Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 8: "Incidentals" - Gotta hit the trail, my Clementine's making payaya tonight.

Still approaching with caution.


Girls, Episode Twenty-Eight, "Incidentals"

There are facets of Girls I dislike more than Hannah and Adam this season, but they aren't many. When I say dislike, I don't hate-love it like Marnie or hate-hate it like Ray. The very best of Hannah and Adam are on display in this episode, but it comes amidst a season full of Hannah and Adam together being used occupy vacancies.

In a freeing, new move, the episode opens on Hannah and Adam apart, both at work. As if to engage what their scenes as a couple have so distracted from, Adam has a meet cute with Desi, a man clad all in denim, and they experience a miniature but vivid bromance — it seems like Adam has met his Marnie. Adam rides off with him on Desi's motorcycle!

They meet on a Broadway audition, the absurdity of which is redeemed only by Adam Driver's delivery of how Adam Sackler handles the news that he's nailed it.

Some of the sins to which season three has been prone are here, but made right. There are tiny scenes of Jessa at her job at the children's clothing store, glorified interstitials, but Jemima Kirke gets to act Jessa as a character and not a caricature in them, she communicates the ache of ennui so well — and eventually they lead somewhere! Only Kirke's acting kicks up suspense as the interstitials recur, since they've never led anywhere in the past. Another poignant aspect is the cumulative affect of her boredom catching fire. The sense that she's been disregarded by her friends, that no one is dropping by to see her, all serves to set up what happens later. This is a small thing, and it's the best thing that's been done with Jessa all season.

Something else that has been suspenseful — and fascinating — is seeing Hannah really be good at her job (the scene where she walks down the street, emboldened by her paycheck to splash out, was too great a cliche). Patti LuPone ditches her for an interview, and Hannah pursues her. She is rewarded with another assignment at her job. Considering Hannah's track record, I don't feel like Hannah is long for the advertorial department at GQ. Patti LuPone herself could be the death blow: Ray called Marnie "Patti LuPone" last season, and LuPone turns out to be just as toxic as Marnie.

Cut to Marnie, encountering Booth Jonathan's old assistant, Soo Jin — verbally on-point and living Marnie's dream of opening her own gallery. This scene pays off later, even though it would seem — according to synopses of future episode — that it exists to set up developments beyond this episode. For the moment, all that matters is that someone else is getting what Marnie wants. I wish she would have been a little more caustic about it, but Allison Williams didn't have too much to do here in this little scene, unlike Jemima Kirke in her's, which lead up too...

...THE REAPPEARANCE OF WITHNAIL! Richard E. Grant bursts back into Jessa's life. In his explanation of how he has sought her out since their brief time in rehab, he says he threw little stones at her window until a girl looked out and said, "Are you here to rape me?" Jemima Kirke's delivery of "oh, Shoshanna," is so bereft. I believe in that moment more than any other that Jessa is worried about the bad things in her life harming the good things.

The meeting of Richard E. Grant and Shoshanna is, though, the greatest thing in Girls' history.

As she joins Hannah for a congratulations-Broadway party for Adam, I ultimately don't hate Shoshanna's willingness to returns to the titulars' fold: as her sass about Adam's achievement demonstrates, I think she's here to bring it from now on. She won't hold back anymore. I hope. That would be a believable evolution of their friendship.

And speaking of believable evolutions! Ray's "breakup" with Marnie makes perfect narrative sense — perfect in a way that has been scarce lately — but it is still not maximum Ray. I was watching season one this week: Ray is the guy who was inspired by a picture of Marnie's family to lament his inability to fuck any member of his family. He told her boyfriend at the time that she was so uptight that somebody should fuck her to teach her a lesson. He called Charlie a shared tool upon discovering Marnie's vibrator. All this is fucking loathsome, but this is a presence in the lives of many women, this loathsome voice, and the way Ray's been neutered strikes me as really manipulative. Ray opines a girlfriend who won't act like she's sunken to his level, but this is exactly what he deserves. When he tells her to go, Marnie says, "Was this your plan? Humiliate the girl that you couldn't fuck in high school?" This seems like Marnie deflecting the blame that lays on her since she clearly sees their intimacy as a form of slumming. But Marnie explained to Charlie in "It's a Shame About Ray" that she wanted someone to tell her exactly what she should do. Ray will always tell her what she should do, but those instructions come purely from his problems with women. He does want to humiliate the girl he couldn't fuck in high school. He also understands that this drive won't serve him get close to someone. It's this complexity that's gone out of Ray, and his continued neutering is one of the most enduringly disappointing thing about this season.

