Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 6: "The Panic in Central Park" - There's nothing aggressive about that, it's a ballad.

I completely agree with Joshua Alston at the AV Club on what this episode achieves: "Marnie’s not ready for a destination, she’s ready for a journey." "The Panic in Central Park" is a self-contained romantic comedy in which the endgame is not finding someone a girl can be happy with, but finding that she needs to not be with anyone or the dream of being happy with someone is going to die.

Girls, Episode Forty-Eight, "The Panic in Central Park"

Marnie and Desi are mid-fight over how Marnie doesn't want a confrontation and Desi does. They sit, boxed into the bedroom Desi started to construct to allow Marnie more space, which divides up their studio into even smaller slivers. She accuses him of aggressively playing guitar at her, but he says a ballad can't be aggressive. The Aggression of Ballads ought to be the title of Marnie's solo album. Her fear of abandonment and ambivalence about being needed has driven her to be with guys who either demand everything, no matter how unreasonable or unpredictable the content of that commitment, from her (Charlie and Desi) because she is not quite solid on what a commitment should look like and feel like, or reflect the way she perceives herself as a person entitled to culture and success (Booth Jonathan) or lust and adulation (Ray at his weakest, although his respect for Marnie as a musician and his sustained support for her that dates all the way back to the second season bodes well for him as being the right choice — as an ally if not as a partner, since everyone else needs to get out and stay out of her life).

Desi's touch propels Marnie out of bed. In Marnie's first scene with dialogue with Hannah in the pilot, she described the thing that confirmed to her that her relationship with Charlie was wrong: "His touch feels like a weird uncle's now." There is no turning back now that she's repulsed by Desi's touch. She's at the point where she can't lie to herself. The threat of suicide does nothing to keep Marnie from leaving.

Willa Paskin nailed it:

Desi is like Charlie with Adam's intensity, another instance of Girls' characters taking a cue from Hannah, a character whose every motivation is interrogated and dismissed but whose tactics and choices are (unconsciously) adopted when crises arise. When Marnie hit bottom after Charlie left her, she tried to recoup the loss by becoming an artist and having the "great artistic love story" Hannah alleged she was having with Adam.

I hadn't remembered until watching this episode that Charlie was also a musician, but speaking of Charlie, there he is, on the street, among a clutch of dudes catcalling Marnie as she takes a walk to get away from Desi. In their mutual bewilderment, Marnie's impulse is to run, but Charlie pursues her. When Marnie brings Charlie up to date on her marriage and the state of her life, she mentions music because that's something they share, but I'm curious as to whether or not she felt like they shared that when they were together. The spectre of Marnie's musical theatre days comes up in the scene, with one of Charlie's fellow dudes coming onto Marnie with a mixed-up West Side Story reference, but I wonder how much her involvement with Charlie was a sublimation of her musical aspirations. It would make sense if part of her refusal to end their relationship him was informed by the fear that, once it was over, she would have to face that she wants to be a musician (a reality she doesn't have to face much with Desi, since even as a partner in their performance she keeps positioning herself as a muse).

Another thing she brings up is the fact that her dad didn't come to her wedding. Charlie reveals that he left her after finding out that his dad hung himself. It's after he divulges this that Marnie consents to catch up with him, sharing with Charlie that he was her family and all the songs she writes are about him. Charlie was very straightforward with Marnie in season one that his father's abandonment of him made their breakup difficult to cope with and that his decision to be with her was more important for him to honor than whether or not he was necessarily happy with her. Marnie, similarly, is not inclined to want anything to do with what makes a relationship, just that one exists and she is in it: when she and Charlie got back together at the end of season two, she was eager to declare how they were through with their roaming and striving and had arrived at being an established, old married couple who were going to be status quo for the rest of their days on earth. But despite how similarly damaged they are, Marnie can't fake being happy when somebody touches her and she doesn't want it.

Despite her reminder of that feeling, she allows herself to feel the glow of Charlie's affection. It's been a few years — "The Panic in Central Park" is required Girls viewing for a few reasons, but chief among them is how Marnie and Charlie articulate the passage of time on the show. There are very few time jumps but a lot has happened within the space of the three-ish years the show has covered (Charlie reveals that his app, Forbid, in addition to being shuttered, was one of several companies he was involved in since his last appearance on the show). Charlie's attention may not be fresh, but Marnie is in just the mood to dissociate from their baggage while simultaneously using it as a way to dismiss the consequences of their time together. Nothing can happen because it can't, even if it does. He's hurt her severely enough that Marnie thinks she's immune to the effects of his attention. Marnie is never immune to the effects of romantic or sexual attention from men.

