Monday, March 4, 2013

Girls Season 2, Episode 8, “It’s Back”

For a show entitled Girls, it’s probably bad form to be so fascinated with a male character rather than a female character, but I cannot help myself. Adam Driver’s performance as Adam is a wonder – his line readings are unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, and seem to me to give great depth to what might otherwise be a shallow part. Somehow, through a combination of his cadence, his intonation, his volume and his gestures, when he speaks it’s as if I can see through his words to the many unexpressed thoughts beneath them, as if each line of dialogue is the precarious outcome of a tumult of conflicting instincts, intuitions, and thoughts. Usually, his halting cadence makes it seem as though he’s constantly stopping himself from saying more, and bottling up what he’s thinking – which obviously isn’t the case, because he frequently acts as if the outrageous things he says and does are rather ordinary things for people to say and do.

That’s what makes his outburst in the AA meeting of last night’s episode such a treat. It’s rare to have such unbridled insight into what makes this guy tick, especially when it’s so excellently written. He treats this AA group like therapy, unburdening himself of all of his frustration, confusion, and depression over his and Hannah’s breakup. It’s a raw monologue that just flows out of him, making him appear vulnerable and introspective, and in touch with himself. Particularly excellent writing included the bit where he talked about how wanted to teach her things she didn’t know (like how to use soap or what street Central Park started on). I thought it nicely representative of wanting to share things in your life with someone you love. I can’t blame Carol Kane for wanting to set up her daughter with him – based on that display, I’d want my hypothetical daughter to meet him too.

His monologue at the AA meeting was Adam’s showcase moment from this episode, but he had other excellent moments throughout. His phone call to Natalia was particularly well-acted. As his message got more awkward, he put himself in increasingly awkward physical positions: bending over, climbing a ladder, and then putting his head between the steps. And after hanging up, he instantly becomes disgusted with some of the things he says (specifically, describing himself as a creep), something everyone’s done at some point in their lives after talking on the phone with a potential love interest.

Adam and Natalia’s meeting provided more goodies. I loved the way in which it took him a moment to register that the beautiful woman walking through the door was there to see him – as if never in a million years did he think that Carol Kane’s daughter would be this person. Their mutual reactions to each other were also a delight. Adam is his usual, unfiltered self (“Holy shit!”), while Natalia says, “Oh my god, I love my mom.” The scene was great for vicarious living, indulging everyone’s fantasy of instantaneously hitting it off with a beautiful person.

Of course, the actual girls on Girls are pretty great as well. It’s as if each of the characters is in competition to be the least self-aware character on the show. For my money, Marnie is in the lead, followed closely by Hannah and Jessa, with Shoshana a distant fourth. Marnie’s self-esteem has always been wrapped up in how she compares herself with the other characters, especially her ex-boyfriend Charlie, but also the other regulars. It’s one her most unpleasant characteristics, and one of the reasons she seems like a real character (something I think is true of most of the characters on this show – their unsympathetic traits are a part of what make them seem so well-rounded). Naturally, she finds it difficult to see Charlie so successful while she’s currently in limbo as a hostess (I thought it an especially nice touch that she had her hair in childish-looking tails when she sees Charlie – quite a contrast from his put-together, office-casual appearance).

In another nice touch, Charlie finally seems to have figured out that Marnie is rather toxic for him: after stopping by his new office and telling him she's there for support, he sarcastically mutters, “Yeah, from me or for me?” Apparently, her toxicity is something he figured out a while ago: the app he sold to get the nice job he currently enjoys was predicated on his wanting to call her but knowing he shouldn’t. It’s called “Forbid,” and it’s free to download, but charges you $10 to call a person you designate to the software. In his case, he devised it to prevent himself from calling Marnie after their breakup. However, true to form, Marnie is oblivious to the obvious, and has to be told explicitly that she’s the reason he created the program in the first place (it’s possible that she knows she’s the reason why he created the app and just wants to hear him say it, although I think her reaction to the news – she thinks it is weird – favors the former inference more than the latter).

In another nice touch, Charlie finally seems to be equipped to deal with Marnie’s parasitic self-esteem issues. When Marnie fishes for details about how much Charlie got paid for the app (the better to finely adjust her self-esteem), Charlie strings her along, and they go back and forth in screwball comedy cadence:

Charlie: They paid me a shitload.
Marnie: Good.
Charlie: No, it’s not that much.
Marnie: Oh.
Charlie: But it’s enough.
Marnie: Good.
Charlie: Yup.

