Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

You are the wound!

Poisoning desperate girls (and poems about them), a second coming (definite murmurings of rebirth), literary-reading crackers: this episode was up my alley. I wrote this in one sitting, after one viewing, because tonight I've got an essay to finish and a Mad Men finale to watch. This coming Sunday ends my reviewing odyssey. I am withholding comments and have serious designs on serious posts. For now:

Girls, Episode Nine, "Leave Me Alone"

Or, "Creative Nonfiction."

Breaking point between Marnie and Hannah aside, meta-revelation by Ray about the show's subject matter aside, finding myself completely agreeing with Adam about something aside, Jessa aside - leaving Shoshanna where this episode left her gave me chills. Because I watch it on HBOGO, I don't see any "next week on"s, so I don't know if there were any rosy flash-forwards, but AGH. Both parties at Slate felt majorly let down by Shoshanna's disappearance from the episode after she tells Jessa that she's contacted a boy via an online dating site and has arranged to meet him at the Old Navy flagship store. "It's good to meet in public, right? In case he tries to rape me." Yes, the suspense was torturous, but I don't believe for a moment that leaving her with this remark strategically placed early enough in the episode that her absence is palpable was an oversight or a shame. Jessa's invocation of an encounter with a psychic and her very open exchange later about her ex-employer's mystical-tinged feelings all harken to a sixth-sense Jessa more than likely fancies that she has, but she doesn't wonder aloud where Shoshanna is or get any grim, hokey feelings. I believe this is significant.

Hannah's writing becomes more of a tangible practice incorporated in a fabulously valuable way. In this episode she and everybody go to the launch party of a book written by a talentless former classmate, Tally, who suffered the great fortune of experiencing a tragedy - her boyfriend, high on pills, committed suicide by wrecking his vintage car - and her book about it has BOOMED. Shoshanna is totally aglow with the opportunity to be "at the center of everything" - at a party for a book with a window display - and later Marnie, who is of course moved by the subject matter of the book, speaks of how nice it is to be surrounded by people who get things done, who know what they want. Shoshanna, a child, isn't surprising with her behavior, and neither is Marnie's to anyone who has been maintaining an objective point of view about her bullshit, but that is not how Hannah looks at her, and their tangle is illuminated beautifully here. The simple fact alone of how Hannah and Marnie respond to Tally and her book, Leave Me Alone, is one of my favorite things that have happened on the show, and even though it's small, it is the kind of resoundingly chilly thing that ends real friendships. Hannah is moved to visceral hatred by the success of this girl who she knows to be a bad writer and an insincere person. Their professor, in attendance at the party, confirms that Hannah's feelings are just and she needs to step up and demonstrate what a superior writer and human she is. This encouragement forces the terminally inert Hannah to tidy up an essay and get ready for a reading, which is a big leap for somebody whose "book" is circa ten pages (although not unremarkable, as there is always plenty of room with Hannah for monumental backsliding).

It is on this subject that I want to pivot Adam and Marnie and explore Marnie's reaction to Tally and her success. When Hannah decides to do a reading and take a crucial measure in declaring herself a writer worth considering, Adam refuses to attend and support her. Though it justly does not discourage her from doing it, his attitude mirror's Marnie's - instead of considering what Hannah might need, he is using whatever her situation might be as an occasion to be righteous about his own feelings on a topic that is honestly not at hand. He barrages her with a concise and obviously deeply-felt rant about the kind crackers served at functions like that and fails to recognize that his girlfriend is going to go perform her art, which is a very personal thing, which is exactly what he did and to which she was privy in the previous episode, which was a big thing for her to see. I do wonder if he is nervous to discover he does not think she's good. He doesn't seem like he would ever discourage himself from making criticism and I definitely believe he could live with it if he just thought she was a mediocre writer, but regardless, his reaction demonstrates a base disregard for Hannah.

I feel how weirdly inescapable such blind-spots can seem because I do this when it comes to weddings. Weddings are significant events on a person-to-person basis, and the wedding of a friend is that friend's individual experience, not part of WEDDINGS as a collective experience, but if a dear friend is kind enough to invite me, even as a guest, I face an impossible battle with my hatred of weddings in order to be polite enough to accept without really, really ruining everything.