This scene does, however, compel Marnie in the direction of Hannah's party for Adam, where she arrives clearly off, possibly drunk, and leading Hannah to assume that she's done something to anger Marnie. She follows Marnie to the bathroom where Marnie, going to pieces over Ray, tells Hannah, "I can't tell you." This is one of their best scenes together — their best, I think, since "you are the wound" — and this is the Marnie who, one episode ago, wanted more than anything to have catharsis with Hannah. But here she realizes she can't share something with her, her own sense of who she is has broken down so much.

Elijah is so jealous of Adam! That can only go amazing places.

And just like Adam hates Marnie, it is only so, so beautifully right that Hannah hates Desi — or, finds him "irksome." I have more empathy for Hannah's reaction to Desi breaking into a gentle folk song than anything Hannah's done in a long time. Hannah's concerns about Adam coalesce beautifully into the final scene with him in the Gramercy Hotel bathtub. I love that he makes Hannah feel better by demonstrating how good he is at his job. Hannah's never had much of an issue supporting Adam, though, even though this is the most game-changing of his endeavors. It's Hannah's ambition that threatens what they have, because Adam does not have a great track record in acknowledging what Hannah's work means for her.

Richard E. Grant frolics hand in hand with Jessa on her way to her rock bottom. I love that Jessa blazes through Adam's party on her way there, how at that point, the company of her friends cannot reverse it. When the viewers leave her, Jessa is still pushing Richard E. Grant's hands off her. The progression — "progression" — might not be neat or linear, but the cumulative spiral this show is working on bore some good results here. Good, but the season's not over.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 7: "Beach House" - She's a cruel drunk and she's also not an intellectual.

In the past week I've been sick, shouldering responsibilities at work that have interfered with my ability to be restful, and resumed exercising, which I have to approach very lightly because I have used exercise in the past to hurt myself. Negotiating all this, getting a lot of rejections, preparing to live with my significant other — I have been feeling overwhelmed. And last week's Girls really disappointed me. And I was ready to admit that I don't need to do this. I just watched Whatever this is and I felt completely narratively taken care of by it and delighted in it and understood anew how I could not feign enthusiasm for storytelling I wasn't invested in anymore. And then this week's Girls made me so happy. It was a fun episode, it was — for this show — a light episode. It was written by Lena Dunham with Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow, who know these characters and absolutely put to shame this season's lesser episodes. Girls does such an amazing job at reducing tired arcs that would plod out on a network sitcom into vivid bottle-esque episodes. Girls should not be afraid of that impulse to bottle virtually all its episodes. The moment it gets bogged down in plot, the show loses focus. Stop trying to make it happen and let it happen. That's not even what I'm saying, that's what this episode said. And if this show was getting truly meta about its plot and dialogue problem I would forgive it everything because, ugh, that's how I am.


Girls, Episode Twenty-Seven, "Beach House"

Here it is! Marnie being real Marnie, talking smack on the Hamptons! Jessa being real Jessa, fraternizing with bus people! Shoshanna being Shoshanna, the smartest character on the show! Hannah in a bikini the entire time.

This is a key episode and perhaps one of the best in the series. The nice and sad thing about Girls is that you could string together its greatest episodes and, even with a few forsaken Adam-gags, not be lost in terms of plot at all. This episode demonstrated Girls' every strength and joy to the gills.

The energy is high right from the beginning — the titulars arrive in the North Fork for a weekend getaway at a place that belongs to someone Marnie's family knows. Marnie has arranged all this as an escape from the wreckage of her life — where only Ray calls her to see how she's doing — so she can carefully curate a feelings-filled catharsis between, really, she and Hannah, but because Jessa is a safe receptacle for Marnie's rage, she could come, too, and then Shoshanna because all the rest of them are there, then, so she can come, too.

