Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 3: "Female Author" - Maybe it's finally something more serious.

This week's episode made it seem like "Triggering" did not need to exist. I was disappointed by "Triggering," so much so I did not even want to address my feelings about the episode, but "Triggering" did serve a purpose: it demonstrated how, even though going to Iowa is Hannah's first decision she has made in the service of her dreams since she told her parents in the pilot that she thinks she could be the voice of her generation, that decision will not immediately justify itself and will yield as many trials and as much humiliation as her attempts to compromise on her dreams. Hannah is desperate for a sign that she has made the right choice by going to Iowa, since Girls in its entirety is about how Hannah does not have the equipment to trust herself. The fact that she has clung to her dream of being a great writer when she defers to her parents and Marnie about the majority of her other decisions is evidence of the magnitude of that dream. In "Triggering," Hannah has found no indication that she made the right choice. But the whole episode felt slight. Of all the episodes written by writers other than Dunham, though, "Female Author," the first credited solely to Sarah Heyward, is my favorite.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Five, "Female Author"

Last season, Orange is the New Black's presence in the world could be felt within Girls, not only with the criminally (woeful trombone) brief appearance of Danielle Brooks, but with Jessa's "Females Only" sequestration and pseudo-solitary confinement. Jessa did not go to prison and her time in rehab was voluntary, but that parallel was there. To emphasize how much Jessa is not incarcerated but behaves as if she is, locked into some fatalist sentence? To demonstrate where the stakes are for Girls' characters compared to Orange is the New Black's characters — that is, lower in every way? I bristle at the show diminishing the characters. Worse than being critical, it questions why the viewer has invested at all in those characters.

I bring that up because two weeks ago, I had one of the worst weeks of my life. I worked from seven in the morning until two a.m. the following morning every day and had to deal publicly with some, yeah, triggering issues. All of which I dealt with by keeping Broad City on the entire time and prioritizing dance breaks. But "Triggering" made me vulnerable enough to refrain entirely from talking about how the episode made me feel. And that is why I write these recaps on my blog in the first place!

Between "Triggering" and "Female Author," the effect of Broad City's existence is palpable. That made the video chat scenes both here and in "Triggering" hit even harder. Hannah has none of the effervescent, neon, screaming affection for or from her best friends, Marnie and Jessa. When Jessa shows Hannah her ass, she is not promoting intimacy between them, she is being evasive about how close she has gotten to Adam in Hannah's absence. Of course, that is the point Girls is making. Broad City's Ilana and Abbi are like voices in one another's heads. Hannah doesn't trust the space in her head to let anyone else in there.

In the course of their vchat, Jessa misidentifies Iowa City's Mennonite population as Amish. I am touchy about that joke, but if some Mennonites flaunt their knowledge of Jemima Kirke to some Amish folks as a means to brag that they can watch Girls and operate televisions, that would make it worth it.

Jessa is the only person in Hannah's life who consistently inquires about her writing, notably in "Vagina Panic" and "I Get Ideas." She is not necessarily supportive and has wielded this vulnerability of Hannah's to unsettle her in conversations. Hannah, unknowingly, unsettles Jessa right back by inquiring about Adam, with whom Jessa now attends AA. Enter Jessa's ass, which Hannah concedes is a quality ass (but is it the ass of an angel?).

Hannah's disconnection from her friends and the dream she thought awaited her in Iowa is contrasted by Elijah. The show is riding his wave, and his aside with the Iowa undergrad at the party in "Triggering" was my favorite part of that episode. He is still hanging out in Hannah's house and now has his own life on the periphery of Iowa City's writing scene. While Hannah defers to other people when it comes to what she should do and what she should want, then waits around for recognition that never comes, Elijah tries to make every situation he gets into seem like the ideal situation in order to conceal how jaggedly he is crashing and burning. This is the second time he's wound up squatting with Hannah in as many years (I think the life of the show has spanned almost three years so far?). He painted an absurdly warm version of traversing New York in "Iowa." He was mistaken for Blake Lively's husband in "Triggering." And when he tells Hannah — while he relives his undergrad glory days by taking "whimsical" photos with a film camera (Jenna Maroney's pronunciation) — she should quit the Iowa Writers' Workshop, that is when Girls is everything I love it to be: the most broken and unreliable source possible tries to teach Hannah a lesson, and because Hannah does not trust her experiences and instincts, she tries to learn that lesson and falls into peril. Because Hannah really needs to listen to herself. Instead, she listens to Elijah, who was an unpaid assistant to a curator of dance when they reconnected in "All Adventurous Women Do," and who now describes quitting dance as the biggest relief in the world, since trying to succeed at that distracted him from living life whimsically.

Fresh from this exchange with Elijah, Hannah chides her classmates about being so old and jaded that writing about a blow job has saddled her with the label of the 50 Shades girl. When DeAugust says that blow jobs can be literary, Hannah calls him out hard for listing only male — Roth among them, ugh — in his spontaneous listicle of literary blow jobs. He calls her hysterical. Hannah proceeds to tear everyone down with aplomb, call for honesty, and crawl away — just like Abbi in Broad City when a mother in a waiting room made the assumption that she was a mom, too. That is not too different from what Hannah is experiencing. She would like some honesty, preferably from a source other than herself that she can imbue with more authority, to just tell her frankly if she is doing the right thing.

Also, I had no idea before today that Andrew Rannells is in his mid-thirties. Acting!

