Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, February 29, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episode 2: "Good Man" - I'm crying, banana.

It is early in the season yet — everything could change! — but I like the way Girls is explicitly positioning Hannah as a rock. The moment she has attained some peace in the tumult of her work life and relationship life — two things that have never been her priority; they are the priorities everyone around her has for —  everybody turns her into their rock. It demonstrates how everyone feels out of control and verging on disaster, and their hostility towards Hannah's frequent risks and mistakes come from the confidence with which she makes them. It impressed me again, with its reference in the "last time on Girls" spot, how Hannah's embrace of Marnie at her wedding had so much to do with her commitment to loving Marnie through her mistakes rather than reinforcing her that her every decision is the right decision. Hannah's ability to distinguish between those things is a strength that she has always had that the other characters are now started to rely on despite the fact that they have never recognized that ability as a strength before.

Girls, Episode Forty-Four, "Good Man"

Something that preoccupied me in anticipation of this episode was Adam and Jessa's kiss in "Wedding Day." I haven't gone back yet to consider what the relationship between the two of them has consisted of so far — season four established that they recognized each other's wounds and were offering vital support to each other while Hannah was at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and they were both exploring relationships that left them vulnerable. Before that, their interactions were limited. Jessa tried to make sense of Adam's presence in Hannah's life while preemptively insulting him. Adam rarely interacted with any character except Hannah and, occasionally, Marnie and Ray. The one time prior to season four that Jessa really affected Adam was in "Truth or Dare," when she begged Hannah to pick her up from rehab and Adam was dispatched to help her. The trip was tumultuous, and when Adam learned that Jessa could have easily left without their help, he was furious. The magnitude of the incident could have gotten him to think about what it means to be supported when one is in recovery and primed him to connect with Jessa later. But it also could mean that after being with Hannah, who he had hurt and by whom he had been hurt, who was on too even an emotional playing field with him, with whom he had attempted to compromise before she left for Iowa, he could want to be with someone with whom he feels he can be angry, who he can express rage toward. That might be what Jessa wants, too.

Because their attraction each other is not out of the blue or in a vacuum. When Adam tries to talk to Laird about it, Laird brings up Hannah. Both Hannah and Jessa were attendant at the birth of the daughter Laird had with Adam's sister Caroline. Laird and Caroline seem to be getting along like Adam and Hannah in season three, albeit with a baby between them instead of Marnie.

Babies are of a big significance for Jessa. When she mentions her fears about a relationship to Adam, the likelihood of her getting pregnant is among them. She came to New York to be with Hannah and deal with an unexpected pregnancy. She miscarried. Hannah was too embroiled in her own issues to be there for Jessa the way she needed her to be. Jessa has spent the length of Girls since trying to fit into families, appealing to father-figures and mother-figures and husband-figures and wife-figures wherever she can find them.

Despite Adam's accusation that she's hiding behind her accent, despite the idyllic day they spend on the boardwalk together — she is unequivocally charming, shaking down a carnival barker for the thirty dollars he owes her — after he shakes her down in AA for some closure on their kiss, maybe even despite their parallel play on her couch (is that Shoshanna's old apartment? If it is, the last time viewers saw that angle was when Katherine Lavoyt told her she just wants someone to love her, a piece of advice Jessa was right to be skeptical about — to which she reacted by marrying the objectively repulsive Thomas-John), Jessa refuses to hurt Hannah.

Hannah hurt Jessa pretty brutally when she left for Iowa. This regard for Hannah's feelings could come from the understanding that Jessa split first before resurfacing at rehab begging for Hannah's help — or it could come from Hannah now being one of the devils she knows. Her parents serially abandon and disappoint her. She might understand Hannah better through that prism. She might be bargaining with herself about how to not drive Hannah away again — even though that is not what happened in the first place, Jessa's not without her version of control issues.

There are a lot of callbacks in "Good Man" that do not all appear to mark time as having moved forward.

Elijah's living with Hannah again, and they kind of seem to have the relationship they were trying to have in the second season. They have clung to one another largely out of fear, but as hilarious as their makeout performance for Fran was, considering both characters, it seems some genuine affection has bonded them together in a way that makes them more than each other's backup human (Elijah's new newsanchor admirer will test that hypothesis).

Meanwhile, when Hannah is with Fran, she thinks she hears someone breaking in. The last time Hannah had a break-in, it was Adam. Fran's unhinged roommate knocks a piece of furniture at Hannah like Charlie did in season one. "That's the kind of thing you do before you hit us — don't hit us!" Everybody tries to position Fran as a step beyond the kind of men Hannah and the titulars have gone in for in the past, but references to those men hang around Fran in this episode.