The weekend is planned to within an inch of its life, from throwing wishes in a bonfire to a Queens of Comedy screening, and Hannah can't even get her hands on white cheddar Goldfish because they're "not on the list." The opening montage shows them having fun in spite of Marnie's attempts to strangle that fun into something they can thank her for. She needs to be in that role, to curate, to guide — her chosen profession makes perfect sense.

Hannah refers to their galavanting as "Making memories with friends that will last a lifetime" — Marnie thinks you have to craft these, she can't trust them to happen. What does she think will happen? If they just have fun, they might be able to judge her dispensable. This comes on the heals of Hannah and Shoshanna's rescue of Jessa from rehab and that is certainly still looming in Marnie's mind, even if it is in the shadow of Charlie's abandonment.

A carefully timed Spring Breakers reference leads to the reunion of Elijah and Hannah. Okay: their conversation, which Hannah cuts through with her hatred of smalltalk, is everything Ray's scene with Shoshanna in "She Said OK" was not. It was funny and leant itself to substantiating the way Hannah and Elijah talk to one another. Hannah has been, essentially, lying to Adam and Marnie for years at this point. She does not need to impress Elijah and, in as far as they are emotionally enmeshed, they both seem aware of it and able to use it in a way that Hannah can't with Marnie. She and Marnie are too close.

Hannah identifies Elijah's three pumps as the "beginning" of her rift with Marnie, even though their rift began in season one, particularly with Marnie's inability to take Hannah's ambition seriously. I think back more than I do on any other scene on Hannah's confrontation of Marnie at the end of "Bad Friend." I think it was safe for Hannah to lose it on Marnie there, safer than it was to acknowledge that she couldn't forgive Marnie for not taking her writing seriously. I think Marnie knew it and has an interest in provoking Hannah into acknowledging that Elijah's three pumps were a red herring.

Little Danny Segal from Mad Men and the rest of Elijah's posse come alive so much in their brief scenes. Remember Mike Birbiglia from the second episode? Remember how he popped and was a totally believable human? Hannah interacting with real humans is radiant. Hannah interacting with caricatures is hackneyed.

The little bit of plotplotplot viewers get in this episode is how, apparently, Charlie's app has failed. I like to imagine that Marnie is lying. This brief scene could have been totally superfluous, except Elijah's appraisal of Charlie is not to be missed.

Jessa's biggest scene is small but a perfect use of Jemima Kirke. She manipulates Hannah into drinking by threatening to fall off the wagon. She also flirts with a gay boy by likening him to a Robert Mapplethorpe subject. I feel like the real Jessa has not been on screen in ages. Between this and her bus-friends, I am so happy and afraid of this Jessa vanishing. Her evolution into bitchmonster makes sense but has not been graceful. When Jessa retains all of her Nico-esque trappings and "Video Games" rhetoric, when she hangs back because she really gets more out of being with her friends than probably any of them do because she gets the most lonely — that's real Jessa, and she's a full human, and when she isn't treated like that, it is so discouraging. People like her really exist and really do have charm and complexity even when they seem, based on their actions, like absolute fucking monsters. I fear that the writers who are not Dunham, Konner, and Apatow are too repulsed by Jessa now to write her well. I'm going to hang on tight to an episode like this one.

Hannah "confesses" to Marnie why she pushed her away, giving her a very psychoanalytic, blame-absorbing explanation of how her parents gave her space issues which conflicted with Marnie's parentally-granted abandonment issues. This rationalizing leaves nothing "healed." She got to reconnect with Elijah, who was remorseful — she doesn't need Marnie to apologize for anything. Hannah wants to have a good time, but Marnie wants catharsis. And Marnie will have catharsis — sort of?

The titulars have a dance routine in a kitchen, which is both a reason to watch the episode and not out of nowhere, since performance and dancing is part of their — especially Marnie and Hannah's — MO. And since the dance routine engages Marnie's musical theatre wound (I have a feeling there are many), unleashes her fury.

