Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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