Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 4: "Dead Inside" - I think all the time about what I'd say at your funeral.

What luck that an episode like this would air when I'm in a kind of panicky fugue state, able to do little but listen to Welcome to Night Vale. As far as fugues go, it is hard to do better than a Night Vale fugue. What appeals to me about that narrative — the enthusiasm, humanity, and force of love behind its protagonist, mired in and making a go of a world that is just atrocity — really threw off my tuning as a viewer for this experience. I do not mind and certainly do not fault any reviewer from disliking — and, by this point, finding abjectly repellant — the main characters on Girls. But there is merit, I think, to showing with the amount of objectivity the show employs what it is like to have people like Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, and Shoshanna in one's life, and not in a way that condescends to all the facets that might get someone like that into one's life. It was pretty scalding this week to cross and abandon the warm, affectionate landscape of Night Vale in order to appraise this viewing experience, but I still have love for what this show is doing, even when it's tough.


Girls, Episode Twenty-Four, "Dead Inside"

I love that the thrust of the opening scene is that no one is focusing on Hannah.

Jessa spews some "Video Games" rhetoric, which is indicative of how scarred-over her thinking is, how poorly she's coping with rehab and its rejection of her. That atrocity was borne of her disastrous visit to her father's, which was supposed to be a getaway after her messy divorce, which was the end to a marriage she plunged into because every last one of her friends was too busy or myopic to see how distressed she was that she came from another continent to seek their help after accidentally getting pregnant. Between Jessa's abuse of Laura in episode twenty-one and the events of this episode, viewers have gotten a vivid tour of just what a bad person she is (and has been). Jessa reminds me of a lot of people I've known and been close to — they're people who aren't in my life any more — and watching Jessa enables me to work out a lot of complex feelings at a safe distance. This episode, though.

After receiving news of her publisher's death (Hedwig's name is David Pressler-Goings), Hannah is primarily concerned with the fate of her ebook. So many viewers have perceived Hannah as unprecedentedly "with-it" this season, but any pretense of togetherness was all predicated on her book that might not come to fruition now, putting her whole sense of self at risk. That is the best thing that could have happened to Hannah's story on the show at this point.

Jessa and Adam have established a very intuitive rapport. I think that Adam — treacherously — leaves himself a little more available to Jessa than he otherwise would because of her addiction that he thinks, erroneously, she is invested in battling. Or, it would seem she has a handle on not snorting heroin but she has no handle on not projecting the hate and hurt that drugs numbed onto her every human interaction. Jessa is suffocatingly addicted to this.

There are some interstitials throughout the episode of Marnie changing her life, juicing and exercising and what have you, not unlike the Shoshanna interstitials in episode twenty-one. I do not like this pressure to show, in blinks, that a character not central to that episode is alive. After Jessa's mute appearance last week, the show — by episode — seem strained to accommodate all the stories where, beautifully and effectively in season one, characters were omitted from episodes with the confidence that their audience wouldn't forget them, that the story would roll its focus back to them when they were deserving of it. This focus is not deserved, and this episode would have done fine with an absence of Marnie.

There is a minutes-long sass wave about Gawker! AND HANNAH IS A COMMENTER. OF COURSE SHE IS.

Shoshanna's approach to the death of her high school friend, Kelly, is as unsettling as anything else in this episode, although it could be a recent rationalization based on her claim that, when Kelly did die, Shoshanna composed a whole book of poems for her. Now Shoshanna can say, callously albeit privately, that Kelly's death resulted in nothing bad and even benefited her circle of friends. Not to seem as if I'm condoning anything, but I love examinations of the messiness and complexity of mourning.

The death in Hannah's life exposes the extent to which her self-absorption is a component to her mental illness. "I think about you dying all the time," she tells Adam, who wonders aloud if Hannah would even care if anything happened to them. Hannah admitted to her therapist last season that she is consumed by the fear something bad will happen, and in order to compensate for that crushing obsession, she has only the belief that she, through her actions/compulsions, can evade her loved ones from their disaster. This is where that "I hate everyone who loves me" feeling comes from that Hannah has — it is easier for someone in that mental prison to have relationships that lack depth, such as the ones she has or had at one time with Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna.

Surrounded by death, Jessa resolves to visit the grave of an old friend, her favorite friend, named Season. Season, as it turns out, faked her death (aware of Jessa's investigative zeal, the fakery was not extensive or much of an exertion on Season's part). Jessa finds her not only alive, but well off. Season's husband, while on the trendy side, is distractingly attractive. "None of this is going to work out for you," Jessa — with her void of job, support, or prospects — tells Season, with her brownstone, baby, and that aforementioned husband. Who is he — the actor, I mean? I love this, Jessa warning her that "None of this is going to work out for you," how much Jessa would like Season to rely on and invest in her when it's only that gesture Jessa recognizes. She cannot be relied upon or invested in, and if she ever had any illusions that she could be, this encounter — hopefully — obliterates them.

Ray and Hermie try to enjoy Marnie's viral Edie Brickell cover while rationalizing why their enjoyment isn't mean spirited necessarily, but grounded in the extremely grey achievement that is Marnie's performance, which is bad but in that way that has its place, and YouTube is its very place. She appears to quit, but so far, no one seems to have successfully quit Ray's employ. Unfortunately, this moment doesn't dwell on Marnie's video long enough or the ramifications of Marnie's exit long enough to justify the earlier interstitials or add to Marnie's storyline. I could have waited for this, as a viewer.

"My whole life has been death" - Laird is back to full effect. His turtle has died, and he didn't even think that was possible. Also still on this plain: Adam's sister, Caroline. Watching Caroline frolic in the graveyard, I love her swarthy physicality and its resemblance to Adam's. What kind of hell on earth were the Sackler children? Caroline tells Hannah a story about how valiant and caring and marred by death Adam is, but the story isn't real. Laird cries when he hears the story, "Just because it's fake doesn't mean I don't feel it." Hannah, despite finding Caroline's stunt fucked up, recycles the very same story for Adam in an explanation of why she has so much scar tissue to work through in order to properly mourn Hedwig.

Do her tears come from her disappointment in and disgust with herself? With the hard stare she and Adam have given in this episode about what's broken inside of her? As bleak as it is, after last week, I'll take feeling like I can't wait to see where this leads over feeling like this better lead somewhere.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Stereotypical feminine behavior.

