Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm gonna write a whole book in a day.

The project of reviewing Girls season two has neatly encompassed a three-month hiatus I took in the aftermath of sustaining a trauma. As I'm about to take further methods to recover, I've decided that the greatest way that this project has contributed to the process of my repairing my thoughts is the delight gleaned from Hannah in episode thirteen informing Elijah of how fetching she found him the first time she saw him, with his "wet thermals over a chair." The way she says it. Everything about it.

This episode made me happy season three will be twelve episodes long. It demonstrated most resoundingly how tough a ten episode season is for such a loaded narrative.

Girls, Episode Twenty, "Together"

Hannah is just as bad as where the audience left her, in a heap in her bed, unwashed, demonstrating the side-effects of her debilitating OCD. She crawls into Google, hiding from the task of writing her ebook. Even though I like Hannah, I appreciate the right-hook that was spring-loaded by the last several episodes, during which Hannah was very sympathetically explored. She is just gross in this episode. She shirks the responsibility of her book contract, feeling put-upon by her inability to shirk that responsibility free of - I don't believe it's consequence, but the reassurance that she is loved even though she has messed up. That's what she talks to her parents about in the pilot: what is scary is not that her friend had two abortions right in a row, it's that no one came with her.

In his phone call to Hannah to reassert her contractual obligation, Hedwig does a thing I rant about a lot that is my least favorite thing to be found in workplace culture (and I am prepared to own that flight of hyperbole): the boss that says "don't make me be the boss." I don't know if it's caught on to those in management that this is the same naked insecurity implicit in the statement "I'm a cool mom." The children of one who utters such a thing are always the worst. The employees of "don't make me be the boss" bosses can't do their jobs. This is the basket into which all my eggs of sorrow and complaint are put.

There are moments in Hannah's story here that echo the last time she had an adult (non-Ray) boss: the Rich debacle from season one. When Hedwig tells Hannah he could sue her, it recalls Rich dismissing Hannah's threat with the quip "there's no suing app on your iPhone." The power shift is not dramatic - Hannah was at a disadvantage both times.

This episode's climax is a parallel between the actions that have led Hannah to her current state that reach as far back as that sexual harassment, and it depicts a real way incidents like that attain a ruinous permanence in lives besides the more overt triggers and other familiar, pyrotechnic side effects of dysfunction. Abusive scenarios have tangible outcomes, and they quickly become the devil you know, as opposed to the new and potentially better way of doing things that you have yet to discover. There isn't a lot of new in this episode at all.

This opening update on Hannah's mental health is followed by three brief and dialogue-heavy sex scenes: Marnie returns to Charlie's apartment, a symbol (for Marnie) of her covetousness over him, and she plunges their erotic exchange into an interrogation about where he learned to pleasure a woman like he can now. Their tension-ridden moment is juxtaposed by Ray and Shoshanna's much sadder, slower, quieter humping. Shoshanna reasserts that Ray's lack of ambition is a significant problem. Before anything is resolved, Natalia and Adam are having sex in her room - she'll never go back in his apartment - and her assertion and commitment to clarity recurs as a self-protective measure.

I will return to the point later, how Adam is a monster. I've discussed it, but I'm going to discuss it more, with verve, at the end of this review.

Hannah's dad provides a little expository insight as to Hannah's manipulative behavior. I could have gone without this scene since it states what is shown later. The one thing this scene does have going for it is its reference to Louisa May Alcott, which calls back to Ray and Little Women, which reinforces the likelihood that Hannah probably never actually read the book.

I also hope that the fact that Hannah is medicated will become a thing.

The next scene finds Marnie and Charlie having brunch. It's such a SatC moment; Marnie is beaming. A few things: Marnie and Jessa are behavioral parallels. This moment places Marnie, Marnie-style, in the same place Jessa was in last season's finale. Jessa did not get a chance to say it until this season, but she does it in the exact same way: she tells Hannah that if she just made some clear-headed decisions, she could enjoy what it's like "when the hunt is over."

It's almost as if young people were never repulsed by an adult in their lives. I say this knowing that the stress and terror of financial and social insecurity is a sure-fire inducer of the kind of amnesia that makes "settling down" worth this kind of self-inflicted mind-damage. Here, Marnie tells Charlie that this is exactly what she tells Hannah: you have your adventures but with the intent to then turn away from them and settle down.

