Before mercury, my blood was used to fill thermometers.

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.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 7: "Hello Kitty" - Do you think I deserve all the things that are happening to me?

I haven't abandoned Girls, but the revelation that both Sterling K. Brown and Courtney Vance are on board for another season of American Crime Story addressing Hurricane Katrina was all I had the resources for this week.

Girls, Episode Forty-Nine, "Hello Kitty"

1. Hannah Fatal Attraction-ing her principal:
Last time Hannah worked for an older man (who wasn't Ray), he sexually harassed her, and her impression of the experience was that sexual harassment wasn't black and white. Her coworkers benefited from being able to relax their behavior, since their boss was willing to let things slide in order to avoid confronting his own behavior. Immediately before coming to work at the school, Hannah was at Iowa. To go to Iowa was such an enormous decision and a profound exercise of agency on Hannah's part that when she couldn't handle the effects, she tried to get kicked out. Hannah does not have much confidence in her ability to make decisions. When the principal grapples with how to hold her accountable for her inappropriate behavior — because she is well-liked among students — it seems like Hannah's disowning the situation, leaving it up to the principal to fire her, and/or attempting to rearrange the terms of their working relationship to be more like her first job in the law office.

2. The realist thing Marnie's ever done: Even when Marnie asserts that her marriage to Desi was a mistake and she has come to the conclusion that she needs to be alone — which represents the most significant change in her character in the life of the show — she asks for Ray's feedback. He is right to advise her that she knows what she needs — imagine the Ray of season one saying that to anybody about anything. Even when the titulars make decisions on their own behalf in the service of their goals and desires, they make themselves game for being talked out of those decisions. Marnie passive aggressively forces other people to be accountable for her decisions, especially Ray, who heretofore hasn't been able to help injecting his judgment everywhere. But Ray has learned that does more harm than good and his life has been improved by learning from Shoshanna and Hannah, specifically, just by observing them and empathizing with them. That's why Ray's outburst "Human apathy continues to be one of the grossest threats to mankind" really comes from his heart. He is forcing Marnie to confront her decision and remain confident in it. And a challenge is immediately posed to her resolve: Desi shows up with news that a song of theirs will be on Grey's Anatomy — their career as a band is taking off, so she cannot cut him off completely without also compromising her ambitions as a singer. While Marnie has slowly, incrementally acknowledged that she would rather be a musician than anything else, I wouldn't find Marnie achieving legible-to-the-audience success as a musician as satisfying a place for Marnie to end on (be it this season or next) as her coming to the understanding that she dismissed and hurt Hannah for prioritizing her art instead of her romantic relationships. But I, as a viewer, just want to avoid any more Desi. Marnie has already demonstrated her fidelity to her music career with her season four showcase performance. She doesn't need to be put in a position to choose career-with-Desi or no career. Viewers have seen her do it on her own (whether or not she succeeded, if anything in particular came from that showcase, is yet to be revealed/irrelevant, because Girls isn't about the characters achieving but about them accepting and following their desires).

3. Dill: This is Elijah's first story line so I'm enjoying watching it unfold. In season two, he mentioned that he might enjoy being somebody's Wendi Murdoch. He's shed every ambition he's alluded toward since Girls started in favor of hanging out with Hannah, and when he's vanished, it's been into relationships. With Dill, he could capably and comfortably be kept, with access to a celebrity realm, but he's already rankled about the terms on which that arrangement comes. If Elijah chooses not to be with Dill, he will have to do something. Maybe.

4. Making a scene: Hannah wants to confront Fran about the state of their relationship — he is treating her like Marnie used to treat her when they lived together — but Fran does not want to make a scene at the interactive play they go to see, in which the audience plays bystanders observing the bystanders who have been interpreted as failing to intervene in the murder of Kitty Genovese. The audience moves through the rooms of the apartment building that is supposed to be hers, entering the apartments of her neighbors, unable themselves to intervene in the scenes they witness, including the discovery by some tenants of the murder-in-progress outside, represented by a sculpture lit in red. Hannah is already unhappy when she arrives, resentful that her perspective isn't being acknowledged, but everything spirals wildly when they reach the point in the play where the murder takes place. Hannah enters the room where Adam is performing. She moves into the next room to get a view of the murder. She sees Jessa on a fire escape across the way. She sees Adam's longing look at Jessa from the window next to her. She sees Jessa radiantly receptive of that look. When Marnie receives Desi's news about their career breakthrough, Hannah can barely deal with the fact that Marnie isn't listening to her. I love Hannah's real problem with articulating her feelings. In this episode, she swats at Fran for trying to touch her, echoing how messed up she was in "Sit-In" when Shoshanna tried to comfort her and Hannah kicked Shoshanna in the boob and told her to leave her alone. Her every feeling and perception gets challenged and dismissed, so in situations where she is sure her panic and despair are justified — especially with regards to Adam, over whom she has received so many conflicting judgments in the last several years — she gets pre-verbal. The sadness that consumes Hannah's face is one of my favorite moments in Lena Dunham's performance. It is easier for her to call out to Adam than to Jessa. I am looking forward to finding out the specific gradients of how Hannah feels about the realization having washed over her that Jessa blew up their friendship to be with Adam.

