Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I'm making your fantasies come true, why are you laughing? Lena Dunham's GIRLS, Season One

The Spoiler-Ridden Gestalt Review of HBO's Girls, Season One (2012), created/written/directed by/starring Lena Dunham


I. "The Entitled Lena Dunham Project"

A disclaimer: my focus in these analyses of Girls is the storytelling and how the execution of Girls contributes to the articulation of fictional stories on television. That's a narrow focus. My interest in the show is also cultural and I do raise the points I feel most strongly about - largely concerned with where certain decisions might take the story - but I do not have the equipment to unpack the show as a cultural critic. I made reference in a previous post to other people who are expertly dissenting to Girls and they are eloquent and riveting about where the innovation lacks. I do believe there is great innovation in the storytelling.

During the premier run of Girls, season one, I wrote about each episode as they were released over the course of ten weeks. Since then I've gone back and considered the season as a whole. I was almost done with the episode-by-episode analyses when I visited my best friend. She was in trouble and I took a quick vacation to see her. She is a staggering cultural critic. I mentioned my Girls-watching project and could not make it past character introductions before she was crying with laughter. I didn't intend to keep hitting conversational potholes, but she also took down my attempt to gush about Mad Men. I don't need another show about miserable, affluent white guys, either - although it was not a thing to debate with my friend who I was there to console, my interest in Mad Men is its methodical unspooling of Don Draper. The cost and toll of his vices become increasingly present, his relevance wears - his status is not sustainable and the past five seasons have not pretended that is not the case, there has been no coasting on his triumphant successes as a significant other, friend, employee, or employer. Mad Men is slick, but the volatility and unsustainability of desire is at its narrative core.

I say this in order to argue that it isn't a sitcom, and my decision to analyze Girls episode by episode came in part from the gigantic response to the pilot. Assignments notwithstanding, the alternative being not engaging with the phenomenon notwithstanding, the changing quality of the medium of television notwithstanding, it felt like a lot of critics came at the problems presented in the pilot like they would have to be endured for the rest of the show's life, not as obstacles the characters may be forced to reconcile as they grew throughout the seasons. Even though it wasn't very long ago that television didn't resemble film as much as it does now, there have still been things like Six Feet Under and the Sopranos. The Sopranos pilot initiates the breakdown of dickish mob boss, asking viewers to follow James Gandolfini's flamboyant dickishness on the road to better crime syndicate management through psychotherapy. Girls' pilot introduces a young college graduate having her access to her parents' money cut off, asking viewers to follow Lena Dunham's meta-self-depreciation on an ever tightening spiral of self-referentiality toward the self-sufficiency and artistic achievement that Dunham herself has actually attained.

Dunham's character, Hannah, is vulnerable, and her vulnerability comes from her being forced to accept responsibility for herself. Hannah herself does not practice discretion about harboring ideas and fears and defining herself by those ideas and fears that speak for themselves: there are AIDS, rape jokes, a long-term fling and eventual commitment with a man who runs hot and cold on her physically and emotionally, the precedence her creative work takes to the emotional privacy of her friends, her stubbornness, and more. Her reprehensible qualities are one thing, but she is also comfortable in her body, unreserved about pursuing her interests, committed to what she's doing as a writer to a greater capacity than she would otherwise seem capable given her self-destructive tendencies, and aware that she when she's smart and funny, she's smarter and funnier than anyone she might be up against. That complexity asks a lot of an audience who harbored unquantifiable, totally disparate wishes for a show about girls as they know them. The first season demonstrates that a lot of change and growth has all ready been detonated.

II. Girls

After supporting her financially for two years while she partakes in an unpaid internship, Hannah Horvath's (played by Lena Dunham) parents cut her off. Hannah attempts to turn her internship into a paid position, a move her boss mistakes for quitting. After whispering into an office job, she trips and explodes an abusive dynamic with her boss and takes up at her friend's coffee shop as a barista. She hides this from her parents who urge her to move home. Meanwhile, Hannah tries to let her tempestuous hook-up, Adam, disgust and frustrate her more than he fascinates and challenges her so she can justify dumping him. When Adam does something - send her a lewd photo that wasn't meant for her in the first place - that is read universally by her friends and acquaintances as a deal-breaker, she recognizes that she needs someone who makes her feel good about herself and, in the same moment, also recognizes why she is with Adam in the first place: factors that have as much to do with what she wants as anything, which is substantial. She and Adam embark on a relationship. In an effort to remain cool towards her desire for this and any kind of prosperity, she meets the hard truth that she does have wants, and not having those wants respected - by herself and by others - is the state in which Hannah ends the season. In the first episode she leaps into the arms of her friends; the end of the season leaves her alone.

