Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 8: "What Will We Do This Time About Adam?" - Why don't you try casting someone who vaguely resembles me and has my gravitas next time, okay?

I can't see myself ever finding that this title does anything for this episode, but who can say what the future is going to do to us.

Girls, Season Six, Episode 60: "What Will We Do This Time About Adam?"

Jessa gave her father, at least until what in the time the show explores was not very long ago, a lot of leeway in order to keep from alienating him with her needs. She empathized with him as much as possible, rationalized his nude magazine stash and his unreliability. She has never been able to do this with Hannah, who she needs just as much, but for a reason that is more slippery and intangible, probably, the way friendship is—but she does exactly to Adam what she does with her father, empathizing with him when he tells her he needs to go and be with Hannah and raise her baby with her. "You've got to do what you've got to do," she tells him. She wants to believe it. She probably imagines he would be repelled by her need for him if she showed it, but more crushingly it just wouldn't matter. On top of this is the fact that Adam is leaving to take care of Hannah's baby, and Jessa was perhaps never more in need than when she was pregnant, and no one was there for her in that way. She wanted Hannah to be, but she wasn't, and the evidence that that may still be hurting her plays out in this episode in a few ways. First, when she complains to Laird, she says "her baby," disdainfully, contrasting how much more valid others see Hannah's emergency than hers. Then the replication of her walk to the bar in "Vagina Panic." Back then, she was deferring her abortion, had a white Russian, and enjoyed a joyful-seeming hookup during which she discovered she had miscarried. Now, she is listless, takes a seltzer because she's in recovery, and cries when she meets a man in the bathroom. When Adam comes back to her at the end of the day, acknowledging that she needs more help than a baby, it is a horribly poignant moment that reinforces her belief that she didn't alienate him, so he came back to her.

Adam came back to her because Jessa needs him, and Hannah doesn't. Adam needs to be needed: that's what he told Mimi-Rose when she snuck an abortion behind his back. His daughter-abandoning sister demonstrates his comfort with difficult people and with being the comparatively steady, reliable person, albeit only next to someone who cannot quite appreciate that he is not a stable force by any means. He was also there when his ex Natalia warned Hannah that she was going to wind up "with a baby [she didn't] know how to care for" by staying with Adam. Adam's name for Hannah was always "kid," and he sees her as something small and vulnerable, and the last time he wanted to get back together with her was the birth of his niece. Adam has not stopped equating Hannah with a fantasy of being able to protect and nurture someone. And Hannah is still in many respects the same person he fell in love with: he finds her digging into a bin at a bodega, just similar enough to their first meeting that it makes sense he would fall for her again. They have tender sex and he yells at her about sugar, which recalls their one true but still harrowing heyday as a couple before their first breakup. But Hannah has changed. She doesn't need him anymore. Which is why the extent to which this episode dwells on them is disproportionate to what it reveals about Adam and Jessa and how, when he does come back to her in the end, having realized Hannah's not the helpless kid sending herself to the ER anymore, it is an acknowledgment that he sees how much Jessa needs him and that's what he wants—it is so true to their characters and their relationship makes complete sense for the first time. I would have gladly traded one of the scenes between Hannah and Adam for a longer scene between Adam and Jessa in the end, but the scene I would have traded would not have been when Laird comes up to Hannah's apartment to tell her how he is an experienced single parent and makes his pitch to her that they should be together.

And while I will concede that the love story between Ray and Shoshanna's former boss, Abigail, was the purest and best ever deployment of Girls's romcom instincts, a flourish they deserved to get in before the show shuttered for good, and their kiss on the carousel was perfect, Abigail still deserves better than Ray (season one Ray has never left me; if you've only watched this show as it's aired, go back and revisit season one Ray — Alex Karpovsky has played Ray's growth as a person with so much heart, it is a jagged experience to remember what he was like to begin with). And the way he is emboldened by her example, caught up in the magic of her natural ease and charisma and sunniness, is just Ray falling prey to his manic pixie dreams. It's not to say Ray has not grown — as a character, he and Hannah have evolved the most and are, as the show ends, probably the two characters who will most plausibly stay in touch with one another, if the end of he and Marnie didn't taint that whole phase of Ray's life as fully as it had the power to. But Ray is prone to building his life in the service of what the women in his life want for him, and Abigail seems like another gorgeous building to hide in. But the history that informs their scenes doesn't make them any less magnificent — Aidy Bryant really is a dream.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 7: "The Bounce" - We're just naked (white) children.