The Believer: I was thinking, too, about your reputation as a writer for being quite exacting towards, or even tough on, your subjects. The same rigor that thrills some of your readers seems to make others extremely uncomfortable. I wonder if you've ever felt that the reception to your work has been colored by the fact that you're a woman. Are women still meant to be "nicer" as writers, less difficult? 
I ask because I think of my own interviewing style, at least in person, as incorporating some stereotypical feminine behavior: slightly low-status and deferential, punctuated by ready laughter, and driven by an accommodating attitude. Later, when I'm writing I feel I've acted as something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. 
I remember your description of your "more Japanese technique" in the Journalist and the Murderer, in contrast to the more flat-footed Newsday reporter's. I have a sense of course, but wondered specifically what you meant by that? 
Janet Malcolm: I really don't know whether the people who don't like my writing don't like it because of their perception of me as a tough, not-nice woman. It seems kind of ridiculous — I think of myself as a completely ordinary harmless person — but what people think of your writing persona is out of your hands. The narrator of my nonfiction pieces is not the same person I am — she is a lot more articulate and thinks of much cleverer things to say than I usually do. I can imagine her coming across as a little insufferable sometimes. But she, too, is out of my hands — I may have invented her, but she is the person who insists on speaking for me. 
As for the wolf in sheep's clothing question, perhaps the way to minimize one's feeling that one has not been as straightforward with the subject as one should have been, is to be a little more straightforward. To swallow the too-nice thing one is about to say. To remember that the subject is going to say what he or she wants to say no matter what you say or don't say. You can't keep your mouth shut all the time, of course, but you do well to keep it shut a lot of the time. If silence falls, let the subject break it — even though that's a very hard thing to do. By the way, I don't think the "feminine behavior" you describe is limited to women journalists. Men journalists can be just as ingratiating, deferential, accommodating, and laughter-prone. 
When you ask what I mean by the Japanese technique, you are not employing it. 
- the Believer interview with Janet Malcolm, October 2004
I prefer to believe there is no "Japanese technique" and this was an Easter egg planted by Janet Malcolm in the hope that, eventually, someone would ask her this, so she could deliver this answer.

Speaking of astonishing feats of nonfiction: Sarah Marshall's "Remote Control," also from the Believer (January 2014), about Tonya Harding, has an ending that can open up the sky.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 3: "She Said OK" - I heard neck tattoos are the new sunglasses.

My primary reservation in writing about a show episode by episode is because, as a reader, I do not enjoy encountering the exhaust or discouragement attendant in an unsatisfying episode because — in a show like Girls — an episode amounts to a page in a chapter, a season a chapter, and so on. When Girls premiered, a lot of critics reacted to its first episode with dread, concerned that viewers would be tethered to a person as miserable as Hannah for however many hours Girls would eventually take up. I was really bothered by the hastiness of these declarations — after only the pilot — and the assumption on the part of the critics that the narrative would not be one of change. I reflected back on that frustration while watching this episode because instead of feeling self-contained and short-story-ish, or even rote but "necessary" in order to service plot, this was like a scene: it would make an exceptional lack of sense to a new viewer and the end comes out of nowhere. There are elements that tie it to patterns established as part of this season, but this was the most extraneous and missable episode Girls has aired so far. As a viewer who was really into the direction the first two episodes of this season took, seeing the third episode diverge like this left me feeling like Ray, the end of my song of choice cut off for some asshole's impulsive and puzzling musical selection.

Maybe it isn't that bad, but if anyone's in the mood for a fight, it is "She Said OK."


Girls, Episode Twenty-Three, "She Said OK"

There are two threads at work (there seem like three but are only two) in this episode, but it feels busier than that because one thread, the thread I believe this episode deserved to emphasize to the exclusion of the other, concerned Ray and Marnie and Hannah bringing their baggage to a birthday celebration for the latter. Because parties come up so often on the show, I wonder if that is what made the second thread seemed necessary, but I think it also deserved to be told in its own time: Adam's sister surfaces in his and Hannah's apartment, bringing with her a new layer of insight into how Adam functions. The effect of all this competing so that certain elements are muted and ignored and which won't go away or shut up do seem true to life, but the effect was discouraging to me as a viewer. A lot of my disappointment has to do with how excited I was for the show to explore Hannah and Jessa's relationship — it isn't entirely a bad thing that that remains slippery and elusive, but that Jemima Kirke shows up in this episode and does not have a line blew my mind.

With Adam's sister Caroline under her wing, Hannah takes both of them to her birthday party, where Marnie gets classic Marnie in full view of Hannah's parents. She takes credit for planning that they clearly did, negs Hannah — "I keep telling her she could look like this every day if she wanted" — and casts her role in the party-planning as just the distraction she needed, failing to acknowledge that Hannah's birthday might be something besides an opportunity for Marnie to force herself out of her post-Charlie spiral. This is a pretty canny attack on Marnie's part since she was aware Hannah, Adam, and Shoshanna took off to get Jessa from rehab for reasons she, as someone who does know Hannah, had to have known were not entirely altruistic. So presumably a short time after she spent hours in a car giving vent to how a road trip to get her friend out of rehab was "not a metaphor" and therefore a waste of inspiration that she would not be able to use for her book, Hannah has this same kind of barren justification turned on her. In Hannah's case, besides being slightly true, I think her approach to the trip was a coping mechanism: Jessa had ditched her, Hannah had failed to generate something useful from their trip to Jessa's father's house which Hannah took despite her deadline, in order to provide Jessa some moral support. Coming to her aid again had to have had Hannah feeling jerked around, and her conversation with Shoshanna where she tried to access her feelings for Jessa was fantastically aborted by Shoshanna's performance of her Jessa-adulation. I like to think that Shoshanna's rigid approach to her feelings about people has risen more lately than not in reaction to the trauma that was Ray. If she forces people very superficially into one role, they can't warp or change and disappoint her the way that Ray did. If anyone can will it, Shosh can.

Marnie's use of Hannah's birthday party for her own benefit, however, is a legacy Marnie move. Their relationship is too fraught, and at this point it's too fraught for even a climax. This episode saw the show's least — or most? — articulate cathartic confrontation. Ever since "you are the wound," Hannah and Marnie have been trying to force each other back to that point, but always about red herrings like Marnie's fraction of a quickie with Elijah, Hannah's gay ex-boyfriend. The intimacy required for that kind of confrontation — for a knock-down, drag-out scream-fight — has been slipping away from Marnie and Hannah for more than a season now. At this point, one keeps the other in her life expressly for the chance that she can tell her exactly what she did to her. But because that crisis is getting harder to force, and because both Hannah and Marnie want it to happen with a particular passion, this pressure finds a weird analog in Ray getting punched and cut up with broken glass for forsaking party etiquette and losing his shit at a fellow guest of Hannah's birthday. That guest, Hannah's editor, responds to Ray's blood-splattered incredulity by encouraging him to "hug it out" with him. Extreme though it may be, it is one of the most sincere confrontations in the whole show. It's all text: Hedwig made the DJ stop the song that Ray requested in order to play one he wants to hear. Ray is offended by this. Ray approaches Hedwig with the force of his hurt (and Ray is very hurt: his manager, a Smashing Pumpkins fan, is dying, and the song Ray requested to hear, that he was enjoying his escape into very much, was Smashing Pumpkins' "Today") and Hedwig cannot take Ray's excess of emotion. Hedwig tries to dance away. Ray pushes him. Hedwig pushes him onto a table. Once Ray, who has collapsed on several bottles and cut up his arm, has clearly paid for coming at Hedwig with such hostility, Hedwig goes in for an embrace: they are even, they fought their fight. It only makes it more frustrating that Hannah and Marnie have not had theirs, even as Marnie thinks she's stumbled upon just the thing to move Hannah to react. At Hannah's twenty-first birthday, Marnie bossed Hannah into a duet of "Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent ("It was like the happiest we've ever been"), and despite Hannah saying she doesn't want to, Marnie corners her and makes her relive the experience with her on stage. They don't even finish (although the bars Marnie sings are so perfect) before Ray v. Hedwig steals the crowd from them, including Hannah, who is more interested in the fight than entertaining Marnie's fantasy. The primary virtue of the Adam's sister thread is to show how life with Adam has moved to the center of Hannah's life for her benefit. Even in a batshit situation like Caroline presents, the loss of Marnie is not eating at Hannah's core right now. She doesn't care that Marnie is trying to provoke her. When Adam gives Hannah the necklace with made from his tooth, she is truly happy and right where she wants to be. It probably does not fail to cross Hannah's mind that Marnie is — and has — freely transferred her Charlie-angst into Hannah-angst, and the fact that Hannah feels no need to do that puts her ahead.

