Shoshanna breaks the news that she is relocating to Japan, Frances Ha-style, for a job at a fastidiously-arranged crop of red flags masquerading as a company called Abigail. Her new boss springs the necessity of the move to Shoshanna amid racist jokes and the fact that she must accept the job as soon as possible so they can fire the person currently in the position, who is bipolar. I have had interviews like this, including one where the interviewer expressed his desire to take me on road trips.

Unfortunately, Shoshanna's dispiriting slog through interview wastelands has blinded to the luxurious garden of red flags that Abigail represents, and her attempts to see the offer for what it is — Abigail is taking advantage of her lack of experience and perspective — are derailed by the agendas of those to whom she turns. Hannah would be able to help Shoshanna here, and Jessa could probably detect what a minefield this is, but Shoshanna turns to two men instead: her datemate Scotty the Soup Mogul and, with the intent to see Ray, Ray's partner, Hermie. Scott implores her to turn the offer down and to work for him and live with him because, he says, "I'm going to be in love with you soon." Hermie, with his migraine twerking, advises Shoshanna to heed the words of Sheryl "Lean In" Sandberg. Both Scott and Hermie make their recommendations to Shoshanna based not on the quality of the offer or on Shoshanna's career goals but on the fact that she is a woman. To Scott, she is a woman he is interested in, and to Hermie, she is the woman Ray used to date, about whom Hermie told Ray in the season two finale "Together," "She doesn't want a Latin scholar. She wants somebody who can support her for the rest of her life so she can keep buying purses shaped like different bread products." Viewers haven't seen Hermie since, but it is not a stretch to believe he is encouraging Shoshanna to seize the opportunity just so she can buy her own croissant-shaped clutch purses and leave Ray alone.

Ray, in the meantime, witnesses Marnie and Desi making headway with a record company executive played by Spike Jonze, who looked like he was having a ball in his cameo. After their meeting at Ray's coffee shop, Desi attempts to both settle the bill and settle whatever his relationship is supposed to be with Ray, an interaction that swiftly and perfectly renders Desi as one of those people who unleash emotional blackmail when they detect that someone, somewhere, does not like them. Ray lays into Desi with some vintage season one "I don't even want to hate fuck you, it's that real" Ray business. This scene rhymes pretty spectacularly with the scene I'm referencing from the first season, from "Hard Being Easy," when Marnie stopped by Café Grumpy to ask Ray where she could find Charlie, who was Ray's best friend at the time. Charlie and Marnie were dating, but their relationship had imploded over Marnie's inability to confront how she did not like him or respect him. Ray saw all of it, knew all of it, was a force in bringing it to Charlie's attention, and the sight of Marnie sent Ray into a rage. Just like he tried warning Marnie that she was no good for his best friend, Charlie, here he tries to warn Desi that he is no good for Marnie — and he is not good for Marnie because he is perfectly, freakishly, exactly like Marnie. And because they are so alike, and Ray does see that, he guarantees Desi that he will hurt and betray Marnie, and Marnie will always take him back. In this, Ray sort of confronts the weakness (her fear of abandonment) he himself has exploited in Marnie and the inevitability that Marnie will hurt him, which it seems like Ray believes he deserves.

Ray's takedown of Desi moves Desi to disappear, abandoning Marnie at the showcase Spike Jonze arranged for them. Ray encourages Marnie to go on alone, and she seizes the opportunity to do so with the a spectacular reverse-minimization of her talents. She plays guitar, a thing that has never been revealed to viewers that she could do, and when she comes off stage, shaking, Ray assures her he loved her performance, and she asks if Desi arrived. The fact that he did not does not seem to have changed anything, but it is early to call. I am ready to see.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 9: "Daddy Issues" - There is a cake with your face on it that ended up looking a little bit more like Muammar Qaddafi, so I'm gonna do some damage control frosting-wise.

I almost did not get to write this this week because I keep lying to myself about the time I have. I have never been busier. And a few weeks ago I quit some of the jobs I had even though I really loved them. It isn't about not being able to do it all — I'm not doing the things I want to do. Like revise all the stories I've written in the last year and not fall sharply down a well of anxiety when I found out I've slept through all my available hours in a day. I have not had a moment for all of 2015 and it is getting to me.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty-One, "Daddy Issues"

I do not like to evaluate Girls based on my expectations and I am not really hung up on any hopes for the characters. To judge the show in the fruitless hope that it will be about Hannah being a model adult comes off as an excuse to judge a figure for the plainest of human mistakes.

The only character for whom I do have specific hopes is Jessa, and every time I watch an episode, I hope it will be the one where Jessa is explored with the lens that Hannah is usually under. Jessa is virtually always caught up in the act of seduction or set-dressing: she is trying to get Adam or Marnie to be her friend, she is trying to get Jeff Lavoyt or Withnail — or her dad — to be her dad, she is trying to get Beedie to be her mom, she is trying to get Thomas-John to make her feel like a wife. "Daddy Issues" opens on Jessa finally in the aftermath of seduction: she is having sex with Ace.

Jessa's had a sex scene before — with a nameless ex — but the purpose was to demonstrate how sex was of little consequence to her. She alluded to that in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" when reciting her sexual curriculum vitae to Shoshanna, the many suicide attempts she has inspired. Considering the fatalistic way Jessa views sex and the way the men in her life treat her, it seems like suicide attempts sit right with her because sexual relationships — and their inevitability, precluding a relationship that has anything to do with anything else — are sites of despair for her.

