Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 1: "Iowa" - We try to inject it with meaning, but all we have are days.

I cried twice. I'm so happy to see these characters, I love where this season opener finds all of them, and I'm so happy to not have to read every last critical take on these episodes. I am going to play with forthcoming reviews, but here is a look at season four, episode one, within the context of Girls in its entirety:

Top: Girls season one, pilot; bottom: Girls season four, "Iowa"

Girls, Episode Thirty-Three, "Iowa"

The story of Girls started with Hannah having dinner with her mother and father. She thought they were there to congratulate her on pursuing her dream of being a writer, but they were there to alert her to the fact that they were not going to be supporting her financially anymore, and that she would have to turn her unpaid internship into a paid internship or look for a job.

"Iowa" starts with Hannah having dinner with her parents, over which they congratulate her on her immanent departure to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The fact that it took an institution recognizing what Hannah knows to be true — that she is a writer — for her parents to be proud of her and demonstrate the level of support she desires galls Hannah (Hannah Helene Horvath). The fact that her parents severed their financial ties made it seem to Hannah like they felt she was taking them for a ride with no intention to make good on her professed desire to write. Of course, they had no reason to believe that Hannah was not taking them for a ride: at the time of Girls' pilot, Hannah had never championed her dream. Throughout the first season, she continued to defer facing how much she wanted to write by trying to do what her parents wanted her to do — get a job — and what Marnie wanted her to do — get a boyfriend.

Hannah's had a more difficult time with jobs, but she does have a boyfriend, Adam. The fact that Marnie, who in season one kept insinuating that Hannah's energies were better spent on relationships than her dream of being a writer, then rejected Hannah's achievement because Adam was not an enviable catch was almost the last straw in Hannah and Marnie's friendship.

Adam does a miserable job at hiding how disappointed he is that Hannah is leaving New York for Iowa. Following his frustrated toast at the dinner with Hannah and her parents, he and Hannah catch a commercial he did — for depression medication — on TV. Adam is sore about how he had to accept the job despite the fact that it did not correspond with his values as an artist. As long as Hannah has been involved with Adam, he has had the voice about his art that she does not have about hers because he does not have to accommodate the people in his life (including Hannah) the way Hannah has to accommodate the people in hers. Adam has the room not only to minimize and reject the projects in which he takes part, but he can also boast, like he did to Hannah in "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too," when he told her, "I'm really good at acting and writing." When he got his Broadway opportunity last season, he justified alienating himself from Hannah by telling her that when she hits her stride with her art, she will understand what he is going through — meanwhile, that had already happened in "She Did," when Hannah explained to Adam that she wanted to slow down the pace of their relationship because she wanted to focus on her writing. The big wake up call for that was her reading in "Leave Me Alone," in which Adam refused to support her.

So, yes, Adam deserves to stand in the rain and look pitiful! He warns Hannah that he does not want any drama, but it all comes from him!

Cut to Desi, motorboating Marnie's ass. Desi was introduced last season as Adam's version of Marnie: his friend that Hannah finds unpalatable. After a seasons-long fall, the proudest achievement Marnie could claim by last season's finale, "Two Plane Rides," was that Desi, who is in a relationship, "kissed the shit out of" her. He is still doing basically that, but is that still something Marnie is proud of?

Shoshanna's anxiety problems are succinctly explained by the first appearance of her parents, Melanie and Melvin Shapiro, who make Shoshanna's belated graduation from college — without any fanfare or brandishing of her Aunt Eileen's flag — all about their competition over Shoshanna.