So, no catharsis, but consequence — this one is also analogous. Hannah has accepted Caroline as a guest in the apartment despite Adam's protests. The clarity with which he asks to not let Caroline stay is new and extremely self-aware. Adam acknowledges how typical of him and symptomatic of his person his hatred of having Jessa, Shoshanna, and Marnie around has been, but this is different. This is because Caroline is not fit to be a guest. Adam's reservations echo the ones he expressed in the previous episode. Addiction is a world he knows, and Hannah's "friendly gesture" of picking Jessa up from rehab read as wholly unhelpful and enabling to him. Frustratingly, there was no resolution to that — again, Jessa is present at the party but no words are exchanged between she and Hannah (or anyone else, not even a pithy non sequitor) — but Hannah does pay before this episode is over for extending charity to Caroline. As a result of "helping" her, Caroline winds up also breaking glass and exposing, only moments after Adam gives Hannah her birthday necklace, that Hannah's place in the context of Adam's life might be less flattering than she imagined it. Adam clearly knows what it is to monitor, clean up after, and generally attend to someone with mental illness — and is, because of that, comfortable to a certain extent with that role in that it is familiar. Hannah and her OCD is the devil he knows, and when she invites people and things into her life that put her at risk — and when she becomes an agent of risk herself in the lives of others — he has some frame of reference as to the danger. Hannah's conduct with Caroline reminded me of her abortive handling of Elijah's ex-boyfriend last season. He was being disruptive at her party, and so Hannah led him down the street and pretended she was taking him elsewhere before she turned around and ran back to her apartment. He was upset and told her so. He called her a cunt, and Hannah could not deal with this so much she stayed on the steps of her apartment complex and argued with him about whether or not she was a cunt. "I am a nice girl," she said. She wanted to be a nice girl to Caroline, and Caroline took advantage of it.

All the broken glass cups call back to the first episode of this season: over a discussion about Hannah's mental illness and its potentially positive impact on her book, Hannah's publisher interrupts a statement from her — she is, in fact, reassuring him that she isn't manic — by biting the cup he is drinking from until it breaks into jagged bits. He points out that the cup is pure chocolate, of course. But before that! Last season, in the finale, Hannah bemoaned how being without support was like walking on broken glass. As fast as she thought she had skirted some — it was chocolate all along! — here comes an episode full of it.

The crowdedness of the episode cannot be accidental: Tako shows up, Laird appears with a gift, there are references to cocaine — all the old party guests. But the only analog it has is an excess of story, which was a major weakness of the previous season. The show has yet to strike a good balance between Hannah's story and the stories of the other characters (I thought the two episodes that preceded this one did a fantastic job of that), and that is only making for more uneasy viewing as the show progresses. And yet! I can't help but feeling/hoping that this episode will make more tonal sense in the context of the rest of the season.

Lastly: Marnie's YouTube video. Since it's posted to Charlie's account, I hold onto the hope that they made it together. It would succinctly and definitively explain the abrupt, off-screen end of their relationship if that was Marnie's idea of a fun thing for the two of them to do together.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 2: "Truth or Dare" - You were probably the one who was crying.

This episode contained so much of what I love about Girls. Among them: its structuring absences (revelations, characters, narrative and literal "progress").


Girls, Episode Twenty-Two, "Truth or Dare"

Shoshanna is the friend that Hannah turns to when neither Jessa or Marnie is available, and the resentment Hannah feels toward the two of them always simmers out when she interacts with her. I would love to see this bight Hannah back. For now, this episode puts Hannah and Shoshanna in claustrophobic proximity as they ride upstate to get Jessa from rehab. Adam goes with them, and just like Hannah did in the second episode of season two, he loses his footing in an argument by accidentally quoting a song lyric. I wonder if, when Hannah's laughing at him for doing that, she's reflecting on what a different circumstance she's in compared to the previous year.

In another Orange is the New Black parallel, Jessa rattles out of solitary. "Truth be told, I really liked being in jail for a day. It's a feeling you really can't simulate." There could not be a better means of expressing how Girls' intent differs from OitNB. There is no comparing the lives depicted in that show to this show, about "the prison that is [Hannah's] mind" and the minds of people the titulars are representative of.

What would you rather have, kimchee or Sephora?

Over the phone, Hannah almost lies to Marnie about what she's doing — just like she did last season when she poignantly avoided acknowledging how much she missed Marnie by hiding behind how busy she was with the book she wasn't writing. Instead, she takes back her lie about being away with Adam for a romantic weekend and tells Marnie that she, Adam, and Shoshanna are all headed to get Jessa from rehab. The only move towards Marnie Hannah is willing to make is a defensive one, but Marnie will not force the moment to its crisis. Instead of debating who is the wound, Marnie rationalizes the situation — she didn't want to go, she "didn't want anyone to go."

Adam and Shoshanna's remarks about boredom: I love them.

To disagree with Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club again, I do not think that featuring a road trip in this episodes represents shrunken ambition on the part of Girls. It has long nodded at what it is — a half-hour comedy — and it barely even does what VanDerWerff says, namely watch Hannah and Adam rub each other the wrong way in a tight space. Adam's reaction to every stressor is classic Adam, but Hannah's acting up is telling and not connected to Adam at all: Hannah was expecting a madcap, "experience"-filled ride from which she would gain experience-currency and, to make matters worse, Shoshanna and Adam are not the ideal audience for her "this rocking chair's so pointy it's giving me no room to express myself" artist-tantrums. I like the way that so far this season, Hannah has been operating at full-diva, but she has no platform on which to do so. She can scold Marnie for making her late to a meeting with her publisher as they switch shifts at Ray's and she can remind Adam that the trip to get Jessa puts her behind on her writing schedule, but none of them care like she wants them to care.