So she follows Charlie even though he acts, talks, and looks different from when she knew him. He blames this on her, insisting that she doesn't remember him right. When he takes her to a store, heaps a pile of "Bob Mackey Barbie doll" dresses upon her, and quickly vanishes into the burrito place next door under the guise of needing a bathroom only to come whirling back to get her, tossing a bunch of cash at the cashier, and tugging Marnie away in a hurry informed not at all by romantic spontaneity but the evasion and panic of criminal behavior. Marnie's not not into it, and I love how much Marnie's naivete is part of this story. It is not that she is willing to overlook so much in order to be with someone, but that when she looks, she only sees what she wants, and this episode demonstrates how potentially dangerous that is for her and how she recognizes this in herself and refuses Desi's insistence that she needs him to protect her because she's so naive, because, as Desi repeats several times at the end of the episode, Marnie is going to get murdered acting the way she acts. And "The Panic in Central Park" shows Marnie getting mugged before settling in for an evening at Charlie's squalid apartment. She ignores every red flag — Charlie's apartment used to be so orderly and aesthetically pleasing in the aspirational, corporate way Marnie favors, now she's inclined to give him tips about what kind of curtains he uses to cover the windows before retracting her critique, she is so unable to trust herself and all she knows is she can't stop trying to change people, she doesn't realize what she's commenting upon — until she finds a needle and walks home barefoot. The conclusion Marnie comes to at the end of the episode (with the help of a girl she meets in Charlie's shared bathroom whose girlfriend had abandoned her on the freeway) is that she needs to protect herself, she needs to listen to the impulse to recoil from someone's touch immediately. Nobody needs to teach her that lesson, she has earned it and she needs to respect that.

On her way to that conclusion, Charlie takes her to a fancy party that recalls the time Marnie spent working as a hostess at a club, the "pretty person job" she seized when both Charlie and her gallery job deserted her. Charlie's client, who he's there to sell cocaine to — the last time cocaine affected Marnie's life, it was when Hannah did it and crashed her night with Booth Jonathan to tell Marnie that she was a bad friend — propositions Marnie, who he assumes is a prostitute and another product that Charlie is selling. Marnie revels in it, charging several hundred dollars for an appointment she has no plans to keep, and takes Charlie out to a lavish dinner with it. They dance, they sway through the park together, they kiss on somebody's boat — Marnie is weary enough by this point on their date that she asks several times whose boat it is and if they ought to be using it — and topple it over. Under the water, Marnie takes a second to consider what she's doing with Desi and how her experience with Charlie informs it. She probably feels like she's still paralyzed with fear, up against the pole, unable to join the party, just like she was when Charlie met her.

When Marnie leaves Desi, the episode leaves her climbing into bed with Fran and Hannah, where Hannah acknowledges her and falls back asleep. With the end of Girls upon them, this was where I was hoping to see them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 5: "Queen for Two Days" - Sassy separates.

I would have finished this sooner had I not been crying over Everything is Copy.

Girls, Episode Forty-Seven, "Queen for Two Days"

I'm not preoccupied with trying to figure out where Girls will end up, but since viewers are halfway through the penultimate season of this show, which plays long games with its characters, I am intrigued with where the story is taking those characters and how it's setting things up so nobody will wind up in a romantic pairing, per se. Jessa and Adam are riveting to see, but there is too much at stake — I suspect if Jessa had to choose, she would choose Hannah, but maybe only after confronting her plainly about how she has not been supportive of her since she came to New York to be with her.

Jessa came to be with Hannah in New York because of an unwanted pregnancy, and that hovers over the more playful, vigorous, Adam Classic sex he and Jessa have in this episode. They are role-playing, which Adam loved to do with Hannah until he got to know her too well and had too many real feelings about her. Jessa asks Adam, "After you come, pretend like you meant to pull out and then you're gonna freak out like you might've gotten me pregnant." Her play-distress is mesmerizing and confusing — she frets about what she's going to tell her parents, who, in reality, couldn't help her when she did find herself pregnant — but afterwards she is glowing and inviting Adam to meet her sister, Minerva.