5. "Hello Kitty": Framing this episode's series of confrontations in an interactive performance directly recalls season four's "Ask Me My Name," which was about being seen. 38 Neighbors is about being unseen. The performance Ask Me My Name was not about any single, specific person's experience, but 38 Neighbors is, and it's an experience the complexity of which is frequently glossed over in favor of the assertion that Kitty Genovese's murder proves people would rather not get involved. Regardless of the parallels drawn in this episode, the juxtaposition diminishes the real murder as well as what the characters are going through. I don't feel it served the episode, but I have also barely been able to think about anything other than American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, and nothing looks so impressive compared to that.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 6: "The Panic in Central Park" - There's nothing aggressive about that, it's a ballad.

I completely agree with Joshua Alston at the AV Club on what this episode achieves: "Marnie’s not ready for a destination, she’s ready for a journey." "The Panic in Central Park" is a self-contained romantic comedy in which the endgame is not finding someone a girl can be happy with, but finding that she needs to not be with anyone or the dream of being happy with someone is going to die.

Girls, Episode Forty-Eight, "The Panic in Central Park"

Marnie and Desi are mid-fight over how Marnie doesn't want a confrontation and Desi does. They sit, boxed into the bedroom Desi started to construct to allow Marnie more space, which divides up their studio into even smaller slivers. She accuses him of aggressively playing guitar at her, but he says a ballad can't be aggressive. The Aggression of Ballads ought to be the title of Marnie's solo album. Her fear of abandonment and ambivalence about being needed has driven her to be with guys who either demand everything, no matter how unreasonable or unpredictable the content of that commitment, from her (Charlie and Desi) because she is not quite solid on what a commitment should look like and feel like, or reflect the way she perceives herself as a person entitled to culture and success (Booth Jonathan) or lust and adulation (Ray at his weakest, although his respect for Marnie as a musician and his sustained support for her that dates all the way back to the second season bodes well for him as being the right choice — as an ally if not as a partner, since everyone else needs to get out and stay out of her life).

Desi's touch propels Marnie out of bed. In Marnie's first scene with dialogue with Hannah in the pilot, she described the thing that confirmed to her that her relationship with Charlie was wrong: "His touch feels like a weird uncle's now." There is no turning back now that she's repulsed by Desi's touch. She's at the point where she can't lie to herself. The threat of suicide does nothing to keep Marnie from leaving.

Willa Paskin nailed it:

Desi is like Charlie with Adam's intensity, another instance of Girls' characters taking a cue from Hannah, a character whose every motivation is interrogated and dismissed but whose tactics and choices are (unconsciously) adopted when crises arise. When Marnie hit bottom after Charlie left her, she tried to recoup the loss by becoming an artist and having the "great artistic love story" Hannah alleged she was having with Adam.

I hadn't remembered until watching this episode that Charlie was also a musician, but speaking of Charlie, there he is, on the street, among a clutch of dudes catcalling Marnie as she takes a walk to get away from Desi. In their mutual bewilderment, Marnie's impulse is to run, but Charlie pursues her. When Marnie brings Charlie up to date on her marriage and the state of her life, she mentions music because that's something they share, but I'm curious as to whether or not she felt like they shared that when they were together. The spectre of Marnie's musical theatre days comes up in the scene, with one of Charlie's fellow dudes coming onto Marnie with a mixed-up West Side Story reference, but I wonder how much her involvement with Charlie was a sublimation of her musical aspirations. It would make sense if part of her refusal to end their relationship him was informed by the fear that, once it was over, she would have to face that she wants to be a musician (a reality she doesn't have to face much with Desi, since even as a partner in their performance she keeps positioning herself as a muse).

Another thing she brings up is the fact that her dad didn't come to her wedding. Charlie reveals that he left her after finding out that his dad hung himself. It's after he divulges this that Marnie consents to catch up with him, sharing with Charlie that he was her family and all the songs she writes are about him. Charlie was very straightforward with Marnie in season one that his father's abandonment of him made their breakup difficult to cope with and that his decision to be with her was more important for him to honor than whether or not he was necessarily happy with her. Marnie, similarly, is not inclined to want anything to do with what makes a relationship, just that one exists and she is in it: when she and Charlie got back together at the end of season two, she was eager to declare how they were through with their roaming and striving and had arrived at being an established, old married couple who were going to be status quo for the rest of their days on earth. But despite how similarly damaged they are, Marnie can't fake being happy when somebody touches her and she doesn't want it.

Despite her reminder of that feeling, she allows herself to feel the glow of Charlie's affection. It's been a few years — "The Panic in Central Park" is required Girls viewing for a few reasons, but chief among them is how Marnie and Charlie articulate the passage of time on the show. There are very few time jumps but a lot has happened within the space of the three-ish years the show has covered (Charlie reveals that his app, Forbid, in addition to being shuttered, was one of several companies he was involved in since his last appearance on the show). Charlie's attention may not be fresh, but Marnie is in just the mood to dissociate from their baggage while simultaneously using it as a way to dismiss the consequences of their time together. Nothing can happen because it can't, even if it does. He's hurt her severely enough that Marnie thinks she's immune to the effects of his attention. Marnie is never immune to the effects of romantic or sexual attention from men.