Another sitcomish convention that Girls swerves is in that scene between Hannah and Marnie on the phone: Marnie turns down the chance to be thrust into "progress" when she realizes Hannah is (purposefully) excluding her from the trip. So much of life contains making dramas that you can manage and minimizing and ignoring dramas that are thrust upon you. This is done beautifully, as is — going on two episodes now — the noxious, self-congratulatory praise that Hannah and Shoshanna partake in when describing, variously, Shoshanna's approach to hooking up and studying in equal measure and their decision to "sacrifice" time to help Jessa. The way people grope to praise actions, the way people get excited by the possibility that there will be nothing to denigrate and criticize about a thing, and seeing this as a positive exercise — I LOVE IT as it relates to watching television and as a human behavior for Dunham, et al, to explore. Jenni Konner wrote this episode, and I am into it — way more than I (from this vantage point, at least) remember being into her last foray into writing an episode single-handedly, "I Get Ideas" — which did yield, I have to add, Adam and Hannah's excellent fight.

When Hannah asks Adam, aghast, if he is really ignorant to the game Truth or Dare, he affects that same amused laugh at her that he did in the first season when she defended herself for not wanting to lose weight. It is so condescending. The element of infantalization that exists between Hannah and Adam is fascinating, and I love those small details even though, ugh, every time a guy laughs when I demonstrate a strong emotion — like it is so cute I'm getting so mad — ugh. I'm impressed but that dynamic touches such a nerve every time it's spotlit. They get it so exact.

Truth or Dare as it relates to the circumstances of Jessa and Marnie, respectively, and Hannah's desire to synthesize them. Jessa is unwilling to confront what she feels and has been through, Marnie has to "stop being a cartographer and start being an explorer." Hannah hopes dares will beget truths and is resistant to the idea that it might be the other way around, particularly at this point in the narrative.

Dear Television's Lili Loofbourow expressed frustration with the lack of follow-through given Girls' glimpses at trauma. I find this way of dealing with trauma not only true to life — trauma, for better and for worse, exists in the mundane context of everyday life, and one of its difficulties is how to deal with it when it becomes relevant. One doesn't have to be triggered to need to address trauma. Jessa is unwilling to let her trauma shape her life and who she is, so she's embraced the idea that she brings — and embraced the pursuit of — her own destruction. This is projection. I have said before how Jessa is a kind of person that I recognize from life, dramatic representations of which usually endow them with an awareness of why they do what they do in order to make them willfully monstrous and, therefore, straight-up villainous, not unlike the Kathryn Merteuil character from Cruel Intentions who Jessa quoted in the previous episode.

Also, preach it Shosh:

Hannah: "Do you think Adam's right?"
Shoshannah: "Um, about there being no value in watching sitcoms?" [editor: see above] "No, he's insane."

I watched this episode twice. Reviewing it again to write this, I approached Shoshanna's take on Jessa's life with skepticism. Why? Shoshanna's been nothing but guileless, but I had earmarked this conversation as manipulative. Hannah is trying to discuss the difficulty of Jessa's life, and Shoshanna deflects everything Hannah frames as sad by reframing it, like the precision instrument she is, as glamorous. So far, there is only a little bit known about Shoshanna's life: she is Jessa's maternal cousin and her primary caretaker is her Aunt Eileen. There is probably a touch of unpleasantness in Shoshanna's childhood. When she tells Hannah that she is misremembering Jessa crying for her, afraid that Hannah will leave her on an occasion when she was very sick — that, I thought, made the whole scene. "You're probably remembering it wrong. You were probably the one who was crying." Nobody says that who hasn't been convicted of that themselves and internalized it. And Shoshanna believes powerfully. I kind of wish the scene had ended there, since it does so much to develop Shoshanna's character, but I do hope Hannah and Shoshanna's subsequent squibble about school comes back to haunt Shoshanna when she graduates.

"Who confessed to what, who's doing it with who?" Jessa tries to get a little Truth or Dare in before she leaves rehab. The friend she's made in rehab asserts his sliminess, addressing how inevitable it is that they should eventually have sex. This tidal accumulation of same old disappointments is so powerful and horrifying. I am looking forward to Jessa being thrust into the midst of Hannah's first chapter launch and its attendant psychodrama.

If any faith was shaken between last season and this, the skills employed in the writing of this episode renew my interest as a viewer in the extremely, sometimes frustratingly subtle ways the characters are built and to what ends they defer and create catharses between them in the interest of "progress."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 1: "Females Only" - I thought the session was more about me.

I finally got the episode full of Jessa I always wanted. I give the rest of this season up to whatever it holds.


Girls, Episode Twenty-One, "Females Only"

Starts the same way the other seasons have started, with Hannah sharing a bed with someone. This time, it's her boyfriend: Adam is living with her and taking care of her. Hannah extrapolates upon what "taking care of" means to her therapist. Bob Balaban is back! The scene where she discusses her progress with him is not in league with Hannah's soliloquy to her parents in the pilot or the first scene with her therapist in season two, but it's among the most important Hannah-scenes when it comes to illustrating where her character is at that moment. She's holding it together for him, the intimacy and ability to communicate they had in their first meeting is gone as he knows her, and the way she communicates verbally, much better now. But I digress:

The opening of season three excited me so much because it shows actual change: Hannah is living with Adam and taking medication for her OCD, Marnie is sleeping in her childhood bedsheets on her mother's couch, Shoshanna is sleeping where she wants and with whom, and Jessa is toiling in rehab. Season two, all about stalling, backtracking, and confronting personal limits, was tough to slog through. The only person who actually strode right on through two seasons of development was Shoshanna: after agonizing all first season about her lack of sexual experience, she came out in season two in a relationship with Ray, to whom she lost her virginity. By the end of that season, she was disillusioned with him and ready to move on, and as of the beginning of this season, she has — and she has embraced her circumstance for what it is and not as a contrasting circumstance compared to her relationship. Shoshanna doesn't talk about Ray, but Ray talks about her.

And no sooner does Ray talk about her — and how easy it is, despite what Hannah says, to avoid the person you don't want to see in a city the size of New York — than Adam encounters Natalia, the girl he saw briefly before reuniting with Hannah, for whom he went off the wagon and who terrorized her sexually afterward. I watched people livetweet the beginning of the episode and Twitter was redolent with "Natalia is CRAZY remarks. I enjoyed her monologue and the insight it offered into her minor character. Despite how she, the child of an alcoholic, did not discourage Adam, an addict, from drinking, she admonishes him for it here and warns Hannah that she'll wind up "with a baby [she doesn't] know how to care for" and how she will produce "spoiled formula." Ray also enjoys the monologue, during which Lena Dunham acts quietly and excellently as Hannah reacts to the tall and stunning glares of Shiri Appleby and Amy Schumer when they realized she is for whom Adam abandoned Natalia.

