jason kundrath reminds us of a Lana Del Rey song…
This week’s episode is the first this season to take us out of the familiar territory of NYC, as we join Hannah and Jessa on a trip upstate to visit Jessa’s estranged father. Directed by Richard Shepard – who last blew our minds with “One Man’s Trash” (beautifully framing Hannah’s strange weekend odyssey with Patrick Wilson) – “Video Games” is similarly affecting, capturing that uncomfortable feeling of finding yourself in a strange environment with strange people.
Once again, Dunham challenges our preconceived notions of what a “comedy” can be. Over the course of its 30 minutes, there are precious few laughs to be had this week. Instead, we get a deeper perspective on the character of Jessa, a few amusing bits, and several gross-out moments at Hannah’s expense.
But was it any good? Let’s dive in.
JESSA’S DAD IS RUNNING REALLY LATE
The episode opens with Hannah and Jessa upstate at the train station. They’ve been waiting awhile for Jessa’s dad to pick them up. Jessa is unfazed, knowing her father’s tendencies, but Hannah is bothered. The experience reminds her of her “worst nightmare” as a child: that she’d be the last to be picked up at a social event, and all the adults around her would know about her “sad home life” and “irresponsible parents.” And although Hannah can still somehow tap into the imagined dread of this former nightmare, this fear – surely like many others she harbors – is irrational and completely unfounded. Hannah’s parents are painfully normal. Loving, concerned, and more or less onto her bullshit. And they’re still married, for crying out loud. Whereas Jessa – as we soon learn – actually has had a difficult upbringing which is continuing to unfold.
Even knowing Jessa has been estranged from her father, Hannah is perfectly insensitive to the delicate situation at hand. Although she’s probably right, for Hannah to suggest to Jessa that the jumbled text message she received from her father may have merely been an accidental “butt text” is characteristically dull behavior. You’d think Jessa would have spelled out the situation for her, but it seems that she is rather guarded when it comes to this deep, private pain, as she mostly plays it off. She’s actually grateful for Hannah’s company, however obtuse it may be. Jessa can’t do this alone.
JESSA’S DAD FINALLY ARRIVES
And he’s a mess! Played by Ben Mendelsohn, Mr. Johansson pulls up in a beat up old station wagon stuffed to the gills with old computers, looking like a strung-out Eric Clapton, and spouting madness about all Camry drivings being “cunts.” Oh Dad!
Back at his house, we meet dad’s latest girlfriend, Petula, played by Rosanna Arquette. She’s a hippie-dippy, new age bore. Alone with Hannah, Petula offers her theory that life is all “one big simulation,” and how we all just need to “grow a pair” and get to the next level by defeating our enemies. Hence the episode’s title. But for Jessa, it seems the one who is holding her back from advancing is her own father – a complex roadblock. He clearly loves her, but he is too fucked-up and self-involved to be the parent she desperately needs him to be, despite knowing its impossible.
Lamenting to her father about the unceremonious end of her marriage to Thomas-John, dad suggests the possibility that she wanted it to end. “Because you know we’re not like other people,” he says. And without missing a beat, she agrees.
HANNAH MAKES A RESPONSIBLE DECISION AND IMMEDIATELY THEREAFTER HAS SEX WITH A TEENAGER
As Hannah pets the rabbit she will unknowingly later eat for dinner, she is introduced Petula’s teenaged son Frank. (This is a symbolic juxtaposition.) He is awkward, with his hair parted down the middle, 90’s style, dressed in a turtleneck and jean shorts, carrying a large portable radio on a shoulder strap. He has a bit of a speech impediment and also might be gay. Hannah, of course, may or may not be attracted to him.
Later in dad’s country home, which – like his car – is filthy and full of junk, Jessa comes upon an old Penthouse magazine. Flipping through its pages, she comments to Hannah how the nude models are actually very noble as they help boys find their sexuality and become men. In the business, this is what we call “foreshadowing.”
After Jessa is deeply disappointed to learn her dad has plans to attend a lecture with Petula (and not spend time with her), Hannah and Jessa end up going out with Frank and his friend Tyler. We flash forward. It’s after dark, and the four of them are joyriding in a convertible down an old country road. Tyler is driving erratically, as they pass around a can doing whippets. Hannah refuses. “I just don’t like using products in a different way then they were intended,” she protests. “That’s just an area that’s hard for me.”
Soon Jessa is literally covering Tyler’s eyes as he’s driving. Hannah – rightfully scared for her life – puts her foot down and demands he pull the car over. Hopping out of the car, she walks off into the woods and finds herself in a graveyard. Frank follows after her, and it’s obvious he’s going to kiss her as soon as she stops speaking. Before things get serious, however, she verifies that he’s over 18. Learning he’s a very legal 19-years-old, Hannah embarks on the most awkward and fundamentally inappropriate sex she’s had on this series yet. He’s finished almost before he starts.
Hannah confesses the incident to Jessa, and Jessa is horrified. “He’s a child!” she scolds. Hannah is disgusted with herself. And so are we.
JESSA CALLS HER DAD OUT
The next morning, Jessa’s dad finds her alone on the swing set. He starts to go on about how boring life in the country is. This sets Jessa off. “Jesus Christ, can’t you stay put for one fucking second?” she asks accusingly.
Then, she calls him out for his filthy home. For casually leaving his women and their children. For disappearing from her life. For not answering her calls. For not standing up for her. For never teaching her how to live and love correctly. For never keeping his word. For not knowing how to speak to her.
“You think I can rely on you?” he counters.
“You shouldn’t have to!” she responds, breaking down. “I’m the child.”
She announces her plans to leave immediately, and he scrambles, asking her to stay for dinner and take the late train instead. He’ll make her her favorite meal. She agrees, temporarily soothed. But soon after dad drops her and Hannah off at the local grocery, Jessa realizes he won’t be returning. “This is what he does,” she calmly explains to Hannah.
Walking back to the house, Jessa suddenly stops for a moment to process. And here we connect the dots to discover the motivation behind Jessa’s own flaky behavior: Symbolic retribution against dear old dad.
Hannah comes out of the bathroom to find Jessa already gone, having left her a note that simply reads, “See you around my love.”
HANNAH FEELS GRATITUDE
Rolling with the punches, Hannah leaves for the train alone. Having observed lots of dysfunction over the last couple of days, she calls her parents from the station to express her gratitude for their solid – if imperfect – parenting.
“There’s times when I feel like we have nothing in common; we don’t know each other at all; we weren’t even really put on the same earth by the same god, but at the same time, I just feel like there’s a hammock under the earth that’s protecting me,” she tells them. “It really means a lot, and that’s because of you. And I’m grateful.”
Hysterically, her mother finds this very sincere outpouring to be suspect. And eventually, she gets pissed off and yells at Hannah until their connection is lost, leaving Hannah alone at the station, squatting to painfully urinate through a bad tract infection. Her pathetic whimper which ends the episode might be its sole LOL moment.
Frank’s morning-after confrontation with Hannah. So very, very funny.
In conclusion, despite being low on laughs, I found a lot to like about this episode. Dunham has created very complex characters in her world, and we cannot expect to fully understand or appreciate them in a purely comedic context. But like “One Man’s Trash,” this episode pushed the drama front and center. Can you deal with it? What did you all think?
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