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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 5: "Sit-In" - Some great, artistic love story.

After challenging the idea that women cannot create art, they can only transcribe, for two years, the cumulative affect of so many critics confusing Lena Dunham and Hannah Horvath provoked some sour, reactionary moments in season three. The nigh inextricable identification of the writer with the character serves one of the best facets of Girls, which is its existence as a masterfully told story about an artist who does not have the confidence to see her story as worth telling.

Before the holidays, one of my coworkers edited the manuscript of my critical book about Girls, and she asked me what made me write it, assuming it was the characters and not Dunham. The fact that someone my age wrote something that exciting to me is no small part of my affection for the show, but I really care about Hannah.

All Hannah wants is external validation that she has made the right decision, the possibility of which is a difficult thing to watch an artist want so openly. The times I have felt myself wanting that from some person or institution is when I have felt the worst. It would, of course, be a wonderful thing if the people I admired thought my work is great, but if I let that guide me, I might not make the work I want, that I feel is important to make. At the same time, that approval has been so important to me because feeling seen, especially by someone I respect and admire, is so valuable — so valuable I feel scared to want it. I can't trust other people. I can only trust myself. I love Hannah for wanting to fully trust only other people, for wanting to be told she is good, for demanding that her value be recognized. And her total distrust of herself is cathartic as well. Why do I have to be all alone in this process? How am I supposed to be objective? What am I producing?

I love Hannah. It does not do the character justice to amend that with "even though she's not perfect." That implies a) anyone is, b) my affection for the character has anything to do with morals. I also love the narrator of Dennis Cooper's the Marbled Swarm. I love that I get that character, that I get to feel through Hannah what is difficult to face by myself.

I have never loved or needed this show more.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Seven, "Sit-In"

The camera, on Hannah, shakes. The episode picks up immediately where "Cubbies" left off, with Hannah what had been her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She lived there with Marnie, then with Elijah, then alone, then with Adam. After coming back one year and eight months early from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Hannah's found the apartment occupied by Adam and Mimi-Rose Howard. All her furniture and affects have been placed in a storage, which Adam emphasizes that he's paid for — along with how he did not do anything wrong and has not "[broken] any rules" by cohabiting with Mimi-Rose besides, Hannah points out, the rule of human decency. "Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller," Hannah tells him when he gives her the address for her storage unit, "another grand, romantic gesture from the last of the red hot lovers." Lena Dunham's portrayal of Hannah in her mixture of disgust, sincerity, and surprise with what she is saying and how she feels about what she is saying and crushes it. That expectation is so dangerous, that Adam be a red hot lover, but Hannah had it anyway.

With her suitcases in her hand, Adam clarifies how "this" — Mimi-Rose and their relationship — had nothing to do with Hannah. Hannah, having been totally erased from the apartment and from Adam's consideration, agrees. Overcome with how humiliated and miserable she is, Hannah thrusts herself into "her" room, where she locks herself in and takes to bed.

The apartment is spare and filled with Adam's reclaimed wood furniture. It does not recall Adam's old apartment and suggests that, as identifiably Adam as the decor is, he is not interested in recapturing that time in his life when Hannah would materialize in his old place. Unlike Hannah, Adam has not accumulated anything as much as he has burned trails up behind him. Marnie met Desi through him and the two of them were friends, but as Adam tries to chase down Marnie, he takes the time during the message he leaves Desi to remind Desi of who he is. As Mimi-Rose was revealed over the course of "Sit-In," I thought about what an amazing proposition Natalia seemed in season two and the role that recovery played in that relationship. Maybe that urine-soaked life that Natalia saw was not Hannah's after all.

Mimi-Rose is dismissed (save one vital, spectral appearance) from the rest of the episode after she opens the door to who she assumes is Marnie but who is, in fact, Shoshanna. There is no more perfect mistake Mimi-Rose could have made. Not only does Shoshanna give vent for the viewer sympathizing with Hannah —"I don't know who you are and I don't care to know" — but Shoshanna is so engaged with the project of Shoshanna and has so little respect for Marnie, the moment propels her all the more firmly into Hannah's corner.

Shoshanna wants to assume the role of the confidant, but in her mortifying suspicion that Hannah has already confided in everyone else and her too-efficient prioritization of emotional-cosmetic fixes precludes any shot she has at being of real use to Hannah. After realizing in Shoshanna's presence that Adam has knocked down the wall between the bedroom and his workspace — something they planned on that she then did not get to participate in — and how Mimi-Rose is an accomplished artist, Hannah is overloaded. All it takes is a suggestion from Shoshanna that she needs a bath before anything more can be done for her and Hannah kicks at her boob and shuts down.

Then Jessa arrives, pissed that Shoshanna is already there, pissed at Adam's revelation that he called Marnie before he considered contacting either of them, pissed at Marnie for being the first person Adam called (Jessa drops the line "tell [Marnie] her services are no longer needed," is that supposed to be an insult implying that she is a prostitute or has, in Hannah's absence, Jessa become involved in Marnie in their own weird toxic friendship the likes of which "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too" only hinted), and above all pissed at Hannah.

At Flavorwire, Alison Herman observed that, when it comes to people like Jessa, people like Hannah should "never expect out of [them] what [they don't] have it in them to give." Herman references Hannah's road trip to eject Jessa from rehab in "Truth or Dare," something she says Jessa would never do for Hannah. But Jessa thought they were even after her stint in rehab: she came to New York to be with Hannah during her crisis pregnancy. Even though she had a miscarriage, Jessa still went through the entire thing with little support from Hannah, who was blindsided by her parent's withdrawal of financial assistance, her evolving relationship with Adam, and her eroding relationship with Marnie. When Jessa realized Hannah was incapable of detecting how she failed her, she fled, and as of the end of season three, Jessa was kind of on her way to a good situation — waylaid as it was, ultimately, by the matter of (abortive) assisted suicide.

Anyway, Hannah decamping for Iowa came off as a supreme betrayal to Jessa, who is still in New York for Hannah and Hannah alone. "Why aren't you in Idaho?" she asks Hannah, limpid on the bed. Hannah says she feels insane. She does not detect or ignores the irritation in Jessa's voice. Jessa sits in Adam's woodworking studio and intimates that she was aware of Mimi-Rose and, as far as she knew, made Hannah aware of her. She, in fact, set "MRH" and Adam up to what she sees as the fruitful end of Adam being more forthcoming in AA meetings. Hannah, appalled, asks Jessa to please specify what kind of revelations were worth her, Jessa, getting her, Hannah's, boyfriend a new girlfriend. "Hannah," Jessa says, condescending to her like Jessa has never condescended to anyone before, "you know I can't tell you that. It's anonymous. Don't be a child." Hannah smacks the side of Jessa's body. Jessa smacks Hannah in the face. Before she blows out of the apartment, Jessa informs Adam that Hannah has digressed to a pre-verbal level and that that is Marnie territory.

For Jessa, whose own childhood has been hinted at as being so traumatic, to accuse Hannah of being a child is the ultimate intimation of "you have brought this on yourself, you have no control over what I can do to you."

Hannah, who cannot get a hold of Marnie any more than Adam can, winds up stuck alone in the bedroom, resigned to pissing in a bucket instead of venturing out into the apartment where she could have to see or interact with Adam and Mimi-Rose. I would do the same thing and Hannah's commitment to being locked in the bedroom was very validating to experience. If my significant other violated my space in that way, though, that alone would be more than enough for me to feel sound in the whole thing being over. Touch my stuff and that is it.