(Also, you can learn how to do the dance:

)

As Marnie's rage unleashes Hannah's, SHOSHANNA COMES ALIVE! She takes down their petty squabbling — Marnie is angry they didn't get to have a "healing" dinner uninterrupted by boys and actual fun, Hannah calls her out for focusing all her Charlie-fury on her. "Fucking whiny nothings." Shosh's radiant bundles of realtalk have been a long time coming, and her observation that her social anxiety is keeping her tied to those people is one of the most poignant to be delivered by a character in ages and ages, especially since Hannah and Marnie are going on three years of lies and evasion.

What I'm afraid of is that next week, none of this will be of any consequence. Shoshanna coming into her own would make a lot of the stress borne of this season worth it. I just realized, re-watching last week's episode, that she characterizes herself as "je-ne-regrette-rien-y" about her wilding out. Shoshanna is gold.

Hannah calls out the fact that they don't have fun together. Marnie identifies the fact that the only way she can tolerate Hannah is by playing along with the conceit that Hannah is trying to be "better" — Hannah as she is, as she seems to have settled into being, is something Marnie can't abide. Although Marnie's reliance on Hannah, the extent to which Hannah matters to Marnie regardless of her inadequacy, is what Marnie really can't handle, since even having a perfect boyfriend didn't make everything right the way it was when she lived with Hannah. That is what I suspect, but this is where I suspect I diverge from the feelings of other viewers.

There were so many quiet spaces, room for funny quips about $80,000 theatre BFAs and how sex with Marnie must suck, scenes that pushed the narrative along and were funny and were good and ultra-magnetic that had me looking forward to re-watching this episode. Even the last scene was in synch with what preceded it without losing any of its sweetness. I really want Girls to succeed in being about how "a friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance." I really don't want to lose faith in the show following this thread. This episode gave me so much hope that it hasn't abandoned that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 6: "Free Snacks" - Everyone knows I'm the Sun Chip guy here.

More on "progress."


Girls, Episode Twenty-Six, "Free Snacks"

I can't help but feel the unclarity with which Ray's employees keep quitting is a meta commentary on the show's disintegrating grip on its dialogue.

When Ray asks Hannah if her new opportunity — at GQ — is to be a "before" model in a before and after shot, I realized just how long it has been since Ray really sounded like Ray. That is some season one Ray which, if you recall, I hated, but I've hated the direction his character has taken even more, so this was practically welcome.

When I say that I hate the direction his character has taken, let me tell you what purpose I thought Ray would serve: in "Leave Me Alone," he did what he always does — pontificate at Hannah, condescend to her, and she internalized it and learned from taking his advice the hard way — he didn't guide her, he mislead her, and she the fallout came of her second guessing herself. I love Ray as a tuning fork of the titular's own developing sense of when to and to not heed advice and how to read the intentions of others who seem invested in them. When it seemed like Ray was headed down that path, it made me curious about his character. To make him simply a weary sage whose clear-minded advice Hannah is just too blind to take feels like some tragic backpedaling.

I have not watched the first season of Girls since before the second season premiere, and I am looking forward to re-viewing it from the beginning in order to feel whether or not Hannah's arrival at GQ feels organic. I am inclined to be critical here, but still: it is exciting to see her leap again to commodify her work. These scenes are some of my favorite in ages and recall in all the right places her stint at the fondlesome law firm. They also recall, unfortunately, the Forbid office in all its yawning hipness.

In fact, this was an episode about callbacks — like the one Adam gets from his audition, and, as Ray and Marnie point out, of doppelgängers. Some of them grim: I am pretty disappointed there are not more made-up publications, like JazzHate.com, name checked here in the course of the very heavy-handed scene that brings up n+1the New Yorker and the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Also disappointed that viewers did not get to see Adam's wreck of an audition. And that the remainder of Ray in this episode amounted to his name checking Ken Burns' jazz documentary. And how Jessa's sole scene is a glorified interstitial, which is itself a sequel to the interstitial earlier in the episode in which Shoshanna quietly contemplated her loss of the newly successful Ray, which is all plotplotplot.

Not disappointing in the least: Adam's proposed Etsy venture.

