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Friday, March 13, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 8: "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" - She's not going to tolerate a half-finished haiku.

With nearly proportional disastrousness, one marriage ends and another begins.

Photos: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty, "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz"

Hannah's parents are "the hammock under [her] Earth." Her dad, Tad, has had health issues that have been demonstrated and alluded to, and her mom, Loreen, is less than satisfied with her situation. She doesn't have the lake house that she wants and has been working toward, her family is extremely critical of her, and according to Tad, she gave up writing and settled for her career as a professor and her family.

At this point in season four, Hannah's almost completely unmoored and is questioning all the things that have formed the foundations of her identity. "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" makes that foundation even more vulnerable. As Tad and Loreen leave therapy, with Loreen reflecting on the accomplishment of achieving tenure, Tad comes out to her as gay. Loreen has nothing like total joy for Tad.

Loreen: "We were in therapy two seconds ago. You weren't gay in there."
Tad: "Yes, I was. I just didn't want to share it with her."
Loreen: "That is who you're supposed to be sharing it with, our therapist who we pay."
Tad: "Yeah, I just couldn't do it. I don't trust her."

Loreen accuses Tad of doing this in order to upstage her tenure (and when Elijah told Hannah he thought her dad was gay back in season one, that came across as Elijah's attempt to co-opt and upstage Hannah's revelation that he gave her HPV). Tad denies it and says this is not about her at all. "It's not not about me," she tells him, echoing the way Hannah replied to Adam's assertion that his involvement with Mimi-Rose had nothing to do with her: "You know what, Adam? I think I really understand that part."

They go to celebrate Loreen's tenure at their friends Avi and Shanaz's house, where Tad tries to reach out to Avi about what happened, but recoils. Instead, he bombs a toast, unable to say he loves Loreen, and Loreen brings the whole thing to a halt. When she tries to get a moment alone, Avi corners her, wanting to resume a tryst he reveals they started, but Loreen cannot hold it together. She dissolves into laughter. Becky Ann Baker makes every moment of this as good as it is, but my favorite moment was with all the guests seated at dinner, talking about their kids. The one couple's child is an infant cardiac surgeon. The other's is a meth addict and a professional dancer. Loreen and Tad do not venture to talk about Hannah. The fact that Hannah is neither an atrocity or a peerless achiever might be 1) a sobering fact, 2) a pleasant shock, 3) a profound relief, 4) a surprising disappointment — Tad and Loreen's perspective on Hannah has never been predictable.

I mentioned Tad and Loreen's juxtaposition with Marnie and Desi, but this episode is all about couples and the status of being in a couple. Tad and Loreen are dissolving because they realize — or at least Tad realizes, at this point — that they have been seeing themselves not as they are.

But whatever Marnie calls a thing, that's what it is. When Charlie slept with her after she demonstrated troubling behavior (stopping a party to which she was not genuinely invited to do a slow Kanye cover), that meant they were back in a committed relationship. Likewise, her relationship with Desi is a result of that same force of will colliding with Desi's horrifyingly vivid brand of being The Worst. Desi is as caught up in his image as a folk musician Marnie is with their image as a couple. The minute those fantasies impinge on each other, everything starts turning to ash around them. When Marnie demonstrates that she doesn't exist in the service of his idea of himself, he lashes out. In this, they're exactly alike! Marnie cannot stand one fault in her facade, or everything is ruined. Marnie has never bounced back from losing the foundations to her identity (Charlie, her gallery job, Hannah). She can only thrive under absolutely ideal conditions, and those conflict somewhat with Desi's version of ideal conditions, which include "the tightest fucking German guitar pedals ever made in history" that "single-handedly created the distortion that became the My Bloody Valentine sound." He blew their whole advance on them — money that was meant for both of them — without discussing the decision with Marnie, and when she calls him out, he calls her a "fucking bitch" and a rain cloud, tells her she ruined his day, and leaves.

They reunite later, in a coffee shop, where Marnie receives Desi's boring apology evasively from behind her phone. She introduces the fact that her parents' marriage came to an end over the misuse of money. It is a vulnerable moment, but the only other time Marnie has mentioned her parents to another character — although her mother's appeared several times — has been to Hannah in "Beach House." Marnie explained to Hannah her fear of abandonment that stemmed from her parent's divorce and how it informs the way she treats her. The conversation was not framed as cathartic on Marnie's part but as a failed prelude to the genuine sharing she wanted to do with Hannah that was not about anything but them. I suspect that was what she is trying to do here with Desi before he tells her to "shut up" and proposes to her. Which she receives gleefully, probably to the fascination of those eavesdropping on their conversation around this unsettlingly bland coffee shop.

The two potential couples are Shoshanna and Scott the Soup Mogul and Hannah and Fran. Shoshanna and Jessa mirror the scene from "Ask Me My Name" where Hannah and Elijah prepared for her date. Instead of making light of the event like Elijah, Jessa dramatizes Shoshanna's shot at something, as she is both out of work and without a significant other. Jessa does not have any opinion when it comes to professional pursuits, but she wastes no time dispensing her advice on how to withhold affection, tantalize, and confuse men, boasting of the "four suicides" she has under her belt. Ace, Jessa says, is different. Her assessment of him as "self-possessed" is wonderful in light of his appearance in "Ask Me My Name," where he appeared self-amused and air headed. I cannot wait for the moment he and Jessa are on screen together and to hear an observation Ace has about Jessa.