Marnie is at Hannah's side at the book launch and witnesses her extreme reaction. Hannah feels really jilted and not only for Tally's success, but clearly for her own lack of momentum. With nothing human to offer her, Marnie gets wistful about moving in such circles as Tally moves, about the cheap sentiments imparted by her book, as if this girl is really someone that cares about her and is a part of her life and a means to take a side in opposition to Hannah's. This made me recall explicitly a social dynamic I was once caught up in with a girl who was a very sick, very unhappy narcotics addict. She was not a friend, but we went to a small school and we had mutual friends, and as I accumulated friends, some of them would find their way to her via the very precarious connection I had to offer. This girl had pulled on me some of the ridiculous petty nonsense girls pull in high school, so I wanted as little to do with her as possible, but if anyone else close to me wanted to attempt to maintain a real relationship with her, that didn't bother me. Then she did something very damaging to me that made me actively wall myself off from her, which necessitated my informing my friends not to make matters worse, and one such friend - yeah, "friend," in quotes and all - countered my simple explanation of what she had done that impacted me in a direct and negative way and my henceforth perfectly reasonable desire not to hear of her anymore with her own ardent defense of and interest in this girl who was at this point just shy a semester of breaking and entering a house while she was high. Because this "friend" of mine was more interested in being a considerate, benevolent soul who could find the good in anyone than making even a superficial attempt to pretend to listen to me, she really escalated a bad situation I was trying to stick a pin in, and that is exactly what Marnie's doing here.

(Sidebar: I love the fact that Hannah writes personal essays, which I find to be the most confounding form to work in. Even though I am casually an extraordinarily open person, when it comes to articulating things like what I just did, it is a challenge I, to quote Lena Dunham, "distinctly dis-enjoy." Since I am just finishing a personal essay, I am feeling - true to form - less confident than ever, but as I touch upon in the essay, a problem with the confessional component of nonfiction is the necessity - real or imagined - of justification, the way nonfiction moves so much in the realm of the reactionary to real events in the news or the obvious shared, observable condition, but confession comes from a place outside of that and there is the fear of "is this right to say with no external catalyst, only the interior pressing?" Laura Albert said: "I don't know, how do you tell - how do you make people curious enough to care?" and I am grateful to Dunham for giving me occasion to talk about that, because it sucked.)

By my decree, the ability of this development between Hannah and Marnie to cave in my critical distance is a SERIOUS artistic achievement. The ending was also made that much more cathartic. I love the confusion of real insight and mean-spirited nonsense in their final blow-out: Hannah points out to Marnie Adam's observation that she's a psychopath, with which I adamantly agree (badum-tish) but she also pulls the low-blow of "you're just jealous that I have a boyfriend" as the logical conclusion of Marnie's praise - Marnie who has spent the last episode and a half stuck in bed eating and catatonically scrolling through Facebook bemoaning the grim reality that she "might not end up" with Charlie (whose touch she likened in the first episode to a weird uncle's) - this girl's praise of people-who-do-things. Hats off to Hannah who recognizes this is the blathering of a crazy person on Marnie's part, but she loses her footing by revealing her own vulnerability in the "you're just jealous that I have a boyfriend" move. I can't concieve of a situation in which that doesn't speak strictly for the fuck-up-ed-ness of the one who says it, and Seth Stevenson at Slate's Guys on Girls lends context to Hannah's beclouded mental state by spotlighting Hannah's response to Tally's "do you have an agent?" with "no, but I have a boyfriend." If there is any presence of mind on the part of the speaker and they are genuinely dealing with someone who is jealous of their significant other, that "you're just jealous" observation is likely to be forgone in order to get down to the emotional bargaining that could get them beyond that point. So Hannah deploys this comment in order to be a straight-up bitch, and Marnie says they can't live together anymore. Doors slam. I celebrate.

