Monday, March 23, 2015

Girls Season 4, Episode 10, “Home Birth”

For a show whose main characters I’ve often jokingly described as each being “the worst” in their own unique ways, the season four finale ended on an extremely uplifting note, with each of them being at their absolute best.

Jessa’s matter-of-factness and nearly total disregard for others’ feelings finally becomes an asset rather than a liability when she takes charge of Caroline’s premature delivery. She coolly commands a situation that was spiraling toward insanity, and she does it not for selfish reasons, but because she’s concerned for Caroline and her baby, as evidenced by the warmth on her face later on, when she learns Laird and Caroline have named the baby Jessa-Hannah. The gratification she feels over her actions are apparently so powerful that she (hilariously) decides she should become a therapist, a job to which I think she would be well-suited only if she could somehow become a crisis therapist. She’d be excellent at parachuting into someone’s life and dashing some psychological cold water in someone’s face in their moment of panic, but I have strong doubts about her therapeutic acumen in any other circumstance.

Meanwhile, Marnie is at her best when Desi is a no-show for an important blog-attended performance arranged by their music label (more on Desi’s absence below). With a little encouragement from Ray, rather than break down and storm out of the venue, she pulls herself together and gives a first-rate performance, taking over both her and Desi’s parts of the song, and does so in the face of her handler openly doubting her ability to be a solo performer. It’s a triumphant moment for her, not only because she quite literally shoves aside her doubt(er)s, but also because as recently as the beginning of this season, she would lose her composure over much more innocuous performative disturbances (like, for instance, a loud child who isn’t paying attention to her singing at a café).

Hannah is at her best not only when she assists Jessa with Caroline’s delivery, but also when she is able to resist Adam’s plea to take him back.* A part of her is probably still in love with him, and sorely tempted to give in, but he wounded her too deeply for her to trust him again (at least for the time-being), even though his apology and his explanation for his behavior is heartfelt. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of Adam Driver on this show (even if his career is accelerated by his role in the upcoming Star Wars film), as he remains one of my favorite characters.

* Adam is the only regular character not at his best in this episode. As usual, dealing with Caroline makes him irrational and edgy, as he pitches a fit when confronted with Caroline’s perilous bathtub delivery. While his motives seem pure when he tries to get Hannah to take him back, he’s something of a heel for asking her in the first place, as it makes light of the real pain he put Hannah through in leaving her for Mimi-Rose. 

Shoshana also gets to be at her best when she is finally offered what seems like a very good a job that would require her to move to Tokyo. Fretting over whether or not to uproot her life, the guy she has been dating for a few episodes begs her not to go, asking her to move in with him and offering her a job at his company instead. However, on the sound advice of Hermie, Ray’s boss at the coffee shop, Shoshana decides not to let her professional welfare depend on her romantic life. I highly doubt that this is the last we’ll see of Shoshana. She’s so driven that I can easily see her eventually transforming her position into one that allows her either to work from New York, or that lets her split time between New York and Tokyo (and besides, Tokyo is hardly a trade down from New York – she’s embarking on a great adventure, and it’s the perfect time in her life to do so).

Ray also gets to be at his best when he tells off Desi. Unlike his futile raving at the honking drivers on his street earlier in the season, here his anger is concentrated into a fantastic speech to Desi about Marnie’s virtues and Desi’s vices. He perfectly articulates why Desi is such a scoundrel, and by unleashing his feelings on Desi rather than Marnie, Ray also demonstrates a degree of wisdom: these are things he can’t tell Marnie, because they would only create distance and resentment between them. Instead, he leaves it up to Desi to self-destruct on his own: note how Ray doesn’t glory in Desi’s absence at Marnie’s performance later, but instead uses it to push Marnie into achieving her dreams on her own.

Ray comes off well here not only because he shows how much he values Marnie, but also because he has to be prodded by Desi into listing Desi’s faults. Ray isn’t jealously going out of his way to sow discord; in fact, Ray tries to dissuade Desi from asking after Ray’s dislike for him. In other words, Desi was literally asking for it. Best of all, Ray cuts Desi to the core here, laying bare all of the hidden inadequacies Desi feels about himself, and causing Desi to slither off into the darkness, self-loathing coward that he is (although who knows whether or not Ray will be proven right regarding Marnie’s willingness to take Desi back. Desi’s abandonment of her at their show seems a pretty insurmountable betrayal).

Overall, it was a nice end to a somewhat erratic season. As much as I enjoyed the Iowa episodes, the show is probably strongest when all of the characters’ lives intersect throughout the entire season. Here’s hoping Shoshana can get back from Tokyo in time to start season five.

Other thoughts:

- I loved the reaction shot where Jessa sticks her head in the bathtub, looks at Caroline giving birth, and sees the baby’s foot. I must have rewound and re-watched it at least three or four times when first making my way through the episode. It's a nice performative moment, as the rhythm of her movements is impeccable, giving each expression its own distinctive beat: stick face in tub, turn slightly to the right, appear horrified, and then let out a tiny squeak of alarm. It’s perfect.

- I'm not sure how I feel about the coda where Hannah and Fran get together. I liked the idea of a Fran as a character who quickly sees through Hannah’s own misconceptions about herself and decides he doesn’t want to become emotionally embroiled with someone possessing so little self-awareness. Also, I don’t want him to replace Adam as a regular. However, I’m also open to the show pursuing a newer, perhaps more stable direction in Hannah’s love life.

- Hannah is also at her best (or is better, at least) when she doesn’t abandon her teaching career when things get rough. This is also in contrast to her experience in Iowa, where she bailed on the program when she struggled to fit in and couldn’t reconcile her perception of herself as a writer with how her cohort saw her. Here, however, she seems to show some resilience.

- Desi gets one more burst of obnoxiousness before Ray vanquishes him: he describes marriage as an antiquated concept in chatting with Marnie and the music label president, even though it clearly means a lot to Marnie.

- Wow, Alex Karpovsky is great when Ray yells at Desi. Much like with Jessa’s reaction to seeing the foot of Caroline’s baby rather than the head, I re-watched that speech a few times. Preach!

- Just when Hannah is trying to point out to Laird that his and Caroline’s situation is insane, Adam barges into the apartment and escalates the insanity with his volatility. Nice timing.

- Hermie pokes a little fun at Ray when Shoshana asks him where Ray is. He tells her that he’s probably shaking hands and kissing babies now that he’s a politician. Perhaps Hermie isn’t supportive of Ray’s move into the public sector, which kind of counterbalances the wisdom Shoshana sees in Hermie. Ray’s political career clearly seems like a good thing for him, at least in the short term, and Hermie just seems annoyed that it means his friend will be around less now.

- I like how the record company president played by Spike Jonze immediately speculates that Desi accidentally committed suicide when Desi fails to appear at his and Marnie’s show. Desi’s particular brand of self-destruction is something the president has probably seen before.

- Lena Dunham is pretty great in the scene where she turns down Adam’s pleading to take him back. Possibly her second-best performative moment on the show, after her reaction to Adam leveling with her about why he’s moved on during the bottle episode earlier this season.

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