Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 4: "Cubbies" - Workshopping each other's emotions.

I keep a day planner less to plan my day than to reflect on how I spend my time and hold myself accountable when my life does not look like it should. I have considerable control over the shape of my day, so why did it take me all week to write this? I have to give myself a pass for being in the midst of an obsession with Jascha Heifetz's master classes and reading fiction for Black Balloon/Catapult and working on my favorite project I have ever worked on at my day job. Pass given. As much as I cannot wait for the next episode (!), this episode augmented the pleasure of this week profoundly. Speaking of augmented pleasure:

Girls, Episode Thirty-Six, "Cubbies"

If every episode herewith in season four contained a wounding job interview with Shoshanna, that would please me. This bureaucratic encounter maintains the aura of mystery in which Shoshanna's expertise radiates its weird energy. Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's wheelhouses have been articulated and incorporated into their stories, but Shoshanna's thing is that she is a student, and that is still her thing. When the interviewer tells her she is not getting the job, Shoshanna wants to know why — until she is insulted for having asked the questions, the answers designed specifically to insult her.

People who are strictly passive learners fascinate me. It is valid, but to feel unable to rely on one's observations intimidates me wildly.

Shoshanna's chief drawbacks, according to the interviewer, are that she is reductive and off-putting. In the interest of honesty, Shoshanna shares the fact that her interviewer's jewelry is inadequate. The whole scene establishes parallels between Shoshanna and Hannah, particularly in their failure to be savvy about what kind of truths to dispense and when. It is not merely social tone-deafness, though, on either part. Hannah's "brutal honesty" is reactionary: people keep telling her about herself, so she tells them about themselves. Shoshanna, meanwhile, draws strength from the truths to which she adheres — things she sees in romantic comedies and on Sex and the City — and she believes that if others were clued into these truths, such as the inadequacy of the jewelry, they too would draw strength from being better at being girls.

From that to another scene about evaluation: Jessa listens to Marnie and Desi's demo. Jessa does not want to evaluate the song and has nothing to really say about it. She does not like it, but more than that, she does not care about it. As soon as Shoshanna joins them, Marnie remarks that she looks amazing. Marnie is always down to do some evaluating, so she does not understand why anyone would pass up the chance to evaluate her.

Shoshanna then verbalizes the thesis of Girls: "What makes these people qualified to judge me?" That Shoshanna is the one who gets this epiphany is so correct: she is the one who, however idiosyncratically, is the best equipped to listen to and believe in herself. That foundation may not be made of titanium or anything, and it is based on her ability to reflect the values of SATC, but Shoshanna feels that she has it in her to reflect that ideal of success and is in the best place to adjust her expectations for what that success really looks like. She changed Ray's life and had the clarity of mind to realize that was more trouble than it was worth. I've been worried about Shoshanna — her appearances last season amounted to nothing.

Appropriately, Shoshanna evaluates Marnie's song by listening to a fraction of it and deciding it has hit potential and, therefore, however much she likes it is ultimately irrelevant because she will hear it everywhere. Marnie's reaction to that had me gesticulating wildly: she wishes Hannah were there because she is an artist and she would be able to really tell Marnie how the song sounds! This is what I was waiting for. After shaming Hannah into the ground over her attempt to even try to prioritize art over her career and boyfriend, then alienating herself from her the more she understood that Hannah did the right thing, now that Marnie is halfheartedly using art as a conceit to regain the shades of career and boyfriend she lost, she wants Hannah to tell her that she is doing it right. This is the same kind of payoff that came on Mad Men with Joan, who, after years of shaming Peggy for her inability to dress like a golden age movie star, found herself trying to look like a professional young woman with only Peggy's example to follow.

Hannah is completely stalled out in Iowa. I love that she tells Elijah that everything she writes feels trivial because that is Ray's voice from season one haunting her all the way here. Hannah has the desire to write but no faith in her voice or observations because the people around her belittle and reduce everything she goes through. The only font of inspiration she can end up tapping is her frustration with her classmates, so she crafts them marvels of passive aggression that she inserts into their cubbies.

