Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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