Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 7: "Ask Me My Name" - I'm not in the mood for a poem.

According to HBO's original synopsis, this episode was supposed to cut away to Shoshanna helping Ray with his Community Board Eight election campaign. The episode benefited from being one story, but I am interested in seeing if the show maintains cohesion with the Ray and Shoshanna material.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Nine, "Ask Me My Name"

Like no episode before it, "Ask Me My Name" spoke its subtext and had characters come out and state their sincere and accurately observed motivation. I would not want to see this every week on Girls, but after three years of critics failing to get what is actually going on between Hannah and the other characters, this was fair. And the timing is perfect for Hannah, especially, to break it to herself why she is doing what she is doing.

She has secured a teaching job — subbing at a private school called Saint Justine's — where she elucidates Oedipus for her class. Her observations about the text echo her therapist's diagnosis of her current predicament from "Close Up":
The fact is, Oedipus couldn't have done anything differently. He was screwed from the moment he was born. But he still had free will, so he had the free will to make positive choices. So this begs the question are we just doing good things to avoid personal suffering, or is there actually such a thing as goodness?
The only comfort Hannah has in the face of her failure at Iowa is that she did it to make her mother happy, just like she blazed her way through awful job after awful job to make her parents happy, the way she got a boyfriend to make Marnie happy, and the way she abnegated her dignity to make Adam happy. But none of those "good things" helped her avoid personal suffering — and her refusal to act in her own best interests and circuitously emotionally blackmail others by placing them first has come off to most of those close to her as selfishness. Hannah would wonder, at this point, if there is such a thing as "goodness" or if she is the monster people make her feel she is.

And then she skips right into the teacher's lounge and has a witty exchange with a fellow teacher (Jenny Slate's Obvious Child beau Jake Lacy, who I am pleased to see as any iteration on his character from The Office anywhere, ever). "I'm Fran," he says. "Your juice box says Joe," says Hannah, "so I'm not sure what to believe." He tells her about Joe, and the formatting of that interaction will return later.

The only detour the episode takes is to Hannah's apartment, where she prepares for the date Fran asked her on that exists to give Andrew Rannells another chance to entirely justify the episode spending time it barely has on Elijah's method of rooming with Hannah.

Hannah's date with Fran lasts just long enough for an allusion to the Dangerous Minds TV show, teaching credentials, and what constitutes delivering a "good" performance as something other than the star of a pornographic film. Then Hannah asks Fran to an art show. Then "Ask Me My Name" takes off.

"Ask Me My Name" is the title of the art show — Mimi-Rose's art show — where Hannah steers Fran. I loved every part of the scene with Jessa that explains the conceit of the show: a figure in a smock regales Jessa with a story, "I asked Steph to meet me at the mall. She texted me back. 'LOL, I don't hang with sluts.' I was like, 'What did Jaden say?'" Jessa demands to know what Jaden says, but the figures reverse their smocks. Another one continues the story, "By this point, it was all over Facebook. 'Amber sucks baseball dick.'" Jessa demands to know what the person said back, but they are actors and they cannot go off-script. Jessa is scandalized that they are reading from a script. I wish Jemima Kirke had more opportunities to do comedic scenes, but the ones she gets are luminous.

Joshua Alston at the A.V. Club was put off by the presence of Marnie at Mimi-Rose's show, which strikes him as constituting too much of a betrayal. But going back as long as Girls has documented the relationship between Marnie and Hannah, Marnie has always embraced any opportunity to show Hannah who's doing things right with repellant zeal. Marnie loves successful people, like Tally Schifrin, and if they touch a nerve in Hannah, all the better, because as far as Marnie is concerned, Hannah has to learn. She would not be bothered by them if she would just succeed. Marnie's attendance at the show does not surprise me at all, especially considering her professional background in the art world. She can lord Mimi-Rose's success over Hannah and make herself feel sharp in appraising Mimi-Rose's work. And Desi gets to listen to it all.

He is pleased to see Hannah, but Marnie is not, and then Adam shows up. Since he is in the show, he has to finish his monologue — about being a child separated from his mother in an internment camp — before he can lay into Hannah for showing up at Mimi-Rose's show. Fran ably defends Hannah until he realizes he has receded entirely from her view and that she is there to do what she came to do, which is make Adam deal with her rage.

Before he can, Mimi-Rose comes over, filled with goodwill at the sight of Hannah, and invites Hannah to join her, Adam, and her former partner, Ace, at an after-party. Zachary Quinto's Ace gave me a hard chill. That is a strain of dude that causes me to take steps backwards, my head shaking.

Mimi-Rose — "Mims" to Ace, who plans to "wear [my smock] till the morning time and then pretend I work at Home Depot all day, helping people and shit" — compels Ace and Adam into a cab together and grabs another for she and Hannah.

First, Ace and Adam's ride: Ace recasts the events of "Close Up" in a spectacularly different light by telling Adam that Mimi-Rose's sweet, affectless way is a "hollow," "curated" front for her mission to manipulate and terrorize the people with whom she is involved. This immediately needles into the viewer the idea that Mimi-Rose did not even have an abortion, but just told Adam to see what it would do to him. This possibility does not escape Adam, either, who wants to dismiss Ace since, if she was so bad, he would not continue to support her, but Ace fires back: he will always be in love with Mimi-Rose and endeavors to get her back.