They are questioning his "progress." What constitutes progress itself gets immediately questioned in the following scene of Marnie and her mother screaming it out. Her mother is describing the years of work it took to attain what she has — presumably a job, a nice home, and a body she thinks her daughter should want — but she does so in a warbling, nightmarish scream from the depths of her midlife crisis. "You have to work hard to move on." I don't know if this episode has more platitudes than other episodes, but it does seem like every character is in "group" here. Her mother does not think Marnie has moved on from the wreckage of her relationship with Charlie — FINALLY! — but Marnie defends herself. And she IS, finally, in a different place: she is working at Ray's, she confronts the fact that she is without Charlie, and as a viewer, I would say Marnie has made a lot of progress toward the place in which the series found her, in which she was not acknowledging how unhappy she was. She has had a job, she has had a boyfriend: all the trappings of "progress" — Marnie is as prone to trusting them more than actual happiness as her mother — have not done anything for Marnie Marie Michaels yet. Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club wonders what the purpose of Marnie's mother is, and I think she functions here — and in her season two appearance — to demonstrate that all the emblems of success she covets have been nakedly disproven to do someone any good. It's right in front of her, and that's part of the tragic comedy of Marnie. She can't see this: her only redemptive quality is in her friendship with Hannah, now in mutually scorched-earth territory.

I am excited to watch Marnie as a barista at Ray's coffee shop this season. Of all the character combinations, I enjoy the relationship between she and Ray the most, despite resisting any affection for either one independently. It does not feel right to like Marnie for how she's been pulped emotionally, but I think her errors with regards to her friendship with Hannah are starting to slide in front of her eyes while Hannah — as she demonstrates in the therapy scene and the dinner party scene — is as resistant as ever to acknowledging that anything is wrong. (Nothing can make me feel bad for Ray, though.)

Jessa is in rehab, where all the anonymous characters are doing what the characters in Girls have been doing until that scene arrives: divulging attitudes towards personal tragedies, spouting platitudes, calling each other out. Jessa thinks it's uncomfortable watching "everybody try to get it up for each other," which is probably giving vent to frustrations in her life among the titulars, not just in rehab. In group, the first person to speak delivers an elegy to New York of the 80s, which Jessa reads as just him crying about gentrification — of which she is an agent — when he's actually crying about AIDS — which she claims to have experienced in a family member, all of which speaks to her feeling, according to my reading of Jessa, as a bringer of destruction. I think that's what Jessa thinks she is, even and ESPECIALLY when destruction is actually being brought upon her by another party, an unstoppable life-ruiner, which she needs to feel in order to have control over the innumerable random, squalid, strange things she's undoubtedly been thrown into.

I don't know when this episode was written, but there are glorious Orange is the New Black references couched inside Jessa's stay, along with OitNB star extraordinaire Danielle Brooks as a fellow addict (and non-OitNB star KIM GORDON as Mindy Methface, comforting the group member for his loss of Sonic Youth's New York).

Jemima Kirke blows Jessa's issues with authority out of the water. She is petulant to an extent heretofore unseen; clearly the whole exercise of entering rehab touches still unknown nerves for her. I really commend the shows writers for keeping as much about Jessa obscure as they have for so long. Trauma exists — it's doubtful there isn't any before the loss of her baby in the first season, but if there isn't, there is at least that — and her inability to confront it within her safety network, which is pretty much just Hannah, is what has set her whole story on Girls into motion. Remember: she came all the way to New York to talk to Hannah, Hannah was so wrapped up in her own shit she couldn't listen to Jessa, Jessa undoubtedly recognized that Hannah's self-involvement is what makes her an attractive friend for her in the first place, and she begins the crisis that's been in motion ever since.

The root of Hannah's season two crisis takes its wig down from the shelf again in this episode. Her publisher — sympathetic to (exploiting) Hannah's mental illness — meets with her again to discuss launching the first chapter of her book on Nerve (where Lena Dunham once aired a series of web shorts) and she attests to her mental preparedness for the professional stride. The cut follows Hannah to her therapist's office, where this mental preparedness she vows she had comes into question. "My only limitation is my own mind," she says. When Bob Balaban asks her a question about Adam, Hannah gets extremely huffy that they are not discussing her. Her desire to thrust the book deal in the faces of others as a symbol of her progress continues the parade she started last season, and now it has an air of staleness to it. Based on Balaban's whispery responses to what Hannah says, I imagine somewhere between season two and now, she delivered an emotionally tone-deaf smack down on him the way she did to Dr. Joshua in "One Man's Trash," when he mistook Hannah's revelation for an opportunity to exchange revelations (even if he had to force his).

References to sexual abuse once again circle around Jessa, which they did in "Video Games," too. I don't think Jessa can trust anyone even to be disappointed in them, especially after glimpsing how profoundly disappointing a father Jessa has. Speaking of disappointment: I hope all the lesbian matters between Danielle Brooks' adorable character, Laura, and Jessa are not isolated OitNB references. I hope Laura shows up again, and I have harbored the suspicion that Jessa is in denial about her own sexuality for the same reason she accuses Laura about being in denial of hers.

Do you think that sixteen tacos is enough for four people? And two buckets of ice cream.

Adam, true to form, wastes no time in being abrasively honest with Hannah and talking to her with the same lack of regard that caused Hannah to break up with him at the beginning of the second season. Sitting on her floor, almost naked (notable: he has in front of him what looks like a medieval scholar's arrangement of old books, one on a stand, and a ladder seems to be in use as a bookshelf behind Hannah — this is a good look for Hannah's apartment), Adam looks and acts extremely childlike here. I love the mixture of very adult and very childish Hannah inspires Adam to channel. They are both complete children that provoke horribly amateurish feats of nurturing from one another. I remain un-won-over by Adam, but I do think is the most riveting character to watch unfold and I am excited to meet his sister, who apparently materializes later this season.

"Dyke or no dyke: people have to come to things in their own time. Now, you have to learn when honesty is righteous and when honesty is no more than a parlor trick," an older, British-er denizen of rehab mansplains Jessa into the night and offers, here, one of the theses of Girls. So far, "honesty" has been as misleading as "progress" on the show. No amount of screaming and soul-bearing has brought any of the characters closer — the epic season one "you're the wound" scream-off between Hannah and Marnie comes to mind. Part of being a viewer of this show, especially in the wake of season two, is accepting this particular platitude. This scene, by the way, also includes some great banter about daddy issues.

I wish I could remember where I encountered a reviewer tallying the number of times "experience" is brought up on Girls. I love the examination of experience as currency, as something enviable, desirable, and quantifiable. I love that Marnie is resistant to experiences and wants to become an "old fogey" (Christ, that phrase) as soon as possible, Shoshanna can only endure an experience when it's filtered through and approved by some point of reference for her that includes rom-coms and celebrity exploits, Hannah wants experiences as a reason to justify and to fuel her writing, and Jessa has had experiences to the point she has a destructive, addictive relationship with them and cannot string them together into a life: an excellent spectrum.

I did not want to mention the second episode, which aired concurrently with this one, too much here, but I do want to point out that Jessa quoting Cruel Intentions here is followed by a Ryan Phillipe reference in the next episode.

Hannah's dour dinner parties hit a new low and Marnie, accepting the reality of a Charlie-free future, makes me laugh the hardest the show has in a long time when Allison Williams skillfully rejects a taco. Adam also delivers the extreme Girls thesis that describes my favorite qualities in the show and Lena Dunham's writing. As he tells Marnie about an encounter he had with a relative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's that led nowhere, he says: "And then one day after being fucked up for months I realized something: I didn't know her....Just because I tasted her cum and spit or could tell you her middle name or knew a record she liked, that didn't mean anything. That's not a connection. Anyone could have that. Really knowing someone is something else. It's a completely different thing, and when it happens, you won't be able to miss it." For his dislike of Marnie — which he later reminds Hannah about — Adam delivers the most effective therapy here, in an episode full of it.