My favorite callback is Ray's confrontation with the staff of Helvetica. Recall in season two's "One Man's Trash" when Dr. Josh calmly requests that Ray not dump Cafe Grumpy's trash in his trashcan and the way Ray exploded into a display of corporeal percussion and misplaced rage and compare that with Grace Dunham's character shaming Ray for making assumptions about their non-binary gender and shouting "white man" until he leaves. Some critics found that that scene falters and doesn't succeed at making the joke about Ray being out of touch, but I really like it as a sequel to the scene in "One Man's Trash," and I think it does succeed at demonstrating that Ray is now in Dr. Josh's situation. It has been such a long time now since viewers met Ray. He was appalling in the first season. Considering how Girls could humanize him, I hope this is not the last viewers see of Helvetica.

Cementing the cyclical nature of these callbacks — which orients "Good Man" not only as a real return to the ongoing story of Girls after the bottle-ish episode "Wedding Day" but as a stock-taking episode that still moves all the characters' stories forward — is Hannah's dad. He makes her run to a hotel room where he's hiding, a mess after an encounter with a man he met online. Hannah ran to meet her parents in a hotel room in the pilot, where her desperation, while it was less tearful, was just as inarticulate and awkward. His crisis has its origins in typing "gay" into the search bar, just like Hannah typed into the search bar with her panicked query about the fate of stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms. The fact that that line of questioning ultimately led to Hannah discovering she has HPV accounts for her meltdown upon discovering her father didn't use protection during his encounter. Hannah's already been to this lonely, anxious place where she finds Tad, and it shakes Hannah brutally to see him there. But she is strong for him, she retrieves his wallet from the man's apartment for him, and the man seems so nice — so much the opposite of the man Tad had in his head, of the person Hannah would have pictured; both she and her father are such scared people — that she hugs him. It's relief she does not get when Tad bemoans his fate, necessitating Hannah's reassurance that she will be there as she looks resigned, scared, and sad. It's a relief she does not get when her mom, Loreen, calls Hannah and asks her to tell Tad she's divorcing him. The hammock under Hannah's earth is gone.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episode 1: "Wedding Day" - White Christian woman.

When Girls premiered in 2012, I was a month or so into my first career-track job. When the second season aired, I was unemployed and interning to keep myself busy. When the third season aired, I had just started my first job where writing was one of my primary responsibilities. Last year, when the fourth season aired, I was still deeply in love with doing that job. I was ecstatic, empowered after going to BinderCon for the first time, so happy with the state of my book about Girls I was working on — by the time the season was over, conditions started deteriorating, and by the summer, my situation there was untenable. Now I have a job where my primary responsibility is editing (a dream) with the company I interned with in 2013.

It has meant a lot to me, since I got to the show with my vulnerability, to see the way Girls addresses the idea of what progress should look like, how progress is usually marked and measured, and suggests other ways to look at it. I appreciate all the progress the characters demonstrated in this episode and all the ways they have stayed consistent over the past half a decade.


Girls, Episode Forty-Three, "Wedding Day"

Marnie's wedding magnetizes Hannah, Shoshanna, and Jessa to a stately upstate New York home presumably wrangled by her mother. Party episodes are a big part of Girls — "Welcome to Bushwick," "She Did," "It's a Shame About Ray," "Beach House" and "Incidentals," "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz." "Wedding Day" is the culmination of a lot of these parties, particularly "She Did" and "Beach House." "She Did" featured the last wedding one of the titulars was in, when Jessa married a man she barely knew (Thomas-John!), accounting for Hannah's weariness about Marnie's feeble acquaintanceship with Desi — the specter of that wedding also accounts for Shoshanna's commitment to her role as a bridesmaid, since Jessa, her cousin, did not even tell her she was having a wedding.

That wedding happened because Marnie and Jessa went out together when Jessa desperately needed a friend after suffering a miscarriage. Marnie spent the night flirting with Thomas-John instead. It is from a deep, specific wound that Jessa advises a rainy wedding day, which Marnie dreads, would mean great things for her fertility.

The introduction of Hannah, Jessa, and Shoshanna as Marnie's bridesmaids sets up a tidy demonstration of the continuums on which they operate, with Jessa flouting the rules Marnie has established in order not to deal with the wedding and Hannah flouting the same rules in order to not run away screaming (which she does anyway) so she can attempt to stand by her best friend. Marnie is appalled that Hannah and Jessa are not following rules simply because they exist, and Shoshanna is using those rules, which she acknowledges are ridiculous, to show her respect for her role in Marnie's wedding.

