Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 3: "American Bitch" - Is that why the Internet is so cool?

Fever delirium retreating at last. One night this week, all night, no matter how many times I woke up panicking, I dreamt I was a thing being baked on an episode of The Great British Baking Show and I was coming apart as they frantically tried to get me from the pan to the tray. I'm just about recovered from the illness but not really from that.

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Four, "American Bitch"

I'm not fascinated by the male author character in this episode so much that it is difficult for me to even discern why this episode-long encounter with him is important for Hannah. It is important for her, I can see that objectively, it's just his comprehensive odiousness.

He's the nadir of the role Ray has mostly played on Girls. I didn't like Ray at all to begin with, and I can't shake a lot of that initial dislike, even though I do admire very much the way the writers have demonstrated Ray's growth. Ray went from a rampaging douchebag whose mission was to be in everyone's face, teaching women lessons about how to behave (it occurred to me since the other week that Jessa, having told Shoshanna that Marnie is cheating on Ray with Desi, Ray is in shape to recognize Marnie is the same person who recoiled and toyed with his former best friend Charlie). He fell in love with Shoshanna, who's a decade or so younger than him, she taught him all sorts of things about self-betterment and, rightly, got frustrated with him and left him when he couldn't be what she needed in a partner, and he has taken her lessons to heart while becoming a person he likes better, and her admiration for him as grown as well. As of last season, he had come around to the fact that he doesn't know anything and can't teach anyone anything, he can only support them in finding what's right for them, a revelation that makes Hannah freak out savagely because she has always taken his teachings to heart. Hannah did not, until very recently ever at all, listen to herself. She lived and died by the directions others gave her regarding most things (except clothes). Ray has been a means to demonstrate how much Hannah takes to heart someone telling her her instincts are wrong. Consider the first season when Hannah did a reading of one of her essays. As nervous as she was, she allowed herself to be talked completely out of the essay she'd decided to read when Ray told her, albeit way, way less gently, "You should be using your funny to tackle subjects that matter."

Girls has done an incredible job demonstrating how Hannah takes so seriously something Ray thinks so little about, and Hannah is just starting to understand the pressures she's internalized from sources outside herself are usually distractions. But she's still vulnerable. Ray is the oldest, probably the most well-read friend Hannah has, which has been enough for Hannah to let him sway her on literary matters. In "American Bitch," Hannah is summoned by a male author whose work—not whose opinions—has inspired her and informed her desire to write. He wants to talk about an article she wrote about him, the contents of which he objects to (several women writers had written about how he took advantage of them and exploited his power over them), and persuades her with what seems like kindness, self-deprecation, unflattering self-awareness, his own sexual weirdness—all things that resonate with Hannah. He thinks he's a big event in the lives of the women he has sex with, and he does not like being material for a story that belongs to them. In the end, he is just using Hannah to fulfill his own kink and puts her in a situation where the story is out of her hands (and something else is in her hand, ugh). She can't tell the story to anyone without it sounding like she wanted everything to happen, she wanted it to end in sexual intimacy.

The fascination with the male writer by the writers and producers on the episode is palpable, but the relevance to the series is with regards to, as ever, what Hannah wants, and this marks the end of her entertaining her desire for approval from an older man. It makes sense that the catalyst for this is someone besides Ray, someone the audience does not even know, just an ambient male-author-ness, a source of silence—it doesn't matter because he acts indiscriminately, and she has seen enough to know the only reason to take it seriously is the gravity she endows it with. The way they seem to her to genuinely connect over prickly, difficult terrain, over not being easy, over his neg-tinged admiration for her willingness to be a "bitch," recalls the hopefulness that buoyed Hannah when it seemed like that's why Adam loved her. Hannah projected a lot of specific hopes onto Adam when their relationship started transforming into something loose and fun into everything Marnie told Hannah she should want it to be. Because she did have hopes for a particular kind of relationship, but had the sense in the beginning of the show to know Adam was not giving her that or could be expected to give her that: they were just having fun. Hannah did not think that reflected poorly on her in any way, but Marnie told her it did. Here Hannah demonstrates how much she's still hoping a particular relationship will conform to the vision she has for it, but she does not go in thinking that: her guard is up until he lowers it, and she swoons over the idea "I hope someone writes a book about what a cunt I am someday." Hannah has let a lot of people waste her time, and it makes perfect sense that she covets the idea of having driven somebody to such rage-filled distraction they write a book about her out of spite. Hannah gets a chance to feel good about her flaws, only to find he was using that and ultimately uses that against her.

The best thing "American Bitch" does for Girls's audience is how it demonstrates, before the show goes off the air, what a complex character Hannah is: she is extremely vulnerable and prone to internalizing things people say to her offhandedly and with no real investment in her wellbeing, but something unwavering in her has reassured her she cannot punish herself for being difficult or resist making demands. There are some things about season six so far that remind me of season three, which does not bode well—the third season of Girls was weak from beginning to end—but even that season was focused around Hannah refusing to give up on herself, even when it felt like the show's writers were. I'm glad as the show ends it seems like the writers still see Hannah pretty clearly.

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