So she follows Charlie even though he acts, talks, and looks different from when she knew him. He blames this on her, insisting that she doesn't remember him right. When he takes her to a store, heaps a pile of "Bob Mackey Barbie doll" dresses upon her, and quickly vanishes into the burrito place next door under the guise of needing a bathroom only to come whirling back to get her, tossing a bunch of cash at the cashier, and tugging Marnie away in a hurry informed not at all by romantic spontaneity but the evasion and panic of criminal behavior. Marnie's not not into it, and I love how much Marnie's naivete is part of this story. It is not that she is willing to overlook so much in order to be with someone, but that when she looks, she only sees what she wants, and this episode demonstrates how potentially dangerous that is for her and how she recognizes this in herself and refuses Desi's insistence that she needs him to protect her because she's so naive, because, as Desi repeats several times at the end of the episode, Marnie is going to get murdered acting the way she acts. And "The Panic in Central Park" shows Marnie getting mugged before settling in for an evening at Charlie's squalid apartment. She ignores every red flag — Charlie's apartment used to be so orderly and aesthetically pleasing in the aspirational, corporate way Marnie favors, now she's inclined to give him tips about what kind of curtains he uses to cover the windows before retracting her critique, she is so unable to trust herself and all she knows is she can't stop trying to change people, she doesn't realize what she's commenting upon — until she finds a needle and walks home barefoot. The conclusion Marnie comes to at the end of the episode (with the help of a girl she meets in Charlie's shared bathroom whose girlfriend had abandoned her on the freeway) is that she needs to protect herself, she needs to listen to the impulse to recoil from someone's touch immediately. Nobody needs to teach her that lesson, she has earned it and she needs to respect that.

On her way to that conclusion, Charlie takes her to a fancy party that recalls the time Marnie spent working as a hostess at a club, the "pretty person job" she seized when both Charlie and her gallery job deserted her. Charlie's client, who he's there to sell cocaine to — the last time cocaine affected Marnie's life, it was when Hannah did it and crashed her night with Booth Jonathan to tell Marnie that she was a bad friend — propositions Marnie, who he assumes is a prostitute and another product that Charlie is selling. Marnie revels in it, charging several hundred dollars for an appointment she has no plans to keep, and takes Charlie out to a lavish dinner with it. They dance, they sway through the park together, they kiss on somebody's boat — Marnie is weary enough by this point on their date that she asks several times whose boat it is and if they ought to be using it — and topple it over. Under the water, Marnie takes a second to consider what she's doing with Desi and how her experience with Charlie informs it. She probably feels like she's still paralyzed with fear, up against the pole, unable to join the party, just like she was when Charlie met her.

When Marnie leaves Desi, the episode leaves her climbing into bed with Fran and Hannah, where Hannah acknowledges her and falls back asleep. With the end of Girls upon them, this was where I was hoping to see them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 5: "Queen for Two Days" - Sassy separates.

I would have finished this sooner had I not been crying over Everything is Copy.

Girls, Episode Forty-Seven, "Queen for Two Days"

I'm not preoccupied with trying to figure out where Girls will end up, but since viewers are halfway through the penultimate season of this show, which plays long games with its characters, I am intrigued with where the story is taking those characters and how it's setting things up so nobody will wind up in a romantic pairing, per se. Jessa and Adam are riveting to see, but there is too much at stake — I suspect if Jessa had to choose, she would choose Hannah, but maybe only after confronting her plainly about how she has not been supportive of her since she came to New York to be with her.

Jessa came to be with Hannah in New York because of an unwanted pregnancy, and that hovers over the more playful, vigorous, Adam Classic sex he and Jessa have in this episode. They are role-playing, which Adam loved to do with Hannah until he got to know her too well and had too many real feelings about her. Jessa asks Adam, "After you come, pretend like you meant to pull out and then you're gonna freak out like you might've gotten me pregnant." Her play-distress is mesmerizing and confusing — she frets about what she's going to tell her parents, who, in reality, couldn't help her when she did find herself pregnant — but afterwards she is glowing and inviting Adam to meet her sister, Minerva.

On their way to meet Minerva, Jessa makes more references to her family — specifically how she and Minerva have had sex with all the same people except for Jessa's dad, with whom only Minerva has had sex. The viewer also knows her dad compulsively abandons her, and that fear may or may not be what moves Jessa to advise Adam that if he would like to sleep with Minerva, that is fine with her. Adam is still trying to get a read on the dynamic between them at dinner, when, after Minerva alludes to how flush she is thanks to spousal support and her trust fund, Jessa asks her for money. After ditching rehab, Jessa's grandmother cut her off, and she wants to go back to school, which, as a foreign student, means she has no access to financial aid. Minerva dismisses Jessa's intention to become a therapist as a whim. Adam makes a passionate defense of Jessa, calling her "cutting and sublime," and offers to pay for her to go to school. Jessa doesn't hesitate to accept the offer.

Minerva rejects Jessa's request for help on the grounds that Jessa's never stuck to anything, that this desire to be a therapist is a whim. Minerva isn't wrong to hesitate, but that isn't Jessa's problem — Jessa does not want to be perceived as wanting something and will eagerly reject a thing before it has the chance to reject her or the moment it looks like rejection is imminent. Adam's offer doesn't neutralize that threat, and the one person Jessa feels safe showing affection and commitment to even in the face of rejection — Hannah — isn't around anymore. This does not bode well for Jessa's plan to re-enroll (unless she graduated college at some point and is indeed ready for graduate school, because she only went to Oberlin for seven months).

Next week's episode is focused on Marnie — here's to hoping she runs into Booth Jonathan, not only since Charlie's too much of a stretch — so the rest of "Queen for Two Days" concerns Hannah and Shoshanna galavanting with a companion in futile attempts to forestall despair.

