Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Girls" Season 5, Episodes 9 & 10: "Love Stories" & "Love You, Baby" - It didn't feel like very much when it was happening.

Because it's been several months and because last week feels several months away nowadays, I watched Girls' fifth season again to wrap up writing about it, finally. I noticed: Shoshanna seemed to be forcing herself to appear as if she loved Japan in "Wedding Day" and "Japan" to keep people from trying to get in her head and to make herself feel better about her decision to move, which escaped me at the time. I forgot about how Shosh had demonstrated her mistrust and lack of respect for Marnie, Hannah, and Jessa, and how that operates underneath her continued involvement with them. Both Shoshanna and Marnie believe that if they say something is a certain way, it will be that way, although Marnie believes that that is exactly how it works while Shoshanna is aware that it's just an act of hope on her part, a little bit of self-deception to keep her feeling in control. Neither of them have a tolerance for chaos. Shoshanna was a college student until last season, and when she couldn't find a job, she was miserable and ashamed, having associated the chaos of Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa's life with their uneven-at-best, nearly-nonexistent careers. But she was surprised to find that a relationship and a career, even without Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa interfering, could be just as untenable and chaotic. That it took half the season to get here and included the loss of her job and her scramble to stay in Japan threw me off. But it's visible now and makes more sense than it did when I was watching the show from week to week.

I also forgot about Shosh's Sheryl Sandburg reference, recalling the conversation she and Hermie had in the season four finale when Scotty the Soup Mogul wanted her to abandon her pursuit of a career and date him and Hermie urged her to move to Japan and lean in — in all likelihood, just to get her away from his friend Ray. Shosh brings it up in "Japan," when tries talking to herself about dating her boss. Shosh has one of the most intriguing — to me — relationships to her work life and her romantic life. Her ideas about what she should want are informed by celebrities and specific cultural touchstones from Sheryl Sandburg to Sex and the City, and unlike Marnie, whose idea about who she should be and what she should want are also based on cultural touchstones and white middle class expectations, Shoshanna gleans strength from their examples and acknowledges when an expectation turns out to be a fantasy and at odds with reality and what she really wants. She is more interested in determining what she wants and going for it than she is in her desires and pursuits conforming specifically to those cultural touchstones, which is a lesson Marnie has not even learned yet. Where Hannah wants success in her art and a relationship on her own terms, Jessa wants to be part of a family (whether or not that means a relationship will give her that remains to be seen) to the exclusion of work concerns, and Marnie is so insecure about being seen as desirable, she'll gladly ignore her professional ambitions or focus them through her relationship, Shoshanna — I think — has discovered/is discovering that work is fundamental to her, and relationships are more ancillary. And even going into the last season of the show, that dynamic is unresolved and full of potential. I am really looking forward to seeing where Shoshanna ends up.

I also didn't notice that Pamela Dunlap (Henry Francis' mother from Mad Men) is in "Queen for Two Days" as part of the band of retreat-goers who dismiss Loreen's problems.

Girls, Season Five, Episode Fifty-One, "Love Stories"

This season leaned hard on so much character development that has accumulated throughout the seasons. It represents a course correction for every one of the major characters without introducing much in the way of any new elements to the story except Fran, who shouldn't feel like a new element to people who've been watching the show (and, alright, the nation of Japan is also new, but its appearance is more of a cameo). It gives the appearance of the story having barely moved an inch, but all the tension is in how the characters crawl upon or collide into the understanding that they're not doing right by themselves while they prioritize the dismissal of their feelings or pernicious advice from others.

Fran is all over reasserting this motif. In "Homeward Bound," Hannah broke up with him and now he's ballistic. He blames her for his actions while Hannah asks why he's trying to fight her over ending things. She doesn't like him. He tells her it doesn't matter that he doesn't like her because he loves her, which is echoed in the following episode to great effect when Jessa identifies one of the realities of friendship (in a way that is a little too nuanced for the screaming fight she is in the midst of having with Adam). Fran taunts Hannah: she said she'd never been in a healthy relationship before, so how could she rely on herself to determine what she wants? Hannah sticks to her decision to end things with Fran because she does know what she wants, she just denies it over and over again and allows herself to get talked out of it by people who tell her they have her best interest at heart.

When Hannah submits her resignation to Principal Toby, she bombards him with the kind of nonsense Hannah invokes when she would rather be laughed at or dismissed than risk saying what she feels and be dismissed for being honest with herself about what she wants. Even though Hannah wants to write and not teach, leaving her teaching job, where she's gotten some positive — possibly misguided — encouragement and been allowed to thrive in her own way, is the big leap that Fran flatters himself into believing the end of their relationship was. Principal Toby sending her off with genuine well-wishes is nice for Hannah, but will it have consequences? Will she draw strength from that experience?