When Jessa says, "You can't make things that mean nothing mean something," her caseworker (I presume) accuses her of culling the platitude from a fortune cookie. She refuses to acknowledge that her actions will have repercussions on Laura or Jessa's own family. I would love it if they did and that viewers could see them! But only one repercussion is witnessed for now: Jessa needs Hannah to go and get her from rehab, since she has been kicked out.

Hannah makes several references to hating her friends, positioning her the farthest from okay that she's been in a long time. "I hate them so much more when I'm not in the same place as them," she says, trying to play the parlor trick of ignoring how, for all her "progress," she is not so many lightyears away from when she was alone, suffering from tinnitus in her bed in the middle of the day, but she is lightyears away from dancing with Marnie in their shared apartment.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Glory, phantasmagory, grandeur.

I saw the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra take on Torke, Bartok and Brahms and it was stellar!



It is a testament to the power of the Symphony that I can be distracted for any length of time from the architectural marvel that is the Forum.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Adult Magazine: All real beauties, everybody making a stab


Three things got me to subscribe, sight unseen, to Adult in this order: Tamara Faith Berger, production design, and a preference for mature themes. The experience was (positively) evocative of my first time with Tomorrow, which also featured Cord Jefferson in the masthead: excellent features. My favorite, by an extreme amount, is the Florida travelogue, to the extent that I would recommend buying the first issue singularly on its strength.

I was really in it for the writing, and that met my demands, and I'm looking forward to all the issues, especially to see if they start to synthesize a more erotic affect. Affect, as opposed to aesthetic. Berkeley Poole's design is the sexiest thing about the issue. I'm into that. The fruits of Helsinki Type Studio are harvested so ravishingly. It surprised me! I thought it was going to be a little more ferocious, but criticisms aside, I have spent the last several nights with Adult and Adult alone. But the fact that is has great taste in fiction and poetry, and that it includes both in such radiant amounts, secures my devotion and elevates Adult among my favorite periodicals.

Also: I'm looking forward to the online content, but if anything was made to be taken to bed — obviously. Ideal use of your print product.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Compensations of my exile.

"...I actually managed to write today. Thirty lines. Would you like to see them?" 
"No," said Sir Francis. "It is one of the numberless compensations of my exile that I need never read unpublished verses — or, for that matter, verses in any condition. Take them away, dear boy, prune and polish at your leisure. They would only distress me. I should not understand them and I might be led to question the value of a sacrifice which I now applaud." 
- Evelyn Waugh, the Loved One

Spoken like someone who never Reads The Comments.

(Being generally unfamiliar with British literature I did not know, and so am in love with how, Evelyn Waugh and his once-wife, Evelyn, were referred to by the Mitfords as "Hevelyn" and "Shevelyn.")

Monday, January 6, 2014

Drowned in life.

There are moments when I've literally felt drowned in life. When circumstances have lead to a moment so rife with possibility that you can't possibly understand. It's like you are in your shoes, you continue to breathe, sit — other people around you. One or two smile and turn. People you know. I remember Arlene going Leena like she even knew the lid was being flipped off my world. 
- Eileen Myles, Inferno (A Poet's Novel)

I would love to reassure my bizarro mortified elementary school self of how I spend my days. Although the fact of how certain of those "drowned in life" moments are only lately losing their gravitational influence on my outlook/decisions might not do the greatest things for her willingness to grow.

La Grande Belleza is worth seeing — if for no better reason (of which there are, I believe, a few) than for its variety of book-lined interiors.


("The film could have alternately been titled Firm Italian Asses." - boyfriend, citing another reason to see it)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Passion for the tedious.

"But there are parallels between journalism and clinical psychoanalysis. Both the journalist and the psychoanalyst are connoisseurs of the small, unregarded motions of life. Both pan the surface—yes, surface—for the gold of insight. The metaphor of depth—as in depth psychology—is wrong, as the psychoanalyst Roy Schafer helpfully pointed out. The unconscious is right there on the surface, as in 'The Purloined Letter.' Journalism, with its mandate to notice small things, was always congenial to me. I might also have liked being an analyst. But I never would have gotten into medical school, because I couldn't do math, so it wasn't an option. I never went to journalism school, either. When I started doing journalism, a degree from a journalism school wasn’t considered necessary. In fact, it was considered a little tacky." 
- Janet Malcolm's 2011 Paris Review interview
Also from Janet Malcolm, here: "Memory is not a journalist's tool. Memory glimmers and hints, but shows nothing sharply or clearly. Memory does not narrate or render character. Memory has no regard for the reader. If an autobiography is to be even minimally readable, the autobiographer must step in and subdue what you could call memory’s autism, its passion for the tedious. He must not be afraid to invent. Above all he must invent himself."

*

I found myself inside a mystery this afternoon. One of the editors received an email that was very long but summarized perfectly by its final paragraph:

"Attached is a resume, cover letter, and my model of reality. According to one of the most advanced, yet subjective natural sciences is a subsidiary department of quantum theory known as superstring theory. This natural science claims to have identified 10 and yet 11 dimenions in the physical universe that would include space and time. Not only do I feel as if I have identified these dimensions from a social science perspective, but I can explain why, for example, it is 10 and yet 11, and not just 10 or 11, and I can use it practically to beakdown existence analytically and logically (through deduction, reduction, and induction).

If you would schedule me an interview then I will tell you how this all ties together and prepare further proposals if requested.

Sincerely, 
[REDACTED]

P.S. Marshall McLuhan & Media Ecology

P.S.S. Issac Newton is to John Milton as Albert Einstein is to who? 

Sent from Samsung tablet"

The sender originally submitted this (and the enclosed resume, cover letter, and model of reality) to another newspaper, but in a bid to cover all bases, forwarded that email to one of the editors here.

(I think, since the sender is pitching a column called "Media Innuendo," that it is only a matter of time before good fortune strikes, even with this method of inquiry.)

Googling the sender's name took me to a Wikipedia entry for a "fictional teenage detective" who shares a name with the sender and whose adventures are chronicled via an aspiring high school journalist, which leads me to suspect I've glimpsed a wormhole between realities.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance. Lena Dunham's GIRLS, Season Two

The Spoiler-Ridden Gestalt Review of HBO's Girls, Season Two (2013)

Excuse the quality of the photos, but:

"I've always thought I'd be secretly really good at cutting hair!"

I remembered Hannah's episode twelve attempt to cut her bangs, which was interrupted by Adam's bed-intrusion, but I forgot how early this joke was set up. As of the first episode of this season, Hannah thought (however delusional those thoughts) she'd be good at all these things — writing, cutting hair, being an independent woman embracing a best friend — but by the end, she is forced to face her limits.