In Tokyo, Yoshi praises Shoshani's performance in her new job at a cat café. She does appear to be in her element, but so did Hannah when she worked in GQ's advertorial department — just because she can do it doesn't mean it makes her happy. When Abigail, the boss who laid Shoshanna off, appears, she assumes Shoshanna feels dejected and desperate. Shoshanna takes her on a tour of Tokyo to demonstrate otherwise, showing her all her chill spots, but that falls apart when they join Yoshi for a moment with "the elusive fifth taste." Yoshi mentions his plans to travel with Shosh to meet his grandmother — and to lose their virginities to one another. Shosh starts to disintegrate right away, and it isn't fully clear why yet. She says she's homesick, but no evidence of this has been shown. The fact that Yoshi's mention that he is a virgin — who assumes Shosh is a virgin — might have forced her to confront where she is in relation to where she was when she met Ray. I am interested to see if it is renewed drive or fear that leaves Shoshanna walking down an empty, manically flickering Tokyo street to a winsome cover by Aurora of David Bowie's "Life on Mars."

Meanwhile, Hannah and her mom, Loreen, head to a weekend self-help getaway called Spring Queening. Instead of solidarity, Loreen finds a bunch of women who dismiss her problems as invalid and express envy for what she has — a gay husband who will still have sex with her that she finds satisfying. She frets over whether or not she and Tad fucked Hannah up beyond repair and wonders aloud if Hannah can accept people who love her, since she's so at home reading passive aggressive emotional cues. Hannah insists she can accept love and tries to prove it to herself by accepting the advances of a yoga instructor. Hannah's tryst with her technically works: Hannah reciprocates the affections of the yoga instructor, who calls her "luscious," and kisses her. They wind up having sex, but Hannah can't deal with how long it takes to get her off as she gives her head in a sauna. When she tries to voice her inability to finish the task, the yoga instructor dismisses her — even though she seemed like a departure from the woman who ran orientation and shamed the attendees for neglecting to voice concern when orientation didn't start on time.

But it disappoints me that this is the second representation of queer female sexuality being expressed towards a central character — from whose point of view the encounter takes place — that serves to humiliate the queer woman. The yoga instructor isn't even named (even Grace Dunham's character from "Good Man" had a name, Lob).

Hannah hides from the day, then, conceding that Tad and Loreen did fuck her up, but since this comes in conjunction with Loreen's decision to stick with Tad, it seems more like Hannah's way of trying to stay on their wavelength. She took a call from Tad in this episode to tell Tad he should take an active roll in ending his marriage and embracing his sexuality. It doesn't seem like Hannah is excited at the prospect that she might have to be the voice of reason and that only she knows what is right for her.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 4: "Old Loves" - She did the rips.

It just hit me that naming Ray's rival cafe Helvetica is a reference to the font's history as a disruptive, almost parasitic force in design. I am sure this was the first thing that occurred to Ray, who absolutely thinks of himself as a serif font.

Girls, Episode Forty-Six, "Old Loves"

Besides Adam and Elijah, the men with whom Hannah has been involved on a multi-episode basis include Sandy (Donald Glover) in season two, Joe (Michael Zegen) in season three, and now Fran (Jake Lacy). As far as I'm concerned, as a viewer, all three actors have handled their material capably and I appreciate them operating in a more subtle register than Girls' series regulars, but the fact remains that they are some of the more undeveloped characters on the show. The characters that bob into and orbit Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna, Ray, Adam, and Elijah's lives are all more vivid and specific, making it all the more disappointing when someone is introduced purely for Hannah to react off of them, especially since so much of the show's richness is generated by the very loaded interactions Hannah has with the other central characters. Because he has come into the story later, Fran is not just representative of facets of Hannah herself she wants to embrace or repress — Sandy was a black Republican with whom Hannah could feel like she was capable of embracing any kind of person, which resulted in her neglecting to embrace Sandy as a person; Joe was a writer like her who had given up striving for a career in GQ's advertorial section, which scares Hannah away from him and the job in a matter of weeks — Fran is the singular manifestation of Hannah having ceded control over the direction of her life as evidenced by the way he echoes all the signs Hannah recognized when determining whether or not the people in her life meant the best for her. I mean that as straightforwardly as possible: that doesn't mean Fran wants the genuine Platonic ideal of what is best for Hannah. Hannah's decision-making, which fuels Girls' plot, is informed by the tension between what Hannah wants and what the people in her life want for her, and because Hannah loves the people in her life and (because those people aren't fantastic) she doesn't trust herself (because they are almost all relentlessly dismissive of her), she goes along with what she has interpreted as being their wishes for her until the situation becomes untenable. Fran exists at the intersection of her romantic and working life, he is the opposite of everything about Adam that Hannah drew strength and inspiration from as she grew herself, and — I love everything this says about Hannah's attraction to him at this time in her life — the way he polices Hannah's behavior is vintage Marnie. When Hannah reveals her disgust with Fran's behavior, she articulates how he has these specific, myriad expectations for how she should act at any given moment, and if she doesn't act the way he thinks she's supposed to act, he judges her. Marnie is APPALLED at it's GREAT because that's purely her MO. It makes perfect sense that Hannah is with him and has been with him for at least half a year: She tried to prioritize her writing over her relationship with Adam, and he pushed her away. When she had a chance to write an ebook, she chose Adam instead. When Adam pushed her away to prioritize his acting and she stared into the terrifying maw of advertorial writing, she lit out for the Iowa Writer's Workshop. When the landmines of insecurity that everyone in her life had planted in her over the years detonated as she took her big risk in a new place by herself, she came back to New York to find Adam in a relationship with someone else. At the job she found to establish some independence for herself, she met Fran, who distracted her when her life was at its most chaotic. Fran seemed like the decision to place career and relationship first is capable of working out for Hannah. The one character who can reliably remind Hannah that a commitment to anything other than her writing is toxic — Jessa — is not only finding some much-needed validation in preparing for a career, but in turmoil over her attraction to Adam, which she lets alienate her from Hannah to the point she breaks up their friendship. I love that "Old Loves" finds Hannah here, pushing her closer to having to listen to herself, but this is all to say I do wish Fran was a little more distinct as a character (if only for the sake of those viewers who don't have the benefit of imagining he is just the same character Jake Lacy has been playing since the Office about to be driven off the edge by romantic misstep after romantic misstep).