"Female Author" balanced Hannah's story excellently against Marnie's and Jessa's, and while Shoshanna only got one scene, it was everything to me. Shoshanna has a lot of characteristics in common with a good friend of mine, which endears me all the more to the character. This friend is also job hunting and wildly unspooled by the stress of everything that involves. Her attempts to sabotage herself through a mixture of antithetical honesty and over-literalness is cathartic because the whole process is such a performance. So when Shoshanna goes on her interview for a job in trend jewelry at Ann Taylor Loft, secures a job offer, and talks her way out of it by saying this was just a warmup for the job she really wants and is supposed to get, it was goddamn uncanny! Shosh is driven not by the need to appear at all times to be the perfect girl — that's Marnie's mission — but she is driven by the pursuit of perfection and the confidence that she can embody all the things Sex and the City tells her she should be. If this season tasks Shosh with finding confidence despite her life not conforming to those expectations, I might find it in me to forgive Girls for erasing all the effects of "Beach House" from the episodes that followed it last season.

Marnie continues to demonstrate that validation from men, regardless of what she is even doing to receive that validation, is her number one priority. Even though this takes the form of some relatively un-vibrant scenes, I do like what Girls is doing with Marnie right now. She is supposed to be the kind of girl who stars in a show, not Hannah. But she cannot operate within an even slightly chaotic environment. The second one piece of her life went out of place, Marnie flew into bits. She only cares about keeping her image intact at all costs, and that is a significantly greater priority for her than actually repairing the damaged parts of her relationships or her career. In "Female Author," she vents to Ray about Desi's persistent intimacy with her, refusing as ever to acknowledge that she's the mistress if they are going to end up together anyway, an outcome of which she is convinced. Ray's observation that Desi is selfish for not ending his relationship with Clementine and choosing Marnie inspires Marnie to make out with him. This is a nice spin on the interaction between Hannah and Elijah. That is exactly what Marnie wants to hear and it appears to affirm her efforts with Desi, but consider the source. Ray's disfiguring misogyny was eroded by his admiration for Shoshanna. She changed him, but could not be devoted to the project of changing him. Ray's acceptance of this landed him in a limbo — he was successful, but only because he had wanted to impress her. The achievement was hollow. Then Marnie came to him looking for that disfiguring misogyny for which he was once so well known. Ray is so lost, in a different way from where the show first saw him but lost nevertheless, that any opportunity to teach Marnie something makes him feel better.

This episode features another great entree into the annals of Marnie being unable to tolerate one thing departing from her vision of how it should be. When she and Desi successfully play their demo for some executives — of who knows, a label? An app? — who are excited about them, their assumption that Marnie and Desi are a couple moves Marnie to pause the meeting and ask for a cigarette so she can take a break.

Desi asks Marnie what the deal is — and calls her "Bella," which is so manipulative, I love it! — and Marnie's response is perfect. They can't be intimate anymore, she says, because no one thinks of Marnie when they think of Desi. She might be censoring her feelings, but that is among the Marniest things that Marnie has ever said. She does not want him to be faithful to her. She wants everyone to recognize them as a couple. He reminds her that he told her this was the arrangement, disowning responsibility for Marnie's pain and making her think it is her fault for consenting to be with him sexually while he remains with Clementine. It is the same kind of situation Hannah's old boss Rich got her into — I'm going to grope you, so you have to tell me if the groping bothers you because if you suffer in silence, I told you I was going to grope you, so don't be upset when I grope you. When Desi insists that Marnie go out and find what she wants, Marnie insists that she knows what that is and he won't give it to her — and I love that she is right. All she wants is to be the girlfriend of someone who meets her mystifying criteria for desirable boyfriendhood.

As enjoyable as all the other threads of "Female Author" are, Jessa's is the most intriguing in terms of where it takes her character and story — as well as Adam's. They are a lot alike. Hannah is attracted to both of them for the same reasons, although Jessa is a great deal more vulnerable to her than Adam is. The two of them go to AA together, where Adam says he wants to throw all of Hannah's fridge magnets away and stop talking to her about nothing on the phone just to talk to her every day because he has to. Jessa empathizes with how useless it is to talk to someone who's not there, but Jessa also goes out of her way to see those people she wants to see. Hannah is not someone she wants to see right now, since Jessa views her exit to Iowa as an attempt to abandon her. While they talk shit about Hannah, a dude comes by and gets all over Jessa for cigarettes, and she alludes to having let the dude make out with her one day. This allusion to Jessa's sexual availability is rhymed by her attempt to ask Adam about someone he is seeing as they walk down the street together. Adam is evasive, denying that this relationship to which she alludes is anything consistent. While they bond over sober birthdays and Adam's infidelity, Jessa urinates in public, attracting the attentions of a police officer. He fines her, she refuses, and is arrested, as is Adam when he tries to intervene. This is the second time Adam has been arrested on Girls thanks to one of the main characters.

Once Ray springs them, Adam dismiss Jessa as manipulative and a bad influence, to which Jessa opens up and admits what dire need she is in for a friend that will not leave her. Jessa does need that, and the idea that that friend could be Adam! I'm excited! I hope this bears out. I think time with Adam will make Jessa see how inhumanly he treats Hannah. More than any other aspect of Girls, I am invested in Hannah and Jessa's relationship. Just one shallow step below that on my Girls priorities is seeing anyone — I'd like it to be Hannah, but anyone really — recognize and appreciate that Adam does not see Hannah as a human being and does not act in her best interest. Let this be it!

No comments:

Post a Comment