Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 2: "Hostage Situation" - You guys literally cracked open the market on athletic denim.

The social club scene was too real for this week: "Also, for those of you asking on our Facebook if the group is open to trans women, the answer is: we don't know, okay?"

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Four, "Hostage Situation"

The Desi development makes sense, although it's a callback in every way to big moments with Charlie in seasons two and five. Marnie does not bother to look at something and assess what it is based on tangible evidence. The best and most blatant example of this behavior is in "Beach House," when Marnie insists everyone have fun, insists that the activities she has planned are fun, and if no one is having fun, that is their failure, because she's placed the fun right in front of them. Every attempt for Hannah et al to spontaneously make or find fun alienates her. When Marnie and Charlie rekindle their intimacy at the end of season two, Marnie does not scrutinize Charlie's actions in order to determine what they mean. She insists it means they are in a relationship. She does the same thing with Booth Jonathan. Because he does the things she wants a boyfriend to do, he must be her boyfriend. Naming a thing is more important than determining if it really fulfills its function. It's a symptom of her issues with commitment. It leaps past commitment. Marnie has no model for something just being without her having to worry about it. That's why her relationship with Hannah is important to her, and why it's hard for Hannah to relinquish. Marnie insists they are best friends without examining to closely if that works or makes sense, which it doesn't always because they don't always act like it, but that gesture of devotion and reassurance, that insisting, even though it's hollow and borne of Marnie's fear that no one would ever be her friend, her boyfriend, her husband, and so all she can do is saddle them with the labels and hope they follow through—and if they break their promise, because that's what the label becomes, that's what she's used to, AND it positions her as the victim—even though that's why, it looks and feels to Hannah like faith in her, because she is good for it. And her need for that connection keeps her tied to Marnie, and Marnie frequently has no idea what to do with it except treat Hannah like an idiot daughter, but with every season, Marnie comes around closer and closer to scrutinizing Hannah's actions and realizing that this is her best friend. She really sees it when Hannah carts Desi into the car, after he erupts in rage and confronts Marnie with the fact of his oxy addiction. It's a red herring, planted last season when Marnie ran into Charlie for one whirlwind evening. That was the first time Marnie almost assessed what was going on and her rationale almost beat out her wish fulfillment. She still had to wind up in Charlie's decrepit room and discover his needle before facing it, but when their boat overturns in Central Park, it finds her: this isn't what she wants it to be and she can't make it that way, she can't insist on it. No matter what she names it, something is wrong. Marnie won't listen to herself. The audience already knew this. Even though Desi's eruption is played as an explosive revelation, it doesn't come across that way—not because it's out of left field (maybe on a show without Adam Sackler, but with Adam as the baseline for men on the show, it is perfectly excusable to say Desi was calibrated accordingly and his behavior in itself not necessarily a red flag that was any redder than any other flag flown by any other character on the show, which is just a sea of red flags) but because it proves something we already know about Marnie: she doesn't ask questions, she just dictates and expects everything to be the way she envisions it. The revelation is that she sees and believes that Hannah is her friend, that she's there for her.

It reminds me of season one, episode five, "Hard Being Easy," which follows "Hannah's Diary," when Charlie finds where Hannah's written about Marnie's disgust with Charlie, how her feelings for him have curdled. He lashes out at them in the apartment Hannah and Marnie share, insisting he belongs there. To demonstrate his importance to "the community of this apartment," he upends and carries off a table he made for Marnie, with no regard for whether it hits her or Hannah in the process. It doesn't, but just the same, Hannah shouts at him, "That's the kind of thing you do right before you hit us. Don't hit us!" It's trivializing, but it trivializes her and Marnie's ability to be hurt, not the insubstantial threat Charlie poses to them—which may be compensating for the real damage Hannah has inadvertently caused Marnie, who she did not mean to hurt (and if Charlie had hit her, then Hannah's actions wouldn't look so bad by comparison, which follows Hannah's thinking at the time about how contracting a catastrophic illness would at least distract people from the failures she's accrued when it comes to the romantic love/career/money she's supposed to pursue). When Desi breaks the window with his hand trying to get back in the cabin, the site of the Poughkeepsie getaway for he and Marnie, where Marnie has invited Hannah as a cover, Hannah trivialized his threat by swatting at him with a spatula like he's a blanket that keeps sagging onto her while she's trying to work. It's a reaction that makes her seem naive, like she's not accurately assessing the threat posed by an oxy addict who's been deprived of his substance and filled with raw fury at someone to whose face he has mused she's so dumb about the ways of the world that someone will rape her and murder her. But I wonder if Hannah's not just calling that one correctly. Desi's a human disaster, the threat is insubstantial.