Speaking of Jessa's turmoil over her relationship with Adam, consider Joshua Alston's interpretation of Jessa's perspective regarding Adam as a boyfriend at the A.V. Club. It reminded me of how specifically enmeshed Hannah is with Jessa, in a different way she is enmeshed with Marnie. Her boundaries with Marnie blur over Marnie's belief that she is attuned to the rules and, as a part of her, Hannah ought to be, too, and Hannah's refusal to do or to prioritize certain things because of cultural expectations undoes her. The expectations Hannah has for Marnie are rooted in Hannah's designation as her best friend, the very designation Jessa gave Marnie sass for in the pilot when she chided her by going "We don't own anybody." But that doesn't mean Jessa wouldn't like to feel some sense of ownership or being owned by somebody, and her connection to Hannah — who is her best friend — is rooted in empathy and a shared woundedness that Jessa isn't particularly proud of, and instead of feeling solace in Hannah, Hannah has largely served to make Jessa embarrassed that she needs somebody as badly as she does. This tension courses through the scene where Marnie and Hannah both escape their by-all-appearances-functional relationships by hiding in Jessa's apartment. It used to be Shoshanna's apartment where, two years prior, Shoshanna could not believe Jessa thought it was appropriate to laze around, giving vent to her frustrations, while she was trying to study. I love Shoshanna in Japan, but am sad to miss another examination of Jessa's blindness to how she affects Shoshanna and what happens when it collides with her enmeshment with Hannah. The extent to which Hannah really doesn't impress Shoshanna, especially when it comes to her place in Jessa's life, made for the most poignant moment in "Truth or Dare," a bitter start to a bitter season, when she dismissed a memory Hannah had of Jessa, sick in bed, begging her and their other friends to stay with her and not leave her alone. Shoshanna, out of nowhere, gaslights Hannah and assures her that she remembers it wrong, "You were probably the one who was crying." The evidence was there but it has become even more apparent how much it hurts Shoshanna to let Jessa matter to her.

But the spectre of Shoshanna in Jessa's unconscious paralleling of their season three situation is only one of the bygone locus of feelings from which "Old Loves" takes its name. The episode is ostensibly about new loves: Marnie's new marriage to Desi, Hannah's new cohabitation with Fran, Elijah's new maybe-serious-thing with newscaster celebrity Dill, and Jessa and Adam. The juxtaposition of their newly graduated flirtation with the other newer loves with Jessa's confession that she has wanted to be with Adam "for a long time" demonstrates one of the things I love most about Girls, which is the hyperreal dormancy and detonation of attachments and resentments and the time-bending experience of getting to know someone over a number of years ("Time is a rubber band," Adam told Hannah in season one as he cried watching Jessa marry a stranger). It doesn't seem correct to think of any of these relationships as old or new, considering how the influence of one character lingers on another, how the conditions of present relationships are informed by past ones.

Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's relationships also inflict collateral damage on the people around them. Fran and Hannah's blow-up over her teaching methods results in a student's poem being torn up, to the student's distress. Adam's pursuit of Jessa leads him to crash a females only AA meeting — something Jessa explicitly could not abide in season three. The speaker Adam interrupts has her revenge when she warns Jessa a relationship like the one she seems to have with Adam is what got her pregnant. The content of her speech was about her repulsion towards motherhood, which echoes Jessa's moment of vulnerability with Jeff in season one in which she confesses to running away when she was little in order to lie to strangers about what a great relationship she has with her mother, how wonderful her mother is. Now that Marnie has gotten Desi into her life, he's repaying her by coordinating an intrusive, loud construction project in their studio apartment, alienating all their neighbors. Thanks to their involvement with these people, Hannah feels like she can't do a job she actually enjoys (compared to the other jobs she's had, that is), acquaintances-at-best hate Marnie, and Jessa has estranged herself from Hannah in order to confront something that represents and is steeped in enormous, intimate risks: these are their worst nightmares, respectively.

What does Elijah's relationship do to those around him? He and Dill draw a fawning crowd on an idyllic walk through Times Square. Their budding relationship, the only genuinely brand new one among the relationships featured in this episode, winds up with a portrayal of physical intimacy that is on the spectrum of awkward that is of a piece with the other couplings. Desi almost cries trying to get his shirt off, his congress with Marnie an extension of a temper tantrum. Hannah and Fran aren't even acknowledging each other's presences. Adam comes out and calls out the quality of his and Jessa's encounter: it's bad. At least Dill and Elijah communicate and laugh.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episode 3: "Japan" - You played into that pain so well.