When she does venture into the apartment, it has been taken over by the unsettling pillow talk of Caroline and Laird. Laird "creams" a very pregnant Caroline's feet. Candles are lit everywhere. Hannah is so unnerved that it has come to this that she lies and says she is fine to discourage any more gestures of reassurance from either of them. Any glimpse of Gaby Hoffman is a privilege, but I love how she states nakedly that Adam cannot make it with a girl who is functional and fine. He needs to care for something twisted and wounded, like Hannah. Caroline is not wrong in the least, and that is what Hannah needs to keep in perspective: this is her chance, because Adam might take the opportunity to try and go back to her. He was lured away from Natalia because she was so functional. She could sharply identify the ways that Adam was not, and in Hannah's harsh OCD episode, he saw the good he could do her and ran back to that.

Several nightmares later, Hannah wakes up to jazz playing and bacon sizzling. The dreaminess of the moment Hannah wakes up, her assessment of where she is and what is going on, not for any one note in particular, but the whole situation reminded me of "One Man's Trash." Caroline told Hannah last night that Adam is likely fated to Hannah or someone like her, but one time, Hannah got a glimpse of what could be — she could be wanted by somebody else, and she could want security instead of life, and when else would that death-dealing fantasy be as appealing as now?

But she is not in Dr. Joshua's brownstone. She is still in her apartment that Adam has gutted, but Ray is over and cooking her breakfast. He gives her a hug and apologizes for it all — for Adam's betrayal, but also presumably for his own failure to be there for her in a compassionate, friend-ish way. Ray was Charlie's friend, and he channeled his hatred of Charlie's girlfriend Marnie onto Hannah, then channeled his hatred of Charlie's ex-girlfriend Marnie onto Hannah, then channeled his hatred of himself in the aftermath of his failed relationship with Shoshanna onto an affair with Marnie that Hannah witnessed. He is humbled.

This new level of understanding that Ray has reached about himself is especially vivid when juxtaposed with "One Man's Trash." Ray is currently trying to channel his hatred into a constructive place, into something he can maybe control: the traffic congestion on his street. "One Man's Trash" is a bottle episode that takes place entirely between Hannah and an affluent doctor in his brownstone, but it starts at Café Grumpy, where Ray was supervising Hannah at the time. The doctor asks Ray who from Grumpy's is depositing their trash in his dumpsters, and Ray viciously harasses and insults him until he leaves. He blows up at the doctor's suggestion they could "talk, neighbor to neighbor." This idea that one can talk to others, neighbor to neighbor, is now obsessing Ray. I love that he and Hannah share this tie to the fevery idyll that episode represents.

With a hand burned from a mishap with the bacon, Hannah has the fortitude to return to the video she and Shoshanna found of a keynote address given by Mimi-Rose on the subject of love. Hannah makes some progress on it before Marnie arrives, but Marnie's presence so unsettles Hannah that she darts for the bathroom and says she needs to take a shower and cannot talk to her.

Marnie's adaptation of Desi's vocabulary — particularly her use of "woodshedding" — is so perfect. Marnie is such an alarming shell, and it was a canny choice to remind the audience of that even when she has something to truly offer Hannah in this scene. She busts in on Hannah's fake shower and admits that she had been avoiding Hannah because she had to formulate how to tell her that she needs to let Adam go.

Hannah informs Marnie that letting people go does not come easily to her. Hannah is so beclouded by the situation in which she has found herself, she clearly forgets who she is talking to here or else a calling-out would have surly come: Marnie hung on to Charlie with such force he had to disappear into thin air for her to spiral out of control and at least attach her world of abandonment issues onto a new guy. What frame of reference does Marnie have for letting go? She has Hannah. She and Hannah broke up in a forthright manner, Marnie moved out, and she gave Hannah the space to feel mad at her and she gave herself the space to miss Hannah. Marnie has not learned anything from her time with Charlie, everything about her conduct with Desi spells that out, but she has learned from her time with Hannah. And of course she sees Adam as being an analog to her, because she thinks she should occupy, inside Hannah, that boyfriend-sized space of regard. Marnie still believes no one loves Hannah as much as she does.

Hannah and Marnie's first proper scene together took place in that bathtub. And there Marnie reminds Hannah that the "great, artistic love story" she dreamt of being a part of is probably them. "You and me?" Hannah asks, and then mutters, resigned, "I'll take it." At their most distant, Marnie saw on Hannah's computer that, when she could not write anything else, the thing most clear to her was how "a friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance." Also, when Hannah tries to get Marnie on the phone earlier, she refers to the apartment as their apartment — hers and Marnie's, still.

After that, Hannah is ready. She gathers her things. Adam returns and, seeing she is wounded, swoops in to dress it properly. The scene between them is beautiful and necessary, and confirms again that Adam cannot give Hannah what she wants. He calls her "kid," which called Hannah back to him in season two, but she tells him he cannot call her that anymore. He tells her he will vacate the apartment and give it back to her, but as for that night, she has no place to stay. Desi is living with Marnie now. She hit both Jessa and Shoshanna. Ray needs too much. Caroline and Laird are both just downstairs and crazy. Hannah locates her storage unit. She clears off her couch, crushed in the middle, and lies there.

And in her head, she has Mimi-Rose's keynote address:
How many of you remember your first love? Hands. Yes, me, too. When I was nine, I fell in love for the first time. The minute I saw Peter, I knew he would be mine. With his flaxen hair and overalls, he was like a Norman Rockwell painting. And one day, on a ride to an ice cream parlor, he finally asked me to hold hands. I was in heaven. But that night, as I tried to read a book, an activity that had heretofore been my favorite, I found myself distracted. Where's Peter? What is he thinking about? My private time, my time to focus and learn and grow, was being sliced in half by my new relationship. So, yes, when I was nine, I broke up with someone for hindering my creativity. And nothing's changed. Maybe I'm crazy, but who knows? Think of all your ups and downs, all your hopes and fears. How many of them have been yours and how many have been constructs of romantic discord?
If Mimi-Rose's words have the power to penetrate Hannah's self-doubt, they could move her the way Marnie and her parents have moved her — not towards prioritizing career or romance, but towards prioritizing her art. Can Hannah trust that to have come from the person who represents how alienated she has become from her whole life as she knew it before Iowa, which was a move she tried to make for herself that blew up horrifically? The last time she isolated herself to write, even though it was not what she wanted to write, she opened herself back up to Adam. What can this voice accomplish in Hannah's head?

Also, does that not sound — how Mimi-Rose learned a lesson — like a twin performance to accompany Adam's "that'll teach you" monologue?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 4: "Cubbies" - Workshopping each other's emotions.

I keep a day planner less to plan my day than to reflect on how I spend my time and hold myself accountable when my life does not look like it should. I have considerable control over the shape of my day, so why did it take me all week to write this? I have to give myself a pass for being in the midst of an obsession with Jascha Heifetz's master classes and reading fiction for Black Balloon/Catapult and working on my favorite project I have ever worked on at my day job. Pass given. As much as I cannot wait for the next episode (!), this episode augmented the pleasure of this week profoundly. Speaking of augmented pleasure:

Girls, Episode Thirty-Six, "Cubbies"

If every episode herewith in season four contained a wounding job interview with Shoshanna, that would please me. This bureaucratic encounter maintains the aura of mystery in which Shoshanna's expertise radiates its weird energy. Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's wheelhouses have been articulated and incorporated into their stories, but Shoshanna's thing is that she is a student, and that is still her thing. When the interviewer tells her she is not getting the job, Shoshanna wants to know why — until she is insulted for having asked the questions, the answers designed specifically to insult her.

People who are strictly passive learners fascinate me. It is valid, but to feel unable to rely on one's observations intimidates me wildly.

Shoshanna's chief drawbacks, according to the interviewer, are that she is reductive and off-putting. In the interest of honesty, Shoshanna shares the fact that her interviewer's jewelry is inadequate. The whole scene establishes parallels between Shoshanna and Hannah, particularly in their failure to be savvy about what kind of truths to dispense and when. It is not merely social tone-deafness, though, on either part. Hannah's "brutal honesty" is reactionary: people keep telling her about herself, so she tells them about themselves. Shoshanna, meanwhile, draws strength from the truths to which she adheres — things she sees in romantic comedies and on Sex and the City — and she believes that if others were clued into these truths, such as the inadequacy of the jewelry, they too would draw strength from being better at being girls.

