Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 9: "Daddy Issues" - There is a cake with your face on it that ended up looking a little bit more like Muammar Qaddafi, so I'm gonna do some damage control frosting-wise.

I almost did not get to write this this week because I keep lying to myself about the time I have. I have never been busier. And a few weeks ago I quit some of the jobs I had even though I really loved them. It isn't about not being able to do it all — I'm not doing the things I want to do. Like revise all the stories I've written in the last year and not fall sharply down a well of anxiety when I found out I've slept through all my available hours in a day. I have not had a moment for all of 2015 and it is getting to me.

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn

Girls, Episode Forty-One, "Daddy Issues"

I do not like to evaluate Girls based on my expectations and I am not really hung up on any hopes for the characters. To judge the show in the fruitless hope that it will be about Hannah being a model adult comes off as an excuse to judge a figure for the plainest of human mistakes.

The only character for whom I do have specific hopes is Jessa, and every time I watch an episode, I hope it will be the one where Jessa is explored with the lens that Hannah is usually under. Jessa is virtually always caught up in the act of seduction or set-dressing: she is trying to get Adam or Marnie to be her friend, she is trying to get Jeff Lavoyt or Withnail — or her dad — to be her dad, she is trying to get Beedie to be her mom, she is trying to get Thomas-John to make her feel like a wife. "Daddy Issues" opens on Jessa finally in the aftermath of seduction: she is having sex with Ace.

Jessa's had a sex scene before — with a nameless ex — but the purpose was to demonstrate how sex was of little consequence to her. She alluded to that in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" when reciting her sexual curriculum vitae to Shoshanna, the many suicide attempts she has inspired. Considering the fatalistic way Jessa views sex and the way the men in her life treat her, it seems like suicide attempts sit right with her because sexual relationships — and their inevitability, precluding a relationship that has anything to do with anything else — are sites of despair for her.

She betrays herself in their sex-banter in the way Hannah usually does. She tells Ace he looks like a fourth grade teacher who she thought she wanted her mother to marry but, looking back, she realizes she wanted to have sex with him. I love that bizarre, abrupt tangle of Jessa's gaping, cavernous vulnerability regarding her mother and her desire to be looked after as a daughter and have a father with the fear that she can't have that and all relationships will inevitably become about people having sexual access to her and the way Ace is a part of that.

Those are the daddy issues I really want to watch an entire episode about. This was not that episode, but I am not giving up. The "Daddy Issues" in question are Hannah's — in the wake of her father coming out as gay, neither he nor her mother are the source of support Hannah has used them for over the past four seasons. Whether or not they are explicitly reaching out to Hannah for help, they are the ones in need of it as they visit and call her, respectively, to see how she is handling it all. In doing so, they both make a point of reminding Hannah that she is a child, reinforcing to themselves that she cannot help them, cannot be the hammock under their Earth.

That kind of tension — the way Hannah needs her parents and her parents need Hannah, the way her parents need so much help right now but Hannah is not in a place to provide it — is much more complex and compelling than if Hannah was simply faced with a crisis and had to grow up according to some measurable amount. This engages more with what one person can really do for another.

The prospect of that being woven into Hannah's already rich relationship with her parents is exciting, but her scene at St. Justine's wasn't. She is onto another substitute appointment there, still in proximity to fellow teacher Fran, who she alienated, and student Cleo, who she abandoned during what was to have been a joint piercing venture.

My greatest frustration with Girls is the way it hits the reset button on certain relationships and story developments. It aggravates what a lot of other reviewers have read as repellently slow or a complete lack of character evolution. When Girls presents a major blow-out, it only selectively leads to consequences for the characters engaged in it. Hannah and Marnie's fight in "Leave Me Alone" did lead to Marnie moving out in "She Did" and it continued to have reverberations throughout the series. Hannah and Adam's fight in "Welcome to Bushwick" ended in the conclusion that Hannah wanted to be in a relationship with Adam, and then they were in a relationship as of "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too." But as of season three, no confrontation — not in "Beach House," not in "I Saw You" — disrupted the status quo.

So far, this season, Hannah slapping Jessa in "Sit-In" was followed by the two of them amicably participating in a group lunch in "Close Up." The only way I can see justifying these resets is Hannah's will to ignore the confrontations and move on because she does not want them to mean anything. There are no clues that that is what is going on when things happen on Girls that are erased or ignored, but it is the reason I made up for myself to get by. The will to sublimate, ignore, and forget is a powerful one when your objective is to make a relationship last at the expense of whether or not that relationship is necessarily good.

And as discouraged as I was by it, Hannah's scene at St. Justine's does support the idea that Hannah's will has something to do with the Girls' occasional resets. From the moment Cleo sees her, she demonstrates that she has not put Hannah's abandonment of her behind her. Hannah wants to vent about her dad, but Cleo trolls her into freaking out at her. It parallels her situation with her parents nicely — she attempts to lean on Cleo, but Cleo is a child without the resources to help Hannah, to say nothing of the wedge Hannah has driven between them in their attempt to get close. Fran overhears Hannah calling Cleo a bitch and informs the principal, who separates them and sees Hannah in his office. She does not get fired, but he does urge Hannah to draw boundaries. Hannah takes advantage of the principal's sympathetic ear to elucidate what is going on with her dad, but he asserts that that is a boundary she should establish since he does not want to hear about that or help her with it.