What may or may not be the scene with Shoshanna and Ray that was supposed to have gone in "Ask Me My Name," her date story is cleaved in order to demonstrate Shoshanna's contribution to Ray's campaign for Community Board Eight. When he tries to broach the subject of work, he veers immediately to the topic of relationships, a conversation that reveals that 1) he has an eHarmony profile and 2) he still has feelings he cannot rationalize for Marnie.

Although Ray and Marnie make sense, it's for such dark reasons. Ray has evolved so much as a character. At the beginning of Girls, all he did was harass people and engineer disaster. Then he fell in love with Shoshanna, which not only threw his awfulness into sharp relief, but made him reevaluate that awfulness. He made a professional change to impress Shoshanna, but when he realized how empty a gesture that was, he still found something in it for him. But even with that, he was still vulnerable from losing Shoshanna, which enabled his unholy union with Marnie. Marnie, at the time, went to Ray looking specifically for old Ray, the Ray that shouted her out of Café Grumpy railing about how he hated her so much he didn't even want to hate-fuck her he hated her so much. Even though Ray has demonstrated a capacity to change in all the ways viewers typically look to television characters to change — in the first season he fantasized aloud about Marnie and her family committing incest, and just a few episodes ago he made breakfast for a grieving Hannah and tried to treat her when she sustained a burn — Marnie's involvement with him demonstrates how stuck she is. Shoshanna is justifiably disgusted with all of this.

Shoshanna and Scott's date goes even more straightforwardly well than Hannah and Fran's pre-art-show date, but it does not pass without Shoshanna's attempt to sabotage it. In a hilarious seduction speech, Shoshanna demonstrates how "forward-thinking" she is by informing Scott of how she wants to know more about the future of his cock. Jessa told her to surprise him, and this is a pretty spectacular blend of what Jessa meant and how Shoshanna took it ("Like, jump out from behind something and scare him?"). But since Scott effectively diffuses the wild strangeness of the way Shoshanna describes her vagina by inviting her to ogle the celebrities at the bar beyond where they sit, it ends on a more optimistic note than Hannah and Fran's date.

Hannah is, apparently, at the end of her sub stint at St. Justine's since the teacher is coming back. Her student, Cleo, with whom she has bonded, gives Hannah guidance on how to deal with Fran in the aftermath of their dating disaster. In return, Hannah accompanies Cleo to get something pierced between periods. Hannah proposes they get the same thing pierced, and they settle on getting "best friendulum" piercings. Cleo's act of devotion is so brutal, though, that Hannah just abandons her. It's spectacularly on the nose, but this is probably Hannah's literal perspective on relationships now: friendships and romances have all ended with Hannah being shamed and brutalized. Except for the latest one, in which she has done the brutalizing.

When she tries to right that and apologize to Fran, expressing that hanging out with him would be a good choice and the kind she should be making, Fran says he likes her but does not foresee a calm life with her. Hannah resists that she is a source of drama, but he insists she does not see herself clearly. Hannah tries to play up to what she thinks is his instinct to tame her: "It's the new frontier of misogyny. Take a woman who's in control of her life and then silence her. And I'm up for it." Fran bales again.

And so she reaches out to her hammock under the Earth and asks her mom and dad if she's anything close to Courtney Love, precluding her chance to respond to Loreen when she cuts through her panicked jabbering with "your father's gay."

This episode was huge: it was not the turning point "Sit-In" or "Ask Me My Name" was, but it had almost all the major characters except for Adam, Mimi-Rose, and Elijah contributing to the stories. All those stories involved past, present, and future couples and, as ever, the conflation of jobs and relationships. Shoshanna's date, as successful as it is, is in the shadow of her failure to get a job, which is important to her. Marnie's relationship is her job, and from either vantage point, it's in a sorry state. Hannah's time at St. Justine's is ending, so her time with Fran probably is, too. And the implosion of Loreen's marriage to Tad comes right along with her attaining tenure.

There are also three refrains about misogyny that come up in the episode: Loreen attributes Tad's play for attention during her moment of triumph as inherently misogynistic, Hannah characterizes Fran's interest in her as coming from a misogynistic impulse, and Scott says his ex-girlfriend — who has figured into every interaction he has had with Shoshanna and, ominously, is the namesake of his soup business — finds him to be "the embodiment of the white male oppressor." These all function differently depending on the scene, but they operate together as a nice series of valves relieving the pressure from an episode that is so wrapped up in relationships. Girls has never been this single-minded about relationship concerns. Jessa has never been in a specifically romantic entanglement before Ace, by whom she is deeply distracted here. I hope these reactionary digs give way to an arc where, in the aftermath of Adam, Hannah is newly focused on her work without sacrificing energy to demonstrate that she can prioritize a relationship. Although, if she were to get into a relationship and pull it off with ease, now is the time — with both her parent's marriage at its end and Marnie wrapped up in being a wife — that she might really confront how her parents and Marnie are never going to be proud of her playing to their vacillating, half-formed, human expectations. She has to do what she wants.

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