There are hints of change, though. The guy who sidles up to Hannah all work-spouse-like is reminiscent of the pharmacist in "the Return." But he is as surprising and fruitful an encounter in a different way. Unlike so many characters that have dropped into frame since season two, Joe the coworker isn't a stock caricature. I love how he seems desperate to connect to Hannah but treats her like a friend and not like a prospective sex receptacle. I would be really into seeing Hannah recoil from a relatively normal friendship. Or if he turned out to be a Hannah in his own way, that would be great also. He demonstrates enough of his own strain of self-absorption.

I REALLY love how Hannah came alive in the advertorial meeting. It was like watching her dance! There is a certain level of comfort in having it confirmed to you how you are cut out for no other work but the kind of "spiritually fulfilling" art with which Hannah is concerned. There is a certain bittersweet brand of dread that coalesces over the soul's throat when you find you are really not too bad at something sort of awful.

Other callbacks: Shoshanna's sex with her boyfriend is a nice flip on the season one encounter that almost saw a pre-Ray end to her virginity. Marnie's shouting at Ray in the restaurant is a sort-of-inversion of the shouting that resulted in Marnie and Charlie reuniting at the end of season two (unlike Charlie, Ray won't play along with the Marnie game, but the fact that Ray has the Ray game catches this union in a constant whirlpool of "you're doing it wrong"). Jessa is back to working with children like she did in season one, and I can only hope it leads to such a good story as that one. Watch the season one scene of Jessa getting the babysitting job and then the one from this episode with Jessa advising the customer about christening dresses for a look at how her character has "progressed" (and how it's caved to the aforementioned dialogue problems).

***

I feel like I may have more to say about this episode's place in the story by the end of the season, but as interested as I am in Hannah's new workplace (where she gets as stressed out as she did the night she did cocaine and found out her two best friends slept together, per her head-in-the-faucet move), I am growing weary. The things I loved about the show are getting scarified in favor of plot. I like the plot well enough to keep watching, but as for writing about it in-depth...I'm afraid these posts will become a chronicle of my disappointment.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Welcome to Night Vale: the survey.

For the past week and a half, I have been trying to do nothing but listen to Welcome to Night Vale. In order to compensate for the disappointing assault of other things I have to do that are not lie in bed and hear Cecil Baldwin read the words of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, I would like to talk to people about Night Vale, too. I want to enjoy it and critically dissect it. I can have it all.


If you, Wayfaring Googler, are familiar with Night Vale, please proceed. If you are not, please consider becoming acquainted with it. Welcome to Night Vale is a long form, fictional narrative podcast in the shape of a community radio broadcast from a small desert city in the American southwest. Every totalitarian corporation, shady government agency, and appalling abuse of civil rights that is or was is in full effect, masquerading as the mundane "blur of routine" that are city council meetings, library programs, and the like. Dispatches on all of this are delivered by one person, the character of Cecil Palmer, who is deeply dedicated to the people of Night Vale and whose rhetorical acumen is astonishing. The complexity of Cecil's statements, the way he ribs corporate double-talk by using it himself, the way he underplays his own capacity for understanding, and his naive conflation of announcer and reporter in order to disarm listeners who might not approve what he says (disapproval is rampant) make for such a moving, textured, riveting listening experience because all of this — which is incredibly vivid when read — is animated so much by the voice of actor Cecil Baldwin. So the character of Cecil resides and acts, via Night Vale Community Radio, as "the voice" of the citizens of Night Vale — which only deserves to be called nightmarish with the caveat that dream material is harvested from waking experience, since only the sentient glow cloud and buzzing shadow people diverge much from reality (and then, arguments can be made) — where he cannot always say what he thinks, but trusts that listeners can learn to think about what he describes for themselves, and where he falls in love. You feel the risk in everything; it is breathtaking.

Like I have hoped for few other things, I hope this synopsis piques your interest and you investigate Night Vale for purely self-serving reasons: I am interested in what you think of it. All of it, and some things in particular. Here is my Night Vale survey, and if you are a fan, nothing would make me happier than if you filled it out:

What age do you think Cecil is?

How conscious do you think Carlos is that his actions imperil Cecil?