On their way to meet Minerva, Jessa makes more references to her family — specifically how she and Minerva have had sex with all the same people except for Jessa's dad, with whom only Minerva has had sex. The viewer also knows her dad compulsively abandons her, and that fear may or may not be what moves Jessa to advise Adam that if he would like to sleep with Minerva, that is fine with her. Adam is still trying to get a read on the dynamic between them at dinner, when, after Minerva alludes to how flush she is thanks to spousal support and her trust fund, Jessa asks her for money. After ditching rehab, Jessa's grandmother cut her off, and she wants to go back to school, which, as a foreign student, means she has no access to financial aid. Minerva dismisses Jessa's intention to become a therapist as a whim. Adam makes a passionate defense of Jessa, calling her "cutting and sublime," and offers to pay for her to go to school. Jessa doesn't hesitate to accept the offer.

Minerva rejects Jessa's request for help on the grounds that Jessa's never stuck to anything, that this desire to be a therapist is a whim. Minerva isn't wrong to hesitate, but that isn't Jessa's problem — Jessa does not want to be perceived as wanting something and will eagerly reject a thing before it has the chance to reject her or the moment it looks like rejection is imminent. Adam's offer doesn't neutralize that threat, and the one person Jessa feels safe showing affection and commitment to even in the face of rejection — Hannah — isn't around anymore. This does not bode well for Jessa's plan to re-enroll (unless she graduated college at some point and is indeed ready for graduate school, because she only went to Oberlin for seven months).

Next week's episode is focused on Marnie — here's to hoping she runs into Booth Jonathan, not only since Charlie's too much of a stretch — so the rest of "Queen for Two Days" concerns Hannah and Shoshanna galavanting with a companion in futile attempts to forestall despair.

In Tokyo, Yoshi praises Shoshani's performance in her new job at a cat café. She does appear to be in her element, but so did Hannah when she worked in GQ's advertorial department — just because she can do it doesn't mean it makes her happy. When Abigail, the boss who laid Shoshanna off, appears, she assumes Shoshanna feels dejected and desperate. Shoshanna takes her on a tour of Tokyo to demonstrate otherwise, showing her all her chill spots, but that falls apart when they join Yoshi for a moment with "the elusive fifth taste." Yoshi mentions his plans to travel with Shosh to meet his grandmother — and to lose their virginities to one another. Shosh starts to disintegrate right away, and it isn't fully clear why yet. She says she's homesick, but no evidence of this has been shown. The fact that Yoshi's mention that he is a virgin — who assumes Shosh is a virgin — might have forced her to confront where she is in relation to where she was when she met Ray. I am interested to see if it is renewed drive or fear that leaves Shoshanna walking down an empty, manically flickering Tokyo street to a winsome cover by Aurora of David Bowie's "Life on Mars."

Meanwhile, Hannah and her mom, Loreen, head to a weekend self-help getaway called Spring Queening. Instead of solidarity, Loreen finds a bunch of women who dismiss her problems as invalid and express envy for what she has — a gay husband who will still have sex with her that she finds satisfying. She frets over whether or not she and Tad fucked Hannah up beyond repair and wonders aloud if Hannah can accept people who love her, since she's so at home reading passive aggressive emotional cues. Hannah insists she can accept love and tries to prove it to herself by accepting the advances of a yoga instructor. Hannah's tryst with her technically works: Hannah reciprocates the affections of the yoga instructor, who calls her "luscious," and kisses her. They wind up having sex, but Hannah can't deal with how long it takes to get her off as she gives her head in a sauna. When she tries to voice her inability to finish the task, the yoga instructor dismisses her — even though she seemed like a departure from the woman who ran orientation and shamed the attendees for neglecting to voice concern when orientation didn't start on time.

But it disappoints me that this is the second representation of queer female sexuality being expressed towards a central character — from whose point of view the encounter takes place — that serves to humiliate the queer woman. The yoga instructor isn't even named (even Grace Dunham's character from "Good Man" had a name, Lob).

Hannah hides from the day, then, conceding that Tad and Loreen did fuck her up, but since this comes in conjunction with Loreen's decision to stick with Tad, it seems more like Hannah's way of trying to stay on their wavelength. She took a call from Tad in this episode to tell Tad he should take an active roll in ending his marriage and embracing his sexuality. It doesn't seem like Hannah is excited at the prospect that she might have to be the voice of reason and that only she knows what is right for her.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 4: "Old Loves" - She did the rips.