It was just a tedious way to get to Elijah, helping Hannah's dad explore his desires and come out with some guidance. I have mentioned that Elijah acts as a mirror for Hannah and Marnie, and Elijah is a spectacular reflection of Hannah's inability to help her parents. Tad appears exhilarated and at ease all at once in Elijah's hands. Hannah turned to Elijah elsewhere in the episode to not only anticipate the manner in which Tad is coming out — slowly and by denying that his marriage with Loreen is over — but also to remind Hannah that he called this during "All Adventurous Women Do." And he did it to dislodge Hannah from the idea that she was sure of anything about herself, which she is strongly suspecting is true.

So when Tad, with Elijah in his corner, encourages Hannah to ask him anything and to feel okay figuring things out with him, the reality that he has been with a man makes Hannah demand that they set boundaries with her the same way she was instructed to set them with Cleo. I do hope this has consequences for Hannah in how she reaches out for help and how her parents engage with her, because I think it could be a springboard for compelling developments, but expectations like this are exactly the kind I'm trying to avoid! I want to have patience! I want it now!

Back to Jessa: Ace makes her run to get Ethiopian food at a restaurant that is conveniently near Mimi-Rose's apartment. Ace decides they will drop by, and Adam receives them. Since Jessa and Adam were candid with each other in "Ask Me My Name" about how Ace wanted to take Mimi-Rose back from Adam and how Ace told Adam this while he was in a relationship with Jessa, Jessa demonstrates sensitivity and asks Adam if it is all right if they are there while Ace ploughs in, eager to show her the herb garden he planted when he was living there.

Mimi-Rose gets out of the shower and watches Ace with Jessa for a moment before announcing they should all eat together. Adam prepares sausages and initiates a dinner that easily makes the big league of bad dinners on Girls. Mimi-Rose did not know about Ace and Jessa's relationship, and all it takes is that observation for Ace to put his cards on the table and say that Jessa says it isn't serious. Jessa is taken aback. Ace says the caveat — putting the "almost" in their status as "together" — is that Jessa really wants babies. Jessa alluded in "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" that her seduction of Ace was so secure she would be, in no time, pregnant with his twins, which was nice and flippant, but Ace's acknowledgment of Jessa's nurturing instinct cements the fact that Jessa, in all likelihood despite herself and by accident instead of cathartically and with purpose, has disclosed to Ace about her desire for family and the blow that was her miscarriage. It's only a matter of moments before Mimi-Rose and Ace decide they want each other back, leading Jessa and Adam to declare their involvement with them "official bullshit" (and to Adam calling Ace a "jambroni" — he definitely wedges an "m" in there and it is perfect).

On their walk away from Mimi-Rose and to Ray's victory party — he made it onto Community Board Eight — Jessa acknowledges that Ace did not give her time to think, and that was the basis of his appeal. I am going to miss Ace for that, as well as for his deeply unsettling looks, because when Jessa was trying to avoid thinking, she communicated some feelings that are really central to her character. I hope since she has seen this desire for family work itself into her exchanges with Ace so easily that it becomes, knowingly or despite her, an even bigger force in her story next season because it is one of my absolute favorite aspects of Girls.

Adam abandons the party, wanting too much to see Hannah after everything has blown apart with Mimi-Rose. Inside the party, Shoshanna has managed it all to the hilt and is projecting wildly and wonderfully onto Ray, overcompensating for her unemployability with her signature zeal. Shoshanna being as singular an experience as ever heightens the stakes of Ray's encounter with Marnie. Shoshanna knows Ray still has feelings for Marnie, and she still has her own complicated mix of feelings about Ray, and the profound effects Shoshanna had on Ray are the most resounding and visible impacts nearly any one character has had on another on Girls. All that history functions to devastating effects in the scene when Ray pledges his support to Marnie.

As she enters the party, with Desi whispering the disgusting line "secrets are sexy" to her, Marnie approaches Ray singing "Happy Birthday, Mister President." It is clunky and classically Marnie, but it calls back to the way that Ray, when Marnie was really flailing — more than usual — in season two, he encouraged her to explore her desire to make music. He was still armed with his hatred of her and most things at that point, but he did it while he was effectively blind to what Shoshanna needed from him. Marnie ignores her intent to keep her secret and tells Ray that she and Desi are engaged. She emphasizes that he is the first person she is telling and thanks him for ferrying her to that point with his support of her.

When Shoshanna introduces Ray, he thanks her for her support and guidance before getting up on a chair and extends — ostensibly to the whole crowd, but just for Marnie — that he will always be there for her. When it registers with Marnie that that is what Ray is saying, it's palpable, her ache. And it all mirror's Hannah's situation, with the tense and shifting chain of support and guidance getting disrupted for Ray, caught in a space where is not the right source of help and needing more than Shoshanna might be able to give.

And Hannah calls it: when Marnie interrupts the party to announce her engagement to Desi, she is not at all sorry to do it. Unfortunately, there was no accompanying Kanye cover.

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