I don't need anything from Girls—I've enjoyed it, I'm going to miss it, but there is nothing that I feel these last few episodes MUST deliver on. Which is an ideal way to approach the end of a show, particularly one ending on its own terms. Since Dunham et al have, even when it has not seemed like it, understood their characters to be on a trajectory from the beginning, there has been a lot of payoff this season, and for the most part, it feels like Girls is spending its time far more wisely than a lot of self-consciously styled final seasons, with Hannah's pregnancy shoring up what wounds are still open among her friends, who has changed and who hasn't. That being said, I would have rather seen most of this episode last season. Some of it not at all!

Girls Season Six, Episode Fifty-Nine, "The Bounce"

Athena Dante deserves better, and so does the nameless pawn shop proprietor. Both characters, a young black girl and an older Greek man, respectively, serve only to guide Elijah and Marnie, respectively, by imparting the wisdom that has eluded them and kept them from what they want. On the one hand, regarding Elijah and Marnie: it is believable and feels right that these two exceptionally self-centered characters would need someone firmly apart from the sphere of people in which they are enmeshed to tell them something they did not want to hear. Both of them treat Hannah and the other people close to them like their own appendages. The words of strangers mean more because they have not yet been absorbed into the swirling black holes that are their respective ideas about themselves. But on a show that is otherwise both shrewd about what people realistically get out of teaching others lessons and where that drive usually comes from and has never nailed non-white characters, both of these stories were sour and regressive ways of getting two characters from A to B when (arguably) neither of them needed this growth and, especially in the case of Elijah, the stakes were not sufficiently high.

The only redeeming facet of spending this much time with Elijah is Andrew Rannell's performance, which is so good, but I still could have not left his and Hannah's apartment when he went to the audition. Hearing about Athena Dante after the fact, where it could have seemed like it was a story Elijah would have concocted himself—that a magical spirit guide told him "men only exist to buy us jeans" and helped him believe in himself during his big audition—would have made it so the joke was on Elijah for seeing a driven, talented young black girl as existing only in the service of his destiny. But instead, we see it, and I was not into any of it that was not Rannells singing "Let Me Be Your Star."

The impetus for Elijah going on the audition in the first place was probably Dill Harcourt, the dashing gay broadcaster who broke his heart last season in "Love Story" when he told Elijah he was not the special person he was looking for. It is still the more palpable specter haunting Elijah, since his relationship with Hannah does not have quite the depth for him to to have been moved to reinvigorate his acting ambitions just because Hannah is pregnant and about to be too busy to hang out all day and do nothing with him. Elijah did not have a story of his own until the one with Dill last season, and the renewed focus on Elijah here does mean the return of Dill, who surfaces in his life like a gesture of cosmic spite, since Elijah was probably finally in the mindset to act as if he was going on this audition for himself.

Dill winds up in Elijah and Hannah's apartment, and stays there all day while Elijah goes on his audition and Hannah waits by the phone for Paul-Louis's call, because he is embroiled in a scandal for trying to purchase a white baby for adoption. Hannah practices her child-having acumen on Dill—"I'm going to have my eye on you even when it seems like I don't."—and Dill unburdens himself of his daddy issues on Hannah. He insists Hannah not deny her baby the opportunity to have a father. She may be more vulnerable than ever, but Hannah's finally cultivated enough skepticism to make her whole exchange with Dill into a narrative net loss. I would have liked to see her bridge the story between Dill and Elijah and the one with Marnie, but she stays with Dill all day. She does not let him influence how she is feeling, she puts up some boundaries, and she takes Paul-Louis's call.

