Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 10: "Role-Play" - A woman with a baby's body.

In response to my reading of last week's Girls installment, Gina Abelkop made the excellent point that just because Hannah was a sexual child does not make the character a monster. My wording of that statement pertains to the cumulative effect of what Gina perfectly terms "the monstering of Hannah," which has taken place over the course of the season in a big way. My distaste for that narrative move is because it was not in the service of exploring that children do this and it's part of childhood, but as another piece of evidence that Hannah is a destructive force. To clarify, because it is the practice of watching the show in order to feed the desire to judge the decisions of and be disgusted by the titulars, of watching the show to see a group of girls paying for their stupidity by not heeding the lessons adults and men and life try to teach them, that's what I'm against, and that's why I write about Girls.

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty, "Role-Play"

Hannah did not used to drink, but she does now, and that change — her exploits notwithstanding — seem to be positive, fueled by her desire to relinquish her hangups and have fun. She recaptures the potential for fun bogged down in "Beach House" by cavorting with her work friends at a bar. After the brief montage, in which the audience get a great look at how minuscule a person Lena Dunham is, her coworker Joe continues hosing off her underwear-clad carcass and gives her space to crash in his suspiciously lovely apartment. This series of moments does not exist to suggest there is anything mounting between Hannah and Joe, and doesn't offer any clues into Joe's character — its purpose has a lot more traction and relevance to Hannah.

Too drunk to go home, Hannah spends the night at Joe's and comes home the next morning in her dress that looks like a long pajama, majorly disheveled, extremely upset to have worried Adam, the Adam who, last week, didn't want her to go away for a night. Adam, looking extra-strapping and in costume, which he has to break-in for the show, is totally unphased by her absence. Hannah mentions that she was with a boy from work, but Adam is totally at peace with the world, totally absorbed in his work on Major Barbara. Hannah tries to seduce him away from his work, but Adam doesn't want to have sex prior to rehearsal. Here Adam returns to a great old Adam thing last glimpsed, if I remember correctly, in this season's first episode, which is infantalizing Hannah when she calls him out. She didn't plan on making it complicated, she says, referring to the sex he doesn't want to have, and he laughs it off. This is vintage Adam, which is important to keep in mind.

In between these scenes, Marnie has a series of encounters. She meets up with Soo Jin, who is living Marnie's dream of being in a relationship, making music, running her new gallery — and Soo Jin wants Marnie in on all of it, but as an assistant, an apprentice towards this life that Soo Jin seems to have been able to seize with money and familial support. Marnie seems to have both these things, too, which, I believe, probably leaves her with the feeling that for all her privilege, there is something about her that is keeping her from doing what she wants to do.

Marnie explores this internal flaw when she meets up with Desi, who takes her journal and makes up little song pieces with her from what she's done. Desi berates her, in his suave-Ray act, about her tendency to diminish her work. He tells Marnie she's a writer, and what a thing to hear. She sees Soo Jin living the dream that belonged to her, and a man she's so taken with tells her she has something of Hannah in her, after Marnie has done so much to control and compartmentalize the Hannah element in her life. In an echo of Hannah and Adam's scene, Desi brings up his girlfriend the way Hannah brings up her male friend from work: just setting the scene, letting you know these threats exist.

Jessa is also with a man — Withnail has been crashing with her and Shoshanna for days untold, and he and Jessa are piled onto each other, babbling, more physical with one another than they were when Jessa was even soberish. Zosia Mamet plays a frayed Shoshanna so well, and I wish the whole scene could have been quieter, especially once Withnail leaves to see a man about a horse. Jessa has no regard for Shoshanna at all and keeps right on yammering as Withnail leaves.