Jessa Johansson (played by Jemima Kirke) declares in the second episode that she does not like it when women tell other women what to do, and by the end of the series, she heeds the warning of a woman who might never see her again and with such anger that she has, simmering neatly underneath Jemima Kirke's radiant exhaustion, makes all the same mistakes as her. When Jessa shows up in the first episode, her best friend, Hannah, fields warnings that Jessa's presence always causes unwelcome disruptions, and her role in particular fixes Hannah, herself, and their mutual friend Marnie in an unsustainable dynamic. Jessa reveals that she isn't in town to party but to take care of an unwanted pregnancy with the support of her friends. She has a difficult time overcoming the very branded way in which her friends extend their help - although Hannah's "advice" and Marnie's stringently curated abortion appointment are performed in her best interest, Jessa can't get over the very Hannah and Marnie way of it all. The spontaneous relief of her terminated pregnancy seems convenient but does not give her a free pass. She does not indulge in the bender Marnie anticipates: she gets a job. She throws herself into it and, while visibly lonely, gently navigates the black-hole-in-magnitude suction of her boss - Katherine's - husband - Jeff's - neediness. After things get weird enough there, Jessa attempts again to be among her friends, going out with Hannah, Jessa, and her cousin, Shoshanna, to a party where her situation with Jeff blows up. This is not the last straw, though: the last straw comes when someone - Marnie, of all people - finally listens to her and takes her problems on like she is a human being, and by the end of the night, she is reduced to a hollow on which a wild night pivots. When Katherine, tries to tell her what to do and poison her with her resigned and shitty worldview (quoth Ariana Reines), Jessa throws this and other attempts to help her in the faces of everyone with a wedding to a disgusting man who is all but a stranger.

Marnie Michaels (played by Allison Williams) has a job, pays the bulk of and eventually all of the rent of the apartment she shares with her best friend, Hannah, and has a boyfriend, Charlie, whose overwhelming affection she takes for granted and is repulsed by. In the beginning of the season, Marnie is braced for Jessa's return to her and Hannah's lives and for Hannah to spiral into irresponsibility. Marnie fancies herself the glue in Hannah's spine. When Jessa reveals she is pregnant, Marnie does what she understands to be the friendly thing to do and schedules Jessa an abortion. Jessa blows it off. Hannah, embroiled in financial woes and her difficult relationship, bucks Marnie's relentless mothering. This sets up the discovery of Hannah's diary by Charlie. Hannah's diary is full of observations about Marnie's shabby relationship, and when its contents are broadcast by Charlie, Marnie blames Hannah. She executes a successful and pitiful seduction of Charlie that enables her to break up with him. She wallows on a grand and public scale, petulantly observes Hannah enter into a relationship, uses the one sincere human connection she makes amidst her heartbreak for the sake of a cheap thrill, evicts Hannah in a passionless fight, and ends the season by making out with a stranger who demonstrates, with the little screen time he gets, that he is the kind of person Marnie can easily position herself over. To quote the League, he outkicks his coverage on her. If Marnie seemed in the pilot like the classic beauty - the one who should be naked instead of Hannah, as Hannah herself points out - by the season finale, she is clamoring for attention from the most desperate of sources.

Jessa's cousin, Shoshanna Shapiro (played by Zosia Mamet), knows Marnie and Hannah peripherally. As safely she is ensconced midday in a Snuggie on her ecstatically coordinated couch, she is an NYU student living in the security of her aunt's willingness to pay for her apartment and enable her to live the Sex and the City dream. Shoshanna loudly proclaims her allegiance to SatC, to Facebook, to products, and to the fact of Jessa's superiority in being ignorant or avoidant of these things. Becoming friends with Jessa, Hannah, and Marnie means reckoning with her socially aggravated shame in being sexually untried. In the course of rectifying this - a course dotted by witnessing Jessa having sex, being rejected mid-act by a boy who doesn't like virgins, and stripping in the street after accidentally smoking crack - Shoshanna attracts a man. Charlie's best friend, Ray, whose fat-headed, voracious know-it-all-ism seems to place him on another planet from Shoshanna's hyper-focused, endlessly analytic naivete, but her personhood overrides. Although the season ends with her having sex with Ray, she mandates the terms. She is not featured as consistently as Hannah, Marnie, or Jessa, but her character is painstakingly wrought. She has her every gesture under a high-powered microscope with Starbucks and Chanel logos all over it. She believes in the rules, but she understands there is a space beyond that, and Jessa lives there. Jessa does not care, and in the pilot, Shoshanna admires her for that with Beatles-caliber admiration. But the season finale features Jessa getting married, and she did not care enough to alert Shoshanna, her own cousin. This is a betrayal of the Rules that reflects poorly on Shoshanna and declares absolutely that Jessa does not care about Shoshanna at all on terms that truly mean something to her. In the same episode, Marnie - "the Ideal" - moves in with Shoshanna, so the next season may see her admiration shift its intense, unwavering focus.