Never having let hobbies into my life, because I've been mostly, solely single minded about pursuits, it would be during maybe the busiest time I've ever experienced that I don't want to do anything but arrange flowers. My relationship to the color green is kind of adversarial, so it's taken me a long time to come around to plants. It feels like cheating since it's such an expedient way to make pleasing designs out of inherently pleasurable elements. But if there is any room at all for anything in my life right now it's easy routes to beauty.

Girls, Episode Forty-Five, "Japan"

This episode is a sequel to season one's "Hannah's Diary." At that point, Adam and Hannah were flirting. Hannah was just starting to spiral over the confusing feedback everyone was giving her about how she should feel taken advantage of by Adam. He wasn't trying to commit to her or be receptive to the attention she gave him, all of which was really a roundabout way for the people in her life to shame Hannah for being hung up on a guy who wasn't her boyfriend. But Hannah was having fun and trying to figure out what she wanted from Adam — her monologue from that episode demonstrates how she hadn't figured it out yet — and not everything he did bothered her. Like sending her a picture of his privates wrapped in a raccoon's tail that he quickly, halfheartedly apologized for because the picture wasn't taken for her.

This didn't register with Hannah as something to be bothered about and she sent him a picture of herself back in which she is squeezing her chest and winking comically. For the rest of the day, different people around her tell her she should be offended that Adam's flirting with other people — and in such a flagrant way. When she confronts him at the end of the episode, completely confused, she feels brought back to earth when Adam tells her to be who she is and to not apologize for having responded to his photo with her own photo. She is self-conscious about not being able to take a photo of herself that isn't funny. But Adam doesn't mind.

So in "Japan," Hannah knows she's been here before, under a circumstance that felt very similar to this. Fran hands her his phone to show her something and she swipes her way into his trove of photos of ex-girlfriends. Their photos are straightforwardly sexual. Hannah is outraged and confronts Fran immediately (the process of confronting Adam after first having received the photo was a night's sleep and the following day). He responds by acknowledging he would rather use a photo of her, but he says her inability to take a serious naked picture of herself is an obstacle. This rightly rattles Hannah, because a taker of serious naked selfies is not who she is. And for her well being, it is not optimal that the strikes against Fran are coming when he does wrong what Adam did right.

Hannah seeks moral outrage from her two most reliable sources for such a thing: Marnie and Ray. But Marnie is caught up in the bliss of her honeymoon with Desi — since she got what she wanted, she's willing to concede that "in a sense" monogamy is a construct. Marnie avoids validating Hannah's feelings by dismissing Hannah's plea for her to be on her side with "I'm always on your side." The mention of her having spoken to Marnie does nothing for Ray's clarity of mind when Hannah talks to him and he tells her he just can't figure out why she's mad.

Both of them tell her: he's not cheating. Adam, in "Hannah's Diary," was flirting (this is not conclusive, he could've just been talking) with someone. But Hannah couldn't see whoever that person was. Adam wasn't trying to compare her with anyone and liked her for who she was. Fran told her to her face he would rather use those pictures than pictures of her. Marnie's remark about how Fran is the nicest guy Hannah's been with "by a planet distance" demonstrates how she still doesn't see what good Adam ever did Hannah and where her priorities are in a relationship. After the brutal way their relationship ended — with Hannah prioritizing writing over Adam and Adam not being able to take it — she is being told that she should be happy that this guy is putting up with her.

Ray comes around to helping Hannah in an update of his signature brand of helping. When Hannah first started working for him, he sent her home immediately with meticulous, condescending instructions on how to dress properly. Here, he helps Hannah figure out how to take a proper naked photo for her boyfriend. Elijah helps. Where this would have been engineered during just about any other season to make Hannah feel as bad about herself as possible, since Ray and Elijah have projected some vile insecurities onto her over the years, this scene shows how Ray and Elijah's understandings of Hannah have evolved. They're all having fun with it. Elijah's cue — "A cake is coming later!" — to get Hannah to smile big isn't an insult, it's getting on her wavelength and diffusing the tension (at least it seemed that way after one viewing). Despite dismissing her feelings about the photos on Fran's phone, they empathize with her and want to make her feel better, even though very little about the scene would have to change in order for it to feel like they are taking advantage of Hannah's vulnerability.

Some lackluster sex with Fran notwithstanding, Hannah remains sore about the photos and, crawls out of the bed they're sharing to go to his phone and delete them — a boundary transgression clearly reminiscent of "Hannah's Diary." There, she was given credit for harboring the evidence that Marnie had fallen out of love with her then-boyfriend Charlie. Here, she takes the credit for deleting the photos by making the nude photo of her his background image. Will that force a reckoning in their relationship?

More than the cause and effect of Hannah's insecurity and her treatment of Fran's trove of nudes is the reverberation between the scenes with Hannah and the scenes with Shoshanna, to whom this episode is otherwise dedicated. I can't remember an episode that has been as much about Shoshanna as this one, since even when she was the B-plot, her stories have heretofore been wrapped up in her relationship with and to Ray, and she's usually in the frame at all because of Jessa. And "Japan" does her justice as a central character.

