Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 12: "Two Plane Rides" - MFA vs. NYC

This episode was literally MFA vs. NYC. If it hadn't been, the title of the entry would have been "break all your legs."

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Two, "Two Plane Rides"

I. Hannah

When Hannah asks the people in her life if she should or should not do something, she is not really weighing their opinion against her intuition — she wants to see where their priorities are, what they think about her, and what action might elicit the biggest reaction.

This episode, season three's finale, starts out with Hannah receiving some news (it doesn't really, but I'll come back to that*) that she finds positive. The audience doesn't find out what it is right away. At first, I was skeptical that it could be good news for her — my first impulse was to wonder whether or not it might be bad news for Adam, something reigning him in, or something bad about Ray. Or bad about the publishing company that had tied up the rights to her book.

But the triumphant fist pumps that the title fades out from are for something good for Hannah, and the audience finds out when Hannah tells Marnie: she got accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Marnie abdicates Hannah's ability to tell her the news by providing a lengthy disclaimer re: her awfulness. She acknowledges that Hannah is actually erasing the events of "I Saw You," when Hannah walked in on Marnie and Ray, on something she knew Marnie — who lives to fill Hannah with shame — was ashamed of. Hannah doesn't care about that anymore, and her news does have the power to obliterate that and make Marnie listen and acknowledge what a good and massive thing this is for Hannah. That would have been a great way to justify that narrative handicap from which this season has suffered so much: there are events in real life that just blow up whatever one thought was one's primary focus or biggest anxiety.

Hannah ends her announcement with the disclaimer: she doesn't know if she's going to go. The scene smashes to an end on Marnie saying of course you should go, but if anyone has any personal investment in Hannah's decision making, this is the worst place to find one's self in. Hannah exists in an ambient space of shame and personal frustration and she would rather have fun than worry about whether or not that shame and frustration might be magnified due to others' reactions. She would rather pursue adventure than what may necessarily impress or appease the people close to her. It looks like she doesn't know what's good for her, but Hannah is aware that what's good for her is what challenges her, even if that challenge seems unreasonable, avoidable, and nothing but humiliating.

Lena Dunham leaves no doubt in viewers' minds the extent to which Hannah is proud of what she's done. It seems strange to think of growth on her character's part as, instead of pursuing a challenge in spite of what the people in her life think, doing — and, importantly, agreeing with — what those people think is the move she should make.

I was disappointed when I heard that it was the Iowa Writers' Workshop Hannah applied and got into (this was not, plot-wise, entirely out of nowhere: Hannah told Shoshanna in "Truth or Dare" that she applies to grad school every year) but then considered that it is the stock MFA program, just like New York is the stock creative city. And then I felt absurd because I just finished before the episode came on MFA vs. NYC. It is an exciting prospect (for me) to consider that Girls could turn out to be about the unsustainable pursuit of making one's self into a writer by means of these affiliations.

But the episode doesn't exactly make any promises. I'd like to hinge it all on Dunham's acting, on Hannah's dogged elation. Despite what a tough episode this is for Hannah, she begins and ends it with the ability to find joy in the fruits of her work. I want to look forward to a season with Hannah in school, but — considering how much erasing and backtracking the show's been prone to — I'm not committing to that hope.

Also, the unspoken element of Hannah's Iowa acceptance that I found most interesting: Hannah has worked up some traction exploiting her openness, her willingness, her ability to be a "sweatshop factory for puns," and this is the first indication that she did not give up on the kind of writing her late editor encouraged her to abandon. In all likelihood, the work she submitted to Iowa — which I hope (I hoopoe) the audience hears about next season — is not only the work that was inspired by her friendship with Marnie, it's probably so good that Hannah may bristle against it when she is isolated in the midwest, where she may be confronted with the dissolution of that relationship and her inability to rebuild it. This is my wish.

But, back to the episode: Hannah's parents are ecstatic for Hannah, Marnie is ecstatic for Hannah, and it's Adam's opening night. She forces her way backstage to wish Adam well in his dressing room and deliver her news. Because he's thrived, she says, she wants to thrive. It is a moment with so much vulnerability. This episode had a lot in common with "She Did," and this scene reminded me of when Hannah danced for Adam and he pulled her into him and told her to be careful: this as the inverse of that. Adam tells Hannah after the show that she sabotaged him, he ruined his performance (an imperceptible phenomenon to the audience, Hannah and Broadway-devotee Elijah among them), and he screams at her about why nothing can be "easy" with her. I wish there had been an "I'm the most scared" response from Hannah, but she just leaves Adam alone. He doesn't get struck by a car: instead, Adam gets a kiss from a cast mate. He cannot leverage any guilt over Hannah this time. She leaves the show to hold the acceptance letter in her hand and smile to herself.