I once knew a guy who was in pieces after the dissolution of a serious, long-term, long-distance commitment. He sacrificed a life in a community he enjoyed to come back to the rural area I'm from, and upon his return, she broke things off with him. He had some ideas for a small business that I helped him realize, but he was very reluctant to do anything until he was in a relationship again. I asked him if he didn't think starting up and running a successful ecommerce site would increase his viability as a date - since otherwise he was a waiter at a dearly departed breakfast place - and he said he couldn't think toward a relationship, he could only think up from one. A relationship was the foundational layer on his hierarchy of needs and he absolutely embraced the garbage rhetoric Marnie spins here about what it means to "settle down."

When someone mentions the phrase, I think of Harry Dean Stanton's mess of a trailer park slumlord in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me: "I've all ready gone places. I just want to stay where I am." Maybe if those places Marnie and the guy I knew had gone to were equivalent to David Lynch's black lodge, I would feel differently. But instead, I feel like this:

- Germain Greer, the Female Eunuch

And those who prioritize some abstract "security," particularly as it exists in relationships, are a uniquely deluded class. They're just about as batshit as cool moms.

There's a few bonus explosions of total Marnie-crazy in this scene beyond her sincere declaration that she and Charlie (the audience has no evidence at this point that they've done anything but have sex) can put experience (life) behind them as they are now settled down. She also uses the term "old fogeys" like it's a good thing, which only the worst people in the world do. Marnie is so awful I can't stand it. To wit: she's had the best arc this season and became much more enjoyable to watch (when she's destroying her own life and not the lives of others), even if her arc didn't have the nuance of Hannah's and lopped to the unprecedentedly ridiculous side. I could have gone for more sympathetic flashes of Marnie: the fall-out over her discretion with Elijah and its effect on her relationship with Hannah was seen primarily in Hannah's avoidance of Marnie, while Marnie sublimated her suffering into Booth/Charlie. As realistic as that is, I could have used a little more of what I absolutely believe she did off-screen, which is project onto Ray a new and completely uncomfortable best-friend-ness for want of a Hannah.

On Marnie's mental disintegration, the first episode of this season, and Hannah's rant later in this episode: starving absolutely provokes the kind of mania Marnie seems to have been experiencing. I would love it if this was touched on.

I love that Charlie looks like he's going to cry throughout this scene. Last bonus-nuts from Marnie: after she grilled Charlie for a run-down of where he picked up his new prowess as a lover, Marnie shows him something she learned from Booth: nothing is ever her fault. Her understanding that she and Charlie are in a relationship is based on hard evidence, and if he's going to challenge the claim Marnie has willed into being (the same will that powers a thought system deprived of nutrition), he's doing nothing but blatantly hurting her, and this has all been a ploy to hurt her.

"I'd offer to pay," she says, stamping off, "but that would be insulting to you." Money has everything to do with Marnie's decisions regarding Charlie. From her losing her job to getting immersed - momentarily - in the milieu of Booth Jonathan, the material is the one plane on which Marnie and Hannah's stories remotely converged. Marnie realized Booth's opulent life was what she wanted, and Booth's unwillingness to provide her that - he only offered to toss her $500 - sent her into a sharp downward spiral. In a grand apartment that she definitely enjoyed, Hannah realized what she was enjoying to a dangerous extent was that feeling of "security," that denial of life, and that it might be nice and worth wanting. This really shakes her.

About Jessa, Thomas-John, and money: I am of the belief that Jessa keeps money in mind as an incentive, as something she knows she needs, but that didn't drive her detour with Thomas-John in the way of the typical ulterior motive. The fact that he had money was a reason to make the decision she made, but not why she made that decision in spite of his awfulness. She knew what he was, and she could deal with that, and there was an upside. If she didn't get that thirty-and-a-half-thousand out of him, I doubt she tried to follow up.

Marnie would seduce someone for the money. But even then, she's just as busy manipulating herself in this scene. She can't even make it to the end of the scene without making her intentions known: "I just want you to know that I don't love you for your money...because I don't even know how much money you have."

Charlie and Marnie are willing to construct a reality in which the things that were problems won't continue to be problems, and this will cave in on them. Their reunion is played with all the characteristics of a romantic comedy - Lili Loofbourow has nailed this - and the episode's ending is, too. Both moments provide superficial impressions of goal-fulfillment and denial of the girls' respective dreams.