It just hit me that naming Ray's rival cafe Helvetica is a reference to the font's history as a disruptive, almost parasitic force in design. I am sure this was the first thing that occurred to Ray, who absolutely thinks of himself as a serif font.

Girls, Episode Forty-Six, "Old Loves"

Besides Adam and Elijah, the men with whom Hannah has been involved on a multi-episode basis include Sandy (Donald Glover) in season two, Joe (Michael Zegen) in season three, and now Fran (Jake Lacy). As far as I'm concerned, as a viewer, all three actors have handled their material capably and I appreciate them operating in a more subtle register than Girls' series regulars, but the fact remains that they are some of the more undeveloped characters on the show. The characters that bob into and orbit Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna, Ray, Adam, and Elijah's lives are all more vivid and specific, making it all the more disappointing when someone is introduced purely for Hannah to react off of them, especially since so much of the show's richness is generated by the very loaded interactions Hannah has with the other central characters. Because he has come into the story later, Fran is not just representative of facets of Hannah herself she wants to embrace or repress — Sandy was a black Republican with whom Hannah could feel like she was capable of embracing any kind of person, which resulted in her neglecting to embrace Sandy as a person; Joe was a writer like her who had given up striving for a career in GQ's advertorial section, which scares Hannah away from him and the job in a matter of weeks — Fran is the singular manifestation of Hannah having ceded control over the direction of her life as evidenced by the way he echoes all the signs Hannah recognized when determining whether or not the people in her life meant the best for her. I mean that as straightforwardly as possible: that doesn't mean Fran wants the genuine Platonic ideal of what is best for Hannah. Hannah's decision-making, which fuels Girls' plot, is informed by the tension between what Hannah wants and what the people in her life want for her, and because Hannah loves the people in her life and (because those people aren't fantastic) she doesn't trust herself (because they are almost all relentlessly dismissive of her), she goes along with what she has interpreted as being their wishes for her until the situation becomes untenable. Fran exists at the intersection of her romantic and working life, he is the opposite of everything about Adam that Hannah drew strength and inspiration from as she grew herself, and — I love everything this says about Hannah's attraction to him at this time in her life — the way he polices Hannah's behavior is vintage Marnie. When Hannah reveals her disgust with Fran's behavior, she articulates how he has these specific, myriad expectations for how she should act at any given moment, and if she doesn't act the way he thinks she's supposed to act, he judges her. Marnie is APPALLED at it's GREAT because that's purely her MO. It makes perfect sense that Hannah is with him and has been with him for at least half a year: She tried to prioritize her writing over her relationship with Adam, and he pushed her away. When she had a chance to write an ebook, she chose Adam instead. When Adam pushed her away to prioritize his acting and she stared into the terrifying maw of advertorial writing, she lit out for the Iowa Writer's Workshop. When the landmines of insecurity that everyone in her life had planted in her over the years detonated as she took her big risk in a new place by herself, she came back to New York to find Adam in a relationship with someone else. At the job she found to establish some independence for herself, she met Fran, who distracted her when her life was at its most chaotic. Fran seemed like the decision to place career and relationship first is capable of working out for Hannah. The one character who can reliably remind Hannah that a commitment to anything other than her writing is toxic — Jessa — is not only finding some much-needed validation in preparing for a career, but in turmoil over her attraction to Adam, which she lets alienate her from Hannah to the point she breaks up their friendship. I love that "Old Loves" finds Hannah here, pushing her closer to having to listen to herself, but this is all to say I do wish Fran was a little more distinct as a character (if only for the sake of those viewers who don't have the benefit of imagining he is just the same character Jake Lacy has been playing since the Office about to be driven off the edge by romantic misstep after romantic misstep).