This rhymes with the next scene, wherein Jessa climbs up to Beedie's apartment with snacks, speaking affectionately and familiarly to her, only to find Beedie's daughter, Rickie, ready to eviscerate Jessa for assisting her mother in a suicide attempt. Rickie, played by Natasha Lyonne (in no pants!), marks the second occasion in which Jemima Kirke plays opposite an Orange is the New Black cast member — Danielle Brooks was in the first two episodes of last season — and I hope it evolves into a trend (pre-OITNB Selenis Leyva played opposite Lena Dunham in Girls' first season, too). Rickie shames Jessa hard, not only for her cooperation in Beedie's attempted suicide, but also for not having her shit together in a monologue that calls back to the one Katherine Lavoyt delivered to Jessa in "Leave Me Alone." Where Katherine's talk at Jessa was condescending, essentially urging her to get herself ready for a relationship, Rickie doubts Jessa is capable of getting to that point if she is not there already.

When Beedie appears, she agrees that Jessa should go, but when Jessa implores Beedie, "Tell me you love me more than her," Beedie does! This was the first part that made me cry. Jessa has really wanted this kind of concrete affirmation from an adopted family member as long as she has been on the show, and now Beedie's given it to her. This is one of my favorite moments on the show, ever.

So neither Jessa, Shoshanna, or Adam are in great shape to join Hannah in watching Marnie and Desi play a jazz brunch. Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, surfaces to confirm that Marnie is still trying to harvest self-esteem from the trash-scape that is Desi's infidelity. In this, Marnie and Jessa are alike — they both thrive on being chosen over others, even superficially, and being seen as a clearly superior alternative.

Marnie's mother is back. I wish she had never left.

When Hannah points out to Jessa that Jessa skipped their one opportunity to hang out alone before she embarks for Iowa, Jessa floats her sass. Hannah retreats to the bathroom for one of her mirror pep talks, like those in "The Return" and "It's Back." Hannah reminds herself that Jessa being mean to her demonstrates that she is doing the right thing by moving on. Jessa breaks Hannah's ritual of repeating her phrases eight times and insults her OCD while she does it. She calls Hannah a hypocrite for demanding that she come back to New York. Now, it seems like Jessa is referring to coming back after her stint in rehab, but in that instance, Jessa called and asked for Hannah's help coming back. I think she is referring to her arrival in New York from the pilot. When she came to New York then, she was pregnant and without any other means of support, and Hannah's parents had just cut her off financially, Hannah was too overwhelmed to actually help Jessa. I think Jessa thinks Hannah still owes her one for this, and Hannah evacuating for Iowa seems to Jessa like the kind of thing she herself would do to avoid having to repair a mistake.

Elijah, who is a member of the main cast this year, then joins the jazz brunch. Let us consider Girls' use of Elijah: her first appeared in season one's "All Adventurous Women Do" to detonate Hannah's long-held vision of herself as the one he never got over. He appeared next in "Welcome to Bushwick" to occasion a similar revelation in Marnie. His encounter with Hannah during "She Did," at Jessa's wedding, led to his becoming Hannah's roommate for the first third of season two, in "It's About Time," "I Get Ideas" and "Bad Friend." Over the course of he and Hannah cohabiting, Elijah shit talked Hannah with his boyfriend, George, then cheated on George with Marnie, then revealed his tryst with Marnie to Hannah over a cocaine binge that got him booted from the apartment. He did not reenter the titulars' orbit until midway through season three, in "Beach House," when he, Elijah's crush, Pal (played by Danny Strong, or little Danny Siegel from Mad Men), and his friends joined Hannah et al for a party, during which Hannah saw how poorly Pal was treating Elijah.

Elijah was therefore swept back into Hannah's life as a respite from Adam, remote from his ascendant Broadway career, and Marnie, remote from her shame-spiral. He was in almost the entire rest of season three, demonstrating his envy of Adam's career in "Incidentals," power-clashing with Hannah in "Role-Play," accompanying Hannah on a visit to see Patti LuPone (and then being the site of her shame as LuPone anticipated how miserable Hannah and Adam were to become) in "I Saw You" (an even more apt title considering how Elijah witnesses Hannah's shame), and joining everyone to see Adam in Major Barbara in "Two Plane Rides."