Alex Karpovsky as Ray gets a great close-up tracking strut-shot to Tame Impala's "Elephant" on his way to be informed by his manager that what Shoshanna wants is a man that can keep her in silly purses until the end of days, not a scholar. This remark is provoked when Ray reveals that his plan to get ambitious is to return to his Ph.D program (Latin Studies!). This scene sees Ray reaching after a father figure the way Hannah does on the phone to her own dad. Ray has stated that his parents are deceased, and when his manager makes reference to not being around forever, Ray probes with more tenderness than is expected from an employee, especially since his manager is so obviously trying to glide past the fact. Ray's vulnerability in this moment - "you'll be okay, though, right?" - is wild considering the season one scene where he invokes the fact of his dead parents while lamenting that he can't commit incest.

Hannah hides from a visit from Marnie - and I completely agree with Slate that she can't deal with whatever goodwill (however questionable those goods) Marnie comes bearing because she doesn't control it. Marnie finds Hannah's sad Pages document called "My Book" that reads only:

A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance...

Moved, before she leaves, Marnie steals a candelabra.

Hannah, in a state, tries to cut her hair, which has been an objective of hers since the second episode of this season. She does a hysterically bad, humiliating job, and in a wonderful move, invites Laird (!!!) up to help her round it out into bowl cut very evocative of a late nineteenth century asylum dweller's. Laird's pride in his work - "I think I nailed this!" - is the brightest spot in several episodes. He calls her "volumtuous." They exchange a really beautiful allegorical lament before Hannah ruins everything, making plain her manipulation of Laird's feelings. Laird delivers unto Hannah some realtalk. She knows to apologize and Laird accepts, but I hope he doesn't let her off the hook because I like him as a likeable adult who can recognize what a "dark scene" it is in her head. And when someone who has been through what Laird has been through recognizes a "dark scene," that is something to take to heart. This season started when Elijah's boyfriend George informed Hannah that she, contrary to what she thinks, is not a "nice girl." Laird says as much here, also.

What is the nice girl? She doesn't have ulterior motives, so she can't be manipulative. She just wants to be sweet to you. She doesn't want to have to talk to you like that. There's only one person who honestly thinks Hannah is a sweet girl because he attributes no human sense to her.

Before I get to that, another grim interior is explored: Ray and Shoshanna discuss his black soul. I'm glad Shoshanna has not revealed her tryst with the doorman. The fact that she kissed someone else is just a red herring: she isn't getting what she wants, and she has thought about it and the problem is Ray's anhedonia. Shoshanna Shoshes her way through an outstanding break-up speech. It does not come out of nowhere. She knows exactly how she feels. She thinks very hard about what she says before it fizzes out of her. When Ray protests her claim that he needs therapy, her tearful "YES YOU DO" is the logical convergence of Ray as he is with Shoshanna and Ray as the audience has seen him, complaining that he can't commit incest.

These scene really got to me since I've ended a relationship for the same reason. Although the audience has not seen it, I'm sure Shoshanna has voiced her dreams and seen them shot down by Ray, or any mention of aspirations is an occasion for Ray to grouse about his student debt or unfinished Ph.D. I would love to see some Ray-inspired PTSD in Shoshanna next season. That will makeup for how embarrassingly slim their development as a couple was this season. I could have gone for deferring both this and Marnie and Charlie's reunion until next season, in fact.

However, Ray does get a great line that made the episode on its own: "Maybe you need to change - maybe then you'll appreciate the difference between negativity and critical thinking!" As sad as this scene is - manipulating the viewer's emotions with moody mis-en-scene and screams - Shoshanna acts in the interest of her growth as a human and her dreams. Shoshanna, with the SatC poster, who seems to consume the most rom-com garbage, recognizes that her relationship is not what will make her happy.

As Shoshanna sobs, Hannah looks to unload her sorrow. She calls Jessa, whose phone - it is not clear whether it her own phone has been reunited with her or it is still in the hands of that guy from the Mexican restaurant as mentioned in "Video Games" - goes straight to voicemail.

Hannah's voicemail: "Oh hello (singsong) you fucker (aggression rising) - are you kidding me? Where did you go? And who am I supposed to talk to if you won't answer your fucking phone? Okay? That anorexic Marnie? Fucking Shoshanna? Or my stalker ex-boyfriend? It's not like any of them want to talk to me; I don't blame them cause I cut off all my fucking hair! And now you're off somewhere! Just livin' it up! Wearing a crop-top! You probably got your vagina pierced and you're not answering your phone and you're forgetting about everyone who's fucking it up here! So I hope you're having a great time! Love you!"

Adam, in his apartment, at work on his boat for sailing down the Hudson or the Mississippi, responds to the impulse to destroy it and scream "FUCK HER!"