Exiting the school, Tally Schifrin, carefree as can be on a bike ride, pedals over to Hannah, acting as if they're close and telling her she's writing about "the tyranny of political correctness" at Oberlin. Hannah tries but barely to keep her vulnerability from Tally and gives in to her invitation to hang out. To Hannah's surprise, Tally is empathetic about everything Hannah tells her. Rather than being surprised Hannah went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Tally not only sees that Hannah would wind up there but that she would also feel constrained and understands why she left in a way that is supremely validating to Hannah. When Hannah tries to derail her with the fact that she no longer wants to write, Tally says she's exhausted wit it, too—and when Hannah clarifies that she does not only not want to write but does not write any more at all, Tally is aghast. Although this is enough to establish Tally as the person who's been the most sincerely kind and loving to Hannah ever on Girls, it is a pleasure when Hannah retreads the mess that was Mimi Rose only to find out Tally knows her and can verify that she is a loathsome person. Hannah has had so many of the same kinds of scenes with Marnie where Marnie takes opportunities like that to define herself against Hannah, recoil from the force of her feelings and try to find something good in someone like Mimi Rose just to demonstrate that she can find good in things because she thinks that's a good quality to possess.

Hannah gets into the issue of Adam, who she refers to as "the only man she's ever loved, probably," being with Jessa. Tally remembers Jessa from a meth-cooking incident at Oberlin, and because Tally has that frame of reference regarding Jessa and Hannah's friendship, she knows what kind of deep wound Hannah's discussing. Even though all of Hannah's references to Jessa are ones of admiration and love, the fact that Tally knows that Jessa and Hannah have been friends since college and the burden to prove that she loves Jessa is not on Hannah adds a lot to this scene. Hannah is so rarely taken at her word. She acknowledges that she can't have Jessa in her life and that her instincts are telling her to lose her shit about it, but that would just fulfill the expectations she believes Adam and Jessa have for her, and she wants to surprise them. "That hurt me to hear that," Tally tells Hannah as she hugs her. Hannah revels in Tally's embrace. Finally someone is validating Hannah's feelings and treating her like a friend.

Even when Tally urges Hannah to steal a bike and smoke weed with her, the night does not devolve for Hannah. They ride through the city and then get high in her bed, where Hannah feels comfortable enough to reveal to Tally how jealous she is of her and how she measures her own achievements against hers. Tally says that's crazy but doesn't place the onus of the craziness on Hannah, which is what would otherwise happen, but acknowledges that her life is enviable — but only the way it appears. She is obsessed with how she is seen by others, living to see if the Financial Times runs a flattering photo of her in a roundup or if Gawker, rest in peace, has something shitty to say about her. "Tally Schifrin," she says, is a creation of hers that is "exhausting and boring at once" to feed, even though she knows she's too smart to be exhausted and bored by what she's doing. Complete with a reference to a book of essays she's dreading writing, it's a fabulous exorcism of what Lena Dunham's experienced as a public figure.

Hannah, as far as Tally can see, has the better thing going on: she is living, she has material, she is facing challenges. Tally doesn't feel she has anything to write about because she hides and Googles herself and is trapped in a cycle of obsession with how she's perceived. It's not surprising that Hannah responds to Tally telling her "You have so much to say" by asking her if they should have sex. This is an unprecedented level of validation for Hannah in one single sitting. Instead of sex, they just smoke a lot more and dance, a much different expression of intimacy than when Marnie and Hannah danced together in "All Adventurous Women Do."

As Hannah and Tally leave the apartment, they run into Adam and Jessa, who are walking in to bring groceries to Laird's apartment. Hannah and Tally babble like stoned baby bats, entertained as fuck with the sight of them, and palpable embarrassment settles over Adam and Jessa as they retreat to take care of a baby that no one is watching, one must assume, since they were both out of the apartment at the same time.

That's the only business Jessa gets in "Love Stories," which is otherwise devoted to resolving the season five stories of Elijah, Shoshanna, and Marnie. The episode makes quick work of Elijah's resolution, as he Pretty Womanizes himself and throws away his old clothes in an attempt to win Dill, who he confronts as he prepares for a broadcast. Elijah delivers to Dill the opposite of the speech Hannah delivered to Adam in season four, warning him that he doesn't have much in his future since he's surrounded by people who take advantage of him, but he deserves to have someone who loves him and sees him. When breaking down how Dill acknowledges that Elijah isn't wrong, he is looking for someone special, but that someone isn't Elijah, it is easy to side with Dill — but only with some distance between the viewer and Andrew Rannells' performance. He puts everything into Elijah's pitch and winds up stone cold disappointed and heartbroken. But not only is he negging Dill, it's his only card to play. He treats Hannah the same way.