She betrays herself in their sex-banter in the way Hannah usually does. She tells Ace he looks like a fourth grade teacher who she thought she wanted her mother to marry but, looking back, she realizes she wanted to have sex with him. I love that bizarre, abrupt tangle of Jessa's gaping, cavernous vulnerability regarding her mother and her desire to be looked after as a daughter and have a father with the fear that she can't have that and all relationships will inevitably become about people having sexual access to her and the way Ace is a part of that.

Those are the daddy issues I really want to watch an entire episode about. This was not that episode, but I am not giving up. The "Daddy Issues" in question are Hannah's — in the wake of her father coming out as gay, neither he nor her mother are the source of support Hannah has used them for over the past four seasons. Whether or not they are explicitly reaching out to Hannah for help, they are the ones in need of it as they visit and call her, respectively, to see how she is handling it all. In doing so, they both make a point of reminding Hannah that she is a child, reinforcing to themselves that she cannot help them, cannot be the hammock under their Earth.

That kind of tension — the way Hannah needs her parents and her parents need Hannah, the way her parents need so much help right now but Hannah is not in a place to provide it — is much more complex and compelling than if Hannah was simply faced with a crisis and had to grow up according to some measurable amount. This engages more with what one person can really do for another.

The prospect of that being woven into Hannah's already rich relationship with her parents is exciting, but her scene at St. Justine's wasn't. She is onto another substitute appointment there, still in proximity to fellow teacher Fran, who she alienated, and student Cleo, who she abandoned during what was to have been a joint piercing venture.

My greatest frustration with Girls is the way it hits the reset button on certain relationships and story developments. It aggravates what a lot of other reviewers have read as repellently slow or a complete lack of character evolution. When Girls presents a major blow-out, it only selectively leads to consequences for the characters engaged in it. Hannah and Marnie's fight in "Leave Me Alone" did lead to Marnie moving out in "She Did" and it continued to have reverberations throughout the series. Hannah and Adam's fight in "Welcome to Bushwick" ended in the conclusion that Hannah wanted to be in a relationship with Adam, and then they were in a relationship as of "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too." But as of season three, no confrontation — not in "Beach House," not in "I Saw You" — disrupted the status quo.

So far, this season, Hannah slapping Jessa in "Sit-In" was followed by the two of them amicably participating in a group lunch in "Close Up." The only way I can see justifying these resets is Hannah's will to ignore the confrontations and move on because she does not want them to mean anything. There are no clues that that is what is going on when things happen on Girls that are erased or ignored, but it is the reason I made up for myself to get by. The will to sublimate, ignore, and forget is a powerful one when your objective is to make a relationship last at the expense of whether or not that relationship is necessarily good.

And as discouraged as I was by it, Hannah's scene at St. Justine's does support the idea that Hannah's will has something to do with the Girls' occasional resets. From the moment Cleo sees her, she demonstrates that she has not put Hannah's abandonment of her behind her. Hannah wants to vent about her dad, but Cleo trolls her into freaking out at her. It parallels her situation with her parents nicely — she attempts to lean on Cleo, but Cleo is a child without the resources to help Hannah, to say nothing of the wedge Hannah has driven between them in their attempt to get close. Fran overhears Hannah calling Cleo a bitch and informs the principal, who separates them and sees Hannah in his office. She does not get fired, but he does urge Hannah to draw boundaries. Hannah takes advantage of the principal's sympathetic ear to elucidate what is going on with her dad, but he asserts that that is a boundary she should establish since he does not want to hear about that or help her with it.

It was just a tedious way to get to Elijah, helping Hannah's dad explore his desires and come out with some guidance. I have mentioned that Elijah acts as a mirror for Hannah and Marnie, and Elijah is a spectacular reflection of Hannah's inability to help her parents. Tad appears exhilarated and at ease all at once in Elijah's hands. Hannah turned to Elijah elsewhere in the episode to not only anticipate the manner in which Tad is coming out — slowly and by denying that his marriage with Loreen is over — but also to remind Hannah that he called this during "All Adventurous Women Do." And he did it to dislodge Hannah from the idea that she was sure of anything about herself, which she is strongly suspecting is true.

So when Tad, with Elijah in his corner, encourages Hannah to ask him anything and to feel okay figuring things out with him, the reality that he has been with a man makes Hannah demand that they set boundaries with her the same way she was instructed to set them with Cleo. I do hope this has consequences for Hannah in how she reaches out for help and how her parents engage with her, because I think it could be a springboard for compelling developments, but expectations like this are exactly the kind I'm trying to avoid! I want to have patience! I want it now!

Back to Jessa: Ace makes her run to get Ethiopian food at a restaurant that is conveniently near Mimi-Rose's apartment. Ace decides they will drop by, and Adam receives them. Since Jessa and Adam were candid with each other in "Ask Me My Name" about how Ace wanted to take Mimi-Rose back from Adam and how Ace told Adam this while he was in a relationship with Jessa, Jessa demonstrates sensitivity and asks Adam if it is all right if they are there while Ace ploughs in, eager to show her the herb garden he planted when he was living there.