Paul-Louis does not remember Hannah until she reminds him that he thought she had a lot of pubic hair. When she says the sex they had resulted in her pregnancy, he is flummoxed and does not quite believe it when she says she does not want anything from him. He embraces it, though, and says he's not ready. He recognizes that he doesn't have any business advising her on what decision to make regarding the pregnancy, whether she stays pregnant or not. She offers to keep him in the loop, and he advises that a name he always thought was cool for a boy was "Grover," and she knows what that means. "Be good, Hannah," he says, and Hannah is overcome with regret for having given him the courtesy of knowing. Dill detects right away that Paul-Louis dismissed her, "The way I dismissed Elijah," he says, giving the first indication that that interaction haunts him, and he did not come to the apartment only because he's in trouble, just like Elijah's not at the audition only because he has any new sense of responsibility for his life. "No, it went perfectly," Hannah says of her phone call before she and Dill cry together, which quickly turns into Dill crying in Hannah's lap. Before Elijah returns, Hannah has transformed the situation and gotten Dill over to the couch, where they are sharing eight pizzas and laughing at a movie that involves a talking baby. Before Dill can make a declaration of love to Elijah, Elijah lets him know he thinks "You came here to fuck with me" and admits Dill succeeded, but he didn't let that stop him from succeeding at something he wanted to do. That is the story Elijah's telling himself and he sticks to it, even as he tells Dill to bring a pizza to him in his room and they fall asleep together. Elijah really only had one story on the show, and it was a simple love story, and this is just the right way to end it: he gets the guy and thinks he's entitled to the same journey to prioritizing his desires that the other characters are on.

Marnie's story would have been a better counterpoint if it had consequences within the episode, but it doesn't, and there is not much room for any. The only content of her scenes is "Marnie learns a lesson"—the big lesson that would have enabled Marnie to change the direction of her life—but one voicemail for Desi notwithstanding, there is no evidence Marnie even realized that was a lesson she had to learn: she tells herself lies and believes them and blithely disregards evidence to the contrary. She does not critically examine a thing in order to figure out what it is, she decides what it is and shames it until it conforms to whatever it's supposed to be. Desi spelled it out for her when he described his own behavior in the previous episode: "I'm not a musician, Bella. Never have been. Just acting like one."

The only thing this story has going for it is more Rita Wilson as Marnie's mother. When she articulates that she cannot keep giving Marnie her fun money—Marnie is getting evicted—it is a justifiable decision for a mother of an adult to make, but the way she says it, the way she has to draw a boundary between herself and Marnie, the way she insists she has to prioritize having fun instead of helping her, all evoke how Marnie became the way she is, her horrible boundaries and even her exercise habits, which are probably the same as her mother's, and she probably expects them to be able to talk about them and share something in common when her mother does them because she's still bitter about her own divorce, so all she has to hit Marnie with when when she tries emotionally manipulating her for help is: "Don't let divorce make you bitter."

That is what leads Marnie to pawn her sweet sixteen necklace. "'Wild Bill' Hickok gave that to my great-great-grandmother," Marnie tells the pawn shop owner with the trademark sanctimoniousness I will miss from her. "I come from a long line of women who choose terrible men, but that's ending now." Her first reaction when the pawn shop owner tells her that's nonsense, the necklace is less than twenty years old, is "Half my fucking wedding theme is a lie!" The only consequence of this is Marnie's parting call to Desi, in which she tells him, "You don't owe me anything and I'm really sorry that I thought you did." Even if nothing else comes of it, I admit, it would be a perfectly suitable fate for the show to wrap with Marnie under the impression that she has grown leaps and bounds and changed so much when she could not face the thing that has kept her on the same spiral throughout the show.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 6: "Full Disclosure" - You do not know a hundred babies.

