Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 8: "Homeward Bound" - Je ne sais blah.

I've been watching Six Feet Under (2001-2005) for the first time since 2009 or so — the only thing I vividly remembered was the "Lonely Little Petunia" song, the presence of Rainn Wilson, and landing firmly on an understanding of what constitutes privilege thanks to the majority of the characters' actions — and I'm mesmerized by how it's aged.

Girls, Season Five, Episode Fifty, "Homeward Bound"

All four titulars have storylines in "Homeward Bound." Shoshanna returns to New York City from Japan, disgusted with everyone around her and drowning her sorrows in sake. She establishes the tone: everyone is either disgusted with or disgusts the people around them.

Hannah makes a stride in her relationship with Fran — by breaking up with him — and Marnie backslides on her breakup with Desi by exercising some envy over Tandice, played by Lisa Bonet (looking exactly half her age), an old friend of Desi's who sets the terms of Marnie and his new non-relationship: that she "not exist" when she and Desi are not performing.

Hannah exists up a storm. She aborts her road trip with Fran by refusing to rejoin him in his "house car" at a rest stop, compels Ray to come get her, then derails his brand new coffee truck when she gifts him a blow job against his will. Despite maintaining that he did not want it, he does defend his lack of an erection by reminding Hannah which of her friends she can call to confirm for her that he can, in fact, get hard.

The last time Hannah acted like this was in "Sit-In" — she didn't get sexual with anyone, but she did get physically aggressive with Shoshanna and Jessa and was verbally dismissive of everyone around her (and, as "Truth or Dare" demonstrated, wide open spaces bring out the worst in Hannah). Whether or not Hannah understands that Fran treats her like Marnie, she understands she has to get him out of her life, and because he purportedly acts in the interest of Hannah's own good, she hasn't been able to get anyone on her side in her feeling she should break up with him. When she does, it's significant. No one supported her in it, everyone told her Fran was nice and good for her, and she still did it, albeit by running around a remote rest stop shouting, "I don't want to be in this relationship and I don't know how to get out of it!"

Hannah initially balks at the proposition of calling Ray, telling Marnie, who is busy recording, "The last thing I need is a lecture from Ray about my, like, lifestyle choices, okay?" Ray has only recently cooled on living to shame Hannah for her decisions. The occasions on which he has have had serious consequences for her. So when he picks her up, she opens herself up to it, feeling it's unavoidable: "Do you think I made a mistake breaking up with Fran?" she asks.

Ray says, "Listen, Hannah, if you have the impulse to run away in your pajamas, that's a pretty strong indicator that it's not working out. You gotta respect your instincts, you know? Trust your gut."

This goes so starkly against everything Ray has spent years telling Hannah. He has been the most vocal agent in getting Hannah to avoid her instincts and not trust herself, and virtually every character on Girls shares this mission. So her reaction — the blow job — is her attempt to reorient the terms of their conversation. Hannah might not believe Ray, or she is so angry that this is what he has to say after telling her so many times that her instincts are not to be trusted, but she tests him by following — or pretending to follow, which is more likely — the impulse to give him oral sex to see if he stands by his acknowledgement that she might know what she wants.

The consequences are so disastrous, of course, with the truck toppling over, that she gets in the car of a man (played by Guillermo Diaz, whose character slit Lena Dunham's character's throat on an episode of Scandal) who passes them on the road, on his way to the city. He is hyperalert and alarming, making Hannah panic, but he winds up being in a situation similar to hers — inelegantly fleeing a relationship, looking not too together while he does it. The sight of New York City brings out a howl in him. He calls it "a good place to start over" and Hannah agrees.

Jessa inspires disgust in Adam when she joins him in taking care of baby Sample, the nickname of Laid and Adam's sister Caroline's daughter JessaHannah BluebellPoem. Caroline has been gone for three days, but Laird refused to confront that and worry before Adam found a note from Caroline to "Mouse," her nickname for Laird, explaining that she's been "wracked with guilt and shame" since the birth of Sample over her urges to hurt their daughter and herself. Laird splits, leaving Adam with the baby. Adam is impatient with Jessa's presence but welcomes her help. While holding Sample, she takes a call from Hannah who tried to get a hold of her when she was initially stuck at the rest stop. Hannah wants to confront her about the fact that they're fucking, and once Jessa confirms it, she hangs up. Adam won't acknowledge Jessa's dilemma over their involvement and their respective relationships with Hannah. When Sample spits up on Jessa, she screams and begs for Adam's help, but he doesn't budge.

"Why do you need more help than a baby?" he asks her. It's a little exasperating to see this as a reactionary expression on the part of the writers with Jessa's character, which it is easily seen as, but that's a shame, since it also effectively captures why Adam and Jessa's relationship won't work. Jessa has spent the whole show fitting herself into families. It started out with her tumultuous acknowledgement that she wasn't fit at the time to be a mother. Her most significant relationship was with a woman who treated her like a daughter. She might not benefit from Adam's help to any degree, even if he helps her more than the baby, if she doesn't feel like anybody's baby to begin with.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Girls," Season 5, Episode 7: "Hello Kitty" - Do you think I deserve all the things that are happening to me?

I haven't abandoned Girls, but the revelation that both Sterling K. Brown and Courtney Vance are on board for another season of American Crime Story addressing Hurricane Katrina was all I had the resources for this week.