While the Hannah/Marnie/Desi triad works itself out in Poughkeepsie, Jessa and Shoshanna get paired with Elijah back in Brooklyn. Hannah and Marnie are one of the vital pairings on the show, and Jessa and Shoshanna are the other. While relationships have always been something that complicates Hannah and Marnie's friendship, Jessa and Shoshanna's issues are squarely with each other, which they and the writers avoid confronting in this episode. Elijah isn't really part of their orbit, so having him there is all for comic relief and for the sake of mirroring Hannah/Marnie/Desi in the other half of the episode. Throwing Ray or Adam into the mix wouldn't serve Shoshanna's outing to "Wemun," a The Wing-like social club for professional women. While it superbly embodies Shoshanna's hilarious ideals, it also feels a little bit out of step with Shoshanna's narrative — although the argument could be made that now that she's made away with the achievements she has in recent seasons, her zeal to succeed has worn to the point that the Wemun women transfix her with envy. It's also visible how concessions were made to accommodate it within the story, since the set piece elbows out any chance at substantial confrontation between Jessa and Shoshanna. It amounts only to a stepping stone, which undermines the effect of Hannah and Marnie's breakthrough, but for all the audience knows, Marnie could backpedal on that by the next episode, and this interaction could have incited real change in how Jessa and Shoshanna see one another or how they interpret their own actions. Girls doesn't really do narrative progression the way other shows do, so my misgivings about the Wemun outing might be off base. It does bode well for consequences that their shame has a witness, which Marnie and Hannah's really didn't (Desi doesn't know what's going on by the end of it). Even if Elijah thought everything was all about him, that only demonstrates he was quite aware of what Jessa, at least, was saying when she told Shoshanna to grow up.

Jessa says this after accusing Shoshanna of coveting the career that her college friends have and blaming Jessa for distracting her from it. Jessa wishes Shoshanna could look at her and see someone worth being with, but she doesn't in part because of every behavior Jessa has demonstrated on the show. The first scene between Jessa and Shoshanna here reminds the viewer of some real obvious information that, in its obviousness, is shocking considering Jessa's storyline throughout the show: she and Shoshanna are cousins. They share a grandmother, who they create a video voicemail for together. All Jessa wants, all she does on the show, is fit herself into other families. She's in constant pain over her own family's rejection of her. But Shoshanna is her family, and she has accommodated Jessa, and Jessa has never recognized it. They wind up squabbling about Adam and Ray—Shoshanna takes a dig at Jessa for stealing Adam, then Jessa exploits her feelings for Ray who, whether or not she still has lingering feelings of love for him, he has proven to be her friend and has enabled her to become the person she would like to be, and she cares about him. Shoshanna cares that Ray is happy, and he is happy with Marnie, and Marnie, Jessa informs Shosh, is on a weekend getaway with Desi. It's another case of the men representing red herrings. This brief confrontation isn't about Adam or Ray, but about Jessa's covetousness and Shoshanna's priorities. Jessa would probably reason with Shosh that the "friendly" thing to do would be to tell Ray that Marnie is cheating on him. She might read Shosh's allegiance to Ray as exploitative in itself, since they broke up, but she's been able to work toward some of her professional goals by helping him win his local zoning board seat and revitalize his business, all of which may superficially appear like Ray taking advantage of the lingering attachment Shosh still harbored for Ray by the end of season three, but which is framed as and certainly is in Shosh's eyes big chances she needed and met in order to show herself what she can do. She wants validation for that, and she has none. She would rather have validation for that at this point than close friends, since the gamble she took on that with Jessa has not paid off. There would be more tension to this episode if, as a counterpoint to Hannah and Marnie realizing why they're friends, the fallout between Shoshanna and Jessa would have felt more consequential, but their relationship has been so insubstantial for so long—Shoshanna's been trying to avoid Jessa, arguably, since she saw her having sex in season one—there is not much poignancy in them pissing each other off again.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 1: "All I Ever Wanted" - It's a boundaryless hinterland of sexuality and emotion.