In addition to being a flesh and bone bon mot, Elijah is a means for other characters to refresh and reevaluate their approach to themselves and one another. As a character, he does deserve to gain some more narrative autonomy. His involvement with both George and Pal — the latter of which Elijah spies at the jazz brunch — had gradients and revealed aspects of Elijah's character, but he still exists solely in relation to the other characters. That condition was the source of tension and what brought Elijah alive in the first season, but he has since waded into that role, which is really something for a show where most of the characters are driven by or reacting to the expectations of those around them.

I said I cried twice, but the refrain in Marnie's song for Hannah — "goodbye, friend" — did knock the wind out of me. It isn't a good song; I know it's not a good song. But it's the single available glimpse at Marnie's feelings, maudlin and flattened to platitudes though those feelings may be. Her inability to get anymore specific than that is what I find moving: she has treated Hannah so poorly because Hannah refuses to try and emulate her — and signed their friendship's death warrant when Hannah started dating Adam only to hook up with the no-more-desirable Ray later — so she cannot articulate her love for Hannah or her respect for her choices without admitting that she was wrong.

Marnie is in such a bad headspace that a heckling child propels her onto the sidewalk, crying, where Elijah tries sincerely to rally her, advising that "this business is not for sissy bitches." Both Elijah and Marnie have used Hannah to sustain delusions and then blamed her for not seeing through them, and they are fascinating together, particularly when it comes to their shared dream of performing. The fact that they have both actively and passively failed to support Hannah in her dream reveals how vulnerable they are when they talk about theirs. I would love to see more moments with Elijah and Marnie this season.

Meanwhile, last season made me weary of Ray and Shoshanna. One spies the other in a crowded space, one approaches the other, wooden dialogue ensues. Unfortunately, Shosh's encounter with Ray at jazz brunch was no different. Shosh does demonstrate her awareness of how she manipulated herself into wanting him back last year, but I'd rather see that awareness in motion than hear about it. Now, I have complained about exposition on Girls before, and have since come around to understanding how important a character's explanation of something is, since it usually functions to show how skewered a character's perception is about that thing. This still bums me out, because there is no other redeeming facet of Ray and Shoshanna's nearly-identical conversations other than to illustrate the evolution of Ray, which is sufficiently visible elsewhere. Shoshanna is one hundred percent responsible for that evolution, and I think their constant flat encounters really undercut that.

After a night of Adam humping a distracted Hannah very quietly, and Hannah reminding Adam that she is all to aware of how terrible he is on the phone — and communicating in general — since there was a time when she liked him and he ignored her, Marnie arrives. She gets there before Hannah's parents, even, to share coffees and finish packing Hannah's belongings. Marnie helping Hannah compress her suitcase becomes Hannah holding Marnie. I could not keep it together for this.

While she packs Hannah's parents' car, Marnie cries. "Iowa" ends in a reconfiguration of the opening scene of "She Did," where Hannah and Adam helped Marnie move out. Marnie helps Hannah move out, confronting how sad she is to see Hannah go and willing to show it, while Adam pretends to sleep.

Hannah's parents talk about her like she is not there, while she sits in the back seat on her way to Iowa.

Also, I would rather not dwell on it when writing about her work,
but I think Lena Dunham is devastating and I love
the different weird moods of her hair in this episode

Every moment in this episode was used and used well, every moment was loaded and contributed to the story, all the characters' actions corresponded with the where the previous season's latest events left them — "Iowa" was one of my favorite episodes, if not my very favorite episode, outside of season one. I hope it is also hope the next episodes do not erase the momentum of each previous one, which was season three's downfall. So much happened in "Beach House" that was entirely erased by "Incidentals." After being central to "Females Only" and "Truth or Dare," Jessa did not get a line in "She Said OK," which also ended in havoc-wreaking that went nowhere in "Dead Inside." There is some precedent for episodes including catastrophes of no consequence, like Adam's arrest in "I Get Ideas," and that is really disappointing — Girls deserves better than to be the show you watch to see which stories bear out and which vanish.

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