Girls, Episode Forty-Nine, "Hello Kitty"

1. Hannah Fatal Attraction-ing her principal:
Last time Hannah worked for an older man (who wasn't Ray), he sexually harassed her, and her impression of the experience was that sexual harassment wasn't black and white. Her coworkers benefited from being able to relax their behavior, since their boss was willing to let things slide in order to avoid confronting his own behavior. Immediately before coming to work at the school, Hannah was at Iowa. To go to Iowa was such an enormous decision and a profound exercise of agency on Hannah's part that when she couldn't handle the effects, she tried to get kicked out. Hannah does not have much confidence in her ability to make decisions. When the principal grapples with how to hold her accountable for her inappropriate behavior — because she is well-liked among students — it seems like Hannah's disowning the situation, leaving it up to the principal to fire her, and/or attempting to rearrange the terms of their working relationship to be more like her first job in the law office.

2. The realist thing Marnie's ever done: Even when Marnie asserts that her marriage to Desi was a mistake and she has come to the conclusion that she needs to be alone — which represents the most significant change in her character in the life of the show — she asks for Ray's feedback. He is right to advise her that she knows what she needs — imagine the Ray of season one saying that to anybody about anything. Even when the titulars make decisions on their own behalf in the service of their goals and desires, they make themselves game for being talked out of those decisions. Marnie passive aggressively forces other people to be accountable for her decisions, especially Ray, who heretofore hasn't been able to help injecting his judgment everywhere. But Ray has learned that does more harm than good and his life has been improved by learning from Shoshanna and Hannah, specifically, just by observing them and empathizing with them. That's why Ray's outburst "Human apathy continues to be one of the grossest threats to mankind" really comes from his heart. He is forcing Marnie to confront her decision and remain confident in it. And a challenge is immediately posed to her resolve: Desi shows up with news that a song of theirs will be on Grey's Anatomy — their career as a band is taking off, so she cannot cut him off completely without also compromising her ambitions as a singer. While Marnie has slowly, incrementally acknowledged that she would rather be a musician than anything else, I wouldn't find Marnie achieving legible-to-the-audience success as a musician as satisfying a place for Marnie to end on (be it this season or next) as her coming to the understanding that she dismissed and hurt Hannah for prioritizing her art instead of her romantic relationships. But I, as a viewer, just want to avoid any more Desi. Marnie has already demonstrated her fidelity to her music career with her season four showcase performance. She doesn't need to be put in a position to choose career-with-Desi or no career. Viewers have seen her do it on her own (whether or not she succeeded, if anything in particular came from that showcase, is yet to be revealed/irrelevant, because Girls isn't about the characters achieving but about them accepting and following their desires).

3. Dill: This is Elijah's first story line so I'm enjoying watching it unfold. In season two, he mentioned that he might enjoy being somebody's Wendi Murdoch. He's shed every ambition he's alluded toward since Girls started in favor of hanging out with Hannah, and when he's vanished, it's been into relationships. With Dill, he could capably and comfortably be kept, with access to a celebrity realm, but he's already rankled about the terms on which that arrangement comes. If Elijah chooses not to be with Dill, he will have to do something. Maybe.

4. Making a scene: Hannah wants to confront Fran about the state of their relationship — he is treating her like Marnie used to treat her when they lived together — but Fran does not want to make a scene at the interactive play they go to see, in which the audience plays bystanders observing the bystanders who have been interpreted as failing to intervene in the murder of Kitty Genovese. The audience moves through the rooms of the apartment building that is supposed to be hers, entering the apartments of her neighbors, unable themselves to intervene in the scenes they witness, including the discovery by some tenants of the murder-in-progress outside, represented by a sculpture lit in red. Hannah is already unhappy when she arrives, resentful that her perspective isn't being acknowledged, but everything spirals wildly when they reach the point in the play where the murder takes place. Hannah enters the room where Adam is performing. She moves into the next room to get a view of the murder. She sees Jessa on a fire escape across the way. She sees Adam's longing look at Jessa from the window next to her. She sees Jessa radiantly receptive of that look. When Marnie receives Desi's news about their career breakthrough, Hannah can barely deal with the fact that Marnie isn't listening to her. I love Hannah's real problem with articulating her feelings. In this episode, she swats at Fran for trying to touch her, echoing how messed up she was in "Sit-In" when Shoshanna tried to comfort her and Hannah kicked Shoshanna in the boob and told her to leave her alone. Her every feeling and perception gets challenged and dismissed, so in situations where she is sure her panic and despair are justified — especially with regards to Adam, over whom she has received so many conflicting judgments in the last several years — she gets pre-verbal. The sadness that consumes Hannah's face is one of my favorite moments in Lena Dunham's performance. It is easier for her to call out to Adam than to Jessa. I am looking forward to finding out the specific gradients of how Hannah feels about the realization having washed over her that Jessa blew up their friendship to be with Adam.

5. "Hello Kitty": Framing this episode's series of confrontations in an interactive performance directly recalls season four's "Ask Me My Name," which was about being seen. 38 Neighbors is about being unseen. The performance Ask Me My Name was not about any single, specific person's experience, but 38 Neighbors is, and it's an experience the complexity of which is frequently glossed over in favor of the assertion that Kitty Genovese's murder proves people would rather not get involved. Regardless of the parallels drawn in this episode, the juxtaposition diminishes the real murder as well as what the characters are going through. I don't feel it served the episode, but I have also barely been able to think about anything other than American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, and nothing looks so impressive compared to that.