From that to another scene about evaluation: Jessa listens to Marnie and Desi's demo. Jessa does not want to evaluate the song and has nothing to really say about it. She does not like it, but more than that, she does not care about it. As soon as Shoshanna joins them, Marnie remarks that she looks amazing. Marnie is always down to do some evaluating, so she does not understand why anyone would pass up the chance to evaluate her.

Shoshanna then verbalizes the thesis of Girls: "What makes these people qualified to judge me?" That Shoshanna is the one who gets this epiphany is so correct: she is the one who, however idiosyncratically, is the best equipped to listen to and believe in herself. That foundation may not be made of titanium or anything, and it is based on her ability to reflect the values of SATC, but Shoshanna feels that she has it in her to reflect that ideal of success and is in the best place to adjust her expectations for what that success really looks like. She changed Ray's life and had the clarity of mind to realize that was more trouble than it was worth. I've been worried about Shoshanna — her appearances last season amounted to nothing.

Appropriately, Shoshanna evaluates Marnie's song by listening to a fraction of it and deciding it has hit potential and, therefore, however much she likes it is ultimately irrelevant because she will hear it everywhere. Marnie's reaction to that had me gesticulating wildly: she wishes Hannah were there because she is an artist and she would be able to really tell Marnie how the song sounds! This is what I was waiting for. After shaming Hannah into the ground over her attempt to even try to prioritize art over her career and boyfriend, then alienating herself from her the more she understood that Hannah did the right thing, now that Marnie is halfheartedly using art as a conceit to regain the shades of career and boyfriend she lost, she wants Hannah to tell her that she is doing it right. This is the same kind of payoff that came on Mad Men with Joan, who, after years of shaming Peggy for her inability to dress like a golden age movie star, found herself trying to look like a professional young woman with only Peggy's example to follow.

Hannah is completely stalled out in Iowa. I love that she tells Elijah that everything she writes feels trivial because that is Ray's voice from season one haunting her all the way here. Hannah has the desire to write but no faith in her voice or observations because the people around her belittle and reduce everything she goes through. The only font of inspiration she can end up tapping is her frustration with her classmates, so she crafts them marvels of passive aggression that she inserts into their cubbies.

Her classmates are alienated and alarmed by the way Hannah blames them and their critiques for her inability to do work. But when one student says her letter read like a LiveJournal, Hannah balls up some paper and throws it in his face. That was another moment that thrilled me and felt rewarding to see. Being the bigger person in the face of weak insults is exhausting. Hannah has never stood up for herself like that. Afterwards, Hannah's professor asks her to hang back, and Hannah is vocally excited by the prospect of getting kicked out. She could not, by this point, even trust herself to quit.

Just in time, her dad visits and shares with Hannah the story of how her mom wrote a book, or attempted to, but then she quit and it made her happier. It sounds so spectacularly unreliable and a sad conclusion to paint in the feebly good light in which he paints it. When Hannah infers from that story that she should quit, her dad gets excessively upset for her and with her. But Hannah feels that his feelings are encroaching on hers. It seems harsh, but every interaction Hannah's ever had with her parents demonstrate that the Horvaths do not do boundaries well. They are particularly prone to not just allowing Hannah to feel something without trying to figure it out, like they cannot just observe it. When he drops Hannah off, he tells her they should run away together. I love that the request puts Hannah off, but she does not question it. If something happened to her dad, I don't think Hannah has the equipment to handle it, and there has been signs from all the way back in season one that he is having health problems.

Also melting down somewhat is Ray, shaken from his apartment to scream at cars on the street. There is a reason for it, but that is very secondary to how ready Ray was to melt down. It makes narrative sense, even though the pacing of Ray's story has been erratic — he is still letting Marnie go back to the well of his physical affection because of her low self-esteem, something he would have loved in season one, but since Shoshanna made him realize he wants love and to have pride in himself founded on something besides making others feel less than, like he did when he told Hannah her experiences made for trivial subject matter, he does not have the ability to deal with his self-loathing and frustration in a new way. So he screams at strangers, just like he did when he was an insult barista (Richard Brody's term).

Shoshanna pretends to spontaneously encounter him doing this, despite the fact that Ray's neighborhood is a place to which she would have to deliberately travel, and he tries to be accommodating to her, muting his nut-rage, and taking her along for his errand run, which Shoshanna inevitably co-ops. He allows her because he trusts her, and he even trusts her to pick out a shirt that Shoshanna probably only picks out because she wants Ray to have the benefit of the doubt that it is the shirt he wants. She had no qualms about critiquing her interviewer's jewelry or Marnie's song, but she withholds judgment of Ray's shirt because she thinks, I think, that she can learn something from Ray. Not that he has something to teach her, but that knowing him could be important to her, and he feels the same way. And after so many awful, tedious conversations over the course of last season, Ray and Shoshanna go back to being as compelling as they were in "She Did."

Only two moments are dedicated to Marnie's real mission of late — her music being a red herring: in the first, Desi is distracted by the way Marnie is no longer lovestruck and willing to acknowledge their musical collaboration is an excuse for them to have sex. In the second, Desi tries to bash Marnie's door in as he sobs and confesses it is over between he and his girlfriend, Clementine. Marnie is completely into his vulnerability and brokenness and so excited to be there for him until his story starts to sound like she dumped him. He denies it, but Marnie's look of dismay remains while he says he loves only her. He goes down on her, and that look morphs into the most genuine expression of happiness and triumph Marnie has definitively ever worn in the life of Girls.

Meanwhile, Hannah leaves Iowa, probably for good, and heads back to Brooklyn, probably with an encounter like the one Marnie is having with Desi in mind. And when she knocks on the door of her apartment, a woman named Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs!) answers the door. She assumes Hannah is Hannah, but Hannah has never heard of her. Hannah's couch is gone, her table is gone, but Adam is there with Mimi Rose.

If Hannah, now, had to decide for herself where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do, understanding that know signs will point her there and that she cannot trust the ones that do, that would mean everything to me.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 3: "Female Author" - Maybe it's finally something more serious.

This week's episode made it seem like "Triggering" did not need to exist. I was disappointed by "Triggering," so much so I did not even want to address my feelings about the episode, but "Triggering" did serve a purpose: it demonstrated how, even though going to Iowa is Hannah's first decision she has made in the service of her dreams since she told her parents in the pilot that she thinks she could be the voice of her generation, that decision will not immediately justify itself and will yield as many trials and as much humiliation as her attempts to compromise on her dreams. Hannah is desperate for a sign that she has made the right choice by going to Iowa, since Girls in its entirety is about how Hannah does not have the equipment to trust herself. The fact that she has clung to her dream of being a great writer when she defers to her parents and Marnie about the majority of her other decisions is evidence of the magnitude of that dream. In "Triggering," Hannah has found no indication that she made the right choice. But the whole episode felt slight. Of all the episodes written by writers other than Dunham, though, "Female Author," the first credited solely to Sarah Heyward, is my favorite.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Five, "Female Author"

Last season, Orange is the New Black's presence in the world could be felt within Girls, not only with the criminally (woeful trombone) brief appearance of Danielle Brooks, but with Jessa's "Females Only" sequestration and pseudo-solitary confinement. Jessa did not go to prison and her time in rehab was voluntary, but that parallel was there. To emphasize how much Jessa is not incarcerated but behaves as if she is, locked into some fatalist sentence? To demonstrate where the stakes are for Girls' characters compared to Orange is the New Black's characters — that is, lower in every way? I bristle at the show diminishing the characters. Worse than being critical, it questions why the viewer has invested at all in those characters.

