Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 5: "Sit-In" - Some great, artistic love story.

After challenging the idea that women cannot create art, they can only transcribe, for two years, the cumulative affect of so many critics confusing Lena Dunham and Hannah Horvath provoked some sour, reactionary moments in season three. The nigh inextricable identification of the writer with the character serves one of the best facets of Girls, which is its existence as a masterfully told story about an artist who does not have the confidence to see her story as worth telling.

Before the holidays, one of my coworkers edited the manuscript of my critical book about Girls, and she asked me what made me write it, assuming it was the characters and not Dunham. The fact that someone my age wrote something that exciting to me is no small part of my affection for the show, but I really care about Hannah.

All Hannah wants is external validation that she has made the right decision, the possibility of which is a difficult thing to watch an artist want so openly. The times I have felt myself wanting that from some person or institution is when I have felt the worst. It would, of course, be a wonderful thing if the people I admired thought my work is great, but if I let that guide me, I might not make the work I want, that I feel is important to make. At the same time, that approval has been so important to me because feeling seen, especially by someone I respect and admire, is so valuable — so valuable I feel scared to want it. I can't trust other people. I can only trust myself. I love Hannah for wanting to fully trust only other people, for wanting to be told she is good, for demanding that her value be recognized. And her total distrust of herself is cathartic as well. Why do I have to be all alone in this process? How am I supposed to be objective? What am I producing?

I love Hannah. It does not do the character justice to amend that with "even though she's not perfect." That implies a) anyone is, b) my affection for the character has anything to do with morals. I also love the narrator of Dennis Cooper's the Marbled Swarm. I love that I get that character, that I get to feel through Hannah what is difficult to face by myself.

I have never loved or needed this show more.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Seven, "Sit-In"

The camera, on Hannah, shakes. The episode picks up immediately where "Cubbies" left off, with Hannah what had been her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She lived there with Marnie, then with Elijah, then alone, then with Adam. After coming back one year and eight months early from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Hannah's found the apartment occupied by Adam and Mimi-Rose Howard. All her furniture and affects have been placed in a storage, which Adam emphasizes that he's paid for — along with how he did not do anything wrong and has not "[broken] any rules" by cohabiting with Mimi-Rose besides, Hannah points out, the rule of human decency. "Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller," Hannah tells him when he gives her the address for her storage unit, "another grand, romantic gesture from the last of the red hot lovers." Lena Dunham's portrayal of Hannah in her mixture of disgust, sincerity, and surprise with what she is saying and how she feels about what she is saying and crushes it. That expectation is so dangerous, that Adam be a red hot lover, but Hannah had it anyway.

With her suitcases in her hand, Adam clarifies how "this" — Mimi-Rose and their relationship — had nothing to do with Hannah. Hannah, having been totally erased from the apartment and from Adam's consideration, agrees. Overcome with how humiliated and miserable she is, Hannah thrusts herself into "her" room, where she locks herself in and takes to bed.

The apartment is spare and filled with Adam's reclaimed wood furniture. It does not recall Adam's old apartment and suggests that, as identifiably Adam as the decor is, he is not interested in recapturing that time in his life when Hannah would materialize in his old place. Unlike Hannah, Adam has not accumulated anything as much as he has burned trails up behind him. Marnie met Desi through him and the two of them were friends, but as Adam tries to chase down Marnie, he takes the time during the message he leaves Desi to remind Desi of who he is. As Mimi-Rose was revealed over the course of "Sit-In," I thought about what an amazing proposition Natalia seemed in season two and the role that recovery played in that relationship. Maybe that urine-soaked life that Natalia saw was not Hannah's after all.

Mimi-Rose is dismissed (save one vital, spectral appearance) from the rest of the episode after she opens the door to who she assumes is Marnie but who is, in fact, Shoshanna. There is no more perfect mistake Mimi-Rose could have made. Not only does Shoshanna give vent for the viewer sympathizing with Hannah —"I don't know who you are and I don't care to know" — but Shoshanna is so engaged with the project of Shoshanna and has so little respect for Marnie, the moment propels her all the more firmly into Hannah's corner.

Shoshanna wants to assume the role of the confidant, but in her mortifying suspicion that Hannah has already confided in everyone else and her too-efficient prioritization of emotional-cosmetic fixes precludes any shot she has at being of real use to Hannah. After realizing in Shoshanna's presence that Adam has knocked down the wall between the bedroom and his workspace — something they planned on that she then did not get to participate in — and how Mimi-Rose is an accomplished artist, Hannah is overloaded. All it takes is a suggestion from Shoshanna that she needs a bath before anything more can be done for her and Hannah kicks at her boob and shuts down.