Speaking of Jessa's turmoil over her relationship with Adam, consider Joshua Alston's interpretation of Jessa's perspective regarding Adam as a boyfriend at the A.V. Club. It reminded me of how specifically enmeshed Hannah is with Jessa, in a different way she is enmeshed with Marnie. Her boundaries with Marnie blur over Marnie's belief that she is attuned to the rules and, as a part of her, Hannah ought to be, too, and Hannah's refusal to do or to prioritize certain things because of cultural expectations undoes her. The expectations Hannah has for Marnie are rooted in Hannah's designation as her best friend, the very designation Jessa gave Marnie sass for in the pilot when she chided her by going "We don't own anybody." But that doesn't mean Jessa wouldn't like to feel some sense of ownership or being owned by somebody, and her connection to Hannah — who is her best friend — is rooted in empathy and a shared woundedness that Jessa isn't particularly proud of, and instead of feeling solace in Hannah, Hannah has largely served to make Jessa embarrassed that she needs somebody as badly as she does. This tension courses through the scene where Marnie and Hannah both escape their by-all-appearances-functional relationships by hiding in Jessa's apartment. It used to be Shoshanna's apartment where, two years prior, Shoshanna could not believe Jessa thought it was appropriate to laze around, giving vent to her frustrations, while she was trying to study. I love Shoshanna in Japan, but am sad to miss another examination of Jessa's blindness to how she affects Shoshanna and what happens when it collides with her enmeshment with Hannah. The extent to which Hannah really doesn't impress Shoshanna, especially when it comes to her place in Jessa's life, made for the most poignant moment in "Truth or Dare," a bitter start to a bitter season, when she dismissed a memory Hannah had of Jessa, sick in bed, begging her and their other friends to stay with her and not leave her alone. Shoshanna, out of nowhere, gaslights Hannah and assures her that she remembers it wrong, "You were probably the one who was crying." The evidence was there but it has become even more apparent how much it hurts Shoshanna to let Jessa matter to her.

But the spectre of Shoshanna in Jessa's unconscious paralleling of their season three situation is only one of the bygone locus of feelings from which "Old Loves" takes its name. The episode is ostensibly about new loves: Marnie's new marriage to Desi, Hannah's new cohabitation with Fran, Elijah's new maybe-serious-thing with newscaster celebrity Dill, and Jessa and Adam. The juxtaposition of their newly graduated flirtation with the other newer loves with Jessa's confession that she has wanted to be with Adam "for a long time" demonstrates one of the things I love most about Girls, which is the hyperreal dormancy and detonation of attachments and resentments and the time-bending experience of getting to know someone over a number of years ("Time is a rubber band," Adam told Hannah in season one as he cried watching Jessa marry a stranger). It doesn't seem correct to think of any of these relationships as old or new, considering how the influence of one character lingers on another, how the conditions of present relationships are informed by past ones.

Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's relationships also inflict collateral damage on the people around them. Fran and Hannah's blow-up over her teaching methods results in a student's poem being torn up, to the student's distress. Adam's pursuit of Jessa leads him to crash a females only AA meeting — something Jessa explicitly could not abide in season three. The speaker Adam interrupts has her revenge when she warns Jessa a relationship like the one she seems to have with Adam is what got her pregnant. The content of her speech was about her repulsion towards motherhood, which echoes Jessa's moment of vulnerability with Jeff in season one in which she confesses to running away when she was little in order to lie to strangers about what a great relationship she has with her mother, how wonderful her mother is. Now that Marnie has gotten Desi into her life, he's repaying her by coordinating an intrusive, loud construction project in their studio apartment, alienating all their neighbors. Thanks to their involvement with these people, Hannah feels like she can't do a job she actually enjoys (compared to the other jobs she's had, that is), acquaintances-at-best hate Marnie, and Jessa has estranged herself from Hannah in order to confront something that represents and is steeped in enormous, intimate risks: these are their worst nightmares, respectively.

What does Elijah's relationship do to those around him? He and Dill draw a fawning crowd on an idyllic walk through Times Square. Their budding relationship, the only genuinely brand new one among the relationships featured in this episode, winds up with a portrayal of physical intimacy that is on the spectrum of awkward that is of a piece with the other couplings. Desi almost cries trying to get his shirt off, his congress with Marnie an extension of a temper tantrum. Hannah and Fran aren't even acknowledging each other's presences. Adam comes out and calls out the quality of his and Jessa's encounter: it's bad. At least Dill and Elijah communicate and laugh.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episode 3: "Japan" - You played into that pain so well.

Never having let hobbies into my life, because I've been mostly, solely single minded about pursuits, it would be during maybe the busiest time I've ever experienced that I don't want to do anything but arrange flowers. My relationship to the color green is kind of adversarial, so it's taken me a long time to come around to plants. It feels like cheating since it's such an expedient way to make pleasing designs out of inherently pleasurable elements. But if there is any room at all for anything in my life right now it's easy routes to beauty.