While Ace successfully eviscerates Adam's spirit, Mimi-Rose, on her ride with Hannah, provided me with one of the most visceral reactions to Girls I have had in some time, probably since Jessa's wedding in "She Did." Mimi-Rose is another person who is very familiar to me. I have felt like a useless piece of scenery when out with someone who gets more mileage from charming someone that person will not ever meet again so bystanders can get a good look at how good they are.

Mimi-Rose prioritizes making nice with the driver over Hannah, and when she does engage with her, it is to interrogate her about the show. Hannah overrides Mimi-Rose's appeal for criticism by insisting it was perfect, which Mimi-Rose says it absolutely was not since she was so distracted by a book she had to write while she was supposed to be organizing the show.

Mimi-Rose trolls Hannah with devastating precision: "I got sucked into writing this stupid book. It's a psychosexual thriller told from the perspective of a dead woman who solves her own murder using hologram technology that she invented. I think it'll probably suck, but I just always try to work outside my comfort zone cause that's the only way you grow." One of Hannah's most significant steps to being a writer on her own terms was her season two escapades. Even though she was still trying to break even, writing for recognition instead of herself, Hannah did invest her hopes and dreams in the book that she was given the opportunity to write after her exploitative article thrusted her — per JazzHate's mandate — outside her comfort zone.

Hannah's attempt to direct their taxi driver — a possible assertion of his role as being of service to them, not a member of the party in the taxi — results in their running over an old woman. Mimi-Rose tries to offer her support to the woman, Mary, and the driver, Adeem — both of their names offered at Mimi-Rose's request — but Hannah pulls her away, assuring her they don't need her. They spend long enough in a convenience store for Mimi-Rose to troll Hannah a little more. They steal a popsicle, criming while white as the cop interrogates Adeem right outside, and then break for a laundromat with a bathroom Hannah can use.

In the convenience store, Hannah is able to articulate to Mimi-Rose that she is irrelevant, and if she harbors any negative feelings, they are toward Adam and his failure to confront Hannah with his feelings about Mimi-Rose. Mimi-Rose gets this out of Hannah by asking her, "Are you mad at me?", which Hannah does when she wants to provoke someone into snapping at her, revealing what is really irritating them. Hannah withholds any key outburst, but is set off when Mimi-Rose uses the two minutes Hannah takes in the laundromat bathroom to write a poem for and enchant a laundromat patron.

Hannah does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose, so Mimi-Rose proposes something that will get Hannah's attention: she could get Adam back. Jessa told Mimi-Rose that Hannah still had it for Adam, which Mimi-Rose said got her evaluating her interest in Adam. "I wouldn't just give him to you," says Mimi-Rose, "but I feel like we could figure something out. I would subtly distance myself from him as you incrementally worked your way back into his life. Perhaps through a joint creative project."

Hannah is repulsed by this. When Mimi-Rose suggests that Hannah is just angry for giving up on art and/or Adam, Hannah clarifies that she gave up on neither and, without the benefit of Ace hissing in her ear, deftly appraises Mimi-Rose's schtick: "I was away at graduate school getting a graduate degree in a form of art that is actual art, unlike what you do, which is not art. And you're not a genius. You're just tricking people and confusing them, and I think you know it's bullshit, and I think maybe you should just admit it."

Mimi-Rose's explanation of the show's inspiration works a hole into Hannah. Hannah concedes that she does not want to talk to Mimi-Rose because of the book she's writing, because of her invitations to give keynote addresses, because of her conventionally pretty face. Mimi-Rose responds, "The way that you see me, I'm afraid that that's the way everyone sees me. I just want to make something that says something, and I don't even know why anymore."

I cannot improve upon Alston's observation here:
Mimi-Rose doesn't have a grand vision of her life or career any more than Hannah does. Her self-doubt doesn't prevent her from creating the way Hannah's does, but while she's executing her ideas, she doesn't know what's driving her to do so. She's also deeply manipulative, dangling the prospect of giving Adam back to Hannah like he's a newly adopted pet. Mimi-Rose's art is a facet of her manipulation, which is why she can't get to the bottom of where her creative drive comes from. She cranks out work easily because she doesn't much care whether the output is good, only that she can use it to shape people's opinions of her.
As soon as Hannah acknowledges that she did not feel she was talented enough for Iowa and is now confronting the fear that she will lead the kind of dissatisfying life she has seen her mother lead, Mimi-Rose implores her to go drinking with her. Just as Hannah opens up. What a disastrous person.

Hannah only follows through with Mimi-Rose's invitation long enough to put the swirl on top of Adam's dark sundae of the soul. She tells him Mimi-Rose has her stamp of approval after not just his ride with Ace, but his accidentally admission of Ace's plan to get Mimi-Rose back to Jessa, who set Mimi-Rose up with Adam to pursue Ace, with whom she is now in a relationship.

Hannah then does the right thing: getting away from all of those people. She fails to charm a service person in a sandwich shop and takes her falafel sandwich and seltzer into the night.

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