This week's Girls on Girls - which misled me with the headline "Do You Have to Hate Your Best Friend's Nemesis?" since they did not spend nearly enough time on the subject - kicks off with the consensus cemented by Allison Benedikt that Marnie and Hannah's blow-out played too sitcomy. If it is to be inferred via the divulged "shameful secret" in Tiny Furniture (and to read it as autobiography, which isn't right, but I'm also not assuming this is true), Dunham isn't one for foreign films, but I do long for her to put the skills she demonstrates in the meticulous slow-burn way she builds characters into a naturally-occuring fight scene like the one in le Mépris. I think people, especially young people, do scream ungraceful accusations that parrot what they think anger sounds like (YOU ARE THE WOUND). I think unless you have a lot of practice at hate to articulate it in a way that truly evokes the level on which you feel it, it comes out blocky and poorly scripted, and, I eagerly await the day he proves me right, Adam clearly is practiced at anger, and when he's really mad, he's going to put us all to shame with what he delivers in the way of verbal expression. Hannah and Marnie are both middle-class girls with supportive parents and for all it affords, there is no freedom to be angry in that kind of environment. That stiffness felt real to me. Something I would love to see is Hannah have to encounter situations where she has to get really angry and let loose some feelings that scare her (although her scream about Adam's golden shower last week has raised the bar on favorite-things-that-Hannah's-done), which I don't think Marnie could achieve without flipping out in some truly horrifying way that could get her arrested. That sounds melodramatic, but these are people I know and this is an issue within a demographic I can talk about with authority.

The notion "Do You Have to Hate Your Best Friend's Nemesis?" is bandied about by the Slate girls without really being mined critically, and I think that's a reductive way to put it - I stated exactly what I think earlier, which is that Marnie used this purely incidental thing to demarcate her distance from Hannah and get self-righteous explicitly to spite her. I just have to say it again because it is so real. Also, Hannah's having-a-boyfriend reminds me a lot of the repulsively covetous Pete Campbell on Mad Men, the way he gets when he gets what he wants, which is never accompanied by the applause he expects. Those two would fall all over each other in the grossest way. And while they seem built for each other, separated though they may be by time, the Slate girls and guys debate the veracity of Hannah and Marnie's relationship, with the girls concluding it does not seem plausible and the guys concluding that it is, both for reasonably valid reasons. If I knew Hannah, I would discourage her from developing such a close bond with Marnie, but their affinity for each other is not in the least suprising if one is to consider how they treat each other, the very specific ditch Marnie's dug in Hannah and the aspects of Marnie that Hannah exploits that reinforce each other in a very black cycle that can only be cultivated by true and significant friendship. One would be all the other would talk about in therapy. Adam and Charlie would merit one crying-jag a piece. And they'd probably both have something scathing to get off their chests about Elijah.

Meanwhile, Hannah also starts working at Cafe Grumpy (!!! I love its very existence), which is occasion for more Ray, whose aggressive insults transcend the plain of garden-variety meanness and catapult into the sphere of mind-bogglingly intrusive remarks about her body. All for the sake of the white dress she's worn to her first day as a barista. Ray follows this up by totally railroading Hannah's enthusiasm for her upcoming reading by dismissing the essay she's chosen to read as trite since its subject - a boy with whom she was briefly involved who turned out to be a hoarder - was a catalyst for an exploration of intimacy issues. Ray decrees there to be no more trite a subject than intimacy and argues his way down to "death" as the ultimate topic worth exploring, which inspired an involuntary eye-roll from me, since I could hear Hannah attempt to plumb those depths (although not in the awesome way Dunham has her do so later in the episode) to Ray's equilateral dismissal. Not only does this parallel the book her classmate has written to such acclaim, which is about death, but it is also one in a serious of allusions to "girl-death-cult" including the grim-to-the-nines Carrie Benefit from "the Return." If one were to mash-up (maybe Chris O'Dowd could do it!) all the instances of people referring to death and terminal illness on this show (including Hannah's classmate's remark "I want to be so skinny people think I have a disease") like the death-references were racked up by the Daily Beast on Mad Men, it would be pretty staggering. The way it's been subliminally sown into the show, which is so authentically how it enters the lives of someone, ie a twenty-something post-college student paddling futilely against inertia, whose focus is elsewhere, who still cannot ignore what's going on with the larger world.