Girls, Episode Forty-Five, "Japan"

This episode is a sequel to season one's "Hannah's Diary." At that point, Adam and Hannah were flirting. Hannah was just starting to spiral over the confusing feedback everyone was giving her about how she should feel taken advantage of by Adam. He wasn't trying to commit to her or be receptive to the attention she gave him, all of which was really a roundabout way for the people in her life to shame Hannah for being hung up on a guy who wasn't her boyfriend. But Hannah was having fun and trying to figure out what she wanted from Adam — her monologue from that episode demonstrates how she hadn't figured it out yet — and not everything he did bothered her. Like sending her a picture of his privates wrapped in a raccoon's tail that he quickly, halfheartedly apologized for because the picture wasn't taken for her.

This didn't register with Hannah as something to be bothered about and she sent him a picture of herself back in which she is squeezing her chest and winking comically. For the rest of the day, different people around her tell her she should be offended that Adam's flirting with other people — and in such a flagrant way. When she confronts him at the end of the episode, completely confused, she feels brought back to earth when Adam tells her to be who she is and to not apologize for having responded to his photo with her own photo. She is self-conscious about not being able to take a photo of herself that isn't funny. But Adam doesn't mind.

So in "Japan," Hannah knows she's been here before, under a circumstance that felt very similar to this. Fran hands her his phone to show her something and she swipes her way into his trove of photos of ex-girlfriends. Their photos are straightforwardly sexual. Hannah is outraged and confronts Fran immediately (the process of confronting Adam after first having received the photo was a night's sleep and the following day). He responds by acknowledging he would rather use a photo of her, but he says her inability to take a serious naked picture of herself is an obstacle. This rightly rattles Hannah, because a taker of serious naked selfies is not who she is. And for her well being, it is not optimal that the strikes against Fran are coming when he does wrong what Adam did right.

Hannah seeks moral outrage from her two most reliable sources for such a thing: Marnie and Ray. But Marnie is caught up in the bliss of her honeymoon with Desi — since she got what she wanted, she's willing to concede that "in a sense" monogamy is a construct. Marnie avoids validating Hannah's feelings by dismissing Hannah's plea for her to be on her side with "I'm always on your side." The mention of her having spoken to Marnie does nothing for Ray's clarity of mind when Hannah talks to him and he tells her he just can't figure out why she's mad.

Both of them tell her: he's not cheating. Adam, in "Hannah's Diary," was flirting (this is not conclusive, he could've just been talking) with someone. But Hannah couldn't see whoever that person was. Adam wasn't trying to compare her with anyone and liked her for who she was. Fran told her to her face he would rather use those pictures than pictures of her. Marnie's remark about how Fran is the nicest guy Hannah's been with "by a planet distance" demonstrates how she still doesn't see what good Adam ever did Hannah and where her priorities are in a relationship. After the brutal way their relationship ended — with Hannah prioritizing writing over Adam and Adam not being able to take it — she is being told that she should be happy that this guy is putting up with her.

Ray comes around to helping Hannah in an update of his signature brand of helping. When Hannah first started working for him, he sent her home immediately with meticulous, condescending instructions on how to dress properly. Here, he helps Hannah figure out how to take a proper naked photo for her boyfriend. Elijah helps. Where this would have been engineered during just about any other season to make Hannah feel as bad about herself as possible, since Ray and Elijah have projected some vile insecurities onto her over the years, this scene shows how Ray and Elijah's understandings of Hannah have evolved. They're all having fun with it. Elijah's cue — "A cake is coming later!" — to get Hannah to smile big isn't an insult, it's getting on her wavelength and diffusing the tension (at least it seemed that way after one viewing). Despite dismissing her feelings about the photos on Fran's phone, they empathize with her and want to make her feel better, even though very little about the scene would have to change in order for it to feel like they are taking advantage of Hannah's vulnerability.

Some lackluster sex with Fran notwithstanding, Hannah remains sore about the photos and, crawls out of the bed they're sharing to go to his phone and delete them — a boundary transgression clearly reminiscent of "Hannah's Diary." There, she was given credit for harboring the evidence that Marnie had fallen out of love with her then-boyfriend Charlie. Here, she takes the credit for deleting the photos by making the nude photo of her his background image. Will that force a reckoning in their relationship?