Besides Hannah, Marnie's control issues might be the thing about Girls I missed the most. And this was the perfect stage on which to revisit them — "Wedding Day" doesn't depict Marnie's wedding, but the preparation for it. "She Did" depicted the wedding but none of what led up to it. When Jessa comes in from the rain (looking perfect because she was probably indoors somewhere, with Adam) and gets everybody ready, it provides some closure to her own disruptive nuptials, which permanently drove some distance between she and Shoshanna. By removing their makeup and undoing their hair and letting Marnie have the flower crown that her mother said made her look like a Starbucks cup, Jessa suggests that they look perfect because they're all there, like they were at her wedding. Jessa drags a lot of baggage with her, but she's done exactly what Marnie's doing and understands why she's doing it.

Much of the episode was dedicated to exposition, orienting the cast with each other now that it has expanded to include a whole shed of men. Desi assembling his squad of Adam, Elijah, Ray, and Baron Vaughn from Grace and Frankie — who I fear won't show up again but was happy to see here — and Fran, also, who he did not remember right away. The male characters' interactions turn the gears of the plot — especially Ray, who references his begrudging respect and affection for Hannah by grilling Fran and once more prioritizes Marnie's happiness over his love for her by encouraging Desi to not abandon her on their wedding day — but everything rich happens between the titulars, even when it comes to them interacting with their male companions.

Marnie does not interact with Desi in the episode and Shoshanna leaves her long-distance boyfriend in the distance in order to keep her focus on the wedding, but Hannah and Jessa have moments with their respective men. Jesse's intimacy with Adam has evolved, and at this point, it is not clear if he has mistaken her friendship for attraction, if he can't accept one without the other, if she can't accept one without the other, or what exactly, and I love how ambiguous it is played. It could be the first time they have kissed, the first time they have kissed in public, or the first time they've kissed since the last time, which was supposed to have been their last. When he finds her in curlers and a denim jacket, when he lights her cigarette, I love how she looks like a tired mother. She treats her friends maternally once she's gotten away from them for a few hours. Jessa wants to be part of a family — will Adam be able to address that need? Jessa was vitally involved with helping Adam's sister deliver her daughter, which is a pretty strong link for the show to have established after it has spent its run illustrating how important it is that Jessa get into a family. He has seen her help his sister to bring a family into being.

When Hannah escapes to the car to have sex with Fran, she is recovering from Marnie and the pressure she's applying to Hannah to choose a costume to wear for the wedding. The performativity of the wedding gets to Hannah, which they address in the car when Fran notes everything he's learned about Desi in the past few hours (probably more than Marnie's learned in the past few months — to wit, now would be a good time to address the fact that, on this show, not a lot of time has past, and the end of last season marked the biggest time jump in the series, so I think it would be safe to guess that Girls has so far depicted three years and Marnie has known Desi for one, give or take a few months): he is a serial deserter of fiancées and Marnie marks his eighth maybe-to-be-abandoned stab at matrimony. He has bailed on all his other brides. I am excited to see where this goes if Fran can divulge like Hannah — Adam would not have delivered this information within the context of "can you believe this guy?". If Adam was telling Hannah about it, it would be because it repulsed him, and he would judge Hannah's lack of desire to address it with Marnie. But Fran just expresses surprise that Marnie wouldn't already be onto this facet of who Desi is, to which Hannah deadpans, "You'd be surprised how much she can miss."

Hannah knows her best friend thinks if you call something by a name, it will be that thing. Call two people having brunch a couple, and they're a couple. The moving thing about she and Hannah is that they are not best friends anymore. One of the reasons the leap in time works so well is that the audience has no idea why, after last season's finale, Marnie wound up back with Desi. That's because Hannah doesn't know why, either. But they are best friends because Marnie says they are, so Hannah has to pony up and be her best friend because that's the role she serves in Marnie's life.

Marnie (whose makeup Hannah identifies masterfully as a face-plant into Hershey, Pennsylvania) asks Hannah if she is making a mistake. Marnie deliberately says she wants to know what Hannah thinks, and while Marnie will probably find it to be a mistake, no matter the condition of the marriage or what it does to Marnie, Hannah won't find it a mistake. She doesn't judge her friends' decisions that way, despite every one of Hannah's decisions getting declared a disaster by everyone nearly all of the time.

I'm happy to have this back.