I bring that up because two weeks ago, I had one of the worst weeks of my life. I worked from seven in the morning until two a.m. the following morning every day and had to deal publicly with some, yeah, triggering issues. All of which I dealt with by keeping Broad City on the entire time and prioritizing dance breaks. But "Triggering" made me vulnerable enough to refrain entirely from talking about how the episode made me feel. And that is why I write these recaps on my blog in the first place!

Between "Triggering" and "Female Author," the effect of Broad City's existence is palpable. That made the video chat scenes both here and in "Triggering" hit even harder. Hannah has none of the effervescent, neon, screaming affection for or from her best friends, Marnie and Jessa. When Jessa shows Hannah her ass, she is not promoting intimacy between them, she is being evasive about how close she has gotten to Adam in Hannah's absence. Of course, that is the point Girls is making. Broad City's Ilana and Abbi are like voices in one another's heads. Hannah doesn't trust the space in her head to let anyone else in there.

In the course of their vchat, Jessa misidentifies Iowa City's Mennonite population as Amish. I am touchy about that joke, but if some Mennonites flaunt their knowledge of Jemima Kirke to some Amish folks as a means to brag that they can watch Girls and operate televisions, that would make it worth it.

Jessa is the only person in Hannah's life who consistently inquires about her writing, notably in "Vagina Panic" and "I Get Ideas." She is not necessarily supportive and has wielded this vulnerability of Hannah's to unsettle her in conversations. Hannah, unknowingly, unsettles Jessa right back by inquiring about Adam, with whom Jessa now attends AA. Enter Jessa's ass, which Hannah concedes is a quality ass (but is it the ass of an angel?).

Hannah's disconnection from her friends and the dream she thought awaited her in Iowa is contrasted by Elijah. The show is riding his wave, and his aside with the Iowa undergrad at the party in "Triggering" was my favorite part of that episode. He is still hanging out in Hannah's house and now has his own life on the periphery of Iowa City's writing scene. While Hannah defers to other people when it comes to what she should do and what she should want, then waits around for recognition that never comes, Elijah tries to make every situation he gets into seem like the ideal situation in order to conceal how jaggedly he is crashing and burning. This is the second time he's wound up squatting with Hannah in as many years (I think the life of the show has spanned almost three years so far?). He painted an absurdly warm version of traversing New York in "Iowa." He was mistaken for Blake Lively's husband in "Triggering." And when he tells Hannah — while he relives his undergrad glory days by taking "whimsical" photos with a film camera (Jenna Maroney's pronunciation) — she should quit the Iowa Writers' Workshop, that is when Girls is everything I love it to be: the most broken and unreliable source possible tries to teach Hannah a lesson, and because Hannah does not trust her experiences and instincts, she tries to learn that lesson and falls into peril. Because Hannah really needs to listen to herself. Instead, she listens to Elijah, who was an unpaid assistant to a curator of dance when they reconnected in "All Adventurous Women Do," and who now describes quitting dance as the biggest relief in the world, since trying to succeed at that distracted him from living life whimsically.

Fresh from this exchange with Elijah, Hannah chides her classmates about being so old and jaded that writing about a blow job has saddled her with the label of the 50 Shades girl. When DeAugust says that blow jobs can be literary, Hannah calls him out hard for listing only male — Roth among them, ugh — in his spontaneous listicle of literary blow jobs. He calls her hysterical. Hannah proceeds to tear everyone down with aplomb, call for honesty, and crawl away — just like Abbi in Broad City when a mother in a waiting room made the assumption that she was a mom, too. That is not too different from what Hannah is experiencing. She would like some honesty, preferably from a source other than herself that she can imbue with more authority, to just tell her frankly if she is doing the right thing.

Also, I had no idea before today that Andrew Rannells is in his mid-thirties. Acting!

"Female Author" balanced Hannah's story excellently against Marnie's and Jessa's, and while Shoshanna only got one scene, it was everything to me. Shoshanna has a lot of characteristics in common with a good friend of mine, which endears me all the more to the character. This friend is also job hunting and wildly unspooled by the stress of everything that involves. Her attempts to sabotage herself through a mixture of antithetical honesty and over-literalness is cathartic because the whole process is such a performance. So when Shoshanna goes on her interview for a job in trend jewelry at Ann Taylor Loft, secures a job offer, and talks her way out of it by saying this was just a warmup for the job she really wants and is supposed to get, it was goddamn uncanny! Shosh is driven not by the need to appear at all times to be the perfect girl — that's Marnie's mission — but she is driven by the pursuit of perfection and the confidence that she can embody all the things Sex and the City tells her she should be. If this season tasks Shosh with finding confidence despite her life not conforming to those expectations, I might find it in me to forgive Girls for erasing all the effects of "Beach House" from the episodes that followed it last season.

Marnie continues to demonstrate that validation from men, regardless of what she is even doing to receive that validation, is her number one priority. Even though this takes the form of some relatively un-vibrant scenes, I do like what Girls is doing with Marnie right now. She is supposed to be the kind of girl who stars in a show, not Hannah. But she cannot operate within an even slightly chaotic environment. The second one piece of her life went out of place, Marnie flew into bits. She only cares about keeping her image intact at all costs, and that is a significantly greater priority for her than actually repairing the damaged parts of her relationships or her career. In "Female Author," she vents to Ray about Desi's persistent intimacy with her, refusing as ever to acknowledge that she's the mistress if they are going to end up together anyway, an outcome of which she is convinced. Ray's observation that Desi is selfish for not ending his relationship with Clementine and choosing Marnie inspires Marnie to make out with him. This is a nice spin on the interaction between Hannah and Elijah. That is exactly what Marnie wants to hear and it appears to affirm her efforts with Desi, but consider the source. Ray's disfiguring misogyny was eroded by his admiration for Shoshanna. She changed him, but could not be devoted to the project of changing him. Ray's acceptance of this landed him in a limbo — he was successful, but only because he had wanted to impress her. The achievement was hollow. Then Marnie came to him looking for that disfiguring misogyny for which he was once so well known. Ray is so lost, in a different way from where the show first saw him but lost nevertheless, that any opportunity to teach Marnie something makes him feel better.

This episode features another great entree into the annals of Marnie being unable to tolerate one thing departing from her vision of how it should be. When she and Desi successfully play their demo for some executives — of who knows, a label? An app? — who are excited about them, their assumption that Marnie and Desi are a couple moves Marnie to pause the meeting and ask for a cigarette so she can take a break.

Desi asks Marnie what the deal is — and calls her "Bella," which is so manipulative, I love it! — and Marnie's response is perfect. They can't be intimate anymore, she says, because no one thinks of Marnie when they think of Desi. She might be censoring her feelings, but that is among the Marniest things that Marnie has ever said. She does not want him to be faithful to her. She wants everyone to recognize them as a couple. He reminds her that he told her this was the arrangement, disowning responsibility for Marnie's pain and making her think it is her fault for consenting to be with him sexually while he remains with Clementine. It is the same kind of situation Hannah's old boss Rich got her into — I'm going to grope you, so you have to tell me if the groping bothers you because if you suffer in silence, I told you I was going to grope you, so don't be upset when I grope you. When Desi insists that Marnie go out and find what she wants, Marnie insists that she knows what that is and he won't give it to her — and I love that she is right. All she wants is to be the girlfriend of someone who meets her mystifying criteria for desirable boyfriendhood.