Mimi-Rose gets out of the shower and watches Ace with Jessa for a moment before announcing they should all eat together. Adam prepares sausages and initiates a dinner that easily makes the big league of bad dinners on Girls. Mimi-Rose did not know about Ace and Jessa's relationship, and all it takes is that observation for Ace to put his cards on the table and say that Jessa says it isn't serious. Jessa is taken aback. Ace says the caveat — putting the "almost" in their status as "together" — is that Jessa really wants babies. Jessa alluded in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" that her seduction of Ace was so secure she would be, in no time, pregnant with his twins, which was nice and flippant, but Ace's acknowledgment of Jessa's nurturing instinct cements the fact that Jessa, in all likelihood despite herself and by accident instead of cathartically and with purpose, has disclosed to Ace about her desire for family and the blow that was her miscarriage. It's only a matter of moments before Mimi-Rose and Ace decide they want each other back, leading Jessa and Adam to declare their involvement with them "official bullshit" (and to Adam calling Ace a "jambroni" — he definitely wedges an "m" in there and it is perfect).

On their walk away from Mimi-Rose and to Ray's victory party — he made it onto Community Board Eight — Jessa acknowledges that Ace did not give her time to think, and that was the basis of his appeal. I am going to miss Ace for that, as well as for his deeply unsettling looks, because when Jessa was trying to avoid thinking, she communicated some feelings that are really central to her character. I hope since she has seen this desire for family work itself into her exchanges with Ace so easily that it becomes, knowingly or despite her, an even bigger force in her story next season because it is one of my absolute favorite aspects of Girls.

Adam abandons the party, wanting too much to see Hannah after everything has blown apart with Mimi-Rose. Inside the party, Shoshanna has managed it all to the hilt and is projecting wildly and wonderfully onto Ray, overcompensating for her unemployability with her signature zeal. Shoshanna being as singular an experience as ever heightens the stakes of Ray's encounter with Marnie. Shoshanna knows Ray still has feelings for Marnie, and she still has her own complicated mix of feelings about Ray, and the profound effects Shoshanna had on Ray are the most resounding and visible impacts nearly any one character has had on another on Girls. All that history functions to devastating effects in the scene when Ray pledges his support to Marnie.

As she enters the party, with Desi whispering the disgusting line "secrets are sexy" to her, Marnie approaches Ray singing "Happy Birthday, Mister President." It is clunky and classically Marnie, but it calls back to the way that Ray, when Marnie was really flailing — more than usual — in season two, he encouraged her to explore her desire to make music. He was still armed with his hatred of her and most things at that point, but he did it while he was effectively blind to what Shoshanna needed from him. Marnie ignores her intent to keep her secret and tells Ray that she and Desi are engaged. She emphasizes that he is the first person she is telling and thanks him for ferrying her to that point with his support of her.

When Shoshanna introduces Ray, he thanks her for her support and guidance before getting up on a chair and extends — ostensibly to the whole crowd, but just for Marnie — that he will always be there for her. When it registers with Marnie that that is what Ray is saying, it's palpable, her ache. And it all mirror's Hannah's situation, with the tense and shifting chain of support and guidance getting disrupted for Ray, caught in a space where is not the right source of help and needing more than Shoshanna might be able to give.

And Hannah calls it: when Marnie interrupts the party to announce her engagement to Desi, she is not at all sorry to do it. Unfortunately, there was no accompanying Kanye cover.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 8: "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" - She's not going to tolerate a half-finished haiku.

With nearly proportional disastrousness, one marriage ends and another begins.

Photos: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty, "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz"

Hannah's parents are "the hammock under [her] Earth." Her dad, Tad, has had health issues that have been demonstrated and alluded to, and her mom, Loreen, is less than satisfied with her situation. She doesn't have the lake house that she wants and has been working toward, her family is extremely critical of her, and according to Tad, she gave up writing and settled for her career as a professor and her family.

At this point in season four, Hannah's almost completely unmoored and is questioning all the things that have formed the foundations of her identity. "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" makes that foundation even more vulnerable. As Tad and Loreen leave therapy, with Loreen reflecting on the accomplishment of achieving tenure, Tad comes out to her as gay. Loreen has nothing like total joy for Tad.

Loreen: "We were in therapy two seconds ago. You weren't gay in there."
Tad: "Yes, I was. I just didn't want to share it with her."
Loreen: "That is who you're supposed to be sharing it with, our therapist who we pay."
Tad: "Yeah, I just couldn't do it. I don't trust her."

Loreen accuses Tad of doing this in order to upstage her tenure (and when Elijah told Hannah he thought her dad was gay back in season one, that came across as Elijah's attempt to co-opt and upstage Hannah's revelation that he gave her HPV). Tad denies it and says this is not about her at all. "It's not not about me," she tells him, echoing the way Hannah replied to Adam's assertion that his involvement with Mimi-Rose had nothing to do with her: "You know what, Adam? I think I really understand that part."

They go to celebrate Loreen's tenure at their friends Avi and Shanaz's house, where Tad tries to reach out to Avi about what happened, but recoils. Instead, he bombs a toast, unable to say he loves Loreen, and Loreen brings the whole thing to a halt. When she tries to get a moment alone, Avi corners her, wanting to resume a tryst he reveals they started, but Loreen cannot hold it together. She dissolves into laughter. Becky Ann Baker makes every moment of this as good as it is, but my favorite moment was with all the guests seated at dinner, talking about their kids. The one couple's child is an infant cardiac surgeon. The other's is a meth addict and a professional dancer. Loreen and Tad do not venture to talk about Hannah. The fact that Hannah is neither an atrocity or a peerless achiever might be 1) a sobering fact, 2) a pleasant shock, 3) a profound relief, 4) a surprising disappointment — Tad and Loreen's perspective on Hannah has never been predictable.