Hannah note (there is a reason her face alone is featured on the season's poster, and [I say] nothing that isn't about her is relevant to discussion of this season): I loved the examination of Hannah's state throughout this season. She tries to unclutter her personal life and rebuild in the debris-ridden aftermath of her breakup with Marnie. She goes on a drug bender that is supposed to be an escape as well as celebration of her first shot at publication (as well as being the reason for her shot at publication — it's a celebration upon which its own existence is contingent, which is pretty stressful) that ends in her confronting Marnie. I love the fact that this catharsis does not result in anything and is as myopic as their confrontation from season one. When she can't even enjoy the triumph of her first publication, Hannah fantasizes about escaping the things she really wants only to be handed the thing she wants the most — a book deal — with the caveat that she write it in a month. She tries to assume a new life with Dr. Joshua and was confronted by the limits of her dreams, ruining her ability to even dream an escape from their pressures. She tries to get away again with Jessa, with whom she shares a significant bond, and is confronted with her failure as a friend. All this contributes to the rollicking return of her OCD that successfully obstructs her from making any progress on what she actually wants. In that context, it makes sense that the season climaxes with her taking solace in Adam's arms. Her imagination is strong enough to accept Adam as a stand-in for Patrick Wilson. This season was all about the "dark scene" in Hannah's head.

Instead of re-examining the criticisms/observations I made about season two while it was on, I watched it fresh — the first time since it aired, all in one sitting — in order to chart Hannah and Marnie's relationship. Even when they were not explicitly involved in each other's scenes, the way their stories echoed each other was central to this season and its strongest facet.

Episode 11, It's About Time: It's just like, I watched Midnight in Paris, and I thought, I was like, I could do that.
It's about being nice: The parallels between the scenes between Adam/Hannah and Marnie/her mother. Both are debating the meaning of words and what it means to be nice. Adam tells Hannah loving someone means you don't need to be nice all the time. Marnie's mother hopes she and Marnie can be friends, but she's worried Marnie is as gruff with her friends as she is with her. "I talk to my friends way worse than this," Marnie says. When Hannah is nice to Marnie, telling her they're still close, she is maintaining a distance, avoiding confronting how rotten their relationship is. Hannah is similarly avoidant of Elijah's boyfriend, George, who she ejects from her party by pretending to leave with him, then depositing him on the corner and running away. He accuses her of being a bitch, and she says, "I'm a sweet girl." Adam doesn't mind if Hannah doesn't call him her "boyfriend" as long as he is her boyfriend, Marnie can't refer to herself as "fired" even though that's what she is — this paves the way for Ray to hint that there's a side to him besides the awful side he demonstrated last season, when he expresses frustration with Shoshanna over the use of emojis to communicate her feelings. He wants her to say what she means.

Last season, Ray was glimpsed pretty narrowly. Each piece of evidence of him supported the idea that he was nothing but a terminal grump. He only seemed like he could be more than that when he interacted with Shoshanna, and even though he does deliver her the sweet remark about her strange frequency that leads to their encounter in bed, the real consummation of their relationship was withheld until now. Unlike the other characters, sex was not going to serve as the real consummation of a relationship with Shoshanna. Not for any matters of "virtue" or other anything but because Shoshanna has standards and rules that encompass and exceed sexual matters, that empower her when she acts in accordance with them. Shoshanna was vulnerable about being a virgin, but her state of mind in this episode make perfect sense: the matter of her first time has been settled, and now she checks in with herself emotionally, spiritually, etc. The fact that Ray is prepared to be measured according to her standards is the real consummation of their season one flirtation, and it was extremely satisfying to see that in the first episode of this season.

Also, Adam begging Hannah to stay and watch "Bagger Vance extras."

Episode 12, I Get Ideas: Paradise wife.
What you do with what you have: I love the way that Hannah's wearing a sleeping bag — and a diaper, maybe? — talking about how she's ready to move on from Adam and have a safe, responsible boyfriend is juxtaposed by Marnie being turned down for a job because she looks, in her Anne Taylor suit, so put-together, not scrounging for what she can get, ready for bigger and better things. The first episode established their mutual difficulty — their matching tiger tattoos, if you will — with calling their conditions by the right names. This episode establishes where they are diverging: Hannah looks like a mess but she's ready to get what she wants. Marnie is maintaining her uncracked facade, but she's falling to pieces. So Shoshanna tells Marnie, use your appearance to get a job! And Jessa reminds Hannah, you're not truly in a good relationship unless he respects you as an artist! Because Hannah's attempt to attain this results in her breaking up with Sandy, her post-Adam rebound, she is unavailable to acknowledge that Marnie's embrace of her appearance as a career move is using what seems like an obstacle as an asset. From here on out, Hannah keeps blocking herself.

Episode 13, Bad Friend: We're in the night kitchen.
It's just for work: Since Hannah paused the development of her romantic life, her energy is thrust enough into her career to get her first writing job. It is through Marnie's career detour into her pretty-person-job that her romantic life experiences some traction, albeit in the tiny, smeedgey form of artist Booth Jonathan. Hannah uses the episode's romantic conquest (Laird the addict!) for work, and Marnie's art-world career aspirations are tied up in her interest in Booth. In the fight between Hannah and Marnie that brings them together at the end of the episode, Hannah tells Marnie friends don't do things that intentionally hurt others. This blow-up lacks the catharsis of season one's Marnie/Hannah argument because Hannah has done nothing to Marnie — she hasn't talked to her, hasn't provided her any insight into their breakup last season — explicitly to avoid hurting her. There is a whole lot of nothing transpiring between them, and yet Hannah is still moved to air her disappointment in Marnie for hiding hurtful facts from her. I love the quiet evolution of their friendship between the fits and stops of their careers and romantic lives. In this episode, these paths are bedecked by some of my favorite set pieces this season: the Andrew Andrew club scene, Booth Jonathan's Duncan Sheik installation, Hannah's coke shirt, the "look at the doll" scene. This episode achieved a great synthesis of plot and story by having both fun and momentum, which is a balance the season as a whole struggled to strike.

Episode 14, It's a Shame About Ray: I think I just feel how everyone feels: like I have three or four really great folk albums in me.
This was not a dialogue, this was a monologue: I like the way Shoshanna started the season by providing a harmonious contrast to Hannah and Marnie's turmoil while Jessa's isolation demonstrates the way these figures are all, essentially, alone. Hannah, Marnie, and Shoshanna attend a dinner party together while Jessa goes to dinner with her new husband, Thomas-John's family. As the character's talk, their conversations reveal what they have been ignoring. Talk of Ray's living situation leads Shoshanna to realize Ray has imperceptibly moved in with her. Talk of buttstuff leads Marnie to realize she has unavoidably persistent feelings about her ex, Charlie. The opportunity to talk at all leads Thomas-John and Jessa not to the realization that they're fooling themselves as much as how that delusion has reached its end. These realizations move Shoshanna and Ray to declare love to each other, move Marnie and Charlie to reopen their wounds, and move Jessa and Thomas-John to stop playing in a wonderfully dark scene. There is so much in Jessa's monologue, where she makes assumptions about what a loser Thomas-John is, that reveals who she is as a character: someone who looks at people as things she's doing, and feels likewise like a thing that is done. Hannah also admonishes Charlie for calling Marnie a cunt without understanding her own unresolved feelings for Marnie. Even though it is a shame the Hannah/Jessa vein doesn't twist into the show's arm for another few episodes, the wait is worth it, both for what comes next and for the episode's end, when Jessa and Hannah sit together in a bathtub, being hilariously honest about how gross they both are, but mostly just sitting in silence.

