Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episodes 4 and 5: "Painful Evacuation" and "Gummies" - Every time I look at your baby, I will see my own death.

I'm turning thirty this year and it's hard to watch this show end, so I've dawdled and prioritized getting over what was probably pneumonia. I'm hoping that pre-disasters the coming decade, but ha! I know better.

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Six, "Painful Evacuation"

Considering the first several episodes of the season saw Hannah on assignment for Slag Mag or dealing with her newly heightened profile as a writer, that is presumably the context for her interview with a woman who found her way to a writing career via sex work. She helps Hannah understand that a crowded, messy life does not distract from writing. Hannah does not have to wait to be alone with her thoughts, she's not wasting time. The writer adds a caveat, though: motherhood, she believes, is at odds with a woman's ability to be a writer. "Childlessness is the natural state of the female author," she tells Hannah, who demonstrates skepticism about what she's hearing. Hannah has never stuck up for herself and her own perspective the way she's starting to here.

Elijah showers on painkillers while Hannah writhes in pain on the toilet, laid up with a UTI, which she takes to the ER after Loreen compels her to. The quick work this episode really makes of Hannah's story is balanced by one of Dunham's best performances—Hannah is increasingly fed up with the people in her life and able to distinguish and articulate why and how they hurt each other. When Dr. Joshua turns out to be the physician taking care of her in the ER, it augments Hannah's few scenes with a sense of the passage of time, everything Hannah's been through, what she's done in the service of her desires, all the things it seems she's kept secret while addressing most anything else. Hannah keeps him from talking about their ethereal days-long tryst and pursues treatment for her UTI with her typical cocktail of self-deprecating jokes until Dr. Joshua mentions the pregnancy—her pregnancy of which he assumes she is already aware. Hannah rejects his hug and makes a joke about the dad, Paul-Louis, who she doubts she'll see again, and ejects herself from the hospital when Dr. Joshua mentions getting an abortion. She is not going to listen to anyone right now. It has not served her.

In a callback to Desi eating Marnie's ass in the season four opener, Ray fucks Marnie against her tiny kitchen space and Marnie tries to hand Ray—hilariously vulnerable, naked Ray—what he wants by pledging her desire to die in the mouth of a lion with him. "That sounds nice," Ray responds, but all he wants is to be alone in a normal date setting with her. As Marnie plots the logistics of meditating in an Uber versus meditating on the train, Ray demonstrates how checked out he is. It's glorified exposition which finds Marnie and Ray right where you figured they'd be. Ray has demonstrated and evolved a sense of restlessness, so his diminishing interest in Marnie makes sense, and her flamboyant fixation on her own performative wellness makes sense considering how she's losing Desi's attention but not respecting Ray's, so she's insisting upon her own importance in a way Ray is forced to agree with, despite the fact that it also functions to swerve acknowledgment of the way she is important to Ray.

The more fruitful scene is between Marnie and Desi, who attend couples counseling. Marnie fully and fabulously refuses to accept any responsibility or role in Desi's addiction and cannot allow him the space to even drink a glass of water without looking furious and baffled, trying to comprehend how that has anything to do with her and why she should endure it. Desi articulates exactly what Marnie does to the people in her life when he accuses her of never seeing him as a person, just as an idea. She makes Desi's drug treatment all about her with the incredible line "Do you have any idea how hard this has been for me? I have bruises all over my body from the two-hour massages that I need to deal with the stress of your addiction." Their counselor calls her a narcissist, one of the long-slung diagnoses about Girls's characters that populate this and the next episode.

After rambling about Ed Koch's secret gay train, a customer—to whom Ray listened intently enough to catch his name, Bobby, as well as the content of his ramble—collapses and dies in front of Ray. The interaction shakes Ray up and Hermie dresses him down for listening to anyone and wasting his potential with his misguided priorities. Between the perspective on Ray that Hermie gives here and Elijah's list of all Hannah's distracting impulses that he lays on her in "Gummies," I realized—never having appreciated it before—how explicitly Ray and Hannah's stories parallel each other, how they distract themselves by attempting to please people with minimal to no investment in them. Shoshanna, for instance, has animated many of Ray's decisions, and she's there for him when he rails against Hermie. She has enough wisdom to spare to spot from afar that Hermie just wants Ray to have a better life than he's had, and challenges Ray's perception that Hermie's life is enviable. That wouldn't preclude it from being something Ray would be settling for, she tells him. It's more than enough to reinvigorate Ray with purpose, but it is no skin off Shoshanna's back. She is not invested in his growth as a person. She cares about Ray, but his story is his and her story is hers. Ray's story ends in this episode when he finds Hermie at his home, dead.

Season three of Girls took a hit from having to balance stories that had become totally fractured to an extent that was new to the show at the time. Storylines between characters rarely converged within an episode. As a result, some scenes felt more like interstitials than scenes, and there was so much information they had to convey, the whole unit suffered. It is hard for a scene to stay meager with Adam Driver in it, since his intensity as Adam Sackler is so reactionary that it works when he's constrained, but Jessa's smaller scenes have never afforded Jemima Kirke the space to exude her charisma. Together, their dueling energies overcrowd scenes that flit by, and while their decisions in "Painful Evacuation" provide them a jolt of forward momentum, the puzzle of their attraction remains unresolved. And it feels like a puzzle because so little time has been spent on their characters in recent seasons. What brought them together makes sense, but what keeps them together and how they feed off each other eludes me, particularly as the next few episodes represent some leaps in time.

After Adam storms off the set, in an Adamesque flourish, of a film in which he plays a hairdresser contemplating revenge, Jessa, fresh off diagnosing herself (as a child, she says, not anymore) as a sociopath, proposes they make a film of their own. Winding up manically in just the way Adam has in the past, Jessa pitches Adam the idea that they should make the film about how his relationship with Hannah gave way to his relationship with her. "It explains everything about human nature," says Adam. "How even with the best of intentions we can't help but hurt each other." They work each other up into a froth, and it makes complete sense, but it does not reveal anything new about either of them, and this late in the game, that is disappointing.

Jessa and Adam, all wound up, ambush Hannah as she walks into her building, and she hears out their rambling pitch before quietly advising them to do whatever they want and carrying herself to her apartment. I love when Dunham plays Hannah as too upset for words, the sharp and abrupt way she'll gesture, trying so hard not to explode. In the apartment, she finds Elijah has ditched the party where he hoped to network. He comforts her with his pizza hand as she rests her head in his lap.

Girls, Season Six, Episode Fifty-Seven, "Gummies"

Pizza, then lentils. Hannah examines a lentil, which is equal in size to the cell-bundle within her that could become human life someday. "Gummies" picks up all of "Painful Evacuation"'s storylines: Hannah's new pregnancy and the roles Loreen and Elijah play in supporting her, the deterioration of Ray and Marnie's relationship, Hermie's death, and Jessa and Adam's movie—there's even a proportionate dash of Shosh in a single scene, where she pops into Ray's office to tell him, "I literally hate death." When she jokes that she's not going to die, Ray replies, "Good, because I don't think I can handle that." Girls has had for its whole run an abundance of references to death, but they feel conspicuous now as the show dies.

Marnie's refusal to make Ray and his grief a priority leads Ray to break up with her once and for all in the middle of Hermie's house. (Has it been left to Ray? He does not have a home yet.) Ray goes right to the same place he went with Shoshanna—they'll all be dead someday—and instead of making a joke to make him feel better, Marnie insults him and leaves, saying, "I'm not a bad person, by the way." She is now in the same situation she was in in season one, her own inability to respect her partner sabotaging her relationship. The episode never checks back in with Marnie, but Ray winds up the evening by listening to a life-affirming tape of Hermie's radio show in which an older woman named Sonja tells Hermie, "I found out that it's the best way to live because you get up and you say, 'Well, I'm gonna do this for myself first.'"

Adam's mumblecore movie features a version of Hannah, called Mira, filtered through what the viewer sees for the first time was the rosy tint Hannah brought to Adam's life. He remembers her as coquettish, fascinating, a free person—exactly the way Jessa sees herself and absolutely not as she sees Hannah. Hannah was Jessa's rock, and since Hannah went away to Iowa, she abdicated that position. She gives vent to her distaste for the character after Adam violently spanks Mira, a decision that demonstrates that Adam has some perspective on the violent shape his desire takes. However, it does not quite live up to the odd and uncomfortable places he felt free to take the sex he had with Hannah, a ride she was along for until she took it personally, since she thought she ought to fall in love with him and that it should look like the version of boyfriend-girlfriend she knew from watching people like Marnie and Charlie. The way Adam treats Mira is not all that different than the way Adam chased Jessa around his apartment in the season five climax, but it is different from how weird and alarming Adam felt he could get with Hannah. And Adam knows that's what makes the relationship he had with Hannah distinct: "You're weirder than even me," Adam, as himself, tells Mira.

