Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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