Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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