Then Jessa arrives, pissed that Shoshanna is already there, pissed at Adam's revelation that he called Marnie before he considered contacting either of them, pissed at Marnie for being the first person Adam called (Jessa drops the line "tell [Marnie] her services are no longer needed," is that supposed to be an insult implying that she is a prostitute or has, in Hannah's absence, Jessa become involved in Marnie in their own weird toxic friendship the likes of which "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too" only hinted), and above all pissed at Hannah.

At Flavorwire, Alison Herman observed that, when it comes to people like Jessa, people like Hannah should "never expect out of [them] what [they don't] have it in them to give." Herman references Hannah's road trip to eject Jessa from rehab in "Truth or Dare," something she says Jessa would never do for Hannah. But Jessa thought they were even after her stint in rehab: she came to New York to be with Hannah during her crisis pregnancy. Even though she had a miscarriage, Jessa still went through the entire thing with little support from Hannah, who was blindsided by her parent's withdrawal of financial assistance, her evolving relationship with Adam, and her eroding relationship with Marnie. When Jessa realized Hannah was incapable of detecting how she failed her, she fled, and as of the end of season three, Jessa was kind of on her way to a good situation — waylaid as it was, ultimately, by the matter of (abortive) assisted suicide.

Anyway, Hannah decamping for Iowa came off as a supreme betrayal to Jessa, who is still in New York for Hannah and Hannah alone. "Why aren't you in Idaho?" she asks Hannah, limpid on the bed. Hannah says she feels insane. She does not detect or ignores the irritation in Jessa's voice. Jessa sits in Adam's woodworking studio and intimates that she was aware of Mimi-Rose and, as far as she knew, made Hannah aware of her. She, in fact, set "MRH" and Adam up to what she sees as the fruitful end of Adam being more forthcoming in AA meetings. Hannah, appalled, asks Jessa to please specify what kind of revelations were worth her, Jessa, getting her, Hannah's, boyfriend a new girlfriend. "Hannah," Jessa says, condescending to her like Jessa has never condescended to anyone before, "you know I can't tell you that. It's anonymous. Don't be a child." Hannah smacks the side of Jessa's body. Jessa smacks Hannah in the face. Before she blows out of the apartment, Jessa informs Adam that Hannah has digressed to a pre-verbal level and that that is Marnie territory.

For Jessa, whose own childhood has been hinted at as being so traumatic, to accuse Hannah of being a child is the ultimate intimation of "you have brought this on yourself, you have no control over what I can do to you."

Hannah, who cannot get a hold of Marnie any more than Adam can, winds up stuck alone in the bedroom, resigned to pissing in a bucket instead of venturing out into the apartment where she could have to see or interact with Adam and Mimi-Rose. I would do the same thing and Hannah's commitment to being locked in the bedroom was very validating to experience. If my significant other violated my space in that way, though, that alone would be more than enough for me to feel sound in the whole thing being over. Touch my stuff and that is it.

When she does venture into the apartment, it has been taken over by the unsettling pillow talk of Caroline and Laird. Laird "creams" a very pregnant Caroline's feet. Candles are lit everywhere. Hannah is so unnerved that it has come to this that she lies and says she is fine to discourage any more gestures of reassurance from either of them. Any glimpse of Gaby Hoffman is a privilege, but I love how she states nakedly that Adam cannot make it with a girl who is functional and fine. He needs to care for something twisted and wounded, like Hannah. Caroline is not wrong in the least, and that is what Hannah needs to keep in perspective: this is her chance, because Adam might take the opportunity to try and go back to her. He was lured away from Natalia because she was so functional. She could sharply identify the ways that Adam was not, and in Hannah's harsh OCD episode, he saw the good he could do her and ran back to that.

Several nightmares later, Hannah wakes up to jazz playing and bacon sizzling. The dreaminess of the moment Hannah wakes up, her assessment of where she is and what is going on, not for any one note in particular, but the whole situation reminded me of "One Man's Trash." Caroline told Hannah last night that Adam is likely fated to Hannah or someone like her, but one time, Hannah got a glimpse of what could be — she could be wanted by somebody else, and she could want security instead of life, and when else would that death-dealing fantasy be as appealing as now?

But she is not in Dr. Joshua's brownstone. She is still in her apartment that Adam has gutted, but Ray is over and cooking her breakfast. He gives her a hug and apologizes for it all — for Adam's betrayal, but also presumably for his own failure to be there for her in a compassionate, friend-ish way. Ray was Charlie's friend, and he channeled his hatred of Charlie's girlfriend Marnie onto Hannah, then channeled his hatred of Charlie's ex-girlfriend Marnie onto Hannah, then channeled his hatred of himself in the aftermath of his failed relationship with Shoshanna onto an affair with Marnie that Hannah witnessed. He is humbled.