Her classmates are alienated and alarmed by the way Hannah blames them and their critiques for her inability to do work. But when one student says her letter read like a LiveJournal, Hannah balls up some paper and throws it in his face. That was another moment that thrilled me and felt rewarding to see. Being the bigger person in the face of weak insults is exhausting. Hannah has never stood up for herself like that. Afterwards, Hannah's professor asks her to hang back, and Hannah is vocally excited by the prospect of getting kicked out. She could not, by this point, even trust herself to quit.

Just in time, her dad visits and shares with Hannah the story of how her mom wrote a book, or attempted to, but then she quit and it made her happier. It sounds so spectacularly unreliable and a sad conclusion to paint in the feebly good light in which he paints it. When Hannah infers from that story that she should quit, her dad gets excessively upset for her and with her. But Hannah feels that his feelings are encroaching on hers. It seems harsh, but every interaction Hannah's ever had with her parents demonstrate that the Horvaths do not do boundaries well. They are particularly prone to not just allowing Hannah to feel something without trying to figure it out, like they cannot just observe it. When he drops Hannah off, he tells her they should run away together. I love that the request puts Hannah off, but she does not question it. If something happened to her dad, I don't think Hannah has the equipment to handle it, and there has been signs from all the way back in season one that he is having health problems.

Also melting down somewhat is Ray, shaken from his apartment to scream at cars on the street. There is a reason for it, but that is very secondary to how ready Ray was to melt down. It makes narrative sense, even though the pacing of Ray's story has been erratic — he is still letting Marnie go back to the well of his physical affection because of her low self-esteem, something he would have loved in season one, but since Shoshanna made him realize he wants love and to have pride in himself founded on something besides making others feel less than, like he did when he told Hannah her experiences made for trivial subject matter, he does not have the ability to deal with his self-loathing and frustration in a new way. So he screams at strangers, just like he did when he was an insult barista (Richard Brody's term).

Shoshanna pretends to spontaneously encounter him doing this, despite the fact that Ray's neighborhood is a place to which she would have to deliberately travel, and he tries to be accommodating to her, muting his nut-rage, and taking her along for his errand run, which Shoshanna inevitably co-ops. He allows her because he trusts her, and he even trusts her to pick out a shirt that Shoshanna probably only picks out because she wants Ray to have the benefit of the doubt that it is the shirt he wants. She had no qualms about critiquing her interviewer's jewelry or Marnie's song, but she withholds judgment of Ray's shirt because she thinks, I think, that she can learn something from Ray. Not that he has something to teach her, but that knowing him could be important to her, and he feels the same way. And after so many awful, tedious conversations over the course of last season, Ray and Shoshanna go back to being as compelling as they were in "She Did."

Only two moments are dedicated to Marnie's real mission of late — her music being a red herring: in the first, Desi is distracted by the way Marnie is no longer lovestruck and willing to acknowledge their musical collaboration is an excuse for them to have sex. In the second, Desi tries to bash Marnie's door in as he sobs and confesses it is over between he and his girlfriend, Clementine. Marnie is completely into his vulnerability and brokenness and so excited to be there for him until his story starts to sound like she dumped him. He denies it, but Marnie's look of dismay remains while he says he loves only her. He goes down on her, and that look morphs into the most genuine expression of happiness and triumph Marnie has definitively ever worn in the life of Girls.

Meanwhile, Hannah leaves Iowa, probably for good, and heads back to Brooklyn, probably with an encounter like the one Marnie is having with Desi in mind. And when she knocks on the door of her apartment, a woman named Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs!) answers the door. She assumes Hannah is Hannah, but Hannah has never heard of her. Hannah's couch is gone, her table is gone, but Adam is there with Mimi Rose.

If Hannah, now, had to decide for herself where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do, understanding that know signs will point her there and that she cannot trust the ones that do, that would mean everything to me.

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