Then, to top it off, he asks a demoralizing question: “Do you need money? Is that why you’re here?” It’s a strange situation in which a supposedly benevolent question is actually rather malicious, but given the way Marnie has treated him in the past, it’s well-deserved.

Meanwhile, the pressure of the deadline for her book deal causes Hannah to suffer a recurrence (apparently) of her OCD. I like that the writers have created consequences of the pressure Hannah is feeling, but I’m not terribly thrilled with this development. On the one hand, it led to a nice scene between her and a therapist, where she angrily describes how crippling the OCD has been for her in the past.* On the other hand, if her OCD was indeed so severe, it doesn’t seem to me like this would be the first time we’ve heard of it. Hannah is so quick to talk about her personal issues with anyone that it seems like this is something she would have raised at some point in the past (I can envision it now: she raises it as an example of the struggles she’s gone through in an attempt to win points in an argument over her behavior. Or she raises it as an instance of what an interesting person – and therefore good writer – she is). Perhaps it isn’t something that would have come up over the course of the first season, but it felt a bit like lazy, retroactive continuity.

* I liked Hannah’s outburst both for its dramatic weight, but also because it’s typically Hannah – her anger is a product of the therapist suggesting her OCD is “classical,” as if he is categorizing her pain as no different from that of others who suffer from her disorder. Now, this might be upsetting for a lot of people, but Hannah’s particular brand of self-unawareness is her insistence that her experiences and thoughts are more powerful because they happen to her. Everything that happens to her is lived more fully than when it happens to others (even though really, she just likes to talk about it more). As Alan Sepinwall wrote in his review of the bottle episode a few weeks ago, “Hannah's pain still has to be more interesting and special than everyone else's.” Thus her anger at her therapist is slightly less sympathetic than it would be otherwise. Although, as Sepinwall insightfully points out in his review of this week's episode, her need for her experiences to be special is in part a way for her to cope with her previous powerlessness over her OCD.

Other thoughts:

- I like that Adam keeps a bottle of milk by his bedside table for so long that it curdles, yet he doesn’t think to check the milk before drinking it.

- At first, I thought Hannah’s checking over her shoulder after Adam called was her looking to see if he was stalking her, rather than a manifestation of a previously unrevealed struggle with OCD.

- Ray is a source of constant amusement. Like him, I also winced when Shoshana’s friend referred to her roller blades as “vintage.”

- I loved Marnie’s face as she assessed the attractive blonde Charlie consults with briefly in his office, and then the false smile Marnie gives Charlie when he turns back to face her. Rarely is her insecurity so baldly on display, but given where she is in her life at the moment, it works.

- Not only is Natalia beautiful, she’s also fascinating: she works with a private eye, sometimes as a decoy for his subterfuge. A real-life femme fatale!

- More hilarious honesty from Adam: “You’re very easy to talk to. I thought this was going to suck ass, but you’re very easy to talk to.” He then goes on to say he’s sweating bullets and that he’s had to pee for the past thirty minutes. And she finds this charming! Be still, my beating heart.

- Adam uses AA for therapy, while Hannah is forced to go to see an actual therapist. Some nice symmetry there.

- Poor Shoshana. Her behavior with the doorman upon leaving the party makes me wonder if she’ll ever realize that she may be happier if she isn’t so concerned with what others think of her (perhaps this is her arc for the series). As soon as she registers that the doorman is interested in her, an affected, unconvincing air of attempted coolness washes over her as she tries to conform to what the doorman might want. At least she throws her neuroses out the window long enough to hook up with him.

- Marnie “mentally budgeted six years of brokenness” for Charlie after their breakup. It’s ambiguous whether or not she means she intended for him to be broken for that long, or if that was just an estimation she made based on his behavior. Ugh.

- Marnie sums up her lack of self-awareness quite nicely in her outburst with Ray. Standing in her demeaning hostess uniform, she tells Ray, “It doesn’t matter how right you do things. You know who will end up living their dreams? Sad messes like Charlie! And the people who end up flailing behind are people like me! Who have their shit together!” (Loved Ray’s deadpan response: “Marnie learns another life lesson. How adorable.”) Kudos to Ray, though: despite his previously stated disdain for Marnie, he tries to get her to realize she should stop judging herself against others, and just focus on doing what she wants to do (which is singing, hilariously enough).

- Really, I would be happy with an entire episode of Marnie and Ray interacting. Ray tries to impress upon Marnie the urgency of her following her dreams of singing by telling her, “You’re never going to look this good again.” To which she sadly responds, “Thank you.”

Update: Apparently, seeds of Hannah's OCD  have been planted in the past, but I just forgot about them or didn't notice them. See Sepinwall's review.

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