Okay -

I have been in a state not much better than Hannah's over the Steubenville stuff. As Adam has evolved as a character, as he's been observed apart from Hannah, a fuller picture of how sociopathic he is has emerged. He is unwaveringly accepting of Hannah because he doesn't believe she possesses the sense to deliberately manipulate him. The end of this episode - with Adam rushing to Hannah's aide, kicking in her door, seeing her at her worst, and taking her in his arms - defers the resolution of her writing. Sadie Stein, in her Days of Yore interview, gave the phenomenon a great name: abdicating ambition. Hannah gives into the denial of life. She's taking Jessa and Marnie's advice: the hunt is over.

So the refusal to change, the freedom that comes with not having to change because they're loved to spite everything, closes the story that sees the potential for Hannah and Marnie to live their dreams (it is important that Ray and Shoshanna's relationship ended because necessary change was not taking place between the characters). The realization of their dreams comes in the trappings of disasters they've gone through since the show began. Not only does Hedwig's threat of a lawsuit echo Hannah's to her old boss, but the audience's greater exposure to Hannah's techniques of passive manipulation shed light on that whole situation's bearing on her life. When Rich was massaging and patting Hannah, he asked her to tell him if the touching ever bothered her. If she suffered, it was her fault for not saying anything. Hannah puts Adam in that exact position in the end, baiting him with her helplessness while asserting that he doesn't have to come to her. Marnie's reunion with Charlie comes as a direct result of her performance. Marnie may or may not have really believed she was being judged on the merit of her voice, but her total instability is what strikes Charlie as seductive. Their reunion is very much in the shadow of Marnie's first party on the show, when she fantasized about what erotic escape Booth might provide her.

I intend to revisit the whole season, but I like the note this ends on. I don't believe that the titular's individual regressions to their respective pre-pilot states means they haven't learned anything - they've learned, and based on that, they've made decisions to retreat from reality. Both Hannah and Marnie had in their sites the things they thought might make them happy. Now that they can't flail after an imagined dream - Hannah knows what a writing job looks like, Marnie has gone through the art world rigors - they'll have to reconcile their desire with the difficulties they can no longer imagine away. Meanwhile, Jessa and Shoshanna have a clear shot, unobstructed, to do good things for themselves. I am ready to meet those characters in those states next year.


  1. i'm interested to know what makes you think hannah never actually read louisa may alcott? i see her a very bookish only child who imagined herself as all the girl protagonists in the books she read.

    i also love how upfront you are about hating marnie. i love her, in some ways. not just what she represents, but i see some of myself in her...the need for control and for a picture-perfect life even though we both know none of those things is really real or even attainable. or maybe marnie doesn't actually know that yet, i don't know. i do, though! haha. anyway, i'm really interested to see how they'll break up next season, as they inevitably will.

    i love that you are doing these girls recaps on your blog, but i would love it more if you were getting paid for them, because these are so fucking thoughtful and good. i know any website would be fucking thrilled to have you. i don't know if that's a thing you would want, though.

    1. Hannah may have, indeed, read Louisa May Alcott, but Mr. March didn't die of influenza, as Shosh incorrectly cites earlier in the series, and Hannah corroborates the incorrect fact. It's so nitpicky, but I love it as an Easter egg of Hannah lying about something crazy. It would also be delightfully in-character of her to have legacy lies that she's stuck to forever, such as having read a book that she feels she should have read.

      I love Marnie as a character, I'm so happy she's here, because people like her access such sensitive nerves in me in life - people who ask me what my five year plan is when I'm very fortunate to know what I'm doing for a few months, who, when their five year plan falls through, blame and moan - it's a lot more about my anxieties than it is about them. I am blind to a lot about Marnie that I know people empathize with because she doesn't do boundaries, and I am on such un-fun high alert for that kind of person. It would be damaging to watch a character like her in less capable hands.

      I can't wait to see Marnie-Charlie break up, because control is such a larger element to their relationship now! I think Charlie loves that he has Marnie in a submissive position. I think it will fall apart, as opposed to exploding. I'm excited to be disproved - I'm ready to enjoy whatever happens.

      It means so so so so much to me that you and anyone enjoys these. I love to make money, but between last season and this, I was hurt REALLY badly and had to (well, I had the good fortune to be able to) take a few months off from everything. This has provided me focus in a space I control so I can pull in whatever extraneous vignettes I want, ignore the word-count, and forget about deadlines. This did show me how much I enjoy engaging with media like this. That you and others like them means the world to me!