III. Girls

Girls, Season One

Episode 1, PilotTuberculosis in a garret.
Favorite Moment: Having watched this episode so many times and with the whole season behind me now, I am really in awe of the first scene: how Hannah falls apart, pokes holes in her own argument, and reveals herself to be so totally vulnerable so immediately. "Two abortions, right in a row." Rewatching it, there are so many red herrings planted in this episode, particularly the exposition-ridden drug store run with Hannah and Marnie when Marnie seems to roll out the plot to unfold between Hannah and Jessa, reinforcing their roles as Hannah the impulsive push-over, Jessa the mischievous eater of souls, and Marnie the long-suffering model of best friendliness. This pays off on repeat viewings in the glow of how off on her own Hannah is in pursuit of her desires, how Jessa's appearance is ostensibly to handle a bad situation she is determined enough to overcome (and how much she needs others as opposed to taking people for granted), and how Marnie railroads her friends when they seek genuine friendship from her.

The first time I saw Tiny Furniture, I eviscerated it to myself. I wrote a review that never ran where it was accepted, which facilitated my reassessment of it. Something I now glowingly admire about the film - like the oeuvres of Woody Allen and Whit Stillman - is how language demonstrates what isn't being evidenced through action. The characters don't listen to each other in order to enable a genuine give-and-take of ideas. They wait for cues to be themselves and put on small shows for the other person. It is a very real way of talking that demonstrates next level observational skills about the way people act, which is all kinds of present on Girls and the thing I most love about Dunham's writing. How people communicate is a niche interest. I love Clerks, Death Proof, and Lincoln solely for their screenplays and what those productions do with talking, but most of the people I know hate those films for the same reason I enjoy them. They are movies with a bunch of people talking. Even though I haven't actually seen a parallel drawn - maybe somewhere there has been and I didn't catch it, considering daily there have been hundreds of articles and posts on Dunham in the past year - the coming of Girls reminded me of Diablo Cody and her move from Juno to the United States of Tara. The reigning criticism of Juno - subject matter aside - was how people do not authentically communicate in quips and bon mots. This argument was really whatever for me, considering how the film was about a person for whom choice wasn't really an issue, very little consequence befell her at any point, and the very typical romantic conundrum trumped the fact that she was in high school and pregnant. It was not grounded firmly in reality anyway, but its whimsy really rubs in how perfectly possible it is for a middle class white girl to skate through such an event consequence-free. The extent to which the reality was visible through the fiction diminished my ability to enjoy it considerably, and the flippant tone of the screenplay in its quips, however clever, reinforced the willfully ignorant aspect of the story. The language of Girls and Tiny Furniture reinforces the characters' own delusions which are quickly disproven, undone, or juxtaposed by their actions, effectively complimenting and augmenting the comedy instead of unwittingly reinforcing that, say, Hannah's view of things resemble in any way the way things really are. Although! Sometimes this comes through and sometimes it does not. The next episode features instances of both.

Episode 2, Vagina PanicWhat if I want to feel like I have udders?
Favorite Moment: When Hannah grills Jessa about her feelings about her abortion. As soon as Jessa does open up and admit that being a mother is something she feels strongly about and eventually wants, Hannah co-opts her intimation by doing what Jessa has just stated before that she can't stand: when women tell other women how to feel. Jessa stays perfectly in character by stepping up her statement with what an amazing mother she'll be, and how she'll have the children of many different men of many different races. I love this kind of rhetorical overtaking and how well it demonstrates that Jessa knows how to get Hannah - for whom talking is a superpower - to shut up. Throughout the whole season and Dunham's body of work, I've enjoyed these tokens of intimacy and how they don't add up to anything, how much remains hollow around the characters. Like Jessa states in the pilot, they don't own anybody, no matter how they might have them down to their most unconscious quirks.