As enjoyable as all the other threads of "Female Author" are, Jessa's is the most intriguing in terms of where it takes her character and story — as well as Adam's. They are a lot alike. Hannah is attracted to both of them for the same reasons, although Jessa is a great deal more vulnerable to her than Adam is. The two of them go to AA together, where Adam says he wants to throw all of Hannah's fridge magnets away and stop talking to her about nothing on the phone just to talk to her every day because he has to. Jessa empathizes with how useless it is to talk to someone who's not there, but Jessa also goes out of her way to see those people she wants to see. Hannah is not someone she wants to see right now, since Jessa views her exit to Iowa as an attempt to abandon her. While they talk shit about Hannah, a dude comes by and gets all over Jessa for cigarettes, and she alludes to having let the dude make out with her one day. This allusion to Jessa's sexual availability is rhymed by her attempt to ask Adam about someone he is seeing as they walk down the street together. Adam is evasive, denying that this relationship to which she alludes is anything consistent. While they bond over sober birthdays and Adam's infidelity, Jessa urinates in public, attracting the attentions of a police officer. He fines her, she refuses, and is arrested, as is Adam when he tries to intervene. This is the second time Adam has been arrested on Girls thanks to one of the main characters.

Once Ray springs them, Adam dismiss Jessa as manipulative and a bad influence, to which Jessa opens up and admits what dire need she is in for a friend that will not leave her. Jessa does need that, and the idea that that friend could be Adam! I'm excited! I hope this bears out. I think time with Adam will make Jessa see how inhumanly he treats Hannah. More than any other aspect of Girls, I am invested in Hannah and Jessa's relationship. Just one shallow step below that on my Girls priorities is seeing anyone — I'd like it to be Hannah, but anyone really — recognize and appreciate that Adam does not see Hannah as a human being and does not act in her best interest. Let this be it!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 2: "Triggering" - Shannon, Jeff, Jonesly, Ranchiny, Nagasaki, and Cher.

My Own Private Iowa.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Four, "Triggering"

In Iowa, open and green, Hannah discovers the amount of money she spent on her Greenpoint apartment can secure her a house, a great deal of empty space in which to be alone. Hannah spends an amorphous amount of time wandering through the new landscape and having faltering, fractured interactions with others.

When Hannah attempts to lock up her bike outside a class, a classmate corrects her behavior: this is Iowa; no one locks their bikes here. The teaching of lessons! It's back! The girl is not interested in figuring out who Hannah — the fact that she is Hannah is irrelevant. She is not undergraduate-young, she does not know what do to: she is a first year, and her classmate's ability to determine that demonstrates her second year status.

In a video chat with Marnie, Hannah brings up something she first referenced in "The Return," which is how everyone from New York should move to spacious and sleepy midwestern towns and "start the revolution." Marnie is barely listening her and devotes all her energy to deflecting the questions she thinks Hannah will ask her regarding Adam's wellbeing. In retaliation, Hannah points out that Marnie is making a scarf for Desi and getting too invested in their affair.

Marnie refuses to call it an affair, despite the fact that an affair is what she and Desi are having. Marnie maintains that people do not understand and are therefore uncomfortable with whatever it is she and Desi have. This was comforting to see — Marnie, from the pilot on, has been obsessed with naming things. Marnie can avoid trying to figure out and having to really examine a relationship or situation if she can put a name to it. She wanted to hastily apply boyfriend-girlfriend terms to herself and Booth and Charlie in season two because, in both situations, there was nothing there, but if Marnie said they were boyfriend and girlfriend, then there had to be something there. I love, therefore, any time someone throws this preoccupation in Marnie's face, like the way both her former boss and her mother refused to let her use the word "fired" in reference to herself when she was actually being fired.

Marnie also patronizingly recognizes the way Hannah eating grapes as a snack is just her coming around to the behavior she always knew Hannah was capable of — this while Marnie's life is in shambles and Hannah is in a world famous graduate institution, in a house that took her four minutes to tour Marnie via video.

A great deal of time is spent on Hannah negotiating the void she inhabits in Iowa City. Much of her property is a "dead zone." After her conversation with Marnie, during which Hannah mentioned their freshman year, where their friendship originated and blossomed, Hannah goes to the student store where she cannot repress her envy for an undergraduate she perceives as living off her parents' money. The cashier humiliates her for her barely-intact credit card. While attempting to connect to even just the memory of Adam, a bat makes itself known in Hannah's house, driving her onto her lawn. Locked out, she dives in through a window and falls asleep in the bathroom.

A lot of coverage of Girls is justifiably preoccupied with the veracity of Hannah's time at Iowa, but I would rather consider Iowa as the manifestation of everything that plagues Hannah and what she fears, more so than most of the other situations in which she has found herself. That is the only way I can approach the workshop scene, anyway. I love Girls the most when its characters are compensating for their unwillingness to address a problem by saying something else, often something more revealing. The function of everything Hannah and Jessa say to one another in their conversation about "the supposed-tos" in "Vagina Panic" has nothing to do with what they say.

But the writing workshop scene was extremely straightforward. After her classmates are painstakingly courteous to classmate DeAugust, it is Hannah's turn to read from her work, which she prefaces by warning her classmates that the content might be triggering. Hannah does not anticipate, of course, how triggered she will be by their criticism, which concerns her resemblance to the character in her story — invalidating her craft as a fiction writer — and the way the sexual humiliation the character experiences consensually diminishes real experiences of abuse.

I spent the latter half of 2014 reading every piece of writing about Girls published on the internet, so I may be sensitive to the on the nose quality of the criticism Hannah gets here from her classmates, clearly echoing what people have written about Girls. Besides that, there is the function of this scene in Girls' story: Iowa is the first thing Hannah has done for herself in the service of her dream since she told her parents, before retracting it, that she thought that she might be the voice of her generation. She has tried to manage the expectations of her parents and Marnie, writing for money even though she is not proud of the work and getting her fuck buddy to be her boyfriend. It took three seasons of that for Hannah to come around to how no one was going to support her, so she had to be her own champion. Which, Hannah barely has the equipment to do that. She is a dead zone.

I am disappointed every time viewers are given the opportunity to evaluate Hannah's writing — I would rather that never be left up to viewers to decide, whether or not Hannah is a good writer, because the point is that she wants to be great and is trying to figure out how to be — but I do like how Hannah's choice of subject matter is her ongoing confusion about Adam's treatment of her. The paragraph she reads ends with a remark about how the character is "free" in her "choicelessness," having resolved not to say no to see what she inspires in the man she is with. Adam's inability to see Hannah, to really look at her as her own person, works for Hannah when she wants to act without consequences — because he does not care anyway. But as of "I Saw You," Hannah is reminded of all the times Adam's inability to see her compromised their relationship: he did not appreciate how she wanted to prioritize her writing in "She Did" and wanted to end it there.

When Hannah shuts up and lets Adam fuck her, it is one of the only times she is free of the expectations of others (her parents, Marnie) that swarm her life otherwise, but there, she has to confront her expectations for herself. And I love how that is all the more complex after four years — if it was as simple as Adam is a sack of shit, it would not be compelling or understandable that Hannah is still mired in his course, thick fapping. But humiliation does something for Hannah, Adam's charisma and insurmountable oddness are worth all the screen time they are given.

All of this is present in Hannah during her first days in Iowa. When it starts to look, in the workshop, like another place where people will try to administer lessons to Hannah in order to position themselves in a better light — not in the service of helping her achieve what she wants — she reaches out to her friends and her parents and is, again, not heard. Shoshanna and Jessa, watching Scandal, cannot figure out what to do with Hannah's collect call from a pay phone (Hannah's cell phone was either enclosed within her stolen bike or pitched into the creek she claims to have been walking around with a cast of imaginary friends). She does get a hold of her parents, and to say they react halfheartedly to Hannah's suicidal ideation is an understatement.

I get that Hannah wears on her loved ones, but it gets me down when the show is not there for her. I am hoping that De August, who defends her in the workshop and tells her to disregard their classmates' criticisms, can be a real ally to her. Those tangential relationships with even semi-supportive men have never been fruitful, though, so it hurts to hope.