Episode 15, One Man's Trash: Everything that you appear to have.
This is the time when you give people space: The small things I like about episode fourteen are completely overwhelmed by what a good episode this is. The biggest missteps in season two occur when Hannah is somewhere other than the center of the narrative, and this mood-piece demonstrates everything Lena Dunham — and Girls — gets perfect. It follows logically that Hannah would want to isolate herself from her friends after the previous episode's parade of revelations. She winds up falling into a parallel world, an incredible house in Brooklyn where she reflects upon what shape her dreams might take, what qualities might be broken inside of her. Her experience in the house, having a hazy tryst with a doctor separated from his wife, is so insular that Hannah fails to recognize even the basic details of Dr. Joshua's side of the experience. In true Hannah fashion, this episode is so much about Hannah and Hannah alone that she cannot allow for the slightest hint it that it might be about someone else teaching her a lesson. She wonders aloud that her pursuit of experience is overcompensating for a desire for love and security. This is a look inside how much Hannah blocks herself, and for as beautifully as it works on its own, it bridges lonely, embarrassed Hannah of episode fourteen with episode sixteen's life-changing news.

Episode 16, Boys: Her lost generation.
It's a really big deal: Hannah is commissioned to write an ebook, and she has one month to do it. I love that Little Women figures so centrally in an episode called "Boys," but as great as it is to see Ray and Adam's characters develop, keeping Hannah from the center does the show no favors. Even if it isn't riveting, the focus on Ray and Adam is justified, since Hannah's whole trip in this episode is avoidance and it reopens the file on Adam's myriad Hannah-feelings. While Hannah gets her book deal and the crushing pressure that comes with its deadline (and, unbeknownst to herself, while she is still inspiring tenderness in Adam), Marnie gets an invitation to a big party that Booth Jonathan is throwing. Marnie assumes this is a romantic achievement, but Booth reminds her that it's just business. When they need help dealing with these disappointments, they use the illusion of these new phases of their lives to widen the rift between them.

Cliches aside, I am disappointed Ray's encounter with the Staten Island girl was not a meet-cute. Since it's not, it ultimately served no purpose, which is disappointing in an episode that should have spent its time reorienting the Hannah/Marnie issue to the center of the story.

Episode 17, Video Games: This show is too well designed, too well to be held with only me in mind.
I manifested the solution: Hannah and Jessa go to see Jessa's father together. I love Hannah and Jessa together deeply, the way one constantly probes at the other's approach to self-delusion. This is another episode that disrupts the season's rhythm, but I can forgive it more than I can episodes fourteen or sixteen because I think Jemima Kirke is stunning and the atrocity of a destination that is her father's house is one I recognize (as overwhelmingly as I recognize Hannah's anguish as their guest). Although the theme of self-delusion, as distilled in Jessa's stepmothers "life is a video game" speech, is so relevant to Hannah's book-writing folly, the episode's position feels like it is deferring the season climax. The story and plot balance problems are still present here, but I do love the sad way in which it dawns on Hannah that she hasn't been there for Jessa they way Jessa needs her to be. All this aside, this episode has a special place in my affections because I love the way Dunham and the other writers paint these characters, especially Jessa's hints at how negligent her family is. Allegedly, season three focuses very much on exploring the characters, and I am all the more excited for that.

Episode 18, It's Back: Literally the one thing I told you was not to ash in my mermaid.
Come back, come back, I'm all you've ever known: What's back: Charlie's hold on Marnie's energy, Marnie's hatred of Jessa, Shoshanna's dedication to doing her thing her way, Adam's need for Alcoholic's Anonymous, Hannah's parents, and Hannah's heretofore unseen obsessive compulsive problems. Marnie's free fall into being an abject wreck begins as she realizes that Charlie has profited enormously from the dissolution of their relationship by developing an app inspired by her. While Charlie has harmonized work and romance and Adam enjoys an idyllic date as a result of his stop back in AA, both Marnie's and Hannah's professional and romantic failures are fully on display in this episode, with Hannah's dissolve crescendoing with her confession to her new therapist (Bob Balaban!) of her OCD's severity in one of my favorite scenes in the show. The power of Hannah's OCD is, however, diminished by how much of Marnie's failure to grow is evident here.

Episode 19, On All Fours: You can be my white Kate Moss tonight.
The nadir of the whole cycle: A visit to Hannah's publisher exacerbates her OCD and its attendant misery while Marnie seizes the spotlight at a party for Charlie's company (to provide the most TV Guide copy description of the episode possible). Marnie's flailing, when compared to Hannah's, looks like falling upwards for once, and her preference for appearances is setting up to put her "ahead" at the end of the season. During the dark night of Hannah's soul, she runs into Adam, in whom she inspires his own meltdown. The way the characters get under one another's skin provides the greatest narrative thrust the show's had, at this point, in episodes, even though this feels like part one of episode twenty's part two. It still has scenes like Adam and his girlfriend's dance to Fiona Apple and, god, nothing compares to this:



Episode 20, Together: I'm gonna write a whole book in a day.
Will you get out of me?: Hannah meets her limit. She cannot stop trying to write about her relationship with Marnie, which her publisher already warned her not to do and has contributed to her inability to finish the book she was given a month to write. Meanwhile, the moment Marnie gets to sit down and have brunch with Charlie, Marnie invokes Hannah by saying "this" is what she's always trying to tell Hannah: brunch with the person who "decided on you" is what you should chase. The reunion of Charlie and Marnie would have meant (you can't convince me otherwise) total backtracking for Marnie's character if Chris Abbott (who plays Charlie)'s abrupt departure did not insure that Marnie must recognize it AS backtracking, which she now must. And even without Marnie there to make her feel like garbage, Hannah forgoes finishing her book to invite Adam back into her arms.

It isn't season one, but this season did work better (for me) as a whole than when viewed episode by episode. For how much plot this season has, it really served to magnify and illustrate in meticulous detail who those people (Hannah and Marnie) that had that blow-up fight last season are, where they are headed with respect to one another, how one succeeds where the other fails and vice-versa, which ends, then, with all of these things made plain, but with the story, seemingly, back where it started. Jessa and Shoshanna are in the inverse of their season one circumstances: Jessa has left and Shoshanna is free of love-concerns and ready to have fun with adult male blonds, but Hannah and Marnie are still avoiding each other just like they were at the beginning of the season. The skills with which they avoid their own problems, though, have been significantly worn away.

In two weeks, I'll start watching season three. It'll be intense, but I'll just have to ride it like a pony or I'll get a haircut: