Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I can do what they alluded to.

I keep to-do lists for everything, and an innumerable number of those lists feature "learn InDesign." I finally learned InDesign this year — and I learned I love using it.

In preparation of moving on to a new day planner, I read through this year's and found a summer entry about how many times I've applied to the VIDA Count. This year, I made it onto a team. With the privilege comes the attendant sympathy for everyone else who has had to tangle with the Times Literary Supplement.

In November, I went to BinderCon with Becky Jones. It was revelatory again, I bought Svetlana Alexievitch's Voices from Chernobyl — and got exactly what I deserved for doing so: not a quiet moment in my head the whole trip — as well as Eve's Hollywood and Therese and Isabelle. I kept my crying pretty focused on the keynotes. I'm going to parse the individual, spectacular aspects of the conference, out of which Becky and I made a weekend vacation. So many excellent things happened.

Briefly: I finally got to meet some of the beautiful people that power Catapult (and visit the equally beautiful Rizzoli Bookstore across the street) and, along with Becky, had a perfect lunch with Megha Majumdar and Natalie Degraffinried. Becky and I also went to The New York Times where the very courteous Tom Jolly showed us the layout of the newsroom and I had another occasion to lose my mind about Toiletpaper's Sunday Magazine cover for the "Lost Foods" issue, which was one of my favorite things that happened this year — besides everything that happened on this trip.

I am grateful to have spent that time with Becky, since she ought to be living in Sweden by this time next year. As excited as I am to hear the glories of Scandinavian living (preferably in real-time), I'll miss her.

After the conference, I finally rallied and got two pieces published, a review of Juliet Jacques' Trans for Full Stop and an essay on book spines for Literary Hub. I'm wildly proud of myself for doing the work, writing the pitches, and getting two acceptances so expediently after not pitching new work for quite a while. I was overrun, I have been since 2014. I'm getting over all that.

Getting involved with Entropy, which has been a dream, was the result of wanting to write without pitching, with no concern for hooks or clicks, just to exercise my critical faculties. It has been restorative. I'm working on several new essays. The last one I published was on trying to look at Mad Men in a way that is so final I can feel like I can leave it behind. Which is empowering for the short while it lasts, before I watch it again. It was a pleasure to consider how Peggy's approach to advertising turned Don inside-out over time and to feature two illustrations by my Kara.

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on


Now that I am on the other side of a long copyediting fugue which found me wrestling for two weeks with the phrase "fairy tale wedding" (or is it "fairy-tale wedding"?) I am trying to give myself a small, real break with these Catapult manuscripts. And Matt Zoller Seitz's Mad Men Carousel. And some of my own writing. And some other developments I'm excited to announce soon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

If you need it abandoned leave it with me.

Last week, I had one of the worst times I've had since 2012. My life got a little ruined that year and I am pleased to report remains the benchmark for my bad times — last week did not top it, just took me back there, and I am still trying to get rid of the lingering effects.


But on Friday, I had to work a split shift, and in between I had three hours to myself. I turned on Black Orpheus. I made plum tea. I checked the mail and Niina Pollari's Dead Horse (from which this post's title is derived) had arrived at last. I lied down on the couch, opened Dead Horse, and started to read it aloud. By the second poem, it was storming outside. I stayed in that position, reading Dead Horse out loud, drinking plum tea, and listening to Black Orpheus while the storm ensued. As soon as I finished reading, I finished my tea, Black Orpheus was over, and the storm ended, all at once.

That felt incredible. I'm going to remember that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Get these chrysanthemums out of the building.

Hoarding books does not make me feel incredible but having the perfect book waiting for the perfect time, especially when that time is not great otherwise — that is incredible. I came into most of Dodie Bellamy's books by-accident-on-purpose, mostly finding them where I did not expect them. I had a good time with Cunt Norton (right? What else is going to happen under those circumstances?) but the buddhist. I could not be happier in that I am not, mood-wise, where I would like to be at all, literature-related-happiness notwithstanding, and this book is completely there for me. I keep thinking about it, even after the Letters of Mina Harker and the TV Sutras. I LOVE the TV Sutras. I am hoping Academonia runs into me soon.

Also finally tackled: Paul B. Preciado's Testo Junkie. I started reading it last year and had to strain to recognize what Preciado was describing when it came to pharmacopornographic capitalism, now I do not have to try — reading it was one harsh, fluid stream of yes, yes, yes that all came out like a horrified no, no, no. I loved it, and I love now being lulled into this vulnerable place by Intimacy (ed. Lauren Berlant).
One curious feature of U.S. popular psychology is that it seems predicated upon the conviction that there are no good grounds for low self-esteem. 
- Candace Vogler, "Sex and Talk" from Intimacy
I ordered Eileen Myles' Chelsea Girls, Dodie Bellamy's When the Sick Rule the Worldthe two new Dorothy releases, Joanna Walsh's Vertigo and Marianne Fritz's the Weight of Things, and Niina Pollari's Dead Horse (finally — I kept expecting to find it someplace and never did). I was prepared to defer bulk-book-buying until BinderCon but no, my life is ridiculous.

Also ordered: Juliet Jacques' Trans, which has already arrived (and is the Joanna Walsh responsible for Vertigo responsible for this ravishing cover?! I'M OBSESSED) —

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on

But it's symphony season again and the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra's first concert was phenomenal, especially their performance of Ernest Chausson's Symphony in B-flat, which I would love to hear live again as soon as possible.

And as a Contributing Editor at Entropy, I will be writing about innovation and representation on television, starting with my bid for how Twin Peaks ought to belong to Donna Hayward:
Laura the person was treated like the real mystery to solve, at least inextricable from the murder case if not, occasionally, overriding it. As the person who was genuinely the closest to Laura Palmer, the narrative builds no suspense around Donna. She is not a mystery because she was what Laura was supposed to be. 
My dearest Kara is illustrating my Entropy posts, so if you do anything, drink those drawings in.

A photo posted by Kari Larsen (@coldrubies) on

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lights, camera, acción.

Between Clarice Lispector's Complete Stories and Lana Del Rey's "High by the Beach," I sort of had a summer. All I want to do is watch the "High by the Beach" video. But I've managed to do other things.


But its magnetism has not kept me from my mission to read all the books I've been hoarding. Finished: Patricia Lockwood's Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, Dodie Bellamy's Barf Manifesto and Viola di Grado's 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool. Falling into the unhinged maw of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black made for the kind of afternoon I which was open to me more regularly, long and yawning and dedicated to just one thing. I've been reading essay submissions and if anything ever came close to Barf Manifesto you would hear me screaming from wherever I am. I hazard to guess but 70% Acrylic 30% Wool might have been the first occasion I ended a book gutturally mumbling "what the fuck" (going to pick up Hollow Heart, but with caution).

Everything I have accomplished in the last week has been a Herculean achievement since I saw Best of Enemies in Philadelphia and have since wanted to stop everything and finish Gore Vidal's Palimpsest. My favorite vignette is his discovery of a teacher's notes on his behavior: "I wish I were a bull so I could gore Vidal."

On the same visit to Philadelphia, I found Talk, the only NYRB edition of Tove Jansson's I did not own (True Deceiver), Elizabeth Taylor's A View of the Harbor and — unexpectedly, joyously — Fleur Jaeggy's Last Vanities, which I had long hoped to run into in the wild. Talk rocked. Now Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen is making me regret all my commitments. Except for Story of the Lost Child, to which I dedicated the long weekend. The allure of Elena Ferrante is tidal.

I finished the Neapolitan Novels. Last year, I thought I would bide my time for Story of the Lost Child's release by reading her standalone works, not realizing that by being a quarter of the size of her Neapolitan Novels, they would contain a concentrated dose of that same intensity. Troubling Love pulverized me. So I am saving the Lost Daughter and Days of Abandonment for special occasions.

Somewhere amidst these activities, I also finished Vidal's The City and the Pillar — which I would have loved when I was in high school and am sorry I spent so many years confusing Gore Vidal and Oliver Stone — and started doing yoga. I intended to start three years ago. Like The City and the Pillar, I am disappointed in myself for waiting so long. Also, Moshfegh's McGlue was a surprisingly perfect companion read that I could have done well, also, to read, like, years ago — years before it was published. It is, however, a counterintuitive companion to yoga, since I interrupted my routine to finish it.

I like to think of myself as adept at prioritizing things I enjoy and pretty much utterly lack grace when confronting maladaptive habits. When my ability to handle stress goes haywire, I am loath to accept any very commercial methods of coping. But something is off, my productivity is derailed, and instead of flogging myself about it, I've been trying what I can to revive whatever synapse has retired. I now have a tin of solid perfume (just beeswax, coconut oil, and the scent in question) the scene of which I consult occasionally throughout the day. I don't think I look really crazy, but I embrace the bias that informs that opinion. It's mimosa-scented — the flower — which, along with a few cherry blossom-scented candles, is really doing something for me.

Which is a relief, because I've got a lot of work to do. Rebecca Jones (digital producer, my favorite coworker, high-ranking Swede in the Scandinavia of my heart) and I are going to BinderCon in November. I'm on the VIDA Count team (although I don't know which count I'll be involved with yet). Catapult's launch is upon us (NEXT MONDAY). I have a book to finish.

By "finished" I mean edited legibly, serving the purpose it needs to serve, and with a formatted bibliography and index. The only words I need to add are in the introduction, where I look at the media that anticipated Girls and white feminist fatigue. For this I've had to re-watch Sex and the City. That task has made for a punishing couple of months — the show really turned against itself at one point. Maybe that was necessary. I have a lot to contemplate there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The crazed vivisectionist of his destiny.

...she was the crazed vivisectionist of his destiny. It is hard to imagine today how potent and overwhelming the experience of sex must have been in those early decades of the twentieth century, when orgasm seemed an experience like the discovery of radium. 
- Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians
A few goals:

In order to finish the introduction to my Girls book by October, it is necessary that I watch Sex and the City in its entirety. I am halfway through it for the first time since it premiered. The way the men blur together, the dialogue — significantly more explicit than the sex scenes — maybe the first appearance of weird Matthew McConaughey (my frame of reference here is not iron clad; if we have enjoyed at least fifteen years of weird McConaughey, that is valid), plus Sex and the City's innovations were television's to ignore/take and claim belong to other shows that came along in its wake, and it still feels fresh for that while simultaneously feeling repellently and fascinatingly retrograde for its approach to gender and queer sexuality and fashion, respectively.

After that escapade is over, I am going to replace powering through seasons of television with something else. I am confident that, except for Mad Men, I will not have a problem addressing or finishing or starting or failing to abandon any of the other innumerable things I have been suspending this year instead of watching television. But putting Mad Men away is the challenge. When I am not doing well, I always go to it, and the frequency with which I feel I need to put aside what I am doing to watch Mad Men is grim, obnoxious, and ultimately counterintuitive. Instead of distracting me from unwellness, the extremely familiar sequences now have this eternal-recurrence-esque uncanniness.

And besides writing, I am going to avail myself of the convenient storage solution in my apartment and approach my unread books shelf by shelf. The shelves are small (and legion) and hold between ten and twenty books, so instead of the Sisyphean task of considering all my unread books as one whole obstacle, I can go one shelf at a time.

First:


Have read: Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood; Heroines, both copies of Green Girl, and Fallen Angel by Kate Zambreno; the Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment by Kate Durbin; Inferno by Eileen Myles; Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks; the Argonauts by Maggie Nelson; Two Whole Cakes by Lesley Kinzel; Pity the Animal by Chelsea Hodson (resting on top)

To read: Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood; 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool by Viola di Grado; Essential Acker, Empire of the Senseless, and Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker; The TV Sutras, Cunt Norton, the Buddhist, the Letters of Mina Harker, and Barf Manifesto (resting on top) by Dodie Bellamy

The "to read" column includes and will include henceforth books I read in high school — Essential Acker, for instance, made an impression on me, but I did not understand it — books that I cannot remember reading, and books I have not read yet because I am still recovering from Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels and a months-long fugue I fell into with Poets in their Youth. I need to restore recreational reading as a priority. Especially the reading of The Story of the Lost Child.
Pulling on his pipe, [Hermann Broch] might talk in a very preoccupied way about "twilight consciousness," or be very down-to-earth about a New Yorker cartoon. 
- Eileen Simpson, Poets in their Youth
The history of the Olympia Press I found this weekend definitely will not sabotage this plan in any way (although Girodias was so miserable to Valerie Solanas and the book does not seem to address it, so). Also, on the subject of reading, I am reading submissions for Catapult (and have been since December, but time is either a rubber band or a flat circle depending on your HBO original programming preferences), and by doing so am successfully recouping some of that time I do not want to mismanage. I would rather be reading manuscripts than almost anything else.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image by the numbers

Pieces of paper with valuable insights into the development of Mad Men's story: many — thirty, maybe? Fifty? The contents of the first chamber should be a book. I would read a book of notes on the development of Mad Men with unexplored plot lines, mood-boards of scenarios and half-scenes, and as much of Horseshoe* as there is in existence. But I knew I would read a book of those things. I would also continue to pay money to read those notes tacked on a wall in a very thin hallway.

Potential trolling via Easter egg: at least once. At least. My datemate saw in the recreation of the writers' room library a copy of The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, or "the good book" according to Jon Hamm's Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's better imagined as part of a conspiracy.

Instances of crying that surprised even myself, inveterate public crier: two. Over things I would not have expected: the sight of the "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" letter and the golden age Draper kitchen. I love Mad Men but I figured walking through this exhibit would err on the side of delightful, not devastating. So eight years of Mad Men taught me absolutely nothing.

Instances where an absence of public crying on the part of myself inspired me to stop and wonder if I have any shred of humanity left: two. I did not lose it in Don's Time Life office. I was absorbed in it and wanted everything and so was overcome with a compulsion to make note of all its details like I was not going to go watch Mad Men again and have, really, much greater access to those details in a comparatively more private space. Also, the Chip 'n Dip was there. It does command attention.

Cameos by Scout: one.

Attempts by other museum-goers to skirt the "no photos" policy: innumerable. Their collective force succeeded in transforming me into Veep's Amy Brookheimer.

* - The Dick Whitman character was originally named Peter, and my life is now divided into the times before and after I realized the line about how "he was named after a wish his mother should've lived to see" still worked.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The ad was making me sick.

I was ready think about something else other than the Mad Men finale when I watched Matthew Weiner's decompression at the New York Public Library (with AM Homes! The circumstances of that talk fulfilled my high school dreams and my young professional dreams all at once).
I did hear rumblings of people talking about the ad being corny, and it's a little bit disturbing to me....The people who find that ad corny are probably experiencing a lot of life that way and they’re missing out on something. Because five years [before that commercial ran], black people and white people couldn't even be in an ad together, and the idea that some enlightened state and not just co-option might have created something that is very pure — and yeah, there's soda in there with good feeling — but that ad, to me, it's the best ad ever made....I felt that that ad in particular was so much of its time. So beautiful, and I don’t think as...villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.
That is such a slap in the face!

Mad Men forfeited the ability to make race an organic component to the finale. It gave up on Dawn, it gave up on Shirley. It is not a reach to read a vision of utopian racial harmony concluding a story that lost interest in exploring racial tension in any degree as cynical.

"Utopian" is an important Mad Men concept. I do like the idea as Don plunging from one utopia — the domestic one of the fifties — into another — the peace-and-love one of the sixties — that the coming decade will inevitably shatter as he contributes to the excavation and exploitation of it, making the seventies a rehash of what Don spent the sixties doing.

The commercial is "not just co-option" but is also enlightenment, but why did Don have to reach enlightenment? Because he desired. And advertising is desire. Enlightenment can't begin with "I want," which is exactly how Don's revelation starts. Discovering what he wants makes sense for Don, coming to terms with the fact that making advertisements is the least harmful thing Don can do for his loved ones and the people of the world makes sense—poignant, awful, sad sense considering that he found out Betty has lung cancer from the cigarettes he used to advertise. So somewhere in the future there's a page in the New York Times titled "Why I'm Quitting Sugar by Donald Draper."

I am okay with eternal return. That is not the part that wounds me as a viewer. But the ending of Mad Men was not part of the story of Mad Men. The show did not earn that ad — it is too famous — and even if it had, it is a real ad for a real product that of course did not need money for its use in "Person to Person." It's an ad. It made the company money. I agree with Emily Nussbaum:



Co-option, continued: The presence of the ad is double co-option: it is co-option within the narrative of Don's experience at the retreat, and it is co-option of the narrative, of the story and experience by the viewer of Mad Men, to sell something. Because there is nothing of that ad that does not exist in the service of selling its product. And that is what Don is, too. Weiner did acknowledge that in his talk when he addressed Don's love of seducing strangers who, as soon as they familiarize themselves with him, he ditches, repulsed. It is valid, in my opinion, to leave on the note that Don has nothing more to offer, no better a love note to write, than an ad.

But I never watched Mad Men expecting Don to grow. I watched Mad Men expecting Don to be discarded, for Pete and Peggy to realize the Don-model was worthless to them, for it to be revealed that the anxieties he was exploiting in his work were missing a nuance. That is what I thought they were driving at effectively with the constant invocation at the end of the way people "come and go as they please," the epiphany Ginsberg had about Megan that led him to the Jaguar tag, a tag that exploited Don's anxiety about the way people are not products. His commodification of harmony and togetherness and products as "the real thing" severs him once and for all from his family and his coworkers, who are all shown to be off in their own, enjoying actual real things (which, for all of them, is some variation of work/life balance — except for Sally, who is still tied to the Betty model that life is work, "you're painting a masterpiece," etc.).

I think of Don less as a character and more of the thing that happened to all of the other characters on Mad Men. I was hoping Don would be come, as Dear Television put it, "decentered," and season five — with Ginsberg's Jaguar tag that played on Don's anxieties the way it did — beautifully set the show up for that after season four gave Don every opportunity to forge a new paradigm. He chose not to, and Ginsberg figured out why. Season six did not entirely swerve off this trajectory — both Pete and Peggy had to confront the extent to which trying to be Don was failing them (Pete lost his family, Peggy kind of lost her grip on her career trajectory when her staff started to revolt) — but it did get mired deep in stories that stalled (Don vs. Ted, which was the most promising of all the Don-centered season six stories) or dragged on without a climax (Don's stories with both Megan and Sylvia).

Joyce Carol Oates identified the trouble and appeal in decentering Don:





If Don Draper is an advertisement, Mad Men could not transcend him unless Peggy or Pete — preferably Peggy and Pete — took over as protagonist/s, particularly after their attempts to follow Don's example broke down so hard for them in season six. The strongest themes that recur in the finale are from season one, which is understandable, and season five, which made season six seem all the more an exhausting exercise. Because season six was about the extent to which the Don-model was supremely failing Don himself. All this, only to end on Don embracing the product that he is.

But, then, what product works? Is this a criticism of the cathartic potential of art? Was "Person to Person," again, Mad Men's attempt to kick you out of the TV and into bed? Were you supposed to turn off the TV as soon as that song crept in at the end? Was your half of the bargain already over?

It was villainous, but it does give the viewer the ultimate opportunity to reject Don Draper, and maybe that is how Mad Men had to end: something that provokes the viewer to move on the same way Peggy and Pete did.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

If I had my way, you would never advertise.

Mad Men jumped off the cliff.

In "Lost Horizon," I believe it came to pass that Peggy's Belle Jolie pitch was the most important one made on the show.

"The Milk and Honey Route" reminded viewers that whatever, death imagery — cigarettes killed Don Draper a long time ago.

And beauty was still the easiest thing to sell by the time "Person to Person" depicted the ultimate Mad Men moment when a Hershey bar gave a bottle of Coke a hug.

I keep thinking about lots of things, particularly what it means for Don to share an ad with the audience. Don articulated these concerns about the efficacy of advertising in "The Crash":
I keep thinking about the basic principle of advertising. There's entertainment and you stick the ad in the middle of the entertainment like a little respite. It's a bargain. They're getting the entertainment for free. All they have to do is listen to the message. But what if they don't take the bargain at all? What if they're suddenly bored of the entertainment? What if they don't — what if they turn off the TV?
Was "Person to Person" Mad Men's attempt to do the reverse of what Marie did to Roger? She kicked him out of bed and in front of the TV. "Person to Person" kicks you out of the TV and into bed.

Don warns Stephanie that because she was not raised with Jesus, she does not know what happens when people "really believe" in something. He really believes in advertising because, as Mad Men painstakingly demonstrated over seven seasons, it is the least harmful way he can connect with people and give them something. So his ability to shed friends and family, enter solitude, and find the best way to show his love for them that will not make them cry or leave them emotionally disfigured or exploded — it will just emotionally blackmail them into buying a soft drink.

But does that meta-diminish the connection Don made with Mad Men's audience, by defaulting to the use of an ad to pay them back for following his story? Is that a failure to acknowledge what "a great ad" means within the context of the show? Would this be as much of an issue if it were Peggy whose face filled the screen, knowing as the audience does that it is her one dream to have "a big idea," where for Don that is just what he does?

Mad Men achieved a lot, but did it achieve the ability to show its audience an ad through Don's eyes, divorced from the reality of that ad? That is an especially difficult challenge when the ad in question is a real ad that people have real, separate associations with that is so famous to not even really (arguably) be the subject of nostalgia. I did not exist until sixteen years after that commercial aired. I feel like I was born tired of it.

I think apart from its aptness — it makes sense as an endpoint for Don Draper — it is necessary to question whether or not Mad Men earned it. Was it really so afraid viewers would turn off the TV?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

His big song was "I'm Alright."

Pretending I was not so sick the life was seeping out of me was not the worst way I could have chosen to spend a one-off Saturday alone in New York. At the end of the day, I was so worn out that I could only lie in the pod I arranged to sleep in and play episodes of How Did This Get Made. I stared at pages of Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael biography but did not have it in me to read it, really, just ask myself aloud what was going on inside Kael to inspire her unnatural noise. All of which amounts to what passes for me as relaxation.

I was there to go to the Emily Books party, where I let my insecurity about how close I was to passing out/crumbling into a pile of germs get to me, but what an event that was. I am so grateful to be familiar now with Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop — the opportunity to handle and purchase so many small press titles I've wanted and so many I could not afford on this trip took me right out of my swirling sick vortex.

And the reading lineup was worth all the money in the world. Eileen Myles could have read virtually anything, but I was excited she chose a part from Chelsea Girls since I've been heretofore unable to get a copy and am looking forward to reading it for the first time this fall. Elisa Albert, author of After Birth, read from her journal, and she concluded by vowing never to do that again. It was hilarious and surprising in a way I have never experienced in a reading, so should she hold herself to that, I treasure all the more the opportunity to have heard it. Johanna Fateman read her tweets, which reinforced Emily Gould's introductory note that those not following Fateman are fucking up their lives — every reader at this party was a font of joy to a crazy degree. And I was looking forward to hearing Jami Attenberg read since I have not yet read her work myself, but her choice of material made the whole event so special: Niina Pollari's Dead Horse!

Niina came to the Midtown Scholar in April for a reading organized somewhat by me, mostly by the whirlwind of inspired ideas that is Meghan Lamb, of whom St. Louis will get the benefit when she moves there to attend the Washington University MFA program in the fall. Niina read with a radiant lineup — Carina Finn! Paige Taggart! Margaret Bashaar! Erin Dorney! Melody Johnson! — and hearing Jami Attenberg's takes on them brought a whole other dimension to what a tremendous pleasure it is to hear them read. I loved having Niina's voice back in my head.

I also procured, finally, Carina's Invisible Reveille and Paige's Want for Lion; Ottessa Moshfegh's McGlue, which made me scream "YES" when I found it; the aforementioned Kael biography; The New Fuck You ed. Myles and Liz Kotz; the new biography of the publisher/founder of New Directions; Virginie Despentes' Apocalypse Baby; Bhanu Kapil's Ban en Banlieue; and (finally) the Arcades Project. And I walked two miles with them strapped to my person. It was worth it. I feel better now.

That was my first time in Brooklyn. I told the cab driver that, and that I thought Brooklyn is lovely, and he rebutted, remarking about the blight in the neighborhood we were driving through. Then he asked me where I'm from, and I told him — Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — and he conceded that I know what I'm taking about when I'm talking about the quality of a city's blight and that Brooklyn is lovely.

Also: I ran into Eileen Myles on Houston Street afterwards and she recognized me and I had an elderflower lemonade in my hand and the weather was perfect and this weekend could not have been better (state of my health notwithstanding).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Called out of darkness a new life to begin.

I'm getting ready to go to the Emily Books party. I'm getting over a cold. I wrote about "The Forecast" and "Time & Life," and this weekend, Mad Men gets antepenultimate.

Some things to ponder: What does Joan want? Where is heaven? Who would win in a Sterling Cooper secretary battle royale?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I think he's making Clara nightly.

Just when I thought I had my priorities in order, at work, I was installed on the Mad Men beat. In addition to writing about the episodes as they air — like "Severance" and "New Business" — I am also writing about the motifs that reappear throughout the seasons.

Photo: Dou Hyun/AMC
The characters on Mad Men might drink alcohol to avoid confronting the changing world around them, for instance, but every time the agency takes on a client that sells alcohol, it catalyzes big change in the way they do business (although they frequently respond to that with tantrums that include, among other things, drinking).

Idealistic Peggy and Don both consider Paris a dream place where they can take a proper reprieve from their worlds. This despite the fact that everyone on Mad Men who has been to Paris associates it with some personal disaster — a pivotal lover left Roger there, Sylvia Rosen's son got his draft papers while he was there. Like Carmella Soprano before them, if either of them get there, I bet they will see a ghost.

Don and Roger's changing — or unchanging — attitudes towards women can be charted in their approach to buying fur. And when put that way, it is clear why.

And while Don wants to make people into piles of money so he can escape having to deal with their emotions, Joan — sadly — wants to become a pile of money so she will not have emotions anymore.

Did you notice the story of season one is happening again, quietly, in the periphery of season seven? Actually, a lot of previous seasons are happening simultaneously, but this is the creepiest.

And if Mad Men ended like Twin Peaks, that would not be the worst thing. I mean, even if it ended the way Twin Peaks ended, with a slog through the Red Room, Roger up all night waiting for Don, and evil Don roaming the Earth, I would not resist.

Also: Mad Men is one big ham joke.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I think you have me confused with someone else.

"She's my cousin, but doesn't she look exactly like Laura Palmer?"

What I'm saying is: Mad Men season seven, episode eight, "Severance," is to your cousin what Twin Peaks is to Laura Palmer.


"This is the girl."


"You're going back to Missoula, Montana!"


"Chikadee on a Dodge Dart."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 10: "Home Birth" - Um, yes, I'm familiar with the works of the writer Sheryl Sandberg.

Just after last week had me gasping for air, I wound up all my lingering commitments. And even though this season of Girls is over and I'm going to miss it — I'm looking foreword to next season like I was looking forward to the second after the premiere, that is how much I loved these episodes of Girls — now I'm working on something else that I'm really overjoyed about: I'm covering Mad Men at work for the next seven weeks. Watch it with me!

Girls, Episode Forty-Two, "Home Birth"

Photo: Mark Schafer

"Home Birth" opens and closes with uncharacteristic moments for Girls. First, Hannah plunges out of St. Justine's in a panic, still in turmoil over her father coming out as gay and her mother's inability to handle it. The episode ends with Hannah attempting to reach out to her parents in a vulnerable moment in which she has to face what a wreck they both are, how remote help from them is for now, and how little help she can offer them. The story jumps six months, and Hannah is walking down the street in winter, laughing with and kissing Fran. Fran was there for Hannah when she was running out of St. Justine's, but when she tried to divulge why she was in the state she was in, he offered his support but discouraged her from burdening him with why she was upset.

This is such a compelling place to leave Hannah in as the fourth season of Girls ends! Any time Hannah makes a choice in the service of her own happiness, it is significant, but this one is informed by some of her worst coping mechanisms. Based on what the audience has seen, Fran is patient and funny and unwilling to let Hannah get away with any bullshit. This is a big change from Adam, who has always been oblivious to Hannah and, so, ultimately in no way invested in any bullshit Hannah was into or experiencing. Adam never listened to Hannah even though he professes to, but in his handful of appearances, Fran has told Hannah he will not listen to her.

Throughout season four, there were allusions to patriarchy and misogyny, the oppression, silencing and "bitches be cray" dismissal of women incorporated into episodes in a central, consistent way but, in the end, did not portend anything obvious. But consider the state Hannah is in as of "Home Birth": much like the second season when she started to see her book imploding, Hannah has tried to devote herself to her dream of being a writer by going to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The mortifying and fruitless experience blew holes in some of her most important relationships, and her one great constant, her parents, have their own problems of such a magnitude they cannot be there for Hannah. In fact, they need her to be there for them. That forces Hannah to consider her decisions and how she must set an example for them and be happy. But instead of dedicating herself anew to writing, she enters into a relationship with a guy who has expressed dislike for a real dimension of her personality.

And the latest boost she is riding is from her therapist, who told her she only went to Iowa to please her parents. The subtext of him telling Hannah that her talent is for helping people is that he is giving Hannah permission to excel at something besides writing. She clings to the excuse for all it's worth and she is propelled into season five determined to help with all the force of her shame, defeat, and desire associated with her vocation as a writer.

This is a MAGNIFICENT place to find Hannah next year.

Last year, season three's finale "Two Plane Rides" opened with Hannah learning that Adam's sister, Caroline, was having a baby with Hannah's neighbor-in-recovery, Laird. When Hannah returns from her St. Justine's meltdown in "Home Birth," she hears Caroline's screams from the hallway in their building. She investigates and Laird shows Hannah to the bathtub, where Caroline is shrieking in pain, preparing to self-doula the birthing of her baby.

When Hannah fails to effectively make Laird and Caroline appreciate that their home birth plan is unreasonable ("How can it be crazy?" Laird says. "It's happening."), Adam and Jessa join her. Despite being a part of the season finale, their business at the home birth cite does not contribute to any catharsis with Hannah and is entirely devoted to showing Caroline and Laird how they need to get to the hospital and, in fact, their team effort culminates in them carrying Caroline screaming down the street to the hospital. In fact, rather than unifying them — even though they are all represented in the name of Caroline and Laird's baby girl, Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem Schlesinger-Sackler — the experience splinters Adam, Jessa, and Hannah. It moves Hannah to confront her crisis with her parents, it moves Jessa to both dunk her head underwater to see Caroline's vagina and consider a career talking people down from crisis, and it moves Adam to grope after Hannah's love, taking for granted that she has just been waiting for him to come around after the Mimi-Rose escapade. The scene between Adam and Hannah, who talk over Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem's incubator, is brief and stunning, especially the way Hannah, explaining how relationships end, goes, "What was that? Who was that?" Adam can barely justify what he did with Mimi-Rose and why he is trying to reconnect with Hannah, and she tearfully dismisses him in the way he has dismissed all her attempts to tell him what she needs from him.

A note on Jessa's role in the home birth action: pregnancy and children get Jessa at her most vulnerable. The fact that witnessing what goes into a birth inspires her decision to pursue a career in therapy might mean this was the catharsis she needed to recognize she cannot keep trying to wedge herself into families? But must learn different ways of interacting with people and contributing to their lives? This is early to call, but I want to call it because it's what I want for Jessa.

When Jessa shares the news of her new ambition to Shoshanna, Shoshanna breaks the news that she is relocating to Japan, Frances Ha-style, for a job at a fastidiously-arranged crop of red flags masquerading as a company called Abigail. Her new boss springs the necessity of the move to Shoshanna amid racist jokes and the fact that she must accept the job as soon as possible so they can fire the person currently in the position, who is bipolar. I have had interviews like this, including one where the interviewer expressed his desire to take me on road trips.

Unfortunately, Shoshanna's dispiriting slog through interview wastelands has blinded to the luxurious garden of red flags that Abigail represents, and her attempts to see the offer for what it is — Abigail is taking advantage of her lack of experience and perspective — are derailed by the agendas of those to whom she turns. Hannah would be able to help Shoshanna here, and Jessa could probably detect what a minefield this is, but Shoshanna turns to two men instead: her datemate Scotty the Soup Mogul and, with the intent to see Ray, Ray's partner, Hermie. Scott implores her to turn the offer down and to work for him and live with him because, he says, "I'm going to be in love with you soon." Hermie, with his migraine twerking, advises Shoshanna to heed the words of Sheryl "Lean In" Sandberg. Both Scott and Hermie make their recommendations to Shoshanna based not on the quality of the offer or on Shoshanna's career goals but on the fact that she is a woman. To Scott, she is a woman he is interested in, and to Hermie, she is the woman Ray used to date, about whom Hermie told Ray in the season two finale "Together," "She doesn't want a Latin scholar. She wants somebody who can support her for the rest of her life so she can keep buying purses shaped like different bread products." Viewers haven't seen Hermie since, but it is not a stretch to believe he is encouraging Shoshanna to seize the opportunity just so she can buy her own croissant-shaped clutch purses and leave Ray alone.

Ray, in the meantime, witnesses Marnie and Desi making headway with a record company executive played by Spike Jonze, who looked like he was having a ball in his cameo. After their meeting at Ray's coffee shop, Desi attempts to both settle the bill and settle whatever his relationship is supposed to be with Ray, an interaction that swiftly and perfectly renders Desi as one of those people who unleash emotional blackmail when they detect that someone, somewhere, does not like them. Ray lays into Desi with some vintage season one "I don't even want to hate fuck you, it's that real" Ray business. This scene rhymes pretty spectacularly with the scene I'm referencing from the first season, from "Hard Being Easy," when Marnie stopped by Café Grumpy to ask Ray where she could find Charlie, who was Ray's best friend at the time. Charlie and Marnie were dating, but their relationship had imploded over Marnie's inability to confront how she did not like him or respect him. Ray saw all of it, knew all of it, was a force in bringing it to Charlie's attention, and the sight of Marnie sent Ray into a rage. Just like he tried warning Marnie that she was no good for his best friend, Charlie, here he tries to warn Desi that he is no good for Marnie — and he is not good for Marnie because he is perfectly, freakishly, exactly like Marnie. And because they are so alike, and Ray does see that, he guarantees Desi that he will hurt and betray Marnie, and Marnie will always take him back. In this, Ray sort of confronts the weakness (her fear of abandonment) he himself has exploited in Marnie and the inevitability that Marnie will hurt him, which it seems like Ray believes he deserves.

Ray's takedown of Desi moves Desi to disappear, abandoning Marnie at the showcase Spike Jonze arranged for them. Ray encourages Marnie to go on alone, and she seizes the opportunity to do so with the a spectacular reverse-minimization of her talents. She plays guitar, a thing that has never been revealed to viewers that she could do, and when she comes off stage, shaking, Ray assures her he loved her performance, and she asks if Desi arrived. The fact that he did not does not seem to have changed anything, but it is early to call. I am ready to see.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 9: "Daddy Issues" - There is a cake with your face on it that ended up looking a little bit more like Muammar Qaddafi, so I'm gonna do some damage control frosting-wise.

I almost did not get to write this this week because I keep lying to myself about the time I have. I have never been busier. And a few weeks ago I quit some of the jobs I had even though I really loved them. It isn't about not being able to do it all — I'm not doing the things I want to do. Like revise all the stories I've written in the last year and not fall sharply down a well of anxiety when I found out I've slept through all my available hours in a day. I have not had a moment for all of 2015 and it is getting to me.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty-One, "Daddy Issues"

I do not like to evaluate Girls based on my expectations and I am not really hung up on any hopes for the characters. To judge the show in the fruitless hope that it will be about Hannah being a model adult comes off as an excuse to judge a figure for the plainest of human mistakes.

The only character for whom I do have specific hopes is Jessa, and every time I watch an episode, I hope it will be the one where Jessa is explored with the lens that Hannah is usually under. Jessa is virtually always caught up in the act of seduction or set-dressing: she is trying to get Adam or Marnie to be her friend, she is trying to get Jeff Lavoyt or Withnail — or her dad — to be her dad, she is trying to get Beedie to be her mom, she is trying to get Thomas-John to make her feel like a wife. "Daddy Issues" opens on Jessa finally in the aftermath of seduction: she is having sex with Ace.

Jessa's had a sex scene before — with a nameless ex — but the purpose was to demonstrate how sex was of little consequence to her. She alluded to that in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" when reciting her sexual curriculum vitae to Shoshanna, the many suicide attempts she has inspired. Considering the fatalistic way Jessa views sex and the way the men in her life treat her, it seems like suicide attempts sit right with her because sexual relationships — and their inevitability, precluding a relationship that has anything to do with anything else — are sites of despair for her.

She betrays herself in their sex-banter in the way Hannah usually does. She tells Ace he looks like a fourth grade teacher who she thought she wanted her mother to marry but, looking back, she realizes she wanted to have sex with him. I love that bizarre, abrupt tangle of Jessa's gaping, cavernous vulnerability regarding her mother and her desire to be looked after as a daughter and have a father with the fear that she can't have that and all relationships will inevitably become about people having sexual access to her and the way Ace is a part of that.

Those are the daddy issues I really want to watch an entire episode about. This was not that episode, but I am not giving up. The "Daddy Issues" in question are Hannah's — in the wake of her father coming out as gay, neither he nor her mother are the source of support Hannah has used them for over the past four seasons. Whether or not they are explicitly reaching out to Hannah for help, they are the ones in need of it as they visit and call her, respectively, to see how she is handling it all. In doing so, they both make a point of reminding Hannah that she is a child, reinforcing to themselves that she cannot help them, cannot be the hammock under their Earth.

That kind of tension — the way Hannah needs her parents and her parents need Hannah, the way her parents need so much help right now but Hannah is not in a place to provide it — is much more complex and compelling than if Hannah was simply faced with a crisis and had to grow up according to some measurable amount. This engages more with what one person can really do for another.

The prospect of that being woven into Hannah's already rich relationship with her parents is exciting, but her scene at St. Justine's wasn't. She is onto another substitute appointment there, still in proximity to fellow teacher Fran, who she alienated, and student Cleo, who she abandoned during what was to have been a joint piercing venture.

My greatest frustration with Girls is the way it hits the reset button on certain relationships and story developments. It aggravates what a lot of other reviewers have read as repellently slow or a complete lack of character evolution. When Girls presents a major blow-out, it only selectively leads to consequences for the characters engaged in it. Hannah and Marnie's fight in "Leave Me Alone" did lead to Marnie moving out in "She Did" and it continued to have reverberations throughout the series. Hannah and Adam's fight in "Welcome to Bushwick" ended in the conclusion that Hannah wanted to be in a relationship with Adam, and then they were in a relationship as of "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too." But as of season three, no confrontation — not in "Beach House," not in "I Saw You" — disrupted the status quo.

So far, this season, Hannah slapping Jessa in "Sit-In" was followed by the two of them amicably participating in a group lunch in "Close Up." The only way I can see justifying these resets is Hannah's will to ignore the confrontations and move on because she does not want them to mean anything. There are no clues that that is what is going on when things happen on Girls that are erased or ignored, but it is the reason I made up for myself to get by. The will to sublimate, ignore, and forget is a powerful one when your objective is to make a relationship last at the expense of whether or not that relationship is necessarily good.

And as discouraged as I was by it, Hannah's scene at St. Justine's does support the idea that Hannah's will has something to do with the Girls' occasional resets. From the moment Cleo sees her, she demonstrates that she has not put Hannah's abandonment of her behind her. Hannah wants to vent about her dad, but Cleo trolls her into freaking out at her. It parallels her situation with her parents nicely — she attempts to lean on Cleo, but Cleo is a child without the resources to help Hannah, to say nothing of the wedge Hannah has driven between them in their attempt to get close. Fran overhears Hannah calling Cleo a bitch and informs the principal, who separates them and sees Hannah in his office. She does not get fired, but he does urge Hannah to draw boundaries. Hannah takes advantage of the principal's sympathetic ear to elucidate what is going on with her dad, but he asserts that that is a boundary she should establish since he does not want to hear about that or help her with it.

It was just a tedious way to get to Elijah, helping Hannah's dad explore his desires and come out with some guidance. I have mentioned that Elijah acts as a mirror for Hannah and Marnie, and Elijah is a spectacular reflection of Hannah's inability to help her parents. Tad appears exhilarated and at ease all at once in Elijah's hands. Hannah turned to Elijah elsewhere in the episode to not only anticipate the manner in which Tad is coming out — slowly and by denying that his marriage with Loreen is over — but also to remind Hannah that he called this during "All Adventurous Women Do." And he did it to dislodge Hannah from the idea that she was sure of anything about herself, which she is strongly suspecting is true.

So when Tad, with Elijah in his corner, encourages Hannah to ask him anything and to feel okay figuring things out with him, the reality that he has been with a man makes Hannah demand that they set boundaries with her the same way she was instructed to set them with Cleo. I do hope this has consequences for Hannah in how she reaches out for help and how her parents engage with her, because I think it could be a springboard for compelling developments, but expectations like this are exactly the kind I'm trying to avoid! I want to have patience! I want it now!

Back to Jessa: Ace makes her run to get Ethiopian food at a restaurant that is conveniently near Mimi-Rose's apartment. Ace decides they will drop by, and Adam receives them. Since Jessa and Adam were candid with each other in "Ask Me My Name" about how Ace wanted to take Mimi-Rose back from Adam and how Ace told Adam this while he was in a relationship with Jessa, Jessa demonstrates sensitivity and asks Adam if it is all right if they are there while Ace ploughs in, eager to show her the herb garden he planted when he was living there.

Mimi-Rose gets out of the shower and watches Ace with Jessa for a moment before announcing they should all eat together. Adam prepares sausages and initiates a dinner that easily makes the big league of bad dinners on Girls. Mimi-Rose did not know about Ace and Jessa's relationship, and all it takes is that observation for Ace to put his cards on the table and say that Jessa says it isn't serious. Jessa is taken aback. Ace says the caveat — putting the "almost" in their status as "together" — is that Jessa really wants babies. Jessa alluded in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" that her seduction of Ace was so secure she would be, in no time, pregnant with his twins, which was nice and flippant, but Ace's acknowledgment of Jessa's nurturing instinct cements the fact that Jessa, in all likelihood despite herself and by accident instead of cathartically and with purpose, has disclosed to Ace about her desire for family and the blow that was her miscarriage. It's only a matter of moments before Mimi-Rose and Ace decide they want each other back, leading Jessa and Adam to declare their involvement with them "official bullshit" (and to Adam calling Ace a "jambroni" — he definitely wedges an "m" in there and it is perfect).

On their walk away from Mimi-Rose and to Ray's victory party — he made it onto Community Board Eight — Jessa acknowledges that Ace did not give her time to think, and that was the basis of his appeal. I am going to miss Ace for that, as well as for his deeply unsettling looks, because when Jessa was trying to avoid thinking, she communicated some feelings that are really central to her character. I hope since she has seen this desire for family work itself into her exchanges with Ace so easily that it becomes, knowingly or despite her, an even bigger force in her story next season because it is one of my absolute favorite aspects of Girls.

Adam abandons the party, wanting too much to see Hannah after everything has blown apart with Mimi-Rose. Inside the party, Shoshanna has managed it all to the hilt and is projecting wildly and wonderfully onto Ray, overcompensating for her unemployability with her signature zeal. Shoshanna being as singular an experience as ever heightens the stakes of Ray's encounter with Marnie. Shoshanna knows Ray still has feelings for Marnie, and she still has her own complicated mix of feelings about Ray, and the profound effects Shoshanna had on Ray are the most resounding and visible impacts nearly any one character has had on another on Girls. All that history functions to devastating effects in the scene when Ray pledges his support to Marnie.

As she enters the party, with Desi whispering the disgusting line "secrets are sexy" to her, Marnie approaches Ray singing "Happy Birthday, Mister President." It is clunky and classically Marnie, but it calls back to the way that Ray, when Marnie was really flailing — more than usual — in season two, he encouraged her to explore her desire to make music. He was still armed with his hatred of her and most things at that point, but he did it while he was effectively blind to what Shoshanna needed from him. Marnie ignores her intent to keep her secret and tells Ray that she and Desi are engaged. She emphasizes that he is the first person she is telling and thanks him for ferrying her to that point with his support of her.

When Shoshanna introduces Ray, he thanks her for her support and guidance before getting up on a chair and extends — ostensibly to the whole crowd, but just for Marnie — that he will always be there for her. When it registers with Marnie that that is what Ray is saying, it's palpable, her ache. And it all mirror's Hannah's situation, with the tense and shifting chain of support and guidance getting disrupted for Ray, caught in a space where is not the right source of help and needing more than Shoshanna might be able to give.

And Hannah calls it: when Marnie interrupts the party to announce her engagement to Desi, she is not at all sorry to do it. Unfortunately, there was no accompanying Kanye cover.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 8: "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" - She's not going to tolerate a half-finished haiku.

With nearly proportional disastrousness, one marriage ends and another begins.

Photos: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty, "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz"

Hannah's parents are "the hammock under [her] Earth." Her dad, Tad, has had health issues that have been demonstrated and alluded to, and her mom, Loreen, is less than satisfied with her situation. She doesn't have the lake house that she wants and has been working toward, her family is extremely critical of her, and according to Tad, she gave up writing and settled for her career as a professor and her family.

At this point in season four, Hannah's almost completely unmoored and is questioning all the things that have formed the foundations of her identity. "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" makes that foundation even more vulnerable. As Tad and Loreen leave therapy, with Loreen reflecting on the accomplishment of achieving tenure, Tad comes out to her as gay. Loreen has nothing like total joy for Tad.

Loreen: "We were in therapy two seconds ago. You weren't gay in there."
Tad: "Yes, I was. I just didn't want to share it with her."
Loreen: "That is who you're supposed to be sharing it with, our therapist who we pay."
Tad: "Yeah, I just couldn't do it. I don't trust her."

Loreen accuses Tad of doing this in order to upstage her tenure (and when Elijah told Hannah he thought her dad was gay back in season one, that came across as Elijah's attempt to co-opt and upstage Hannah's revelation that he gave her HPV). Tad denies it and says this is not about her at all. "It's not not about me," she tells him, echoing the way Hannah replied to Adam's assertion that his involvement with Mimi-Rose had nothing to do with her: "You know what, Adam? I think I really understand that part."

They go to celebrate Loreen's tenure at their friends Avi and Shanaz's house, where Tad tries to reach out to Avi about what happened, but recoils. Instead, he bombs a toast, unable to say he loves Loreen, and Loreen brings the whole thing to a halt. When she tries to get a moment alone, Avi corners her, wanting to resume a tryst he reveals they started, but Loreen cannot hold it together. She dissolves into laughter. Becky Ann Baker makes every moment of this as good as it is, but my favorite moment was with all the guests seated at dinner, talking about their kids. The one couple's child is an infant cardiac surgeon. The other's is a meth addict and a professional dancer. Loreen and Tad do not venture to talk about Hannah. The fact that Hannah is neither an atrocity or a peerless achiever might be 1) a sobering fact, 2) a pleasant shock, 3) a profound relief, 4) a surprising disappointment — Tad and Loreen's perspective on Hannah has never been predictable.

I mentioned Tad and Loreen's juxtaposition with Marnie and Desi, but this episode is all about couples and the status of being in a couple. Tad and Loreen are dissolving because they realize — or at least Tad realizes, at this point — that they have been seeing themselves not as they are.

But whatever Marnie calls a thing, that's what it is. When Charlie slept with her after she demonstrated troubling behavior (stopping a party to which she was not genuinely invited to do a slow Kanye cover), that meant they were back in a committed relationship. Likewise, her relationship with Desi is a result of that same force of will colliding with Desi's horrifyingly vivid brand of being The Worst. Desi is as caught up in his image as a folk musician Marnie is with their image as a couple. The minute those fantasies impinge on each other, everything starts turning to ash around them. When Marnie demonstrates that she doesn't exist in the service of his idea of himself, he lashes out. In this, they're exactly alike! Marnie cannot stand one fault in her facade, or everything is ruined. Marnie has never bounced back from losing the foundations to her identity (Charlie, her gallery job, Hannah). She can only thrive under absolutely ideal conditions, and those conflict somewhat with Desi's version of ideal conditions, which include "the tightest fucking German guitar pedals ever made in history" that "single-handedly created the distortion that became the My Bloody Valentine sound." He blew their whole advance on them — money that was meant for both of them — without discussing the decision with Marnie, and when she calls him out, he calls her a "fucking bitch" and a rain cloud, tells her she ruined his day, and leaves.

They reunite later, in a coffee shop, where Marnie receives Desi's boring apology evasively from behind her phone. She introduces the fact that her parents' marriage came to an end over the misuse of money. It is a vulnerable moment, but the only other time Marnie has mentioned her parents to another character — although her mother's appeared several times — has been to Hannah in "Beach House." Marnie explained to Hannah her fear of abandonment that stemmed from her parent's divorce and how it informs the way she treats her. The conversation was not framed as cathartic on Marnie's part but as a failed prelude to the genuine sharing she wanted to do with Hannah that was not about anything but them. I suspect that was what she is trying to do here with Desi before he tells her to "shut up" and proposes to her. Which she receives gleefully, probably to the fascination of those eavesdropping on their conversation around this unsettlingly bland coffee shop.

The two potential couples are Shoshanna and Scott the Soup Mogul and Hannah and Fran. Shoshanna and Jessa mirror the scene from "Ask Me My Name" where Hannah and Elijah prepared for her date. Instead of making light of the event like Elijah, Jessa dramatizes Shoshanna's shot at something, as she is both out of work and without a significant other. Jessa does not have any opinion when it comes to professional pursuits, but she wastes no time dispensing her advice on how to withhold affection, tantalize, and confuse men, boasting of the "four suicides" she has under her belt. Ace, Jessa says, is different. Her assessment of him as "self-possessed" is wonderful in light of his appearance in "Ask Me My Name," where he appeared self-amused and air headed. I cannot wait for the moment he and Jessa are on screen together and to hear an observation Ace has about Jessa.

What may or may not be the scene with Shoshanna and Ray that was supposed to have gone in "Ask Me My Name," her date story is cleaved in order to demonstrate Shoshanna's contribution to Ray's campaign for Community Board Eight. When he tries to broach the subject of work, he veers immediately to the topic of relationships, a conversation that reveals that 1) he has an eHarmony profile and 2) he still has feelings he cannot rationalize for Marnie.

Although Ray and Marnie make sense, it's for such dark reasons. Ray has evolved so much as a character. At the beginning of Girls, all he did was harass people and engineer disaster. Then he fell in love with Shoshanna, which not only threw his awfulness into sharp relief, but made him reevaluate that awfulness. He made a professional change to impress Shoshanna, but when he realized how empty a gesture that was, he still found something in it for him. But even with that, he was still vulnerable from losing Shoshanna, which enabled his unholy union with Marnie. Marnie, at the time, went to Ray looking specifically for old Ray, the Ray that shouted her out of Café Grumpy railing about how he hated her so much he didn't even want to hate-fuck her he hated her so much. Even though Ray has demonstrated a capacity to change in all the ways viewers typically look to television characters to change — in the first season he fantasized aloud about Marnie and her family committing incest, and just a few episodes ago he made breakfast for a grieving Hannah and tried to treat her when she sustained a burn — Marnie's involvement with him demonstrates how stuck she is. Shoshanna is justifiably disgusted with all of this.

Shoshanna and Scott's date goes even more straightforwardly well than Hannah and Fran's pre-art-show date, but it does not pass without Shoshanna's attempt to sabotage it. In a hilarious seduction speech, Shoshanna demonstrates how "forward-thinking" she is by informing Scott of how she wants to know more about the future of his cock. Jessa told her to surprise him, and this is a pretty spectacular blend of what Jessa meant and how Shoshanna took it ("Like, jump out from behind something and scare him?"). But since Scott effectively diffuses the wild strangeness of the way Shoshanna describes her vagina by inviting her to ogle the celebrities at the bar beyond where they sit, it ends on a more optimistic note than Hannah and Fran's date.

Hannah is, apparently, at the end of her sub stint at St. Justine's since the teacher is coming back. Her student, Cleo, with whom she has bonded, gives Hannah guidance on how to deal with Fran in the aftermath of their dating disaster. In return, Hannah accompanies Cleo to get something pierced between periods. Hannah proposes they get the same thing pierced, and they settle on getting "best friendulum" piercings. Cleo's act of devotion is so brutal, though, that Hannah just abandons her. It's spectacularly on the nose, but this is probably Hannah's literal perspective on relationships now: friendships and romances have all ended with Hannah being shamed and brutalized. Except for the latest one, in which she has done the brutalizing.

When she tries to right that and apologize to Fran, expressing that hanging out with him would be a good choice and the kind she should be making, Fran says he likes her but does not foresee a calm life with her. Hannah resists that she is a source of drama, but he insists she does not see herself clearly. Hannah tries to play up to what she thinks is his instinct to tame her: "It's the new frontier of misogyny. Take a woman who's in control of her life and then silence her. And I'm up for it." Fran bales again.

And so she reaches out to her hammock under the Earth and asks her mom and dad if she's anything close to Courtney Love, precluding her chance to respond to Loreen when she cuts through her panicked jabbering with "your father's gay."

This episode was huge: it was not the turning point "Sit-In" or "Ask Me My Name" was, but it had almost all the major characters except for Adam, Mimi-Rose, and Elijah contributing to the stories. All those stories involved past, present, and future couples and, as ever, the conflation of jobs and relationships. Shoshanna's date, as successful as it is, is in the shadow of her failure to get a job, which is important to her. Marnie's relationship is her job, and from either vantage point, it's in a sorry state. Hannah's time at St. Justine's is ending, so her time with Fran probably is, too. And the implosion of Loreen's marriage to Tad comes right along with her attaining tenure.

There are also three refrains about misogyny that come up in the episode: Loreen attributes Tad's play for attention during her moment of triumph as inherently misogynistic, Hannah characterizes Fran's interest in her as coming from a misogynistic impulse, and Scott says his ex-girlfriend — who has figured into every interaction he has had with Shoshanna and, ominously, is the namesake of his soup business — finds him to be "the embodiment of the white male oppressor." These all function differently depending on the scene, but they operate together as a nice series of valves relieving the pressure from an episode that is so wrapped up in relationships. Girls has never been this single-minded about relationship concerns. Jessa has never been in a specifically romantic entanglement before Ace, by whom she is deeply distracted here. I hope these reactionary digs give way to an arc where, in the aftermath of Adam, Hannah is newly focused on her work without sacrificing energy to demonstrate that she can prioritize a relationship. Although, if she were to get into a relationship and pull it off with ease, now is the time — with both her parent's marriage at its end and Marnie wrapped up in being a wife — that she might really confront how her parents and Marnie are never going to be proud of her playing to their vacillating, half-formed, human expectations. She has to do what she wants.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 7: "Ask Me My Name" - I'm not in the mood for a poem.

According to HBO's original synopsis, this episode was supposed to cut away to Shoshanna helping Ray with his Community Board Eight election campaign. The episode benefited from being one story, but I am interested in seeing if the show maintains cohesion with the Ray and Shoshanna material.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Nine, "Ask Me My Name"

Like no episode before it, "Ask Me My Name" spoke its subtext and had characters come out and state their sincere and accurately observed motivation. I would not want to see this every week on Girls, but after three years of critics failing to get what is actually going on between Hannah and the other characters, this was fair. And the timing is perfect for Hannah, especially, to break it to herself why she is doing what she is doing.

She has secured a teaching job — subbing at a private school called Saint Justine's — where she elucidates Oedipus for her class. Her observations about the text echo her therapist's diagnosis of her current predicament from "Close Up":
The fact is, Oedipus couldn't have done anything differently. He was screwed from the moment he was born. But he still had free will, so he had the free will to make positive choices. So this begs the question are we just doing good things to avoid personal suffering, or is there actually such a thing as goodness?
The only comfort Hannah has in the face of her failure at Iowa is that she did it to make her mother happy, just like she blazed her way through awful job after awful job to make her parents happy, the way she got a boyfriend to make Marnie happy, and the way she abnegated her dignity to make Adam happy. But none of those "good things" helped her avoid personal suffering — and her refusal to act in her own best interests and circuitously emotionally blackmail others by placing them first has come off to most of those close to her as selfishness. Hannah would wonder, at this point, if there is such a thing as "goodness" or if she is the monster people make her feel she is.

And then she skips right into the teacher's lounge and has a witty exchange with a fellow teacher (Jenny Slate's Obvious Child beau Jake Lacy, who I am pleased to see as any iteration on his character from The Office anywhere, ever). "I'm Fran," he says. "Your juice box says Joe," says Hannah, "so I'm not sure what to believe." He tells her about Joe, and the formatting of that interaction will return later.

The only detour the episode takes is to Hannah's apartment, where she prepares for the date Fran asked her on that exists to give Andrew Rannells another chance to entirely justify the episode spending time it barely has on Elijah's method of rooming with Hannah.

Hannah's date with Fran lasts just long enough for an allusion to the Dangerous Minds TV show, teaching credentials, and what constitutes delivering a "good" performance as something other than the star of a pornographic film. Then Hannah asks Fran to an art show. Then "Ask Me My Name" takes off.

"Ask Me My Name" is the title of the art show — Mimi-Rose's art show — where Hannah steers Fran. I loved every part of the scene with Jessa that explains the conceit of the show: a figure in a smock regales Jessa with a story, "I asked Steph to meet me at the mall. She texted me back. 'LOL, I don't hang with sluts.' I was like, 'What did Jaden say?'" Jessa demands to know what Jaden says, but the figures reverse their smocks. Another one continues the story, "By this point, it was all over Facebook. 'Amber sucks baseball dick.'" Jessa demands to know what the person said back, but they are actors and they cannot go off-script. Jessa is scandalized that they are reading from a script. I wish Jemima Kirke had more opportunities to do comedic scenes, but the ones she gets are luminous.

Joshua Alston at the A.V. Club was put off by the presence of Marnie at Mimi-Rose's show, which strikes him as constituting too much of a betrayal. But going back as long as Girls has documented the relationship between Marnie and Hannah, Marnie has always embraced any opportunity to show Hannah who's doing things right with repellant zeal. Marnie loves successful people, like Tally Schifrin, and if they touch a nerve in Hannah, all the better, because as far as Marnie is concerned, Hannah has to learn. She would not be bothered by them if she would just succeed. Marnie's attendance at the show does not surprise me at all, especially considering her professional background in the art world. She can lord Mimi-Rose's success over Hannah and make herself feel sharp in appraising Mimi-Rose's work. And Desi gets to listen to it all.

He is pleased to see Hannah, but Marnie is not, and then Adam shows up. Since he is in the show, he has to finish his monologue — about being a child separated from his mother in an internment camp — before he can lay into Hannah for showing up at Mimi-Rose's show. Fran ably defends Hannah until he realizes he has receded entirely from her view and that she is there to do what she came to do, which is make Adam deal with her rage.

Before he can, Mimi-Rose comes over, filled with goodwill at the sight of Hannah, and invites Hannah to join her, Adam, and her former partner, Ace, at an after-party. Zachary Quinto's Ace gave me a hard chill. That is a strain of dude that causes me to take steps backwards, my head shaking.

Mimi-Rose — "Mims" to Ace, who plans to "wear [my smock] till the morning time and then pretend I work at Home Depot all day, helping people and shit" — compels Ace and Adam into a cab together and grabs another for she and Hannah.

First, Ace and Adam's ride: Ace recasts the events of "Close Up" in a spectacularly different light by telling Adam that Mimi-Rose's sweet, affectless way is a "hollow," "curated" front for her mission to manipulate and terrorize the people with whom she is involved. This immediately needles into the viewer the idea that Mimi-Rose did not even have an abortion, but just told Adam to see what it would do to him. This possibility does not escape Adam, either, who wants to dismiss Ace since, if she was so bad, he would not continue to support her, but Ace fires back: he will always be in love with Mimi-Rose and endeavors to get her back.

While Ace successfully eviscerates Adam's spirit, Mimi-Rose, on her ride with Hannah, provided me with one of the most visceral reactions to Girls I have had in some time, probably since Jessa's wedding in "She Did." Mimi-Rose is another person who is very familiar to me. I have felt like a useless piece of scenery when out with someone who gets more mileage from charming someone that person will not ever meet again so bystanders can get a good look at how good they are.

Mimi-Rose prioritizes making nice with the driver over Hannah, and when she does engage with her, it is to interrogate her about the show. Hannah overrides Mimi-Rose's appeal for criticism by insisting it was perfect, which Mimi-Rose says it absolutely was not since she was so distracted by a book she had to write while she was supposed to be organizing the show.

Mimi-Rose trolls Hannah with devastating precision: "I got sucked into writing this stupid book. It's a psychosexual thriller told from the perspective of a dead woman who solves her own murder using hologram technology that she invented. I think it'll probably suck, but I just always try to work outside my comfort zone cause that's the only way you grow." One of Hannah's most significant steps to being a writer on her own terms was her season two escapades. Even though she was still trying to break even, writing for recognition instead of herself, Hannah did invest her hopes and dreams in the book that she was given the opportunity to write after her exploitative JazzHate.com article thrusted her — per JazzHate's mandate — outside her comfort zone.


Hannah's attempt to direct their taxi driver — a possible assertion of his role as being of service to them, not a member of the party in the taxi — results in their running over an old woman. Mimi-Rose tries to offer her support to the woman, Mary, and the driver, Adeem — both of their names offered at Mimi-Rose's request — but Hannah pulls her away, assuring her they don't need her. They spend long enough in a convenience store for Mimi-Rose to troll Hannah a little more. They steal a popsicle, criming while white as the cop interrogates Adeem right outside, and then break for a laundromat with a bathroom Hannah can use.

In the convenience store, Hannah is able to articulate to Mimi-Rose that she is irrelevant, and if she harbors any negative feelings, they are toward Adam and his failure to confront Hannah with his feelings about Mimi-Rose. Mimi-Rose gets this out of Hannah by asking her, "Are you mad at me?", which Hannah does when she wants to provoke someone into snapping at her, revealing what is really irritating them. Hannah withholds any key outburst, but is set off when Mimi-Rose uses the two minutes Hannah takes in the laundromat bathroom to write a poem for and enchant a laundromat patron.

Hannah does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose, so Mimi-Rose proposes something that will get Hannah's attention: she could get Adam back. Jessa told Mimi-Rose that Hannah still had it for Adam, which Mimi-Rose said got her evaluating her interest in Adam. "I wouldn't just give him to you," says Mimi-Rose, "but I feel like we could figure something out. I would subtly distance myself from him as you incrementally worked your way back into his life. Perhaps through a joint creative project."

Hannah is repulsed by this. When Mimi-Rose suggests that Hannah is just angry for giving up on art and/or Adam, Hannah clarifies that she gave up on neither and, without the benefit of Ace hissing in her ear, deftly appraises Mimi-Rose's schtick: "I was away at graduate school getting a graduate degree in a form of art that is actual art, unlike what you do, which is not art. And you're not a genius. You're just tricking people and confusing them, and I think you know it's bullshit, and I think maybe you should just admit it."

Mimi-Rose's explanation of the show's inspiration works a hole into Hannah. Hannah concedes that she does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose because of the book she's writing, because of her invitations to give keynote addresses, because of her conventionally pretty face. Mimi-Rose responds, "The way that you see me, I'm afraid that that's the way everyone sees me. I just want to make something that says something, and I don't even know why anymore."

I cannot improve upon Alston's observation here:
Mimi-Rose doesn't have a grand vision of her life or career any more than Hannah does. Her self-doubt doesn't prevent her from creating the way Hannah's does, but while she's executing her ideas, she doesn't know what's driving her to do so. She's also deeply manipulative, dangling the prospect of giving Adam back to Hannah like he's a newly adopted pet. Mimi-Rose's art is a facet of her manipulation, which is why she can't get to the bottom of where her creative drive comes from. She cranks out work easily because she doesn't much care whether the output is good, only that she can use it to shape people's opinions of her.
As soon as Hannah acknowledges that she did not feel she was talented enough for Iowa and is now confronting the fear that she will lead the kind of dissatisfying life she has seen her mother lead, Mimi-Rose implores her to go drinking with her. Just as Hannah opens up. What a disastrous person.

Hannah only follows through with Mimi-Rose's invitation long enough to put the swirl on top of Adam's dark sundae of the soul. She tells him Mimi-Rose has her stamp of approval after not just his ride with Ace, but his accidentally admission of Ace's plan to get Mimi-Rose back to Jessa, who set Mimi-Rose up with Adam to pursue Ace, with whom she is now in a relationship.

Hannah then does the right thing: getting away from all of those people. She fails to charm a service person in a sandwich shop and takes her falafel sandwich and seltzer into the night.