Shoshanna finds Ray at his empty coffee shop, reading, and he's elated to see her, noting that she's grown and clearly still enamored. He introduces her to helvetica, "those gender neutral monsters" that are the source of his business woes. Declining to prod after details regarding Hannah and the coffee truck, Shosh vows to help market Ray's — after her experience in Japan, she is not going to pass up the chance to do what she does best for the person who thinks the world of her. A fact-finding mission across the street leads Shosh to determine that Ray's needs to react against helvetica's cult-like atmosphere by branding itself a destination for the "anti-hipster" that sells coffee "to the people with jobs" — a perfect, hilarious manifestation of the distaste for Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa and their aimlessness that has powered Shoshanna all along.

Marnie ends her role in season five by retreating to positions she's already occupied in the last few seasons, but with new implications. She struggles to continue to work with Desi, but his girlfriend Tandice supervises their interactions and warns him that any conversation with Marnie longer than eight minutes is "re-immersion." Marnie hates to let men go once she's had them, and even if Desi has to be dragged away by being brainwashed — I'm on board with that, it's the best Desi-storyline yet, and if it's the last, I welcome that.

As Marnie is losing Desi, she has a vivid dream, a "love dream," and wakes up gasping and wet. It was a dream about Ray, she tells Elijah, "I was brushing his hair." He was "like Khaleesi from Game of Thrones," and she was getting him ready for school. He was like her daughter, Elijah points out. Marnie acknowledges that the dream is bananas and wonders what's wrong with her. I love every last thing about how it's a female-female intimacy dream, but she has to ricochet those feelings off Ray. It's displaced longing for Hannah that, in classic Marnie fashion, has been redirected to a man she knows is willing to acquiesce to her no matter the circumstances. That's how she loses respect for men, though — it happened with Charlie — and even as she confronts Ray about it, stroking his hair and planting a hard kiss on him, she maintains that "It can't be you." "I think it is," he tells her.

My instinct is to say "poor Ray" — he loves the sight of Shoshanna and Marnie so much and wants to be around people who see good things in him, even if he's willfully deceiving himself about their intentions. They both want something from him, although Marnie wants to exploit him outright while Shoshanna's scheme is at least mutually beneficial for the two of them, but he loves them both like crazy and that's why he helps them. I want to say "poor Ray" but considering how this situation is comeuppance for Ray's season one behavior, it's entirely justified and I would not hate to see it get worse next season.

Girls, Season 5, Episode Fifty-Two, "Love You, Baby"

As Hannah runs down the street, she looks alternately fierce and barely more game to run than when she ran with Adam in "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too." She tries to evade Tad and Loreen, who wait for her on her stoop while she extolls the virtues of endorphins, the same chemicals she once said didn't affect her. Hannah's changing! Even the presence of her parents, who are trying to present a united front for her despite the strife in their marriage, doesn't sway Hannah back into old habits. Instead of trying to get them to validate her feelings about Jessa and Adam or about Fran or her job or anything, she writes and gets ready to read live at the Moth. Because she's withholding, Loreen is in the mood to hear all about Jessa and Adam — and responds to Hannah's admission that it's on her mind by telling a story about the time someone stole a boyfriend of hers. It's exactly the kind of thing that other people would shame Hannah for doing. It isn't clear how Hannah feels about her mother doing it, but Becky Ann Baker does nail it.

Back at the apartment, Tad hangs out and Elijah bangs in and gives Tad a big hug. Elijah hasn't slept "since Wednesday," probably since the events of "Love Stories" when he tried unsuccessfully to pledge his love to Dill. He asks Tad if he's in town for a "gay-for-all," but Tad acknowledges that he's there with Loreen, doing his best to deal with everything. Elijah challenges him to do better than his best while demanding access to his "bosom" — bosom buddies!!! Elijah wants to give up, but Tad admits he feels like he's just starting. This is resolved at the end of the episode when Tad goes to see the guy he hooked up with in "Good Man"! He smiles! Go Tad! Elijah, delightfully, gets drunk on the street with Loreen and admits that he does have a lot ahead of him after he listens to Loreen fret about being single at her age. "I'm like three beers away from trying to fuck you," he tells her. I am hoping season six might yield even a b-plot dedicated to Elijah's place in the Horvath family.