I mentioned Tad and Loreen's juxtaposition with Marnie and Desi, but this episode is all about couples and the status of being in a couple. Tad and Loreen are dissolving because they realize — or at least Tad realizes, at this point — that they have been seeing themselves not as they are.

But whatever Marnie calls a thing, that's what it is. When Charlie slept with her after she demonstrated troubling behavior (stopping a party to which she was not genuinely invited to do a slow Kanye cover), that meant they were back in a committed relationship. Likewise, her relationship with Desi is a result of that same force of will colliding with Desi's horrifyingly vivid brand of being The Worst. Desi is as caught up in his image as a folk musician Marnie is with their image as a couple. The minute those fantasies impinge on each other, everything starts turning to ash around them. When Marnie demonstrates that she doesn't exist in the service of his idea of himself, he lashes out. In this, they're exactly alike! Marnie cannot stand one fault in her facade, or everything is ruined. Marnie has never bounced back from losing the foundations to her identity (Charlie, her gallery job, Hannah). She can only thrive under absolutely ideal conditions, and those conflict somewhat with Desi's version of ideal conditions, which include "the tightest fucking German guitar pedals ever made in history" that "single-handedly created the distortion that became the My Bloody Valentine sound." He blew their whole advance on them — money that was meant for both of them — without discussing the decision with Marnie, and when she calls him out, he calls her a "fucking bitch" and a rain cloud, tells her she ruined his day, and leaves.

They reunite later, in a coffee shop, where Marnie receives Desi's boring apology evasively from behind her phone. She introduces the fact that her parents' marriage came to an end over the misuse of money. It is a vulnerable moment, but the only other time Marnie has mentioned her parents to another character — although her mother's appeared several times — has been to Hannah in "Beach House." Marnie explained to Hannah her fear of abandonment that stemmed from her parent's divorce and how it informs the way she treats her. The conversation was not framed as cathartic on Marnie's part but as a failed prelude to the genuine sharing she wanted to do with Hannah that was not about anything but them. I suspect that was what she is trying to do here with Desi before he tells her to "shut up" and proposes to her. Which she receives gleefully, probably to the fascination of those eavesdropping on their conversation around this unsettlingly bland coffee shop.

The two potential couples are Shoshanna and Scott the Soup Mogul and Hannah and Fran. Shoshanna and Jessa mirror the scene from "Ask Me My Name" where Hannah and Elijah prepared for her date. Instead of making light of the event like Elijah, Jessa dramatizes Shoshanna's shot at something, as she is both out of work and without a significant other. Jessa does not have any opinion when it comes to professional pursuits, but she wastes no time dispensing her advice on how to withhold affection, tantalize, and confuse men, boasting of the "four suicides" she has under her belt. Ace, Jessa says, is different. Her assessment of him as "self-possessed" is wonderful in light of his appearance in "Ask Me My Name," where he appeared self-amused and air headed. I cannot wait for the moment he and Jessa are on screen together and to hear an observation Ace has about Jessa.

What may or may not be the scene with Shoshanna and Ray that was supposed to have gone in "Ask Me My Name," her date story is cleaved in order to demonstrate Shoshanna's contribution to Ray's campaign for Community Board Eight. When he tries to broach the subject of work, he veers immediately to the topic of relationships, a conversation that reveals that 1) he has an eHarmony profile and 2) he still has feelings he cannot rationalize for Marnie.

Although Ray and Marnie make sense, it's for such dark reasons. Ray has evolved so much as a character. At the beginning of Girls, all he did was harass people and engineer disaster. Then he fell in love with Shoshanna, which not only threw his awfulness into sharp relief, but made him reevaluate that awfulness. He made a professional change to impress Shoshanna, but when he realized how empty a gesture that was, he still found something in it for him. But even with that, he was still vulnerable from losing Shoshanna, which enabled his unholy union with Marnie. Marnie, at the time, went to Ray looking specifically for old Ray, the Ray that shouted her out of Café Grumpy railing about how he hated her so much he didn't even want to hate-fuck her he hated her so much. Even though Ray has demonstrated a capacity to change in all the ways viewers typically look to television characters to change — in the first season he fantasized aloud about Marnie and her family committing incest, and just a few episodes ago he made breakfast for a grieving Hannah and tried to treat her when she sustained a burn — Marnie's involvement with him demonstrates how stuck she is. Shoshanna is justifiably disgusted with all of this.

Shoshanna and Scott's date goes even more straightforwardly well than Hannah and Fran's pre-art-show date, but it does not pass without Shoshanna's attempt to sabotage it. In a hilarious seduction speech, Shoshanna demonstrates how "forward-thinking" she is by informing Scott of how she wants to know more about the future of his cock. Jessa told her to surprise him, and this is a pretty spectacular blend of what Jessa meant and how Shoshanna took it ("Like, jump out from behind something and scare him?"). But since Scott effectively diffuses the wild strangeness of the way Shoshanna describes her vagina by inviting her to ogle the celebrities at the bar beyond where they sit, it ends on a more optimistic note than Hannah and Fran's date.