This episode sees Hannah getting plowed by Adam and subsequently being tested for STDs. The scene that closes the episode features an absolutely batshit monologue by Hannah in which she talks herself into the impossible idea that she wants AIDS because she will be able to use it to shame those who have made life hard for her - Adam for not being in love with her in a recognizable way, her parents for not taking care of her when she is floundering. So outrageous is her speech to herself that the nurse attendant to her does not really need to respond, but she really does need to respond: not only is Hannah being nuts, she does not know what she's talking about, and when Hannah speaks, she does so with such force an authority that she really needs to watch out. It is one things for morons in comments sections to say things. At the beginning of the episode, in the presence of no one who is listening in order to tell her to watch her mouth, Hannah says she has no sympathy for people who do not use condoms and who therefore contract diseases and get pregnant. Hannah is not aware of people who do not have access to birth control, who do not enjoy the privilege of having a considerable amount of say about what happens to their body and what others do to it, and who do not enjoy the wealth of cultural references she has (after school specials, teen melodramas) in lieu of an intellectually impoverished sex ed curriculum. This is not even on Hannah's mind as she says this, as she does so in reference to her pregnant friend Jessa, her peer. Moves like this tread Juno territory: it might be flippant, but Hannah's supposed to be a dingbat! But the reality is too visible behind the quip. Moments like this don't succeed at painting Hannah as the failmaster and they don't succeed as writing that does what the rest of the show demonstrates it can do.

Episode 3, All Adventurous Women DoWhat I'm having right now is an inappropriate physical reaction to my total joy.
Favorite Moment: Shoshanna watching Baggage. She is an Olympian-league shitty listener which, in her case, comes from her anxiety about how she is perceived. She and Hannah shunt their conversation along by baiting, patient for expected beats, while the other plows along on a rant that foresakes the other party totally. I love that after getting the subject of her virginity off her chest in episode 2, Shoshanna's whole endgame in asking Hannah to watch Baggage with her is to admit to it again.

I love Shoshanna and am looking forward with such verve to when she graduates. If she isn't headed for a meltdown, then I don't know what. I am up for being surprised. I have my money on a full nervous collapse, if only for an episode or two. Shoshanna is more open to surveying her reserves of strength than the people I know in life who she reminds me of, and it would be heartwarming in the far-flung way that TV can be if she really put herself out there and impressed herself with her ability to sail over others and secure a wildly good job. Even though Hannah is played by Dunham, is the main character and the primary point of identification for the viewer, and even though Dunham transparently mines her life for material in a close-to-the-bone way, I have a wish. I wish Hannah's character would divert down a rough path and really struggle and she would find real inspiration and be changed there, and I wish Dunham's real life success would be foisted on crazy Shoshanna who, not equipped with Hannah's scrappiness, might not hit it out of the park. Making a movie is one thing, making a TV show is one thing. Making a first feature the DVD of which debuts on the Criterion Collection, making a first show on HBO that secures massive ratings, unquantifiable media coverage, and award nominations - well, Dunham has considerable experience filming feature-length and serial formats and she also has industry experiences, but these advantages do not add up to those achievements without some very special factors. I would love to see those chances at success given to someone who might not handle it like Dunham did.

Episode 4, Hannah's DiaryThat's a-hella different.
Favorite Moment: Hannah talking herself into forgiving Adam under the guise of yelling at Adam. There are so many layers of manipulation at work. I love it when Hannah loses her footing in an argument as she cannot keep from articulating the absurd truth of what she feels, which in this case is how she wishes Adam would stop being a fuck-up so she could love him without looking like a fool, which will not ever happen. Adam really listens to her in this scene - listens to what she means by what she's saying, ignoring the content. Hannah would rather he hear her accusations and be sassy and eject her from his life, but he hears what she actually means, which is so dangerous. He has such an advantage.

Another scene in this episode that put me off more on repeat viewings than it did the first time is when Hannah's coworkers suss out her unease about - and reveal their cavalier attitudes toward - their boss' handsy-ness. The first time, I had no investment in it, but reviewing what's here demonstrates where things might go, and this scene demonstrates potentially fatal naivete about what it's like for a woman in an office environment. Although it is repulsive that their boss gets away with his actions, the people with whom Hannah commiserates are from very different socioeconomic circumstances and do not enjoy the mobility Hannah has and takes for granted as a young, college-educated white girl. Because the next episode ejects Hannah from this dynamic entirely, nothing more happens. Since the show is built on the foundation of mistakes, its thesis has nothing to do with imparting real wisdom: it's telling a story, not providing a guidebook for one's turbulent twenties. I'm still afraid of incidents that scream "look at this terrible phenomenon that you can observe in the real world - bosses group their employees and jaded, brain-dead wage-drones with no ambition will just let this happen to you because they want for nothing more!" This might be a stretch, but, full disclosure: my professional background has something to do with women of low socioeconomic status in the workplace, a human-scape so rich with terrible phenomena that you can only observe in the real world if you really intently look, and as someone whose situation vastly resembles Hannah's, this whole part of the plot was all sensation for me and no substance. This same episode features Jessa rallying her fellow nannies at the park, attempting to transcend her class and declaring herself "just like all of you," just like the woman who can't get rid of her boyfriend because he has a job at a Verizon store, just like this group of people whose accents demonstrate they might be in the US on very precarious terms. This fail is performed blatantly: it's funny that Jessa thinks that she's like them, because it isn't true. But Hannah's ridiculous episode two rant about wanting AIDS proves that she's got serious nitwit tendencies that will keep her from succeeding - Jessa's blithe failure to identify her faux pas posits her at an advantage. Her thinking she's the same as them does not hurt her, it hurts them. She's foisting her deluded impression onto them and erasing their hardship while she enjoys slumming it. This is a real, ugly, pervasive problem - LOOK AT THIS TERRIBLE PHENOMENON THAT YOU CAN OBSERVE IN THE REAL WORLD - that I would like to see undo something for these characters in coming episodes, lest they just keep happening with no consequence, if only because it is something I want to see period, in life. Because that is a grand-scale mistake and not at their expense.