After that stretch of fever delirium, I sprained my ankle. "Bad things come in threes" is not a superstition that dogs me particularly, but for safe measure, I am going to appraise my catastrophic inability to allow myself to recover from those things as the third bad thing, because I'm worse for that than either respective and completely usual misfortunes.

This may have been my favorite episode of Girls, if only because it uses everything that came before it in such a gratifying way.

Girls Season Six, Episode Fifty-Eight, "Full Disclosure"

Girls speaks its subtext with a scene that fully exposes Hannah and Marnie's relationship. When Hannah asks for Marnie's opinion on the salad dressing, Marnie weighs in on Hannah's ability to dress the salad. Then she presumes her news will upstage Hannah's news when she shares the fact that Ray broke up with her: "Ray was supposed to break the cycle" of her cycles of broken relationships, Marnie says. "And besides, he was just supposed to be grateful that I even wanted to talk to him." This brought to mind immediately the MC at Jessa's wedding to Thomas-John, the schlubby guy making dad jokes in front of whom Marnie rage-eats cake in order to seduce him after a run-in with Charlie, who she was still not over at the time. Ray served no different a purpose for Marnie than that MC. Consider how far Hannah is from where she was in the first season compared to how Marnie is virtually unchanged, minus a few of the stabilizing forces (her day job, Hannah's love) she had back then.

Hannah asserts to Marnie exactly what happened: she was a horrible cunt to him, so as sad as she wants to be, there's a good reason she and Ray are not together. Back in the first season, Hannah could only articulate to her diary about how Marnie's unhappiness with Charlie was warping their relationship. Now she can be straightforward with Marnie about it. And before she can take any blowback from it, Hannah tells Marnie she's pregnant. And Marnie immediately shames her: "You decided just to not use any birth control whatsoever?" She shames her for wanting to keep it, but Hannah stands by her decision. The whole arc of Hannah on Girls has been her working toward listening to herself, prioritizing her goals, and standing by her decisions instead of internalizing the whims of others and entertaining any recommendation or correction leveled at her because she assumed that anyone who wasn't her knew better. Now she knows better. And guess what? Marnie yields. "I'm into it," she laughs, and Hannah's response is precise: "I can't believe how supportive you're being. This is a shock. It kind of makes me want to do it less!" Hannah has learned the ultimate lesson Girls has to impart, which is that Marnie's instincts are not to be trusted.

Marnie continues to bring her own damage to bear on their conversation, of course, when Hannah scandalizes her with the fact that she doesn't want the baby's biological father, Paul-Louis, involved. Marnie can't imagine life without jockeying for male approval. Hannah lets her have it, underlining heavily one more time that she knows what Marnie is doing and what it calls for: "I knew that you were gonna try to be controlling and control the entire way that I brought my child into this world. And I probably shouldn't have even told you until I was in labor."

Hannah's dad Tad is now seeing the man with the darling dog from season five's "Good Man," who admits to Hannah when she visits them that he donated sperm to a pair of friends before and regretted being unable to be part of the child's life. Tad is on Hannah's side, though, when it comes to her choice to not tell Paul-Louis she's pregnant, and Elijah is in her corner, too. He apologizes for saying Hannah was going to be a bad mother and admits it was comforting to be with someone who had nothing more going on to boast about than he did. When Elijah calls it "our kid," Hannah is overcome with happiness in a rare way. Following this exchange, he rises to the occasion to run lines with his coworker at Henri Bendel and knocks her out with the poignancy and precision of his acting.