Hannah is, apparently, at the end of her sub stint at St. Justine's since the teacher is coming back. Her student, Cleo, with whom she has bonded, gives Hannah guidance on how to deal with Fran in the aftermath of their dating disaster. In return, Hannah accompanies Cleo to get something pierced between periods. Hannah proposes they get the same thing pierced, and they settle on getting "best friendulum" piercings. Cleo's act of devotion is so brutal, though, that Hannah just abandons her. It's spectacularly on the nose, but this is probably Hannah's literal perspective on relationships now: friendships and romances have all ended with Hannah being shamed and brutalized. Except for the latest one, in which she has done the brutalizing.

When she tries to right that and apologize to Fran, expressing that hanging out with him would be a good choice and the kind she should be making, Fran says he likes her but does not foresee a calm life with her. Hannah resists that she is a source of drama, but he insists she does not see herself clearly. Hannah tries to play up to what she thinks is his instinct to tame her: "It's the new frontier of misogyny. Take a woman who's in control of her life and then silence her. And I'm up for it." Fran bales again.

And so she reaches out to her hammock under the Earth and asks her mom and dad if she's anything close to Courtney Love, precluding her chance to respond to Loreen when she cuts through her panicked jabbering with "your father's gay."

This episode was huge: it was not the turning point "Sit-In" or "Ask Me My Name" was, but it had almost all the major characters except for Adam, Mimi-Rose, and Elijah contributing to the stories. All those stories involved past, present, and future couples and, as ever, the conflation of jobs and relationships. Shoshanna's date, as successful as it is, is in the shadow of her failure to get a job, which is important to her. Marnie's relationship is her job, and from either vantage point, it's in a sorry state. Hannah's time at St. Justine's is ending, so her time with Fran probably is, too. And the implosion of Loreen's marriage to Tad comes right along with her attaining tenure.

There are also three refrains about misogyny that come up in the episode: Loreen attributes Tad's play for attention during her moment of triumph as inherently misogynistic, Hannah characterizes Fran's interest in her as coming from a misogynistic impulse, and Scott says his ex-girlfriend — who has figured into every interaction he has had with Shoshanna and, ominously, is the namesake of his soup business — finds him to be "the embodiment of the white male oppressor." These all function differently depending on the scene, but they operate together as a nice series of valves relieving the pressure from an episode that is so wrapped up in relationships. Girls has never been this single-minded about relationship concerns. Jessa has never been in a specifically romantic entanglement before Ace, by whom she is deeply distracted here. I hope these reactionary digs give way to an arc where, in the aftermath of Adam, Hannah is newly focused on her work without sacrificing energy to demonstrate that she can prioritize a relationship. Although, if she were to get into a relationship and pull it off with ease, now is the time — with both her parent's marriage at its end and Marnie wrapped up in being a wife — that she might really confront how her parents and Marnie are never going to be proud of her playing to their vacillating, half-formed, human expectations. She has to do what she wants.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 7: "Ask Me My Name" - I'm not in the mood for a poem.

According to HBO's original synopsis, this episode was supposed to cut away to Shoshanna helping Ray with his Community Board Eight election campaign. The episode benefited from being one story, but I am interested in seeing if the show maintains cohesion with the Ray and Shoshanna material.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Nine, "Ask Me My Name"

Like no episode before it, "Ask Me My Name" spoke its subtext and had characters come out and state their sincere and accurately observed motivation. I would not want to see this every week on Girls, but after three years of critics failing to get what is actually going on between Hannah and the other characters, this was fair. And the timing is perfect for Hannah, especially, to break it to herself why she is doing what she is doing.

She has secured a teaching job — subbing at a private school called Saint Justine's — where she elucidates Oedipus for her class. Her observations about the text echo her therapist's diagnosis of her current predicament from "Close Up":
The fact is, Oedipus couldn't have done anything differently. He was screwed from the moment he was born. But he still had free will, so he had the free will to make positive choices. So this begs the question are we just doing good things to avoid personal suffering, or is there actually such a thing as goodness?
The only comfort Hannah has in the face of her failure at Iowa is that she did it to make her mother happy, just like she blazed her way through awful job after awful job to make her parents happy, the way she got a boyfriend to make Marnie happy, and the way she abnegated her dignity to make Adam happy. But none of those "good things" helped her avoid personal suffering — and her refusal to act in her own best interests and circuitously emotionally blackmail others by placing them first has come off to most of those close to her as selfishness. Hannah would wonder, at this point, if there is such a thing as "goodness" or if she is the monster people make her feel she is.

And then she skips right into the teacher's lounge and has a witty exchange with a fellow teacher (Jenny Slate's Obvious Child beau Jake Lacy, who I am pleased to see as any iteration on his character from The Office anywhere, ever). "I'm Fran," he says. "Your juice box says Joe," says Hannah, "so I'm not sure what to believe." He tells her about Joe, and the formatting of that interaction will return later.

The only detour the episode takes is to Hannah's apartment, where she prepares for the date Fran asked her on that exists to give Andrew Rannells another chance to entirely justify the episode spending time it barely has on Elijah's method of rooming with Hannah.