But Hannah's not really alone in the house! Elijah arrives to cheer her up, and Hannah consents. "Let's forget who we are." I wrote about Elijah last week, how he is a means for the characters to refresh and reevaluate the way they see themselves and each other. Hannah hopes to forget who she is, but that is even less possible with Elijah around. He has known her as long as she has known Marnie — in fact, he contributed directly to their relationship dynamic when he seduced Hannah into dancing to the Scissor Sisters, pulling her away from a terrified Marnie at an undergraduate rager, much like the one they go to in this episode.

All of which is to say, Hannah cannot forget who she is, and the things that made New York difficult will make Iowa difficult.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 1: "Iowa" - We try to inject it with meaning, but all we have are days.

I cried twice. I'm so happy to see these characters, I love where this season opener finds all of them, and I'm so happy to not have to read every last critical take on these episodes. I am going to play with forthcoming reviews, but here is a look at season four, episode one, within the context of Girls in its entirety:

Top: Girls season one, pilot; bottom: Girls season four, "Iowa"

Girls, Episode Thirty-Three, "Iowa"

The story of Girls started with Hannah having dinner with her mother and father. She thought they were there to congratulate her on pursuing her dream of being a writer, but they were there to alert her to the fact that they were not going to be supporting her financially anymore, and that she would have to turn her unpaid internship into a paid internship or look for a job.

"Iowa" starts with Hannah having dinner with her parents, over which they congratulate her on her immanent departure to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The fact that it took an institution recognizing what Hannah knows to be true — that she is a writer — for her parents to be proud of her and demonstrate the level of support she desires galls Hannah (Hannah Helene Horvath). The fact that her parents severed their financial ties made it seem to Hannah like they felt she was taking them for a ride with no intention to make good on her professed desire to write. Of course, they had no reason to believe that Hannah was not taking them for a ride: at the time of Girls' pilot, Hannah had never championed her dream. Throughout the first season, she continued to defer facing how much she wanted to write by trying to do what her parents wanted her to do — get a job — and what Marnie wanted her to do — get a boyfriend.

Hannah's had a more difficult time with jobs, but she does have a boyfriend, Adam. The fact that Marnie, who in season one kept insinuating that Hannah's energies were better spent on relationships than her dream of being a writer, then rejected Hannah's achievement because Adam was not an enviable catch was almost the last straw in Hannah and Marnie's friendship.

Adam does a miserable job at hiding how disappointed he is that Hannah is leaving New York for Iowa. Following his frustrated toast at the dinner with Hannah and her parents, he and Hannah catch a commercial he did — for depression medication — on TV. Adam is sore about how he had to accept the job despite the fact that it did not correspond with his values as an artist. As long as Hannah has been involved with Adam, he has had the voice about his art that she does not have about hers because he does not have to accommodate the people in his life (including Hannah) the way Hannah has to accommodate the people in hers. Adam has the room not only to minimize and reject the projects in which he takes part, but he can also boast, like he did to Hannah in "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too," when he told her, "I'm really good at acting and writing." When he got his Broadway opportunity last season, he justified alienating himself from Hannah by telling her that when she hits her stride with her art, she will understand what he is going through — meanwhile, that had already happened in "She Did," when Hannah explained to Adam that she wanted to slow down the pace of their relationship because she wanted to focus on her writing. The big wake up call for that was her reading in "Leave Me Alone," in which Adam refused to support her.

So, yes, Adam deserves to stand in the rain and look pitiful! He warns Hannah that he does not want any drama, but it all comes from him!

Cut to Desi, motorboating Marnie's ass. Desi was introduced last season as Adam's version of Marnie: his friend that Hannah finds unpalatable. After a seasons-long fall, the proudest achievement Marnie could claim by last season's finale, "Two Plane Rides," was that Desi, who is in a relationship, "kissed the shit out of" her. He is still doing basically that, but is that still something Marnie is proud of?

Shoshanna's anxiety problems are succinctly explained by the first appearance of her parents, Melanie and Melvin Shapiro, who make Shoshanna's belated graduation from college — without any fanfare or brandishing of her Aunt Eileen's flag — all about their competition over Shoshanna.

This rhymes with the next scene, wherein Jessa climbs up to Beedie's apartment with snacks, speaking affectionately and familiarly to her, only to find Beedie's daughter, Rickie, ready to eviscerate Jessa for assisting her mother in a suicide attempt. Rickie, played by Natasha Lyonne (in no pants!), marks the second occasion in which Jemima Kirke plays opposite an Orange is the New Black cast member — Danielle Brooks was in the first two episodes of last season — and I hope it evolves into a trend (pre-OITNB Selenis Leyva played opposite Lena Dunham in Girls' first season, too). Rickie shames Jessa hard, not only for her cooperation in Beedie's attempted suicide, but also for not having her shit together in a monologue that calls back to the one Katherine Lavoyt delivered to Jessa in "Leave Me Alone." Where Katherine's talk at Jessa was condescending, essentially urging her to get herself ready for a relationship, Rickie doubts Jessa is capable of getting to that point if she is not there already.

When Beedie appears, she agrees that Jessa should go, but when Jessa implores Beedie, "Tell me you love me more than her," Beedie does! This was the first part that made me cry. Jessa has really wanted this kind of concrete affirmation from an adopted family member as long as she has been on the show, and now Beedie's given it to her. This is one of my favorite moments on the show, ever.

So neither Jessa, Shoshanna, or Adam are in great shape to join Hannah in watching Marnie and Desi play a jazz brunch. Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, surfaces to confirm that Marnie is still trying to harvest self-esteem from the trash-scape that is Desi's infidelity. In this, Marnie and Jessa are alike — they both thrive on being chosen over others, even superficially, and being seen as a clearly superior alternative.

Marnie's mother is back. I wish she had never left.

When Hannah points out to Jessa that Jessa skipped their one opportunity to hang out alone before she embarks for Iowa, Jessa floats her sass. Hannah retreats to the bathroom for one of her mirror pep talks, like those in "The Return" and "It's Back." Hannah reminds herself that Jessa being mean to her demonstrates that she is doing the right thing by moving on. Jessa breaks Hannah's ritual of repeating her phrases eight times and insults her OCD while she does it. She calls Hannah a hypocrite for demanding that she come back to New York. Now, it seems like Jessa is referring to coming back after her stint in rehab, but in that instance, Jessa called and asked for Hannah's help coming back. I think she is referring to her arrival in New York from the pilot. When she came to New York then, she was pregnant and without any other means of support, and Hannah's parents had just cut her off financially, Hannah was too overwhelmed to actually help Jessa. I think Jessa thinks Hannah still owes her one for this, and Hannah evacuating for Iowa seems to Jessa like the kind of thing she herself would do to avoid having to repair a mistake.

Elijah, who is a member of the main cast this year, then joins the jazz brunch. Let us consider Girls' use of Elijah: her first appeared in season one's "All Adventurous Women Do" to detonate Hannah's long-held vision of herself as the one he never got over. He appeared next in "Welcome to Bushwick" to occasion a similar revelation in Marnie. His encounter with Hannah during "She Did," at Jessa's wedding, led to his becoming Hannah's roommate for the first third of season two, in "It's About Time," "I Get Ideas" and "Bad Friend." Over the course of he and Hannah cohabiting, Elijah shit talked Hannah with his boyfriend, George, then cheated on George with Marnie, then revealed his tryst with Marnie to Hannah over a cocaine binge that got him booted from the apartment. He did not reenter the titulars' orbit until midway through season three, in "Beach House," when he, Elijah's crush, Pal (played by Danny Strong, or little Danny Siegel from Mad Men), and his friends joined Hannah et al for a party, during which Hannah saw how poorly Pal was treating Elijah.