More than the cause and effect of Hannah's insecurity and her treatment of Fran's trove of nudes is the reverberation between the scenes with Hannah and the scenes with Shoshanna, to whom this episode is otherwise dedicated. I can't remember an episode that has been as much about Shoshanna as this one, since even when she was the B-plot, her stories have heretofore been wrapped up in her relationship with and to Ray, and she's usually in the frame at all because of Jessa. And "Japan" does her justice as a central character.

A relationship is still a big part of it, but that's because relationships are a big part of Shoshanna's life. Hannah prioritizes romantic relationships because she has to, because everyone tells her they are a vital — if not the key — part of being happy, when she really wants to write. Marnie prioritizes relationships because she fully buys that they are the key to being happy and her life will follow suit. Jessa contorts herself into the shapes of people she sees getting the love she wants because she doesn't feel she can earn it being herself. Shoshanna believes in the dream of having a healthy career and relationship, but unlike Marnie, she does not think the work is done after both of those things are in place. Her barometer for happiness is informed by the same kind of cultural signifiers as the other titulars, but that's because Shoshanna — in her peculiar wisdom — recognizes that those are things that make her happy, and when something makes her unhappy, she takes action, albeit hesitantly because she barely has a model for how to stick up for her own vision of what she wants.

Since last season, Shoshanna has removed herself from New York and is working in Tokyo. The way she is shot and her behavior at work show off the extent to which she looks at ease and at home. She has a sweet rapport with her boss, Yoshi — SHOSHI AND YOSHI — and both their friends gently/not so gently troll them about it. Shoshanna looks like she's on a pink soft pillowy cloud until she is passive aggressively downsized in a way that recalls exactly the way Marnie lost her job in the season two premiere. When the picture of Marnie's life gets smudged, she junks the canvas. She reacted to the loss of her gallery job by chasing furiously after the affections of artist-baby-weirdo Booth Jonathan and her ex Charlie, ready to humiliate herself at every turn in order to reinstate herself as someone worthy of love, which has proven to matter substantially more to Marnie than success in work or art.

But having the working and romantic life she wants both matter equally to Shoshanna, and she has something good going in Japan. She is heartbroken by the news, and her long distance boyfriend, Scott the Soup Mogul, is ecstatic that she will exchange her professional ambitions in Japan for properly being his girlfriend. He's been trying to offer Shoshanna consolation over her flagging professional prospects in the form of coupling since he appeared last season, and it's not tenable.

On what's supposed to be her last night, Shoshanna goes to a rock concert. It's not clear if she spots Yoshi or goes with him, but she leaves with him and his friends to continue their night at a fetish club. Where Hannah's longtime male friends try to cheer her up about the insecurity her boyfriend's photos of naked exes make her by taking George Costanza-grade erotic shots of her, a group of strangers try to cheer up Shoshanna, mired in insecurity about her professional life, by goading her into getting into a vinyl nurse's costume and sexually harassing her. Shoshanna seems to be having fun and getting into the spirit of it, and the tone of the scene is ambiguous in the same way the scene with Hannah, Elijah, and Ray is, but for different reasons. The scene with Hannah is ambiguous because of the histories of the characters. The scene with Shoshanna is ambiguous because Yoshi had, a few scenes earlier, been defensive about Shoshanna's sexual availability, as his friends insisted she would be easy to have sex with. Yoshi's escalating discomfort seems like it could come from Shoshanna having fun with the fetish atmosphere, but when his friend crosses the line and harasses her, Yoshi leads her out of the club and apologizes for how his friend is "really really motherfucker." They kiss! That and a too-eager voicemail message from the Soup Mogul seem to cement Shoshanna's decision to unheap her belongings from her suitcase and stay in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, "Japan" also checks in on Adam and Jessa, still tense and supervised by Ray, as they watch Adam's turn on a Law & Order-esque show as a vagrant. Jessa is enraptured and praises his grittiness and vulnerability. She seems to be speaking his language to a greater degree than Hannah was able to, as those qualities of the performance are likely ones he's proud of — and lucky for Jessa he likes his work on the role (as much as Adam ever could) and is bewildered by his affection for her. When he tricks her into kissing him again — foiled by the old "haiku on the ceiling" trick (they are in Ray's apartment, which used to be Adam's and, it's indeterminable, may be half Adam's again, since his living arrangement isn't clear). Jessa storms out, resetting the scene: they can't get involved because they're just friends. It's been Jessa's refrain for the first three episodes, but her feelings about Hannah are complex enough that I'm not willing to be bothered by the time this plot tentacle is taking to deploy.