How conscious do you think Cecil is, when he is helping Carlos untangle some mystery, that he is offending various controlling powers?

They are both dissidents, so what do you think is the nature of Cecil’s problem with Steve Carlsberg?

What do you think of the significance of Cecil being a radio station intern who survived?

Which story lines would you like to see occupy a central part of a whole episode?

Do you hope to ever have the creators confirm the correct visual representation of the characters, or do you hope they never do that?

Which episode detonated itself on your greatest vulnerability? I felt, for instance, paralyzed with fear during “The Auction.”

Which episode do you think presents the greatest mystery? Nothing fills me with more questions, for instance, than “A Memory of Europe.”

Which controlling power fills you with the most sorrowful rage? And which part of life in Night Vale hits closest to home for you?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 5: "Only Child" - I think she's an evil person who pukes on everything metaphorically.

Do not let my tone deceive you; I was pretty into what this week was doing narratively. But I'm still holding out hope, so I'm still judging harshly. Also still holding out hope for a full, real "What I Am" video, so you have an idea for the regard I have for logic these days.

Credit: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Twenty-Five, "Only Child"

The closest Hannah has gotten to the kind of "legitimate" New York literary world that she covets: her publisher's funeral. "I'm not leaving until I've locked eyes with Michiko Kakutani, I've told you that." There's a rhyming mistake of identities when Hannah encounters someone close to her publisher who in turn takes Hannah for another writer. Hannah likewise mistakes the funeral for an opportunity to network since, as her publisher has died, so has all his projects with Millstreet Press, including Hannah's ebook.

Jessa finally effectively lights Shoshanna's fuse, providing a glorified interstitial that also gives Shoshanna the opportunity to say "hijinks," as in, "My recent hijinks have really taken a toll on my GPA." The joy reaped from getting a glimpse at Shoshanna's fifteen-year-plan — which includes business school and avoiding becoming anything like the rest of her family, Jessa included — does not outweigh the disappointment that this turning point for Shoshanna has to be spoken of quickly instead of demonstrated. So far this season has set up some tension for her to, I hope, play off later: to Hannah, Jessa is a figure to emulate, but privately Shoshanna dreads being like her. Shoshanna has always done her own thing as a character, and I would have liked to see this tension come out in actions instead of conversations where no one is witnessing this impact on her, this need to uphold a certain image of Jessa versus suffering the realities of being associated with her. A lot of these conversations come out of scenes that serve no other purpose than to put two or three characters on screen so they are there, so the audience does not lose track of them — and this is so disappointing! And I said it last week, hoping it would not apply this week. If Hannah winds up wholly abandoned at the end of the season, I will understand the relentless crowding, but I am not up for placing any bets on how this season will resolve itself. I do not like to anticipate how a story will end, and I am still more interested in being taken someplace than calling out where it had better head. But I am bummed out feeling like there better be payoff, instead of feeling a swell of satisfaction and excitement at the end of each episode.

This feeling derives, I want to specify, pretty solely from scenes that have nothing to do with Hannah, whose character really got back to form in this episode — this episode that I found to be the best of the season so far, besides episode twenty-one. That is, the relationship between where Hannah is now versus where she started out two year ago is made explicit in as engaging a way as that first season.

Hannah manages to extricate another potential publisher from her former publisher's grieving widow, and this accomplishment empowers Hannah to try her hand at professional problem solving. She assigns herself the role of Dr. Phil and mediates Adam and Caroline, who are still at each others' throats for the third straight episode. Hannah starts out by demanding both Adam and Caroline tell her they love her, which was great. Hannah's list of inflammatory words and Adam's delivery of his one-sentence appraisal of Caroline got the biggest laugh out of me in many episodes. There are so many small things to address as this show gets increasingly fractured, but I am fully absorbed in the illustration of Hannah's character this season, especially with her monologue from "One Man's Trash" in mind.