Episode 5, Hard Being EasyShe could be running off copies at Kinko's and saying that she has a press.
Favorite Moment: That ending, which is Adam's version of Hannah's speech to herself in the previous episode. Since she was clearly distressed but gave Adam the chance to persuade her, he does the same on his own absurd terms. Considering the irreparable communication breakdown that Marnie and Hannah suffer in a subsequent episode, this anticipates Adam's unique brand of empathy - superior to Marnie's boundary-erasing telepathy - as he demonstrates it for the duration of the series. The first time I watched Girls, I felt he was being rendered in broad and emotionally manipulative strokes to seem conveniently good and conveniently bad as was necessary, but now I appreciate how finely his character is established, how sophisticated he is built in order to accommodate moments like this episode's end and the season finale.

Only after watching the show many, many times did I get to the point of approaching Adam without a lot of emotion. If he were mishandled and romanticized in the wrong way, I would not be able to watch the show. But his character is built up with honesty and objectivity and to the extent he is allowed to be a whole person and not just a monster, his development in the new season is something I am looking forward to almost the very most. Throughout the first three episodes, Hannah's situation with him gets increasingly cringe-worthy: she is trying to justify her involvement with him to herself while he negs her, maintains a flippant attitude about birth control, creates sexual scenarios about her that he does not invite her to participate in, and then maybe transmits her an STD. All this happens before he accidentally sends her a sext not intended for her. Only after auditioning the shame for her friends and coworkers does Hannah feel this must be a dealbreaker and she must give Adam a shot at being someone she can reject. But she cannot reject him, and in this episode she is shocked that he's decided he must reject her. She was looking for an excuse for there not to be a breaking point - and since they are not committed to each other, this is a relief for her - but he sees it as an opportunity to create a breaking point. But since he does like her, he gives her the chance to persuade him. It involves her about as much as she is involved in his fantasies - she's the object, not a participant, but this looks like it comes from Adam's adapted way of forming relationships, and the quality of Hannah's that makes her special is that even though he talks filthy with her but doesn't respond to her attempts to talk dirty back, she relentlessly demonstrates that she's game and wants to be a participant, be his equal and not his object, and he likes this. Genuine monsters would not - they would have adapted their objectification in order to reassert the power they have in their relationships. The next time they talk, Adam listens intently to Hannah talk about a date with another guy like a peer, interested in her feelings - her tryst probably would have had no significance if she could not tell Adam about it afterwards. In the next episode, Adam turns out to be someone with a certain level of commitment to self-betterment who actively works on his problems, but they are legion. By episode eight, his humanity blows wide open, but that's not the climax of the season! Things are complicated so beautifully, so effectively catalyzed for season two! The extreme vulnerability of Hannah and Adam's relationship is so human and great and unlike anything in how layered it is and how very reassuring and right and then how hawkish and creepy it seems is, if nothing else, riveting television and real world terrifying in the way of a tight-rope walk. I didn't used to but I love it now.

Episode 6, the ReturnI know enough to know you don't have to know anybody.
Favorite Moment: Hannah's friend, Heather - every second she's on screen but especially her coffee break with Hannah. I love how much I believe that Hannah has always bonded to these frightening girls out of a sense of feeling genuinely inferior and in awe of their easy likability with disgusting men AND a real and unignorable intellectual superiority that is confounded and amazed by everything they do and say, enabling her to feel safe but realistically in control. Having Heather throw some context on Hannah's past friendships makes Marnie look like a healthy step in the right direction, mass of psychic disease that I perceive her to be.

A quick aside: the street Hannah and Marnie live on looks exactly like my favorite block uptown in Harrisburg.