This new level of understanding that Ray has reached about himself is especially vivid when juxtaposed with "One Man's Trash." Ray is currently trying to channel his hatred into a constructive place, into something he can maybe control: the traffic congestion on his street. "One Man's Trash" is a bottle episode that takes place entirely between Hannah and an affluent doctor in his brownstone, but it starts at Café Grumpy, where Ray was supervising Hannah at the time. The doctor asks Ray who from Grumpy's is depositing their trash in his dumpsters, and Ray viciously harasses and insults him until he leaves. He blows up at the doctor's suggestion they could "talk, neighbor to neighbor." This idea that one can talk to others, neighbor to neighbor, is now obsessing Ray. I love that he and Hannah share this tie to the fevery idyll that episode represents.

With a hand burned from a mishap with the bacon, Hannah has the fortitude to return to the video she and Shoshanna found of a keynote address given by Mimi-Rose on the subject of love. Hannah makes some progress on it before Marnie arrives, but Marnie's presence so unsettles Hannah that she darts for the bathroom and says she needs to take a shower and cannot talk to her.

Marnie's adaptation of Desi's vocabulary — particularly her use of "woodshedding" — is so perfect. Marnie is such an alarming shell, and it was a canny choice to remind the audience of that even when she has something to truly offer Hannah in this scene. She busts in on Hannah's fake shower and admits that she had been avoiding Hannah because she had to formulate how to tell her that she needs to let Adam go.

Hannah informs Marnie that letting people go does not come easily to her. Hannah is so beclouded by the situation in which she has found herself, she clearly forgets who she is talking to here or else a calling-out would have surly come: Marnie hung on to Charlie with such force he had to disappear into thin air for her to spiral out of control and at least attach her world of abandonment issues onto a new guy. What frame of reference does Marnie have for letting go? She has Hannah. She and Hannah broke up in a forthright manner, Marnie moved out, and she gave Hannah the space to feel mad at her and she gave herself the space to miss Hannah. Marnie has not learned anything from her time with Charlie, everything about her conduct with Desi spells that out, but she has learned from her time with Hannah. And of course she sees Adam as being an analog to her, because she thinks she should occupy, inside Hannah, that boyfriend-sized space of regard. Marnie still believes no one loves Hannah as much as she does.

Hannah and Marnie's first proper scene together took place in that bathtub. And there Marnie reminds Hannah that the "great, artistic love story" she dreamt of being a part of is probably them. "You and me?" Hannah asks, and then mutters, resigned, "I'll take it." At their most distant, Marnie saw on Hannah's computer that, when she could not write anything else, the thing most clear to her was how "a friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance." Also, when Hannah tries to get Marnie on the phone earlier, she refers to the apartment as their apartment — hers and Marnie's, still.

After that, Hannah is ready. She gathers her things. Adam returns and, seeing she is wounded, swoops in to dress it properly. The scene between them is beautiful and necessary, and confirms again that Adam cannot give Hannah what she wants. He calls her "kid," which called Hannah back to him in season two, but she tells him he cannot call her that anymore. He tells her he will vacate the apartment and give it back to her, but as for that night, she has no place to stay. Desi is living with Marnie now. She hit both Jessa and Shoshanna. Ray needs too much. Caroline and Laird are both just downstairs and crazy. Hannah locates her storage unit. She clears off her couch, crushed in the middle, and lies there.

And in her head, she has Mimi-Rose's keynote address:
How many of you remember your first love? Hands. Yes, me, too. When I was nine, I fell in love for the first time. The minute I saw Peter, I knew he would be mine. With his flaxen hair and overalls, he was like a Norman Rockwell painting. And one day, on a ride to an ice cream parlor, he finally asked me to hold hands. I was in heaven. But that night, as I tried to read a book, an activity that had heretofore been my favorite, I found myself distracted. Where's Peter? What is he thinking about? My private time, my time to focus and learn and grow, was being sliced in half by my new relationship. So, yes, when I was nine, I broke up with someone for hindering my creativity. And nothing's changed. Maybe I'm crazy, but who knows? Think of all your ups and downs, all your hopes and fears. How many of them have been yours and how many have been constructs of romantic discord?
If Mimi-Rose's words have the power to penetrate Hannah's self-doubt, they could move her the way Marnie and her parents have moved her — not towards prioritizing career or romance, but towards prioritizing her art. Can Hannah trust that to have come from the person who represents how alienated she has become from her whole life as she knew it before Iowa, which was a move she tried to make for herself that blew up horrifically? The last time she isolated herself to write, even though it was not what she wanted to write, she opened herself back up to Adam. What can this voice accomplish in Hannah's head?

Also, does that not sound — how Mimi-Rose learned a lesson — like a twin performance to accompany Adam's "that'll teach you" monologue?

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