Hannah's date with Fran lasts just long enough for an allusion to the Dangerous Minds TV show, teaching credentials, and what constitutes delivering a "good" performance as something other than the star of a pornographic film. Then Hannah asks Fran to an art show. Then "Ask Me My Name" takes off.

"Ask Me My Name" is the title of the art show — Mimi-Rose's art show — where Hannah steers Fran. I loved every part of the scene with Jessa that explains the conceit of the show: a figure in a smock regales Jessa with a story, "I asked Steph to meet me at the mall. She texted me back. 'LOL, I don't hang with sluts.' I was like, 'What did Jaden say?'" Jessa demands to know what Jaden says, but the figures reverse their smocks. Another one continues the story, "By this point, it was all over Facebook. 'Amber sucks baseball dick.'" Jessa demands to know what the person said back, but they are actors and they cannot go off-script. Jessa is scandalized that they are reading from a script. I wish Jemima Kirke had more opportunities to do comedic scenes, but the ones she gets are luminous.

Joshua Alston at the A.V. Club was put off by the presence of Marnie at Mimi-Rose's show, which strikes him as constituting too much of a betrayal. But going back as long as Girls has documented the relationship between Marnie and Hannah, Marnie has always embraced any opportunity to show Hannah who's doing things right with repellant zeal. Marnie loves successful people, like Tally Schifrin, and if they touch a nerve in Hannah, all the better, because as far as Marnie is concerned, Hannah has to learn. She would not be bothered by them if she would just succeed. Marnie's attendance at the show does not surprise me at all, especially considering her professional background in the art world. She can lord Mimi-Rose's success over Hannah and make herself feel sharp in appraising Mimi-Rose's work. And Desi gets to listen to it all.

He is pleased to see Hannah, but Marnie is not, and then Adam shows up. Since he is in the show, he has to finish his monologue — about being a child separated from his mother in an internment camp — before he can lay into Hannah for showing up at Mimi-Rose's show. Fran ably defends Hannah until he realizes he has receded entirely from her view and that she is there to do what she came to do, which is make Adam deal with her rage.

Before he can, Mimi-Rose comes over, filled with goodwill at the sight of Hannah, and invites Hannah to join her, Adam, and her former partner, Ace, at an after-party. Zachary Quinto's Ace gave me a hard chill. That is a strain of dude that causes me to take steps backwards, my head shaking.

Mimi-Rose — "Mims" to Ace, who plans to "wear [my smock] till the morning time and then pretend I work at Home Depot all day, helping people and shit" — compels Ace and Adam into a cab together and grabs another for she and Hannah.

First, Ace and Adam's ride: Ace recasts the events of "Close Up" in a spectacularly different light by telling Adam that Mimi-Rose's sweet, affectless way is a "hollow," "curated" front for her mission to manipulate and terrorize the people with whom she is involved. This immediately needles into the viewer the idea that Mimi-Rose did not even have an abortion, but just told Adam to see what it would do to him. This possibility does not escape Adam, either, who wants to dismiss Ace since, if she was so bad, he would not continue to support her, but Ace fires back: he will always be in love with Mimi-Rose and endeavors to get her back.

While Ace successfully eviscerates Adam's spirit, Mimi-Rose, on her ride with Hannah, provided me with one of the most visceral reactions to Girls I have had in some time, probably since Jessa's wedding in "She Did." Mimi-Rose is another person who is very familiar to me. I have felt like a useless piece of scenery when out with someone who gets more mileage from charming someone that person will not ever meet again so bystanders can get a good look at how good they are.

Mimi-Rose prioritizes making nice with the driver over Hannah, and when she does engage with her, it is to interrogate her about the show. Hannah overrides Mimi-Rose's appeal for criticism by insisting it was perfect, which Mimi-Rose says it absolutely was not since she was so distracted by a book she had to write while she was supposed to be organizing the show.

Mimi-Rose trolls Hannah with devastating precision: "I got sucked into writing this stupid book. It's a psychosexual thriller told from the perspective of a dead woman who solves her own murder using hologram technology that she invented. I think it'll probably suck, but I just always try to work outside my comfort zone cause that's the only way you grow." One of Hannah's most significant steps to being a writer on her own terms was her season two escapades. Even though she was still trying to break even, writing for recognition instead of herself, Hannah did invest her hopes and dreams in the book that she was given the opportunity to write after her exploitative JazzHate.com article thrusted her — per JazzHate's mandate — outside her comfort zone.


Hannah's attempt to direct their taxi driver — a possible assertion of his role as being of service to them, not a member of the party in the taxi — results in their running over an old woman. Mimi-Rose tries to offer her support to the woman, Mary, and the driver, Adeem — both of their names offered at Mimi-Rose's request — but Hannah pulls her away, assuring her they don't need her. They spend long enough in a convenience store for Mimi-Rose to troll Hannah a little more. They steal a popsicle, criming while white as the cop interrogates Adeem right outside, and then break for a laundromat with a bathroom Hannah can use.

In the convenience store, Hannah is able to articulate to Mimi-Rose that she is irrelevant, and if she harbors any negative feelings, they are toward Adam and his failure to confront Hannah with his feelings about Mimi-Rose. Mimi-Rose gets this out of Hannah by asking her, "Are you mad at me?", which Hannah does when she wants to provoke someone into snapping at her, revealing what is really irritating them. Hannah withholds any key outburst, but is set off when Mimi-Rose uses the two minutes Hannah takes in the laundromat bathroom to write a poem for and enchant a laundromat patron.