II. Marnie

Marnie's plot line has embraced the fact that her professional pursuits are just a red herring. Her story wraps this season with her breathlessly sharing with Hannah, Elijah, and everyone who'll listen, "Desi kissed the shit out of me." Marnie going around finding people to share this with is a nod to how she's the same Marnie as she was in season one, when she worked her way through a party in "Welcome to Bushwick, a.k.a. the Crackcident," venting to anyone who'd listen about how Charlie got over her so fast and how she's an "ideal." As foretold by Elijah, this doesn't work out well for Marnie — Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, is in attendance at the "Major Barbara" premiere and, whether or not she is aware that Desi and Marnie kissed, she is aware of Marnie's MO and calls her on it.

So her failure to snare Desi is made explicit, but what shows up in fainter relief are the facts of where this season leaves Hannah and Marnie: they are united in their understanding that Hannah going to Iowa is a great thing. But where Hannah has that going for her, that means to advance professionally, that sign of having achieved at writing, that well-branded bit of writerly success, that thing she knows she could be doing for a few years and therefore some security about being able to answer "what are you doing these days?"-esque questions in a dignified way — Marnie doesn't have any of that. She's stalled in her career development, she's sexually involved with someone she doesn't respect. To wit: the way Marnie explained to Ray in "Incidentals" how she wouldn't eat pizza around him if she cared what he thought of him smacks of Hannah explaining in "Beach House" how she feels free to lavish all her feelings on Adam because he isn't really paying attention to who she is and how she behaves. Marnie's relationship to being judged isn't exactly like Hannah's — Marnie needs to have someone to impress and whose standards she can succeed to. But this forthcoming season may see Marnie turning more and more into Hannah. She's already been embroiled in circumstances more closely related to Hannah's for the past two seasons, but after Desi expressing how Marnie may be a writer (I would love to hear Marnie give a reading of her personal essays), this may be the dawn of her trying to exploit a more Hannah-esque approach to her travails.

III. Jessa

In all too brief moments, this episode provides glimpses (not glorified interstitials!), starring Louise Lasser, of what should have been Jessa's season three arc. Set up Withnail at the beginning, have him disappoint her with the action with Dot from "Role-Play" taking place during the first half of the season. The stuff about her allegedly deceased friend Season could have been excised completely. In criminally few scenes in this single episode, Jessa demonstrates that Louise Lasser's character, BD, has earned some respect from her, that she likes her, and that she wants Jessa to help her die. That's such a worthwhile dilemma! That the story spends no time on! For as rivetingly as it plays out over the episode, I was so irritated that this didn't occupy a greater part of season three when it seemed like the writers spent so much time perplexed over what to do with Jessa! This made me furious!

IV. Shoshanna

Same deal with Shoshanna, whose character did at least get the satisfaction of mauling Marnie. Marnie chooses exactly the wrong time to come clean to Shoshanna about her relationship with Ray. It struck me that Marnie doesn't tell Shoshanna, when she says she's slept with Ray several times, that she doesn't specify that it's a very recent thing. I think she purposefully provokes Shoshanna by not specifying that their involvement is recent and did not include when Ray was with Shoshanna. Marnie could not know how provokable Shoshanna is in that moment, though. Shosh discovers that, during her distraction-packed final semester — getting taken on stressful road trips and beach getaways, being dragged into Jessa's myriad miseries — she failed an incidental class and does not have the credits to graduate on time. The writers at least attempted to establish Shoshanna's plight from the start of the season, but for as great as her arc lands on this finale, her role this season was so anemic.

V. Miscellaneous

Adam could leave the show now and I'd be happy.

Ray's explanation to Shoshanna about how they've outgrown each other is as boring as his explanation to her about why they can't be friends.

Elijah is responsible for the funniest scene this season and probably in the show so far, which comes at the end of this episode. It's all worth it for that. I'm not exaggerating.

* - I never did come back to it. Adam's sister, Caroline, resurfaces and facilitates a scene that causes Hannah to consider the shelf life of her fertility. The scene is exactly as long as it should be.

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