2.07- "Video Games"
This week on Girls, it’s back to the business of making a comedy show about young people. Hannah and Jessa’s trip upstate is a breeze for the most part, milking the interplay between Hannah’s anxiety and Jessa’s manic dithering at every available turn. We also get to meet Jessa’s father’s family, a pack of weirdos best described as Napoleon Dynamite meets Wanderlust, and Hannah rips off a number of zingers and reaction shots at their expense. Completing the formula for a standard Girls episode, there are a few meditative scenes toward the end about the symbiotic relationships between parent and children, and how identical strains of emotional damage persist across generations. This entry was easily digested, and I must say I was pretty grateful to not have to unpack a large bundle of angst for once this season.
Perhaps this is reductive of me, but I’ve always understood the show’s four leads to be the occupants of equidistant positions on a spectrum that has carefree/immature/wild personality traits at one end and uptight/responsible/obedient characteristics at the other end. From most reckless to least reckless, the order has consistently gone Jessa, then Hannah, then Marnie, then Shoshanna. Jessa and Shoshanna have always been extreme examples of their respective attributes, and it’s specifically for this reason that I don’t think the show has succeeded at making either one of them much of a complete person. Shoshanna, in particular, is underdeveloped to an alarming extent. I know she likes Sex and the City, and I also know she speaks quickly, which is supposed to be comic relief. That’s it.
As for Jessa, let’s consider that her marriage at the end of season one felt like a joke, but it also felt possibly very sweet, depending on what was going on in her head. Of course, we had no idea what was going on in her head, because she’s nearly sociopathic in her inability to have an honest interaction with anyone. She’s capable of anything. I honestly thought she was going to be lying dead with slit wrists when Hannah left the bathroom at the end of tonight’s episode, because why not? I don’t know what Jessa wants or has ever wanted, and neither does she.
So, in this episode we meet Jessa’s dad, which should give us some clue as to what truly motivates her, right? Eh. The clearest insight we get into Jessa’s father is that he’s exactly like her, and as a result, she’s exactly like him. He’s flaky, he’s flighty, he has no concept of which people he should keep around or jettison, and he can’t seem to genuinely interact with a single person. “We’re not like other people,” he tells his daughter. “No, we’re not, are we?” she replies. It’s easy to imagine that this exchange has recurred countless times during Jessa’s upbringing, but not as a conscious effort on his part to make her this sort of damaged person. He’s just acknowledging a fact. Maybe his father told him the same thing. And, you know, perhaps that’s the explanation Girls is giving for the existence of this type of person: it is this way because it always has been this way. Ask the father of the father’s father. Then ask his father.
This episode actively invites us to contrast Jessa’s parental situation with Hannah’s. Her brief phone call to her parents at the end of the episode as she tries to squeeze out some daggerlike UTI piss is funny thanks to her mother’s befuddlement and eventual distrust of the reason for the call, but it also highlights the primary difference between the two relationship models we’ve been shown. In this episode, Hannah gets accused of both using Jessa’s kind-of stepbrother, Frank (a dead ringer for Teenage Dave Longstreth), for sex and attempting to play her parents for money over the phone. She experiences firsthand how irritated people can get when the people they love lean on them for favors. This process of trading in affection points for actual, real-world goods is a painful one, especially for the parents of aging children, but it’s also a necessary one. It reaffirms the fact that a relationship of need exists between the two parties, which is the undeniable fact of healthy parent-child relationships. They’re founded on needs being met, which is a practical and beautiful truth.
Jessa and her father, however, have never been interdependent enough to engage in the manipulation others find so unpleasant. They turn inward for comfort because they have long known they can’t count on each other, but there’s nothing solid in there for that same reason. Jessa is the only lead Girl with a real claim to emotional vacancy, and it’s largely the fault of this man. “Oh, and like I can rely on you?” he challenges her as they both sit, fittingly, on a swing set. “You shouldn’t have to! I’m the child!” she retorts tearfully. She’s right.
So Jessa leaves at the end of the episode, and Hannah walks back to the train stop alone. I find that I’m not so interested in where Jessa went, because I can imagine it easily. She’s going to do what she’s always done. She’ll bum around and disappoint people and find nothing of value to her. It seems to be her destiny, which is a lesson Hannah seems to take to heart. Petula’s earlier assertion that life is a video game rings false for Hannah at the time, but it couldn’t be more applicable to her life. She plays everyone around her, all of the time, without much success. And while it’s refreshing to see her showing some gratitude for the support her parents have given her along the way, she still doesn’t seem to grasp that she’s lucky to even be scolded for her ingratitude. Sometimes it’s a luxury to be perceived as a nuisance.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.