Marnie hoists high all her red flags when she apologizes to Ray for not coming when they have sex. "I can't come unless I kind of hate someone," she says. She's working on that with her internet therapist, she says. Ray has to support her work with Desi at the expense of the health of their relationship, she says. Ray has to come support her on the road, she says. She plays on his desire to be with her and it works impeccably. "You're so cute when you beg," he concedes, despite how he is prepared to acquiesce to any of her offers. The subsequent scene-and-a-half of Ray acting the Gary Walsh to Marnie's Selina Myer while Desi drinks in the affection of his fangirls are perfectly sufficient in and of themselves, but I would not hate it if next season picked up with them embroiled in that dynamic on the road.

In Shoshanna's hands, Ray's booms. She has The New York Times style section interested in them and their "hipster hate" angle. But after Hermie's season four advice to "lean in" has animated Shoshanna all season, ferrying her to this moment where she's succeeding at her favorite thing to do, he turns around and tells her to "lean out" — she's too powerful. He probably isn't crazy that after telling her to lean into her career so she would stop hanging around Ray as his campaign manager, she's leaning into Ray's business. Hermie has never been on board with Ray having Shoshanna in his life, but he does not make that the thrust of his rant, as he twirls around and revels in how his shop is now "a haven for normal people"! I'd like to see Hermie reconcile Shoshanna's influence on Ray with Marnie's.

Adam and Jessa finally come to blows over baby Sample, who they've been taking care of since "Homeward Bound." Jessa starts to troll Adam in the manner of Hannah about Hannah, provoking him outright while also reminding Adam that Jessa is more like Hannah than most people he could have pursued. When Laird comes back — and Adam challenges him to look him in the face to promise that he hasn't used — he is allowed to take Sample home, leaving Jessa to chomp down hard.

Jessa asks Adam if it didn't upset him when Hannah saw them and called them "miss" and "sir." Adam denies that it's of any consequence because Hannah's not in their lives, and that assumption on Adam's part sets Jessa off. She can't not have Hannah in her life. She isn't willing to be with Adam at the expense of having Hannah's friendship, but of course she can't just choose Hannah — she has to make Adam acknowledge Jessa's terms because she can't be smoted. If Adam made her choose him over Hannah, she says, "We could die in the same bed and I'd never forgive you." He starts to destroy his belongings, smashing bikes and frames and furniture. She runs after something to pitch at his head. They wreck the apartment as Adam insults Jessa for loving Hannah. He screams that he hated Jessa for such a long time because Hannah hates her. This is where Jessa calls back to Fran's remark to Hannah in "Love Stories," telling Adam that he doesn't know, but that's what having friends is. Jessa recognizes that friends matter, so you have to work off steam about them. She is not afraid that Hannah sees all her faults because she knows Hannah still loves her. She overturns a bookcase and screams they'll never be done with Hannah. After Shining-ing his way into the bathroom where she's hiding from him, Jessa tells Adam that Hannah tried to tell her everything about him, but she dismissed her — and she was right about him. Jessa does listen to Hannah, but she projects too hard onto her to take what Hannah has to say to heart. Maybe not anymore.

Through Elijah's subterfuge, Hannah gets a shot at the Moth event, the theme of which is jealousy. When Hannah gets called, she discovers she can't take her notes up, but she goes for it anyway. She makes a joke about the validity of her problems that gets a laugh. She rolls right into the story about Adam and Jessa. It gets consistent laughs as she confronts her fear: while they're together, Hannah thinks Adam and Jessa talk about their ideas of her. She is afraid that their poor opinion of her is what brings them together and they want to see her ruined. She reveals that she sent Adam a fruit basket out of a desire for closure, wishing him well, but when she showed up, she heard Adam and Jessa screaming. She heard her name, and she knew she was "free" — she didn't unite them, she is a rift between them.

Before season five ends with Hannah walking in New York at nigh, breaking into a run, then staring squarely at the audience 500 Blows-style, Hermie sweeps Shoshanna up into a dance to celebrate Ray's success, Marnie and Ray knock down Desi's door as he gets blown by a fan, and Jessa turns away from Adam on the floor where they lie, postcoital and surrounded by the furniture they've destroyed. The fruit basket sits in the hallway. While I don't agree with the sentiment behind Wesley Morris' criticisms of the finale, I do love the drama in them — the image of the basket as a bomb waiting to go off. Next season is the last.

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