Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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