Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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