In the commentary for this episode, Dunham states that she never intended to take the core characters out of New York and was persuaded to do this episode by Judd Apatow. I want to see more of this. I want New York to become a structuring absence eventually. On that note, this episode contains a monologue by Hannah - Adam listens on the phone - about New York versus her Midwestern hometown. Her tryst's huge apartment costs nothing. Hannah says, "I feel like we're all slaves to this place that doesn't even want us" - I appreciate that so far, New York has not been involved in the show like another character. New York has been a money suck, a plastic bag inside of which Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna are zipped in, airless. When the characters are removed from New York - and I reassert again! They don't have to leave forever, I would just like to see some objectivity - I would like to see what New York is for them at that distance. My original analysis of this episode was very blow-by-blow. This episode's format is different from the rest of them - instead of cutting between stories, it is the unbroken story of Hannah at home. Her parents, who I was not so interested in the first time I watched the show, demonstrate more of the great complex rendering that does whisper by on casual viewing. After only two appearances, Hannah's parents are formed with as much sophistication as Adam, who gets to develop with the force and tempestuousness of his own personality. In the pilot, her mom is the muscle behind Hannah's money getting cut off and her dad is broken watching Hannah get upset and desperate. At some remove from their final push, her dad can say watching her struggle is unpleasant because she does not think Hannah is well-equipped for the world and she might not be a very good writer. Her mom, meanwhile, reveals that she did not cut off Hannah's funds to wake her up from a dream but to encourage her to work which - if her ten page manuscript is any indication - she was not. Broadly, East Lansing, MI, versus NYC could be not working versus working. Hannah cannot afford to be stagnant, work-wise, in New York, whereas even though she would certainly get "a real job, like...a teacher" in Michigan, she totally would not. She would be inclined to do even less. Maybe due to the involvement of Judd Apatow, but this episode was harder to look at objectively for its broadly comic and very entertaining moments which came at a really good time in the season. Dunham remarks somewhere else on another commentary - I think in the last episode, once Chris O'Dowd's on the scene - that she admires the very crafted television of the BBC which come in short seasons where the function of each episode contributes to the overall unit of the season, as opposed to each episode delivering a formula of beats in only a fairly different way each time.

Dunham references Gregory Crewdson at the end of the commentary. Hats off!

Episode 7, Welcome to Bushwick, a.k.a. the CrackcidentIt was a glass cigarette.
Favorite Moment: After this episode first aired, many reviewers remarked upon the Sex and the City trope that was called-out wherein all the girls stand together in a line to regard something. Although it only showed up to me upon repeat viewings, this struck me as poignant in how different the show is from one that relies on formula. Formula is a comforting thing. Unlike the characters on Sex and the City, whose relationship dynamics are occasionally labored into their hackneyed plot lines, these characters are not crystalline BFFs. By the end of the season, none of the relationships that seemed worth the risk are intact, but in that moment in this episode, they're styled as a band of friends. My best friends and I have a thing we call "the Wonderful Winter," which was the time between the premiers of Kill Bill volumes one and two when we hung out every single day and spent every waking moment occupying a shared experience including world events, media, and horror movie hormones. Years later, that time became a major point of reference since it represented what we perceived as enduring, significant friendships when they were really just part of a time that did not make it past the Bride taking Bill down with the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Similarly, I am willing to bet Marnie and Hannah share a golden age of friendship. By this point they exist totally unaware that the halcyon days of whatever was their own Wonderful Winter are gone, but dawn comes before the season ends.

Speaking of self-mythologizing, which is brought up by name in the first scene after the title (part of Hannah's self-mythology is a years-old case of mono that requires her to get cat-hours of sleep every nigh), the title sequence is movie-elaborate. This is them in their movie, what New York Life should be - in the fifth episode, Jessa encourages Hannah to put the moves on her boss "for the story," but this is the force of how much each girl wants THIS to be the Story: a big party where Jessa's in a feather vest, Shoshanna's beglittered, Marnie looks like "one of those Real Housewives," and Hannah looks like she rolled out of bed, ready for whatever - these are their Authentic Selves! More than any other episode, this contains moments more than others where the characters, none of whom are writers besides Hannah, would probably in retrospect declare "that would make such a great short story." The revelation about Adam's Alcoholics Anonymousness, Marnie's pity party tour that climaxes in her getting smacked, Jessa accidentally getting her boss punched and having to take him to a clinic, Ray chasing Shoshanna through Bushwick. Dunham in the commentary remarks that this episode does not enable anyone to get away with their nonsense. Everyone hits a wall and is forced to change which is what makes it actually cinematic and worth that title sequence and what gloriously negates their hopes for the night: their Authentic Selves are not going to win them ideal lives, they are going to plunge them into strange and transformative encounters and experiences involving penetrative eye-contact and crack and wounds to the face.

Episode 8, Weirdos Need Girlfriends, TooEndorphins don't work on me.
Favorite Moment: I liked the way this episode functioned in relationship to the others, what it called back and what kind of changes it allowed the last episodes to yield (none of which could be possible without the previous episode - it's all one big excellent machine, this story). My favorite of these is just a spark of hope: four episodes ago, Ray looked at a photo of Marnie's family and said that when he sees families like hers, he wonders if they aren't all having sex with each other. Over drinks, in this episode, as they talk about sex, Jessa asks Marnie if she lost her virginity to her cousin. I love that Marnie is constantly perceived by others as an alien. Unlike some pedestrian narrative where someone like Hannah is ostracized and someone like Marnie is adored, these characters are not in high school and recognize that something is deeply amiss with someone who characterizes herself as an "ideal." Hannah, meanwhile, has a boyfriend. All this to say, my favorite moment was Jessa and Marnie's night out.

It took viewings to get over Chris O'Dowd. The IT Crowd is a show that I have such an emotional bond to - engages me on a very inarticulate, jubilant level, so it was hard to organize my analytical faculties while he was on screen. Even though the mere sight of him doesn't throw the episode into IT Crowd-caliber zaniness - his accent is appropriately unsettling, he is decidedly unlovable - still, I'm human. Now knowing that he and Jessa end up married in the season finale and still together in the coming season, I am excited for his petulant rant to echo in forthcoming episodes. Jessa's decision to marry O'Dowd's character - who is revealed to be named Thomas-John - is not based on the convenience of him being the only non-Adam/Ray/Charlie, with whom the other characters are all ready busy. Jessa's just been fired and she's upset and Hannah was supposed to comfort her. Hannah's busy being in love. Marnie is also vulnerable, being kicked in the gut as she is by the end of her four-year relationship with Charlie and subsequent discovery of his new relationship initiated only days after they broke up. Together, Jessa and Marnie go out on a girls' night. Jessa is distressed by Thomas-John's flirtatious gesture of sending them a round of drinks but Marnie is all for it. She beckons him over. She wants to get crazy! And she feels safe in doing so because she's with Jessa, Crack Spirit Guide extraordinaire. If Marnie were with Hannah, Marnie's behavior would set the example, but Marnie does not have to worry about that responsibility here. She facilitates Thomas-John's successful pick up. The three of them go back to his apartment. Both Marnie and Jessa are nervous. When Marnie kisses Jessa in order to assuage her nerves, Jessa consents - it is an expression of love and care, and that's what Jessa wants, that's what she was hoping to get from Hannah. But Marnie does it to arouse Thomas-John. He persists in being inappropriate and explodes childishly at both of them for ruining his rug and withholding sex from him. They leave. In the immediate aftermath, it seems like Thomas-John was the arch-beast of the evening, but it was Marnie who completely ignored Jessa's feelings and her need for a nice drink, a long talk, and some relief from men projecting their desires onto her. Marnie is lost without being realized as an ideal by someone. When Thomas-John shows up at Jessa's door, although she probably was, as she states in the finale, prepared to call the Special Victim's Unit, he was not the villain the way Marnie was, and even if his interest in Jessa comes from a totally twisted place, he isn't pretending to be her friend the way Marnie was and the way Jeff was. Jessa is such a recognizable type and one so easily demonized that the way she is so completely and humanly rendered never stops astonishing me.

Episode 9, Leave Me AloneYou are the wound!
Favorite Moment: The book party and the reading! This episode thrills me even upon repeat viewings since it opens up the possibility for there to be any mining of the New York literary publishing world. I eat that nonsense up, the more remote and shimmering the better. Since Dunham sold Not That Kind of Girl this year, I hope in seasons to come, even if Hannah doesn't get that lucky, that more of the haute litscape is in the show. Agents! Publicists! The whole grand mechanism!

I did not read the New Yorker recaps until recently but what Richard Brody disliked about this episode, my friend Heather disliked as well. Her assessment of the ending as a hyper-cliched best-friend blow-up made more of an impression on me than Brody's since, at the time, we were embroiled in this verbal hopscotch game with someone else involving so much implied meaning and passive aggression that I couldn't believe a little plainness and exposition didn't feel refreshing to her. The end fight comes off as less nuanced than the dialogue typical of the show so far. This scene has a real and effective function in its echoing of the pilot. There, Marnie's red herring exposition did nothing but, in retrospect, reinforce her very warped outlook on her relationship with Hannah. All those coping mechanisms cave and this scene demonstrates the failure of communication - as many levels as it's working on - to do anything generative for them anymore. Everything Marnie says is a symptom of her delusions and the same is true for Hannah. They need to become totally separate humans. If they took two years off from each other, when they spoke again, they would not even know how to enter a conversation. Everything would seem like a stab because that is what words have become for them. No longer sharing a limb and having the other down to their slightest idiosyncrasy, they would have to engage each other as humans and they don't see each other that way. Will they? I'm glad it seems like the next season they're out of each other's orbit. That will effectively refresh them both. Within the same episode, this confrontation rhymes with Katherine's confrontation with Jessa. Hannah and Marnie's fight starts out with Hannah wanting to unload about her evening to a fragile Marnie who is throwing some of her belongings away after reading a book about suicide. That is not what the book is to Hannah - it's the book by her nemesis, Tally, and she accuses Marnie of not caring about her feelings and coveting Tally's friendship over her's. Marnie says she is always the listener and since she's had things to discuss, Hannah hasn't been there for her. Hannah's rebuttal is that she should have discussed things - specifically her feelings about her ex, Charlie - before they broke up in order to avoid these "overwrought" conversations. I love this. Since there are many endgames to speaking, I love that Hannah, who is most certainly a venter, can't read the venting of others. Re her conduct with Jessa in the second episode - Hannah tries to help and panics when her listeners vent. She feels like she has to provide some help. I digress: their fight is full of yelling and accusations. Katherine comes to see Jessa and tells her a dream full of balls-out symbolism involving her murdering, dissecting, and consuming Jessa. Jessa's face in this scene might actually be my favorite moment in the whole show because she is so interested and nonjudgmental - there are even moments I like to think she recognizes that dream. She is on board to listen and take everything Katherine has to say in stride - she knows she handled things with her husband, who tried to come onto her in the previous episode - as best she could. Then Katherine tells her the reason she can't be furious with her for contributing to the dissolution of her marriage is because Jessa probably gets into those situations a lot in order to avoid self-examination. Since Jessa gets projected into chronically, this is exactly the wrong thing, but this is unspoken. The extent to which this is a blow-up moment is only identifiable after the debris settles in the finale.

Episode 10, She DidYour dreams are not what you thought they'd be!
Favorite Moment: Shoshanna's interactions with Ray prior to their going to bed, during which she demonstrates so much self-possession and so much of what Ray observes in his remark about her vibrating to her own strange frequency. A specific moment in particular: during the vows, Shoshanna's shushing of Ray, her rejection of his consolation. Shoshanna prizes her relationship with Jessa, and Jessa has demonstrated in a way most devastating to Shoshanna that she doesn't prioritize her that way. This along with Marnie's rejection of Hannah, Shoshanna's adoption of Marnie as a roommate and Jessa's leap into the weird unknown posits, I surmise, Hannah and Jessa being the best segue into next season. Theirs is the relationship I want to see more of after that their talk in the bathroom in this episode, when Hannah kisses her as she's wriggling away. So far, teaser trailers confirm this.

In conclusion! I've been working on this draft since the finale aired in June. This season did not let these characters get away with much of anything. I am prepared and excited for the second season beginning on January 13. Dunham has stated that the coming season addresses the issue of diversity as it caused the biggest uproar when the show first premiered. Since this show was conceived in a vacuum - except for how Dunham took a prize at SXSW for Tiny Furniture and snagged the chance to work with Judd Apatow - Dunham wasn't creating the work in reaction to anything, and now the characters will be developing with their creator conscious of what's happening to them out in the world, how the decisions are being perceived. As stated to Judd Apatow in his recent edition of Vanity Fair, one of Dunham's twelve things she learned this year was, "People will always find something in your work to argue with. Get used to being humbled, shutting out the noise, second-guessing yourself, and realizing that one out of six times those cretins are right." To end this round of analyses subjectively, I think she chose the right criticism to consider seriously and I'm excited to see what results it yields. But this is only the second season and far from missing the characters like I do on Parks and Recreation, I don't feel (all my flagrant projections aside) like I know them yet, and only after seeing the whole first season together do I conclude that each of these characters merit being known to their fullest extent.


Related posts:
We're not going to be supporting you any longer: on Girls criticism.
Doing their blue dissolve.
When a Girl Writes in Her Diary and No One's There to Read It: on the Leaking of Lena Dunham's Book Proposal.

Appendix:
Dear Television
The Slate roundtable recaps at the XX Factor and BrowBeat
"The Loves of Lena Dunham" by Elaine Blair for the New York Review of Books
 "It's Different for Girls" by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine
"The Ability to be Fascinating" by Hilton Als for the New Yorker

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