While that depiction of an encounter between Adam and Hannah could have taken place at any time in the early days of their entanglement, the next one Jessa and Adam are shown shooting is what takes place following the end of season two (Jessa was married in season two! And Adam cried during her wedding! Time is a rubber band), when Adam came to Hannah's rescue when OCD was warping her life and she was up against a deadline for a whole book on which she'd staked her self worth after the collapse of all her relationships. Jessa watches them play the scene, which they have recreated so effectively, it is revealed, because they're shooting in Laird's apartment in the same building where Hannah lives (Laird has already met and fallen madly for the actress playing Mira, Genevieve). "I'm gonna ruin your life," Mira says. "You won't even know it. One day, you'll just you'll realize that you're stuck with a crazy person." Adam responds, "Well, I don't care if you ruin my life. At least you'll have been in my life." Jessa and Adam speak the subtext of the scene—that Adam's perceived Hannah in the only way in which Jessa is really secure being perceived: intense, free, a vessel of love and excitement. Hannah is so much her opposite, Jessa can't comprehend that someone would experience her that way, and probably the only conclusion she can draw is that Adam experiences her as boring. Given all the qualities they share, it would make sense of Adam saw Jessa as something comforting and familiar—she's not even as intense as his sister. You can't get away with playing the Sacklers at the intense game at all.

Elsewhere in the building, Hannah makes a cogent list of reasons not to have a baby, including the fact that she is bad at sports and is looking forward to making less than $24,000 that year at 27. Elijah is still trying to pull her out of her abyss and into his, where he's been up all night on Adderall looking up an old Oberlin classmate of theirs he was complaining about in "All I Ever Wanted." He laughs about Hermie's death. He dismisses any ceremony to observe that Loreen coming to visit is an event. He just wants Hannah to join him in the void like when they did coke together in season two. He is still on that same level. Loreen is medicating, too, and she shows up with pot gummies, ready to start tearing into them as soon as Hannah quietly and anxiously tells Loreen she's pregnant and that her major inclination is that "this is my baby" and she is trying to rationalize keeping it. At the laundromat with Hannah, Loreen continues to eat the gummies and talk herself into a spiral of gloom about how little she knew when she got married to Tad and had Hannah. When Hannah observes that she herself, the baby, Loreen, and Tad and his partner will all be one family that can all be together in the baby's life, Loreen responds, "I would sooner shoot myself in the head." When Hannah advises that Loreen might yet meet someone, Loreen fucking ditches her. Hannah has demonstrated a lot of grief over what seems like her parents' inability to acknowledge her desires or perspectives on her state, and here she goes, refusing to hear what Loreen is telling her because she has to balance it against her responsibility to shape her. Hannah has had to take on a parental role for both Tad and Loreen in the past season, but they are also the only examples she has to follow.

When Hannah goes back to the apartment, she finds all the clothes Loreen was carrying out of the laundromat scattered on her stoop. Hannah recruits Elijah—despondent on the bed, listening to his college a cappella group's album—to help her find Loreen, who is high and depressed in New York. The only clue they have is the one call she answers, in which she mutters something about crispy egg rolls. They accumulate some dumplings and ice cream cones on their search and finally find Loreen eight-odd plates deep in a Chinese restaurant. Hannah is upset that her mom just vanished, and when Loreen ignores her to toast passive aggressively to her baby, it takes a moment for Elijah to realize that there really is going to be a baby. He is furious, and Hannah attends to him by warning Loreen that she's fucked up her day. In the cramped kitchen, Hannah and Elijah subject the Chinese restaurant employees to their drama. He shames Hannah for how this is one of her stupid impulsive escapades. He doesn't want to be involved in the raising of a baby, doesn't want to room with a mom, doesn't want to do anything and that was the appeal of his arrangement with Hannah from day one: they were mutually paralyzed by inertia and fear. Hannah lets Elijah know she needs and wants his help because the baby has no father. "You don't think I have plans?" Elijah responds, appalled that she would think that he would volunteer for the role. He rebuffs her attempt to make a joke and tells her he believes she will be a terrible mother. He leaves.

Just like Loreen and Tad did for Hannah in the pilot, Hannah "helps" Loreen through a drug freak-out. Before she vomits, Loreen gives Hannah her "a voice of a generation" line, and it is great: "I just want you to know, every time I look at your baby, I will see my own death."

In a coda that ties "Gummies" back into "Painful Evacuation," in which characters grappled over which voices were the ones worth listening to, Hannah stops on the stoop outside her apartment to sit for a moment with the actress Genevieve, who she realizes is playing her in Adam's movie. Hannah and Genevieve, in costume, are dressed slightly alike, coiling their bodies in the same way on the stairs, and Genevieve reveals she's a mother of three. She's excited to hear Hannah is pregnant. Finally, Hannah's realizing that she's getting the best advice from herself.

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