As much as Hannah wants and is happy to have Elijah's support, Hannah wants nothing to do with Adam or his frequent phone calls. Adam ambushes her outside her apartment and demands she watch the movie he and Jessa made about his and Hannah's relationship, reading her resistance as urgency, desperate to know if they felt the same things and if they perceived things the same way. Hannah has no doubt about her perception of events, and she stopped wondering, probably after Adam came back to her after seeing her wobble home from the hospital: he likes to make her feel better and feel taken care of, and having met his sister Caroline, Hannah knows that that's probably a safe role in which he is comfortable. Adam told his ex-girlfriend Mimi-Rose he needs to be needed and he's insecure about being wanted. In Jessa, he probably does get the ideal mix of want and need. But when Hannah tells Adam she's pregnant—and runs away from him after confirming the baby is not Fran's—that brings a lot crashing down on Adam. There was Mimi-Rose having an abortion behind his back, yes, but also Caroline's pregnancy, the birth of his niece—Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem "Sample" Schlesinger-Sackler—and Caroline's abandonment of her. Adam swooped in to take care of Sample after Caroline left. This situation is nigh irresistible to Adam's urge to nurture and protect.

The revelation of Hannah's pregnancy means something else to Jessa, and she visits her, somberly asking Hannah to confirm the news. Hannah confirms but tries to dismiss her, telling her she's working, but Jessa forces the issue, hurt, and Hannah hands Jessa her ass for calling her her "dear friend" when she broke up with her. Jessa can't reconcile not seeing Hannah anymore: she came all the way to New York to be with Hannah in the pilot. Her need for her has made Jessa insecure and petulant, and when Hannah left New York, Jessa lost it. Her frame of reference for what a family is is pretty crooked, but she feels at home with Hannah. She wanted Hannah to take care of her when she was pregnant. She told her father, "I'm the child." Adam observed that she needs "more help than a baby." But she can't be Hannah's baby anymore. One her way out the door, Jessa whispers: "Rest in peace."

After all this, Hannah can't get through to Paul-Louis at the waterski resort. Instead, she watches Adam's movie, Full Dis:closure. The first scene captures an idealized and warm vision of their relationship and moves Hannah to tears, recalling when he captivated her. Over the credits plays Adam's dramatization of their meeting, with Adam sporting vintage Adam hair: Hannah was eating right out of a bulk foods bin and Adam went on a tear about sugar, wrote his name on her arm, and when it hurt, he told her if it hurt, that means she'll remember it. We find out what had Hannah at first sight: when Adam first saw her, he asked if she was a writer.

Marnie dashes her relationship with Desi on the rocks of her mother's friend's birthday party, where they are supposed to perform. I love that Marnie's mother has implicated Marnie in her attempt to suck up to a woman she's "friends" with, whose attention she scrambles after. Desi does not want to play the show so badly he threatens to kill himself. When he rolls in an hour late, fucked up, Marnie's mother makes fun of her for being a prude and shames her for being disappointed in Desi and for not being able to tell that he's high. Marnie yells at her for raising her in a household where male approval is the holy grail, which seems like residual insight from her conversation with Hannah.

Desi delivers a great summary of a lesson Marnie needs to learn when she says he's a musician and he needs to do his job: "I'm not a musician, Bella. Never have been. Just acting like one. Before that, I was just acting like being an actor. Before that, I was just acting like being a big game photographer. I'm always acting like I'm something, but now I'm, like done." Marnie loves to proclaim that something is something and then just shame it until it conforms to the expectations of that thing. The best example remains her relationship with Charlie: after they rekindled their intimacy at the end of season two—on Charlie's part because he was concerned Marnie was having a psychic meltdown—she proclaimed them "old fogies" who were just going to have a quiet, boring life together, even though they had not had so much as a conversation about being in one another's lives again.

After Desi skips out on the performance and Marnie learns that the friend of her mother's for whom the party is being thrown is a successful musician—meaning that her mother is using Marnie to show off her own proximity to the music industry. Marnie shows some shrewd judgment, declining to perform, but then her mom gets into the idea of backing her up, and Marnie has no escape. Brilliantly, Marnie's mother tsks into the mic and announces a performance by "The Michaels Sisters." It goes miserably, Rita Wilson scats, and god what can be gleaned from this—does Marnie realize how little she knows about what makes a good mother and that she has nothing she can teach Hannah? Is she embarrassed by her mother's insecurity and commitment to playing make-believe, and does she sense she does the same thing? Literally any conclusion could help Marnie at this point.