A relationship is still a big part of it, but that's because relationships are a big part of Shoshanna's life. Hannah prioritizes romantic relationships because she has to, because everyone tells her they are a vital — if not the key — part of being happy, when she really wants to write. Marnie prioritizes relationships because she fully buys that they are the key to being happy and her life will follow suit. Jessa contorts herself into the shapes of people she sees getting the love she wants because she doesn't feel she can earn it being herself. Shoshanna believes in the dream of having a healthy career and relationship, but unlike Marnie, she does not think the work is done after both of those things are in place. Her barometer for happiness is informed by the same kind of cultural signifiers as the other titulars, but that's because Shoshanna — in her peculiar wisdom — recognizes that those are things that make her happy, and when something makes her unhappy, she takes action, albeit hesitantly because she barely has a model for how to stick up for her own vision of what she wants.

Since last season, Shoshanna has removed herself from New York and is working in Tokyo. The way she is shot and her behavior at work show off the extent to which she looks at ease and at home. She has a sweet rapport with her boss, Yoshi — SHOSHI AND YOSHI — and both their friends gently/not so gently troll them about it. Shoshanna looks like she's on a pink soft pillowy cloud until she is passive aggressively downsized in a way that recalls exactly the way Marnie lost her job in the season two premiere. When the picture of Marnie's life gets smudged, she junks the canvas. She reacted to the loss of her gallery job by chasing furiously after the affections of artist-baby-weirdo Booth Jonathan and her ex Charlie, ready to humiliate herself at every turn in order to reinstate herself as someone worthy of love, which has proven to matter substantially more to Marnie than success in work or art.

But having the working and romantic life she wants both matter equally to Shoshanna, and she has something good going in Japan. She is heartbroken by the news, and her long distance boyfriend, Scott the Soup Mogul, is ecstatic that she will exchange her professional ambitions in Japan for properly being his girlfriend. He's been trying to offer Shoshanna consolation over her flagging professional prospects in the form of coupling since he appeared last season, and it's not tenable.

On what's supposed to be her last night, Shoshanna goes to a rock concert. It's not clear if she spots Yoshi or goes with him, but she leaves with him and his friends to continue their night at a fetish club. Where Hannah's longtime male friends try to cheer her up about the insecurity her boyfriend's photos of naked exes make her by taking George Costanza-grade erotic shots of her, a group of strangers try to cheer up Shoshanna, mired in insecurity about her professional life, by goading her into getting into a vinyl nurse's costume and sexually harassing her. Shoshanna seems to be having fun and getting into the spirit of it, and the tone of the scene is ambiguous in the same way the scene with Hannah, Elijah, and Ray is, but for different reasons. The scene with Hannah is ambiguous because of the histories of the characters. The scene with Shoshanna is ambiguous because Yoshi had, a few scenes earlier, been defensive about Shoshanna's sexual availability, as his friends insisted she would be easy to have sex with. Yoshi's escalating discomfort seems like it could come from Shoshanna having fun with the fetish atmosphere, but when his friend crosses the line and harasses her, Yoshi leads her out of the club and apologizes for how his friend is "really really motherfucker." They kiss! That and a too-eager voicemail message from the Soup Mogul seem to cement Shoshanna's decision to unheap her belongings from her suitcase and stay in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, "Japan" also checks in on Adam and Jessa, still tense and supervised by Ray, as they watch Adam's turn on a Law & Order-esque show as a vagrant. Jessa is enraptured and praises his grittiness and vulnerability. She seems to be speaking his language to a greater degree than Hannah was able to, as those qualities of the performance are likely ones he's proud of — and lucky for Jessa he likes his work on the role (as much as Adam ever could) and is bewildered by his affection for her. When he tricks her into kissing him again — foiled by the old "haiku on the ceiling" trick (they are in Ray's apartment, which used to be Adam's and, it's indeterminable, may be half Adam's again, since his living arrangement isn't clear). Jessa storms out, resetting the scene: they can't get involved because they're just friends. It's been Jessa's refrain for the first three episodes, but her feelings about Hannah are complex enough that I'm not willing to be bothered by the time this plot tentacle is taking to deploy.

Monday, February 29, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episode 2: "Good Man" - I'm crying, banana.

It is early in the season yet — everything could change! — but I like the way Girls is explicitly positioning Hannah as a rock. The moment she has attained some peace in the tumult of her work life and relationship life — two things that have never been her priority; they are the priorities everyone around her has for —  everybody turns her into their rock. It demonstrates how everyone feels out of control and verging on disaster, and their hostility towards Hannah's frequent risks and mistakes come from the confidence with which she makes them. It impressed me again, with its reference in the "last time on Girls" spot, how Hannah's embrace of Marnie at her wedding had so much to do with her commitment to loving Marnie through her mistakes rather than reinforcing her that her every decision is the right decision. Hannah's ability to distinguish between those things is a strength that she has always had that the other characters are now started to rely on despite the fact that they have never recognized that ability as a strength before.