Hannah does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose, so Mimi-Rose proposes something that will get Hannah's attention: she could get Adam back. Jessa told Mimi-Rose that Hannah still had it for Adam, which Mimi-Rose said got her evaluating her interest in Adam. "I wouldn't just give him to you," says Mimi-Rose, "but I feel like we could figure something out. I would subtly distance myself from him as you incrementally worked your way back into his life. Perhaps through a joint creative project."

Hannah is repulsed by this. When Mimi-Rose suggests that Hannah is just angry for giving up on art and/or Adam, Hannah clarifies that she gave up on neither and, without the benefit of Ace hissing in her ear, deftly appraises Mimi-Rose's schtick: "I was away at graduate school getting a graduate degree in a form of art that is actual art, unlike what you do, which is not art. And you're not a genius. You're just tricking people and confusing them, and I think you know it's bullshit, and I think maybe you should just admit it."

Mimi-Rose's explanation of the show's inspiration works a hole into Hannah. Hannah concedes that she does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose because of the book she's writing, because of her invitations to give keynote addresses, because of her conventionally pretty face. Mimi-Rose responds, "The way that you see me, I'm afraid that that's the way everyone sees me. I just want to make something that says something, and I don't even know why anymore."

I cannot improve upon Alston's observation here:
Mimi-Rose doesn't have a grand vision of her life or career any more than Hannah does. Her self-doubt doesn't prevent her from creating the way Hannah's does, but while she's executing her ideas, she doesn't know what's driving her to do so. She's also deeply manipulative, dangling the prospect of giving Adam back to Hannah like he's a newly adopted pet. Mimi-Rose's art is a facet of her manipulation, which is why she can't get to the bottom of where her creative drive comes from. She cranks out work easily because she doesn't much care whether the output is good, only that she can use it to shape people's opinions of her.
As soon as Hannah acknowledges that she did not feel she was talented enough for Iowa and is now confronting the fear that she will lead the kind of dissatisfying life she has seen her mother lead, Mimi-Rose implores her to go drinking with her. Just as Hannah opens up. What a disastrous person.

Hannah only follows through with Mimi-Rose's invitation long enough to put the swirl on top of Adam's dark sundae of the soul. She tells him Mimi-Rose has her stamp of approval after not just his ride with Ace, but his accidentally admission of Ace's plan to get Mimi-Rose back to Jessa, who set Mimi-Rose up with Adam to pursue Ace, with whom she is now in a relationship.

Hannah then does the right thing: getting away from all of those people. She fails to charm a service person in a sandwich shop and takes her falafel sandwich and seltzer into the night.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 6: "Close Up" - Recognizing alarms or changes in partner morale and performance.

This was a gift.



Girls, Episode Thirty-Eight, "Close Up"

"Close Up" opens on a series of couples. First, Adam and Mimi-Rose, who now sleep in Mimi-Rose's lavish and keenly designed loft. He makes her a luxurious breakfast on their deck while she sleeps in. They are everything Hannah and Elijah are not back in Hannah's apartment. Hannah and Elijah are not intimate, and Hannah cannot enjoy any kind of breakfast because Elijah has eaten all of her cereal, plunging her into a meltdown.

Desi and Marnie copulate to the sound of their own music. Shoshanna, meanwhile, has the chance to become somebody's coworker — the way Desi and Marnie, as far as their band goes, are coworkers — but she rejects it. In an interview for a marketing position at an instant soup company, Shoshanna uses how much she does not want the job to give vent to her frustrations with job interview pretensions and with the unimpressive product. Although the interviewer, Scotty, rejects her for the position — he says her objection to the name, Madame Tinsley's, gets her off to a bad start, but clearly this guy who is looking for marketing help has never seen "Mad Men," because anyone who neglects to try and change their name wants to see them fail — he does ask Shoshanna on a date, an invitation she accepts.

The extent to which Shoshanna is completely over everything in this scene was a high point for the character. Shoshanna was shortchanged for fun scenes almost entirely last season. I think she is channeling Jessa pretty hard here, too. She definitely learned the term "bedussy" (I take issue with the spelling of that portmanteau) from Jessa.

Both Desi+Marnie and Adam+Mimi-Rose find out one member of the relationship is not on the same page as the other with regards to what their relationship is. Between Marnie and Desi, the misunderstanding is all about their music, because they are both people who love to project, and that is their stage on which to do so. Marnie sees them as "She & Him, but with actual romance." Desi sees them as "modern American folk with an indie edge." He also believes the song Marnie wrote, "Close Up," that she wants them to perform at a showcase, is misrepresentative of their oeuvre. The subtext is all there, and the joke that is Desi's ideals about his music as they collide with his overbearing douchebaggedness is so powerful. Even Marnie has a hard time humoring him.

Meanwhile, Adam and Mimi-Rose hang around post-breakfast and Adam proposes they go for a run. Everything from the way he reads his lines to the way he snarls his desire to see her "bounce" is sensational. Adam Driver has not had so many fun things to do in a scene since the second season, at least. He was definitely all gravity last year. And the feral way he describes how he wants to watch her suggests that he is not trying to stifle and warp himself the way he did with Natalia. All of it works to make the blow as hard as it possibly can be when Mimi-Rose says no, she cannot go for a run because she is recovering from an abortion that she had the day before.