Considering I had to stay up until 3 a.m. recently in order to find the time to dye my hair, I'm not saying I deserve any accolades for maintaining this commitment—I have dawdled on a draft about BinderCon since November (since when writing about any good fortune felt morbidly absurd). But still:

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Three, "All I Ever Wanted"

The show Girls is all about what Hannah wants and, superficially, the premiere of the final season seems like she gets it. Hannah gets published in the New York Times, gets a job offered to her for her shtick, and meets an idiosyncratically tender, dashing guy on assignment. Girls has shown the audience over and over since 2012, though, that that's not what Hannah wants, but because Girls lives in the same universe as its critics, it appears to the people around Hannah and to the audience that she is forever squandering and dodging the steps to, according to the other characters, adulthood, and to the audience, narrative momentum. At crucial dramatic moments throughout the show, Hannah went back to Adam, she quit her job at GQ, she quit Iowa, she broke up with Fran, she quit teaching—because those breaks were, in the first place, illusory. Hannah's relationship with Adam was casual until Marnie encouraged her to feel insecure about it and make him commit to her, then judged Hannah for how strange he was and how strangely he treated her. Her jobs were all things she has performed begrudgingly, since she makes the distinction in the pilot between working and dedicating herself to her writing. In passing, GQ and Iowa seem like working as a writer, but Hannah pursues both for positive feedback from others and some confirmation that she is doing something right. Hannah does not trust her voice at all and the people around her tell her what to do and how to feel about her decisions, either because they feel free to because they're assholes, because that's part of who they are and can't help it, or because they think this is an appropriate way to express their investment in Hannah's life. Hannah's mistake is that she listens, but she listens less and less, and that is the real arc of her character, not "having it all" in the form of a relationship, a career, and money. The inciting incident in Girls was Hannah declaring what she wants and everyone shutting her down. The rest of Girls has been Hannah going "what would you rather I do instead?"—and no on except Marnie actually cares, but they all feel free to tell her, mostly in order to project their own anxieties, furies, and desires onto her. One of the reasons Ray's arc is so compelling is that he has pulled back from this: he started out thinking of Hannah as someone who needed to be taught a lesson, and his purpose was to teach her, and his experiences have since awakened him to the fact that he has enough to learn himself, and Hannah has to discover things the same way he has to. That's one of the reasons Hannah goes so berserk when Ray stops judging her. It doesn't look compassionate, it looks as cruel as it feels, like he has abandoned his investment in her. So Hannah went right for an act Ray would sharply and woundingly tell her she was terrible at.

That's what makes the opening montage so poignant and harsh: all the people in Hannah's life read her Modern Love column. They are absorbed, they smile, they react to it. Since Marnie sees Hannah as an extension of herself, Marnie celebrates it as if it's a victory for her. Jessa won't read it, since it's an adaptation of Hannah's Moth monologue about losing Jessa to Adam. Adam reads it and shakes. This is what Hannah said she wanted to do in the pilot, and everyone told her to worry about her relationship/career/money. They have been irritated, angry, and disappointed with her for the past half a decade, and here they are finally happy with her, impressed by her, respecting her, unnerved by her capability (Shosh, though! "That's unladylike"—Shoshanna lives to police the adequacy of other women because she thinks it is a good, strength-giving thing to be as good as possible at being a woman, and Hannah is on the exact opposite side of that spectrum of feeling). It came as a result of the one thing Hannah did not quit crumbling in her hands: one of her friendships. Her friendships come off to the audience like the things she needs to quit, but Hannah's priorities are friendship, writing, and wearing what she wants. It's not more or less self-flagellating than being committed to relationships, career, and money. But it's enough that even the writers have had a hard time staying on Hannah's side throughout the run of the show, so ingrained is the impulse to punish someone like Hannah, who has privilege and access to what women are supposed to want.

"All I Ever Wanted" sees Hannah get something she wants—she's done right by herself, written and submitted something for a prestige publication, done something the achievement of which no one can deny. But one of the things that has kept Hannah spinning is that she does things for other people. However halfhearted and dismissive their judgments of her, she strikes back by absurdly, exaggeratedly trying to meet their standards, showing off how ill-equipped she is to do so, focusing on any entertainment factor the spectacle might have—and while they don't care, they don't change their behavior and leave her to make her own decisions, either. That's happened so many times, it's how Hannah's programmed. It's also prevented her from evaluating and carefully considering what it is she wants, because she's so busy reacting to what other people want her to want. When Girls started, Hannah wanted to write. Does she still want that?

The only thing "All I Ever Wanted" really addresses, with regards to that question, is that she still does not want a job, although with genuine support she might begrudgingly do the job she now has. If her tryst with Paul-Louis, the surf instructor, informs her of anything—in the end she is still enjoying his company, despite the revelation that he has a girlfriend to whom he is committed to going back to when they are in proximity to one another—it is that she wants the kind of consideration and support he provides. Taking that back to Brooklyn with her is a better move than staying in Montauk because it seemed to her like that's what he was suggesting he wanted her to do. But after she suggests this, Paul-Louis is quick to assert that he only wants Hannah to do what she wants to do, and the fact that this comes with affection, unencumbered by expectation, is something Hannah may have only learned that she wants because of the events of the past few years. What the story winds up doing for Hannah is objectively better than what it does as a story. It hits a lot of the same beats that "Queen for Two Days" did last season, with Hannah surrounded by older women who can afford to pay a lot of money to prioritize their desires by ceding determination as to what those desires are to corporate destinations that convince them that declaring their desires is also work and also what they need a break from. It does mine Hannah's defense mechanisms more clinically than that episode, which was a tiny bit more of a romp (by Girls's standards), exploring how Hannah's only means of resisting these kinds of activities, where she can't assert what she wants, is to flake out, quit, and exercise her agency by trying to get aid for a perceived violation against her body. It seems dramatic and babyish and, duh, calls attention to her body, all of which provokes people into writing her off, which is exactly what she wants. She wants to not be on people's radars. She wants to do what she wants to do. This mechanism is like an infantile shriek, demonstrating how basely bananas it is that so much is done to relieve people of their agency. It doesn't merit a rational response. But when Hannah does this by faking an injury to get out of activities at an expensive surf camp, it comes off as stone-cold petulance, because that's the joke—of all the things one may have to do in life, no one has to be at surf camp. But Hannah's lack of agency stalks her everywhere, and the laid-back atmosphere of the beach throws into relief how, even when no one is actually making her do anything, Hannah has internalized this powerlessness. Other critics have observed that when Hannah leaves Paul-Louis to get a draft of her article together and cry, she is demonstrating how her ambitions as a personal essayist puts pressure on her to create tension between herself and what's in front of her, for her to act in opposition against whatever she's doing, but I perceive it as less of a self-conscious quality. One of the things that move Hannah as an essayist, as far as I can perceive it, is that she does not react to everything like she is supposed to. What others find fulfilling, she doesn't. What others dismiss, she can work with. This is demonstrated a lot on the show, but so is Hannah's consciousness of what makes the kind of essays she wants to write and the value of accruing experience. In this case, though, she does not want to incongruously insert her isolated, indoors-dwelling, physical-activity-hating self into surf camp. She wants to cry in her room alone, in a "Sundays-in-high-school way," because she is not having the same experience as everyone else, not just wanting what others want, unable to feel like her agency is being compromised, feeling wrong.

Hannah has the space to gain some clarity about herself in this episode because she largely spends it alone or with Paul-Louis, who makes himself into a vehicle for Hannah to learn a lesson instead of a new set of expectations to which she must be accountable. Everybody else is back in New York. Adam and Jessa are settled into the kind of relationship he and Hannah enjoyed in the first season, with shades of "Weirdos Need Girlfriends, Too" in their mostly-nude sharing of yogurt in the middle of the afternoon. There is no place for Ray in the apartment he had taken over from Adam in season three. He can't stay with Marnie in her Manhattan studio because, unbeknownst to him, Marnie has no intention of wrapping things up with Desi. Marnie can't turn off any potential spigot of love. The way Hannah scraps things, Marnie clings to them, appearing equally stalled out. Christopher Abbott, who played Charlie, seemed to have left the show when it became clear Marnie and Charlie would never leave each other's orbit (ergo Charlie would never seem to grow as a character), and that didn't make narrative sense. But Marnie never leaves an opportunity to feel loved on the table, and it worked out that Abbott's return as Charlie last season gave Marnie a glimpse at the possibility that maybe chasing the loves of these men didn't give leave her with the life she wants. But Marnie doesn't think anything is wrong with herself, and no one in her life but Hannah is there to urge her to consider she isn't doing right by herself. Because she won't let Ray all the way in, he goes back to Shoshanna's, where she was embarrassed to realized he'd moved in without granting her the process of initiating that level of their commitment back when they were dating. In this case, she makes space for him, and they get along with the affability and deference of two people who have helped each other and learned a great deal from each other. As a viewer, I don't need them to get together, and I hope this bodes well for them recognizing each other as the excellent, supportive friends they are. They respect and see the best in each other and they are very similar. Shoshanna raised Ray's standards for his own behavior and taught him to draw strength and satisfaction from improving yourself, and Ray, if nothing else, validated Shosh's feelings and opinions and intelligence. She did much more for him, and that vitally course-corrected Ray's dedication to lashing out, shaming, and finger-wagging lessons aggressively at Hannah and Marnie. That Marnie still wants Ray to do that—shame her, correct her, judge her—is something I do hope the show acknowledges on its way to a resolution for that pair.

I don't reserve hope for anything else, I'm just preparing for the end.