Elijah was therefore swept back into Hannah's life as a respite from Adam, remote from his ascendant Broadway career, and Marnie, remote from her shame-spiral. He was in almost the entire rest of season three, demonstrating his envy of Adam's career in "Incidentals," power-clashing with Hannah in "Role-Play," accompanying Hannah on a visit to see Patti LuPone (and then being the site of her shame as LuPone anticipated how miserable Hannah and Adam were to become) in "I Saw You" (an even more apt title considering how Elijah witnesses Hannah's shame), and joining everyone to see Adam in Major Barbara in "Two Plane Rides."

In addition to being a flesh and bone bon mot, Elijah is a means for other characters to refresh and reevaluate their approach to themselves and one another. As a character, he does deserve to gain some more narrative autonomy. His involvement with both George and Pal — the latter of which Elijah spies at the jazz brunch — had gradients and revealed aspects of Elijah's character, but he still exists solely in relation to the other characters. That condition was the source of tension and what brought Elijah alive in the first season, but he has since waded into that role, which is really something for a show where most of the characters are driven by or reacting to the expectations of those around them.

I said I cried twice, but the refrain in Marnie's song for Hannah — "goodbye, friend" — did knock the wind out of me. It isn't a good song; I know it's not a good song. But it's the single available glimpse at Marnie's feelings, maudlin and flattened to platitudes though those feelings may be. Her inability to get anymore specific than that is what I find moving: she has treated Hannah so poorly because Hannah refuses to try and emulate her — and signed their friendship's death warrant when Hannah started dating Adam only to hook up with the no-more-desirable Ray later — so she cannot articulate her love for Hannah or her respect for her choices without admitting that she was wrong.

Marnie is in such a bad headspace that a heckling child propels her onto the sidewalk, crying, where Elijah tries sincerely to rally her, advising that "this business is not for sissy bitches." Both Elijah and Marnie have used Hannah to sustain delusions and then blamed her for not seeing through them, and they are fascinating together, particularly when it comes to their shared dream of performing. The fact that they have both actively and passively failed to support Hannah in her dream reveals how vulnerable they are when they talk about theirs. I would love to see more moments with Elijah and Marnie this season.

Meanwhile, last season made me weary of Ray and Shoshanna. One spies the other in a crowded space, one approaches the other, wooden dialogue ensues. Unfortunately, Shosh's encounter with Ray at jazz brunch was no different. Shosh does demonstrate her awareness of how she manipulated herself into wanting him back last year, but I'd rather see that awareness in motion than hear about it. Now, I have complained about exposition on Girls before, and have since come around to understanding how important a character's explanation of something is, since it usually functions to show how skewered a character's perception is about that thing. This still bums me out, because there is no other redeeming facet of Ray and Shoshanna's nearly-identical conversations other than to illustrate the evolution of Ray, which is sufficiently visible elsewhere. Shoshanna is one hundred percent responsible for that evolution, and I think their constant flat encounters really undercut that.

After a night of Adam humping a distracted Hannah very quietly, and Hannah reminding Adam that she is all to aware of how terrible he is on the phone — and communicating in general — since there was a time when she liked him and he ignored her, Marnie arrives. She gets there before Hannah's parents, even, to share coffees and finish packing Hannah's belongings. Marnie helping Hannah compress her suitcase becomes Hannah holding Marnie. I could not keep it together for this.

While she packs Hannah's parents' car, Marnie cries. "Iowa" ends in a reconfiguration of the opening scene of "She Did," where Hannah and Adam helped Marnie move out. Marnie helps Hannah move out, confronting how sad she is to see Hannah go and willing to show it, while Adam pretends to sleep.

Hannah's parents talk about her like she is not there, while she sits in the back seat on her way to Iowa.

Also, I would rather not dwell on it when writing about her work,
but I think Lena Dunham is devastating and I love
the different weird moods of her hair in this episode

Every moment in this episode was used and used well, every moment was loaded and contributed to the story, all the characters' actions corresponded with the where the previous season's latest events left them — "Iowa" was one of my favorite episodes, if not my very favorite episode, outside of season one. I hope it is also hope the next episodes do not erase the momentum of each previous one, which was season three's downfall. So much happened in "Beach House" that was entirely erased by "Incidentals." After being central to "Females Only" and "Truth or Dare," Jessa did not get a line in "She Said OK," which also ended in havoc-wreaking that went nowhere in "Dead Inside." There is some precedent for episodes including catastrophes of no consequence, like Adam's arrest in "I Get Ideas," and that is really disappointing — Girls deserves better than to be the show you watch to see which stories bear out and which vanish.

Friday, January 9, 2015

In anticipation of Girls Season 4, what Season 3 did and undid

Girls season four starts this Sunday, January eleventh, and I am going to write about it again. Before I do that, here is how season three left me:

Let's do this. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
  1. I watched Girls season three as it aired and wrote about each episode.
  2. It made me so upset!
  3. To clarify: in writing responses to those episodes, I enjoy tangling with Girls' narrative complexity and whatever feelings it provokes in me. The endeavor started as something to keep me writing about a single topic on a fixed schedule, and I had a lot to say in response to Girls' pilot — I thought it was an absorbing piece of writing and it was relevant to my experience, and the intersection of those phenomena was noteworthy. But writing about Girls in this space is something I do for me, because I love to watch the show.
  4. In watching season three, I felt like Girls stopped believing in Hannah. I felt like Marnie's story was underdeveloped. Jessa's appearances were atonal and upsetting. Shoshanna did not do anything.
  5. Over the summer, I wrote a book about Girls' first season (I'm editing it now and looking for a home for the book).
  6. I read every last critical response to the show that I could track down on the internet. I re-watched the first season many, many times over three months.
  7. I gained a new appreciation for and understanding of what kind of narrative groundwork Dunham and her co-writers laid for the characters — some of that was still undermined by seasons two and three, but I came around to seeing the necessity in some moves that initially struck me as regressive.
  8. For instance: I was appalled to learn that, had Christopher Abbott not left Girls, Marnie's season 3 arc would have been all about her erratic behavior and the ultimate dissolution of her relationship with Charlie, with the YouTube video of her "What I Am" cover and the grilled pizza incident presumably happening on screen. But in considering what Marnie's story has been about since Girls started, I see the logic behind that decision (although it still seems for the better, to me, that Abbott's departure forced Marnie to move on). Marnie's story has been about how she — before the events of Girls took place — was the ideal subject for a sitcom about a girl in her twenties: she is classically pretty, she had a job in her field, she had a fat, funny best friend whose misadventures through her own maturity into vivid relief, and the only thing amiss in her life was that her boyfriend, Charlie, loved her too much. In the first season, Marnie's relationship with Charlie ended (more significantly, though, her relationship with Hannah ended), and in the second season, her career fell apart (and although she put her energy into recouping Charlie's interest in her, she was too vulnerable to try to deal with the loss of Hannah). Marnie cannot function if anything is wrong with the way her life looks, and season three saw her reacting to that more extremely, getting obsessed with status in a supremely delusional way (moving from her mother's couch to Manhattan, wearing a diamond bracelet and shaming Ray for assuming it's a haughtier brand than it really is, quitting her job at Ray's Coffee Shop because "fancy people" want to work with her) and pursuing Ray because she knows he is vulnerable, even though she does not like him. Finally, when she makes out with Desi, she is as full of pride about that as Hannah is about getting into Iowa because male affection is the bedrock of Marnie's self-image. It played out in a way that was not really riveting to me, but I think that's because Girls is critical of what Marnie sees as big life events. They are frustratingly boring, but they are also the kind of big life events that depictions of young women in movies and television establish are the big life events to anticipate and desire.
  9. Hannah's mission in Girls is to correct the imbalance between who she wants to be and who she is, and the primary obstacle she faces is prioritizing that over keeping up appearances with her family and friends. In season one, Hannah started off knowing she wanted to be a writer and comfortable in the illusion that she would become one because that's what she wanted, and then found herself having to work for it. But every time Hannah talks about her aspirations, they are strictly literary: despite the fact that her work with JazzHate and GQ seems, superficially, like they are contributing to her goal, they are compromises that I did not originally recognize. By season three, she has done the Marnie thing and decided getting back with Adam was a triumph enough to erase bombing at her book. I am still not convinced Hannah making up the story about her "cousin" — that she ripped off of Caroline's made-up story about Adam — or Hannah's real cousin's accusation that Hannah touched her inappropriately were necessary. I think the writers were prone to punishing Hannah in season 3, and I hope they allow her to genuinely triumph in season 4.
  10. Speaking of inappropriate touching: Lena Dunham has not stated that the exchange between Hannah and her cousin, Rebecca, was based on anything in her own life, but in Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham recounted how she alienated herself with her invasive interest in her sister, Grace, who she did not see as separate from herself until they were much older. The chapter on Grace in Not That Kind of Girl includes the mention that Dunham, when she was seven, investigated Grace's vagina. Dunham cites it as an example of mortifying behavior; Grace maintains that she does not appreciate people saying she was abused when she does not view Dunham's actions as abusive. When I wrote about the season three episode "Flo," in which the exchange between Hannah and Rebecca takes place, Gina Abelkop rightly called me out for calling Hannah a monster for being a sexual child. The issue that I have with the scene is that Rebecca is hurt, is serious about how she feels hurt by Hannah, and once the exchange is over, Rebecca's statement is dismissed. It doesn't relate to any scene that comes after it. It is one thing to make a joke out of childhood behavior that you find embarrassing. It is another to make a joke out of someone saying they were violated without their permission.
  11. Shoshanna is not on screen as much as the other characters. I do appreciate how she entered Girls with so much confidence in her approach to the world and how that buoyed her through her relationship with Ray — for whom she had feelings, but who ultimately did not live up to what she wanted for herself — and how, since Ray's departure, she's blamed her life not going well on their breakup because she is moving on to another phase of life that intimidates her. But her scenes in season three do not illustrate that superbly — even though their purpose makes sense, those scenes are not rendered with any of the vibrancy of the quick strokes that rendered her such a spectacular character to watch in the first season (and for some beautiful moments in the second) and they all add up to the clunky, disappointing plea she offers Ray in "Two Plane Rides" to get back together. It seems like there's nothing behind it, because there was hardly any content to Shoshanna's season three scenes.
  12. I maintain that the scene between Shoshanna and Ray at Hannah's birthday in "She Said OK" is the worst scene in all of Girls. How a scene between Zosia Mamet and Alex Karpovsky could ever be so limp wounds me.
  13. I would have liked to have seen more Jessa in season three — which seems unreasonable, considering how Jessa was all over the place in season three, but in an even more insubstantial way than she was in season two — and in a far, far more insubstantial way than she was in season one. In season one, Jessa went from needing an abortion (that she didn't need, then), getting embroiled in the life of a sad dad, and bounding into marriage with a truly delusional dude. Each one of those experiences primed Jessa's emotional readiness for the next one. She had no lines in "She Said OK," barely existed in "Beach House," and yet had two plot lines with highs and lows crammed into the beginning and end of the season. It did not strike me until the third season how Jessa's mission is to fit herself into families (even when she goes to see her friend Season and gets shut down when she asks to hold Season's baby), with her sexuality being at once the factor that undermines those efforts and the thing she defensively yields. The best and most poignant of these instances is still the Lavoyt family from season one: she was not so much trying to be part of that family as she was fascinated by Jeff, who, as an unemployed dad, could have been caring for his daughters, but instead, his wife was paying Jessa to do it. She was interested in how Jeff didn't fit into his family because Jessa did not feel she fit into her own family, as the season two episode "Video Games" demonstrates. Her friendship with Jeff falls apart when he meekly, humiliatingly propositions her, and she reacts by throwing herself headlong into manipulating horrifying acquaintance Thomas-John into marriage. When that blows up, she goes back to the well of her suffering and sees her dad, who treats her like she is invisible, and when she turns up in rehab, she is ready to wade into an uncomfortable, ambiguous father-daughter masquerade with fellow rehab-shirker Jasper (Richard E. Grant/Withnail). Even though their relationship is not what Jessa wants, she does need to feel like she's a part of someone's family. But when Jasper's actual daughter comes to remove him from Jessa's influence (at Shoshanna's behest!), there is — so disappointingly — no fallout! And the story Jessa is maneuvered into afterwards, being adopted as the artist Beedie's assistant/daughter, is given virtually no consideration. They meet, it is implied they get close enough for Beedie to ask Jessa to help her commit suicide, Beedie attempts suicide under Jessa's watch, and Jessa rescues Beedie when she decides she wants to live. There was nothing on the toll this might have taken on Jessa — I'm really hoping that's something viewers get in season four.
  14. I also appreciate anew how Ray started out in season one as a means by which to demonstrate how Hannah et al can do themselves harm by listening to a guy try to teach them something. He wound up sleeping with Shoshanna in order to teach her how sex should be had, and as of season two, she — by the force of being herself — had taught him a whole new way to approach himself and his problems. I love how, in season three, Marnie goes looking for old Ray, wanting to be taught lessons and treated like a stupid girl, and for a moment, that is reassuring and attractive to Ray, but ultimately Shoshanna has helped him. And, because she is no manic pixie dream girl, Shoshanna suffers a real fallout from the end of her relationship with Ray. I think it was rendered ungracefully, but I like the fact that Shoshanna has great reserves of strength and confidence but also anxiety and insecurity. She can talk herself into bad places.
  15. I did not feel like Adam's sister, Caroline, was effectively integrated into the plot of season three at any moment, but I love the sight of Gaby Hoffman so much and I do love the idea of she and Adam Driver interacting, but I thought their shouting matches overwhelmed the potential for scenes of greater intensity.
  16. I thought Adam's season three business was perfect. He and Hannah started out affectionately resigned to each other but struggling to deal with that new level of intimacy. Because Hannah did not make him get a job, Adam was able to prepare for and secure a Broadway role. The groundwork has been laid regarding Adam's acting ability — and Adam Driver can sell it, anyway — and the way he treats Hannah, assuring her that she will understand when she gets what she really wants while, since season one, he has treated any occasion when Hannah prioritizes her writing as a betrayal. And so, of course, when she announces that she is going to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is terrible.
  17. I still resent the way "Incidentals" completely undermined the impact of "Beach House."
  18. But more than that, I am looking forward to seeing these characters again, especially for how season four looks like it will mirror season one, putting the characters' "progress" into perspective. Is the critical lens through which Girls' writers see Hannah going to continue to undermine her mission as the protagonist (to write and succeed despite the expectations of Marnie and her parents)? Will Shoshanna have real scenes again? Can Ray's verbal lasers be resuscitated, even if he is using them for reasons besides shaming and harassing women?
  19. For instance: Hannah starts out the season having "a congratulatory dinner with her parents" just like in the pilot (with Adam this time) and Shoshanna ruins a job interview the same way Hannah did in "Vagina Panic." Also, Beedie's daughter comes to displace Jessa from another of the families she has tried to construct. Also, Marnie — who made Hannah's life hell when Hannah chose (or tried to choose) art over a career and a boyfriend (after Hannah got a job and started dating Adam, that still wasn't up to Marnie's standards, and then Marnie praised Tally Schifrin and the way she prioritized writing, and that is what led to her and Hannah breaking up) — is now, her career a bust, angling after a boyfriend by making art.
  20. This is extraordinary: "In the first season, Lena’s hair covered her ears and so I would use a lot of jewelry that had an inside joke built into it or picked up on a theme in the script or was a funny."