Hannah abortively tries to visit Adam at rehearsal and walks, devastated, by a large advertisement featuring Adam prominently — way more professional recognition on a public and visual level than she has attained so far, and she did have a reasonable expectation at the beginning of the season that she was on her way to attaining some kind of professional validation on at least a comparable scale. This is a rough place to go, though, so instead of excavating her feelings about her book — it's pretty crucial that audiences haven't heard about Hannah's book in several episodes — Hannah power clashes with Elijah and opines the death of sex in her relationship. "He's one of the best people I've ever known," she says of Adam. Elijah encourages her to take some action, which, of course, involves Marnie's apartment and complicated underwear, but before getting into that: Adam is one of the best people Hannah's ever known? Where to look for evidence of what Hannah means by this: when Hannah told Marnie in season one that she hates everyone who loves her, when she told her father in season two how she hates his look of concern, when she extolled to Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna in "Beach House" how Adam expects nothing of her, so she gives him everything. Adam does not approach Hannah with corrective impulses, and even though his acceptance of her is fueled — at least in part — by a conscious obliviousness to who she really is, it at least gives her the ability to be who she is alongside someone who isn't dedicated to correcting her or teaching her lessons. I haven't forgotten about what Adam told his AA group, though, which is that being around Hannah involves "teaching her everything" — I think it's this gap that poses, and has posed, the greatest danger to them as a unit. As this episode demonstrates, Adam is moving on as a person, Hannah has "an old idea" of who he is, because professional validation has alerted him he can't just be old Adam and get by anymore. This is an accusation: Hannah's inability to abandon old Hannah, Adam's insinuating, is the reason her professional validation has disintegrated. Alyssa Rosenberg at Vulture nailed down exactly why this, from Adam, is bullshit:
Hannah may be a more difficult person than Adam is, less able to detach her body from the whirling clockwork of her brain. But that’s not exactly, or at least not entirely, the reason her road to the same sort of artistic independence that Adam’s achieved so easily is proving harder than his is. What people want from Adam, for him to be handsome, and dark, and a little weird and a lot intense, costs him very little. But what the professional world wants from Hannah, for her to repurpose her entire life into a monetizable story, and to do it before she gets old enough for her antics to be pathetic and unmarketable, costs quite a lot.
Before it all comes crashing down around Hannah, though, and Adam leaves her to stay with Ray, Hannah Hitchcocks him in an attempt to recapture their season one sex life where Adam fantasized that Hannah was "an orphan with a disease," among other things.

I liked the way Marnie's b-plot figured into this episode, but Jessa's was rushed. Shoshanna calls an intervention, dropping a bomb on Jessa and Withnail by inviting them and Withnail's daughter, Dot, to dinner. Much of what comes out of Dot's mouth and the conversation she has with her father resembles so closely exchanges Jessa has had with her own father, which is detectable even though the audience has seen Jessa interact minimally with her father. "You can't imagine how beautiful he can be; he'll never show you," Dot says of Withnail. I would have liked to have seen more lingering on what a destructive move this was for Jessa, but the focus is anchored on Dot, who has a skin condition, and Shoshanna, who watches Dot and Withnail like she watches daytime television. The purpose of the scene — how much Dot's situation mirrors Jessa's and how Dot, achieving and successful, represents everything Shoshanna wants to be in spite of her family. That's a lot on one scene full of amazing actors, and it could have been a major part of its own episode, the way Jessa's eruption at Thomas John was last season.

I wonder how strong a meta-element is this recurrent tension about making "progress" in a show that has not even an old idea of what it is, but a regressive one. That sounds even harsher than I mean it to, because regression has its purpose, and taking stock of one's foundation's adequacy can be vital to progress that looks the way it's expected to.


  1. this season has been both messy and also hasn't seemed to move the characters much of anywhere new...though i know people do not actually "transform" all the time in real life, it feels likes stasis, not a tip to reality. anyhow, i still watch it and enjoy it sometimes and as always love reading yr reviews <3 xox gina

    1. I'm so so glad, I can't overstate it, that you enjoy my reviews! And uuugh you're right; I'm just trying to occupy myself as this season winds down, trying to have some fun with this weird and sharp decline/misuse of almost every resource the show has at its disposal.