This calls back to "Vagina Panic" in season one, where Adam passively shamed Hannah for supposing that abortions were no big deal. Here, Adam is confronted by Mimi-Rose, totally unruffled by her decision. She wants to be honest with Adam about her decision, but it was her decision, she stresses. She went with her friend, Sue-Ellen Garth, and she has no qualms and does not need to crawl into Adam's arms.

First of all, their subsequent conversation is a garden of expositional delights. Mimi-Rose's middle name is Eleanor. Adam's parents were married within a week of meeting one another. Also, as the owner of an inconvenient name, I love the way Mimi-Rose is defensive about her name. Adam is so shaken by the way she went along and did not include him in the decision to abort the ball of cells he helped provoke inside of her that he calls her evil and proceeds to pack his things.

Both Adam and Hannah are approached by the rawest, most accurate descriptions of their respective challenges as characters in this episode. Adam gets the opportunity to truly confront his need to be needed when Mimi-Rose stops him from moving. Their conversation addresses perfectly and specifically precisely what they are experiencing, which is an astonishing departure from the conversations Adam has always had with Hannah, which served only to dance around how they thought no one could love them, but because there is something wrong with the other person, they have a bit of leverage over them, so they are as much as a risk as they are willing to take.

But between Adam and Mimi-Rose, we get this:
"You don't ask me how you look or whatever. You just look in the mirror and go. You're like those jellyfish who only need to fuck once to have generations of kids. Sometimes I just can't tell what I'm even here for at all." 
"See, that's what I love about you. You know the weirdest stuff. Your brain does not process information in a normal way at all. Truly, Adam, I care about you so much." 
"I care about my butcher. I need my butcher. I can't butcher meats. I need my butcher more than you need me." 
"No, I don't need you. But I love coming home and knowing you're behind the door. And I love watching you bend down and pick something up cause you use your body in a really strange way. And wanting you like this, that's better than needing you because it's pure."
Even where Mimi-Rose is remarking on Adam's idiosyncrasies, it is with markedly more warmth and affection than when Hannah would make reference to Adam's elephantine ears.

Meanwhile, Hannah has the opportunity for a revelation that could be as relevant to her as Adam's is to him. But Hannah does not have someone with Mimi-Rose's clarity of mind to usher her there. In fact, the person Hannah is talking to — her therapist, played by Bob Balaban — seems mysteriously preoccupied by Mimi-Rose. He assures Hannah she has merely rendered an all-too-accurate image of her, but Bob Balaban clearly knows who Mimi-Rose is, setting Hannah up for probably the same kind of fateful life-bond with Mimi-Rose that Lena Dunham developed IRL with Audrey Gelman, the daughter of her childhood therapist.

Bob Balaban asks Hannah how she thinks of writing as a career option. No one ever poses questions like this to Hannah — he isn't asking her how she thinks she's going to pull it off, he asks her what she thinks about it and why she wants to do it. She thinks aloud about how her favorite writers helped her shape her world view. Bob Balaban seizes upon that and really interrogates Hannah's impulse to help. Going to Iowa, Hannah says, made her mother happy, and the decision became all about that. Bob Balaban calls her "beautiful" and "stable" for having arrived at the understanding that she is a "helper." This scene is such a minefield!

Hannah's every folly and disaster has come at trying to "help" those close to her — her parents, Marnie, Adam — by doing what they want, wanting for herself what she wants for them. Hannah does not interrogate herself about what she wants or why because she does not trust it. What a sad and terrible thing that she does not know — or is not ready to face — why she wants to write. And based on their previous interactions, this is a totally uncharacteristic level of interaction and feedback from Bob Balaban. I think his willingness to track Hannah's motivation to the "helper" conclusion and declare her "stable" is an effort on his part to end Hannah's therapy so she will not find out he knows who Mimi-Rose is. Trying to guess what comes next isn't my foremost priority as a viewer of Girls, but this is some terrible thing Bob Balaban is doing to Hannah here. He is reinforcing that everything Hannah has done to serve others is done according to the correct instinct. She has no incentive to listen to herself.

Which makes the next scene, when she convenes with Elijah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa, make sense, even though she is on raw terms with everyone. Hannah does not trust herself. She gives credence to their suggestions and their takes on her situation even though they are projections of their own need to be the center of Hannah's universe at best.

At their diner date, Shoshanna decides she could always be just like her mother and defer her dreams by being the woman behind Scotty the Soup Mogul. Shades of her season one relationship with Charlie creep into Marnie's talk of Desi. When Hannah says she wants to get a job helping people, they unanimously assail her with examples of her legendary selfishness. Their chorus of jobs Hannah might consider that would not disgust them yields for Hannah one useful nugget: because she cannot do, she can teach.

While all this is going on, Ray makes the sojourn to Community Board Eight, where he confronts Marc Maron, who could be future him. The discord at the meeting moves Ray to ready himself to make the run for a seat, which is inoffensive, but it's all plot for now.

At the same time, Hannah readies herself to get back in the job market, leading to one of my favorite moments in all of Girls: the reveal of Hannah's resume. It's one of the best jokes to which Girls has ever been home, and I'm dedicated a post to it alone.