Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Girls Season 5, Episodes 9 and 10, “Love Stories” and “I Love You Baby”

What a marvelous pair of episodes to close out this season of Girls. I was particularly moved by the penultimate episode, which had emotional breakthroughs for both Hannah and Marnie, and to a lesser extent Shoshana, but the finale was also excellent, particularly Hannah’s open mic story and Adam and Jessa’s scary fight. Each of the characters did a lot of growing up this season, courtesy of a series of experiences that made each of them reflect on the choices they’ve made.

Marnie had a wild night with her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, who has fallen into the abyss of heroin addiction. It made her realize she didn’t want to be with Desi anymore, and in the penultimate episode, she also realizes that she’s in love with Ray (courtesy of a bizarre but emotionally telling dream in which she orgasms from brushing Ray’s long hair before sending him to school). The scene where she comes to his apartment and professes her love was not only touching, but it was also still true to her self-obsessed nature: she actively expresses disbelief that Ray could be the person she loves while in the process of kissing him passionately. It’s a tricky scene to execute, and Girls nails it, somehow managing to make Marnie endearing through it all. For a season that began with me shaking my head at Marnie's foolish choice to marry Desi (even after his cowardice at the end of season four), it’s extremely satisfying to see her and Ray end up together.

Shoshana's breakthrough came from the self-discoveries that can come from living abroad. I could relate to the loneliness Shoshana felt in Japan; living as a foreigner in a different culture is an amazing experience that teaches you a lot about not only the place you’re living, but also about yourself, and the place you come from. However, it can also be profoundly isolating. I thought the season handled her adventure very well, and I was pretty happy to see her return to Grumpy’s to help Hermie and Ray counter the rival hipster coffee shop across the street. Having her end the season dancing with Hermie was lovely (although it was disappointing to see that her anti-hipster re-branding strategy entailed hanging a Mitt Romney election poster on the wall in the background).

Meanwhile, Jessa's breakthrough seemed to involve her understanding that people hate her, even though she's not sure why (she even manages to feed the haters with her insufferable suggestion that it's because of her great hair or big butt, rather than for her crippling insecurity, which causes her to overcompensate by callously disregarding others' feelings).

Adam was never the most stable character, but there had been a pretty remarkable lack of outbursts in his life for these past two seasons, especially considering the romance between him and Jessa, who is also the most volatile of the four eponymous girls. All of the seemingly normal behavior between them was shattered (along with everything else in Ray and Adam’s apartment) when Jessa laid bare the poisonous seed at the core of their romance: her inability to forgive herself for betraying Hannah for Adam. Adam is like a walking, breathing personification of her guilt, while also someone she loves. Adam, of course, wants to block Hannah out as much as possible because a part of him probably still loves her too. All of these conflicting emotions escalate into the kind of physical explosiveness I half-expected from the two of them a long time ago. At least they take it out on that poor apartment rather than on each other. I also liked that the outburst seemed to wind down, until Jessa winds Adam back up again by diminishing his temper tantrum. The image of them lying naked together on the floor surrounded by the detritus of their fight (followed by the shot of the undisturbed fruit basket Hannah left for them outside the door) was a wonderful visual expression of the mess of conflicting emotions they’ve embroiled themselves in.

As for Hannah, she struggled in her relationship with Fran, and with the painful discovery that Adam and Jessa were seeing each other. This pain is ultimately what led to her breakthrough, although for most of the season, it looked like Hannah was not going to do any growing up. She was the personification of inappropriateness as a teacher, and spent many episodes making rash and poorly thought-out decisions, even as late as episode eight, which really racked up a hefty tally of immature behavior: texting Fran from a park bathroom an hour or so into their vacation to tell him she wanted to break up; literally running away from him rather than confronting him like an adult; convincing Fran to abandon her; trying to blow Ray when he picked her up; leaping into a stranger’s car to get back into the city faster, and so on.

However, she has a heart-to-heart with Tally (played very well by Jenny Slate), her friend/rival from her undergrad days. It's a nice scene, because it's a reminder that even though Hannah can be self-absorbed and oblivious, sometimes she can also really listen to people and empathize with their problems. Hearing about Tally's life seems to help her process all of the angst and jealousy she’s been feeling over Jessa and Adam, so much so that she’s able to write about it and let some of it go, even sharing her journey of battling back her jealousy with a group of strangers at an open mic storytelling night (although it probably helps that she hears them fighting with each other when she stops by to leave a fruit basket and a card wishing them well). Her turn at the mic is the most self-aware she’s been in ages, and a wonderful note on which to end the season.

Other thoughts:

- I really liked Hannah telling Tally how she loved Jessa and Adam both so much that she didn't know who to warn about the other one. It's a simple statement that manages to tell us a lot not only about Adam and Jessa, but also about Hannah's relationship to each of them (and one that appropriately foreshadows their fight in the finale).

- To be fair, Hannah is not free from immaturity in the penultimate episode - stealing a bike is a pretty lousy thing to do (sure, not locking your bike is stupid, but there's a difference between pointing out someone else's stupidity and exploiting it).

- Fran turned out to be a real asshole, huh? Hannah was right. Perhaps she brought out the worst in him by deliberately pushing his buttons, but his sanctimonious behavior at the start of episode nine was pretty abhorrent.

- I really loved Tally’s monologue about how hard it is to live with the pressure of having become a successful writer, and to lose a sense of your own identity and feel like you need to see yourself through the lens of others so that you can get some bearings in your life. It was a nice comment on celebrity (and one that would make a fine essay in Tally’s collection).

- Shoshana’s reconnaissance at the hipster coffee shop was amusing (the back of her journal read "Field Notes"), but then became suspenseful when the hyper-aggressive baristas assisted her in her found word poem. I was still reeling from the harsh words they had for Ray from earlier in the season, and was certain they had sniffed out her real purpose and were setting her up for another takedown.

- Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Elijah, who for all intents and purposes was off on an entirely separate show this season, having a romance with Dill, an Anderson Cooper-type television journalist. In seasons past, Elijah has functioned quite nicely as nothing more than a Greek chorus for the rest of the characters (epitomized nicely here in his hilarious reactions to Marnie's dream about Ray). However, he received his own plot this season, and it paid off nicely. His heartfelt plea for Dill to consider Elijah as a serious romantic partner was great for its sincerity: it's the first time I can remember Elijah being this earnest about anything. His vulnerability here was very raw, and his heartbreak when Dill rejects him was deeply sad. Not only did Dill turn out to be even more of a callous monster than I assumed by making his rejection of Elijah all about Dill's own personal growth, but in calling Elijah aimless, Dill also managed to puncture one of Elijah’s deepest insecurities. Poor Elijah; hopefully the string of jerks he's been paired with will come to an end, and he'll find someone to love who is just as clever and judgmental as him before next year's final season.

- Perhaps Hannah’s maturity is also evident in her taking up running: a little physical self-improvement to compliment her better emotional health. Regardless of the motivation, it’s a big change from season one, where she had so little motivation she could hardly manage run a dozen steps with Adam.

- Adam punching through the bathroom door was a deliberate homage to The Shining, no? (I almost wrote "shinning." Curse you, Simpsons)

- I loved the freeze frame ending to the season. Very 1970s Hollywood.

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