Meghan O'Rourke hits it squarely on the head in her reading of Ray's advice:

We're meant to think...Ray is just mouthing off the way people (read: mostly men) do about what is "suitable" for art....The joke is on Ray: This is a show written by a woman (and often directed by one too). He's the one who thinks he knows everything but doesn't, and Hannah, like many a talented young woman before her, takes what he says too seriously and starts to doubt herself.

Benedikt's assessment of Ray and the potential for him to be as fully-realized as Adam is beautifully abutted by "I'll be happy if I'm wrong." The idea at this point that Ray could become a sympathetic character borders on brutally disappointing to me, but I am not of the opinion that, by turns, Adam will be dwelling in that camp for long. Neither of them are pure evil, but the last word is far from being written. The Slate girls take to task David Thompson at the New Republic and his remarks on Girls and narrative unsustainability. As I have stated before (and I think Thompson's criticisms are paltry), unsustainability is a part of the show, part of its message and part of its form, and it demonstrates no illusions about that. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. The unsustainability of the characters' respective situation is the tension that drives the show: without the fact that they MUST grow, they would become reduced to the cast of Friends, all of whom conviniently have stable jobs and secure living spaces whose only semblance of growth is in the reassertion of comically adolescent insecurity and who is sleeping with who. How much longer can you live like this, Hannah? How much longer can you live like this, New York? That is what is driving this show beneath the uncannily rendered characters and it is riveting and timely and important.

Hannah lets Ray get to her and swaps out her hoarder story for one she writes on the train on her way to the reading about engaging in an online romance that ended with the death of the guy on the other end. I love her reference to online-relationships echoing Shoshanna's dating site escapade, foreshadowing something very grim - such a vivid mirror, I cannot believe I haven't seen that connection made, although I guess it is understandable that many viewers couldn't appreciate it for their asphyxia-inducing laughter at the girl who reads ahead of Hannah ("Maybe everyone in this town is just looking for a bathroom. In fact, he thought, maybe everyone in this whole damn world is" - unprecedented LULZ).

Although Hannah dominated this episode, that climaxed with her and Marnie's blow-up, Jessa's got a good scene which bated me for more with her. Katherine, the mother of her now ex-charges, comes to Jessa and Shoshanna's apartment to say "fuck Jeff" and to be very, very raw about the feelings Jessa has inspired in her, that are balls-out Freudian-homicidal, to which Jessa listens with hilarious compassion - I don't doubt that she's had the same genre of dreams, but her empathy is a wonderfully funny and sad defense mechanism. Katherine asks for Jessa to come back and be her nanny again in a conversation where Jessa admits to a brief and speedily fleeting attraction to Jeff and ultimately turns down Katherine's offer. "I don't need your help," says Jessa. For all his on-the-mark-ed-ness about Hannah's boyfriend-centric nonsense, Seth Stevenson of Slate's Guys on Girls cited a lack of precedent about Jessa's apparent depressive episode here, to which I say, holy shit: she had a miscarriage something like a month ago, man. She can feel whatever she wants, however unwarranted the mood may seem. Although a few straggling plot-holes do bother me - we haven't seen how and if Hannah is dealing with living with HPV, there's been no official word from Jessa on the subject of her miscarriage, which has the dual function of getting her out of an abortion but still negates the possibility of a child for now, which is something very serious - I have faith that these things will be picked up again in the life of the show and while I'd love to see some reference made to them since one does live with those things after what Maggie Smith calls "the first flush of recognition," it doesn't surprise me that they aren't dutifully integrated into Hannah and Jessa's casual conversation. Both of those things are horrible, and even if they don't want to deal with them doesn't mean they haven't colored their attitudes and decisions since the crises broke. To conclude with my uncannily divined feelings via a poem cited by Kate Zambreno just today in a post called "the new new sincerity," here's Ariana Reines, spelling out Jessa and Katherine's scene exactly:

I don't know what women want
But I know that the ones I like
Are not the hags
Who put one arm around you
(In this scenario you
Are the younger woman)
And say You get to a point in your life.
Fuck those bitches
Who try to poison desperate girls
With their resigned and shitty worldviews.

(Too exactly, too exactly.)

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