Jessa non sequitors, "This is a space cigarette invented by Stephen Dorff" in another glorified interstitial wherein she seeks "something with a touch of innocence." And so she and her criminal record apply to work at a children's outfitter. And then the scene ends. The only thing I'm omitting is that this dialogue is spoken to Shoshanna, who only functions as the receptacle of Jessa's musings. One of the things about Girls' pilot that moved me to respond to it was the way scenes played out beyond their expected punchlines to reveal a greater depth, such as in the first scene with Hannah and her parents and the first scene with Hannah and Adam in Adam's apartment (which comes back to haunt this episode). Lately, though, the scenes don't seem like they end — they seem like they get abandoned. Could the deficient attention paid to Jessa, Shoshanna, Marnie, and Ray be a conscious decision, mimicking Hannah's increasingly deficient ability to manage her consideration for others?

Speaking of subverting narrative expectations: Adam and Caroline's therapy would, classically, yield a bunch of revelations about Adam (something Caroline even addressed last week), but although Caroline superficially is nightmare-Adam, she is also the worst of Hannah, all garbled into one. More on this below, but first: Marnie's best friend is now a kitten, and that kitten had better not vanish down a malevolent plot hole because it is so cute I can't believe Marnie left it alone to go do what she does next.

What Marnie does is break up the momentum of a few of Hannah's scenes in order to visit Ray in his new apartment, which was recently Adam's. They immediately reference Adam and Hannah calls back to, as stated, Hannah's visit to Adam in the pilot. Marnie from Ray what Hannah asks from Adam, except where Hannah wants experience — to see what someone can do to her, what she can endure — Marnie, with a "just give it to me," demands Ray lay into her with his sharpest criticism, that he tell her how to be.

Now that the audience knows that Ray's criticisms of others have everything to do with him and their relationship to him — and not much to do with anything else — the expectation that Marnie recognizes this, too, is a reasonable one. I feel like I might be missing the key to this scene, but Ray's dialogue, as he's evolved, has gotten insufferably bad (although I do like his reference to Marnie as a "sympathetic character"), and Marnie's manipulation of their mutual vulnerability strikes me as so blatant. There is nothing riveting about this scene and it winds up right where it would, right where Hannah and Adam always end up, coital on some wood furniture (lots of sex and near-sex on kitchen tables this season).

Hannah's scene with her new (potential?) publishers, though, is worth it all. This is as vital to her character development as the season one job interview. Without the naked failure of that incident, the "what's your brand" discussion is just as alarming, just as humiliating, just as powerful a depiction of what human viewers have on their hands in Hannah. This results in Hannah finding out that her new (potential?) publisher will release her book not as an ebook but as a real book.

Hannah railroads her father's gentle declaration of a cancer scare with the news of her new book deal, which he challenges with the reality of her old contract that ties the rights to her work up for three years. Hannah calls him insane, hangs up on him, and spirals downward. I love that stills of this scene floated around and critics were like "Hannah looks like she's got her shit together this season" and I love that this is a lot of plot, but a lot of plot delivered in the service of Hannah's developing character. The way the information is exchanged and received is just as important to the story as the information itself — the information may or may not be of any consequence, and this scene still helped the story along while being comparatively brief and not a glorified interstitial.

At the episode's end, Hannah's book may or may not happen. When goaded by Caroline to simply produce more of the "wonderful stories" that made up that book in order for there to be a new and unencumbered one, Hannah has an important reaction. Hannah, who puts herself through the rigors in order to get something out of her life (experience) that the can then use (commodify) to compensate herself for the exertion, is offended that all that work would be characterized as "wonderful stories." She puts herself in places and circumstances expressly to have something worth writing about, so in the end, as she says, "my whole life was in that book" — and the extent to which it had become her whole reason for living is made clear when Hannah starts to drink. Why do they have alcohol in their home? Neither she nor Adam drink, but it is there, and she starts. Those were not "wonderful stories," the book represented the only facet of herself Hannah had any fondness for, and how all she has is a vessel of all her worst qualities, Caroline, squawking at her. In this scene, Hannah trades places with the funeralgoer from the first scene, deeply offended by Caroline's inappropriate behavior as she is mourning the loss of her book.

(Also, Caroline says about Adam: "When the great see-saw of life throws your cunt in a sandbox, he's a ghost." OMG)

Hannah winds up on the couch, in the dark, surrounded by empty bottles.