Girls, Episode Forty-Four, "Good Man"

Something that preoccupied me in anticipation of this episode was Adam and Jessa's kiss in "Wedding Day." I haven't gone back yet to consider what the relationship between the two of them has consisted of so far — season four established that they recognized each other's wounds and were offering vital support to each other while Hannah was at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and they were both exploring relationships that left them vulnerable. Before that, their interactions were limited. Jessa tried to make sense of Adam's presence in Hannah's life while preemptively insulting him. Adam rarely interacted with any character except Hannah and, occasionally, Marnie and Ray. The one time prior to season four that Jessa really affected Adam was in "Truth or Dare," when she begged Hannah to pick her up from rehab and Adam was dispatched to help her. The trip was tumultuous, and when Adam learned that Jessa could have easily left without their help, he was furious. The magnitude of the incident could have gotten him to think about what it means to be supported when one is in recovery and primed him to connect with Jessa later. But it also could mean that after being with Hannah, who he had hurt and by whom he had been hurt, who was on too even an emotional playing field with him, with whom he had attempted to compromise before she left for Iowa, he could want to be with someone with whom he feels he can be angry, who he can express rage toward. That might be what Jessa wants, too.

Because their attraction each other is not out of the blue or in a vacuum. When Adam tries to talk to Laird about it, Laird brings up Hannah. Both Hannah and Jessa were attendant at the birth of the daughter Laird had with Adam's sister Caroline. Laird and Caroline seem to be getting along like Adam and Hannah in season three, albeit with a baby between them instead of Marnie.

Babies are of a big significance for Jessa. When she mentions her fears about a relationship to Adam, the likelihood of her getting pregnant is among them. She came to New York to be with Hannah and deal with an unexpected pregnancy. She miscarried. Hannah was too embroiled in her own issues to be there for Jessa the way she needed her to be. Jessa has spent the length of Girls since trying to fit into families, appealing to father-figures and mother-figures and husband-figures and wife-figures wherever she can find them.

Despite Adam's accusation that she's hiding behind her accent, despite the idyllic day they spend on the boardwalk together — she is unequivocally charming, shaking down a carnival barker for the thirty dollars he owes her — after he shakes her down in AA for some closure on their kiss, maybe even despite their parallel play on her couch (is that Shoshanna's old apartment? If it is, the last time viewers saw that angle was when Katherine Lavoyt told her she just wants someone to love her, a piece of advice Jessa was right to be skeptical about — to which she reacted by marrying the objectively repulsive Thomas-John), Jessa refuses to hurt Hannah.

Hannah hurt Jessa pretty brutally when she left for Iowa. This regard for Hannah's feelings could come from the understanding that Jessa split first before resurfacing at rehab begging for Hannah's help — or it could come from Hannah now being one of the devils she knows. Her parents serially abandon and disappoint her. She might understand Hannah better through that prism. She might be bargaining with herself about how to not drive Hannah away again — even though that is not what happened in the first place, Jessa's not without her version of control issues.

There are a lot of callbacks in "Good Man" that do not all appear to mark time as having moved forward.

Elijah's living with Hannah again, and they kind of seem to have the relationship they were trying to have in the second season. They have clung to one another largely out of fear, but as hilarious as their makeout performance for Fran was, considering both characters, it seems some genuine affection has bonded them together in a way that makes them more than each other's backup human (Elijah's new newsanchor admirer will test that hypothesis).

Meanwhile, when Hannah is with Fran, she thinks she hears someone breaking in. The last time Hannah had a break-in, it was Adam. Fran's unhinged roommate knocks a piece of furniture at Hannah like Charlie did in season one. "That's the kind of thing you do before you hit us — don't hit us!" Everybody tries to position Fran as a step beyond the kind of men Hannah and the titulars have gone in for in the past, but references to those men hang around Fran in this episode.

My favorite callback is Ray's confrontation with the staff of Helvetica. Recall in season two's "One Man's Trash" when Dr. Josh calmly requests that Ray not dump Cafe Grumpy's trash in his trashcan and the way Ray exploded into a display of corporeal percussion and misplaced rage and compare that with Grace Dunham's character shaming Ray for making assumptions about their non-binary gender and shouting "white man" until he leaves. Some critics found that that scene falters and doesn't succeed at making the joke about Ray being out of touch, but I really like it as a sequel to the scene in "One Man's Trash," and I think it does succeed at demonstrating that Ray is now in Dr. Josh's situation. It has been such a long time now since viewers met Ray. He was appalling in the first season. Considering how Girls could humanize him, I hope this is not the last viewers see of Helvetica.

Cementing the cyclical nature of these callbacks — which orients "Good Man" not only as a real return to the ongoing story of Girls after the bottle-ish episode "Wedding Day" but as a stock-taking episode that still moves all the characters' stories forward — is Hannah's dad. He makes her run to a hotel room where he's hiding, a mess after an encounter with a man he met online. Hannah ran to meet her parents in a hotel room in the pilot, where her desperation, while it was less tearful, was just as inarticulate and awkward. His crisis has its origins in typing "gay" into the search bar, just like Hannah typed into the search bar with her panicked query about the fate of stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms. The fact that that line of questioning ultimately led to Hannah discovering she has HPV accounts for her meltdown upon discovering her father didn't use protection during his encounter. Hannah's already been to this lonely, anxious place where she finds Tad, and it shakes Hannah brutally to see him there. But she is strong for him, she retrieves his wallet from the man's apartment for him, and the man seems so nice — so much the opposite of the man Tad had in his head, of the person Hannah would have pictured; both she and her father are such scared people — that she hugs him. It's relief she does not get when Tad bemoans his fate, necessitating Hannah's reassurance that she will be there as she looks resigned, scared, and sad. It's a relief she does not get when her mom, Loreen, calls Hannah and asks her to tell Tad she's divorcing him. The hammock under Hannah's earth is gone.