In a season of Girls which is growing increasingly more interesting and rewarding, last night's episode, "Video Games," shed light on perhaps the most mysterious character of the four ladies, Jessa (Jemima Kirke). Jessa, of course, got married spur of the moment at the end of season one and threw a party to announce it, then promptly split from her husband, finance guy Thomas-John, after an inauspicious meeting with his family in the middle of season two. She moved in with Hannah, who needed a roommate after kicking out Elijah, and the two girls bonded, sort of, in the way Jessa allows people to bond with her. After all, she's prickly, she's mean, she's a total bitch, and she's "one big festering sore," an open wound from her past to her present. But why? Well, home.
The episode begins with Hannah and Jessa at a train station in upstate New York. They're waiting for Jessa's dad to pick them up for a weekend in the country. But this is no bucolic country getaway of relaxation and peace, time away from the big city to breathe fresh air and feel whole again. In direct opposition to the joy and comfort (even in times of awkwardness and trouble) of Hannah going home to Michigan in season one, there's darkness in this trip right away. Hannah thinks she has a urinary tract infection and has to pee, and Jessa tells her to go across the tracks to do her business on the other side. Hannah does, asking, "Is anyone coming?" and Jessa says no. An older couple is in fact just steps away from her, Hannah's bare ass exposed for all to see, but Jessa doesn't warn her friend and instead just smiles.
This is the first of many moments throughout the episode in which Jessa lets her friend do something mistaken, embarrassing, stupid, or less than ideal, and then seems to take comfort in Hannah's misery. The reason, I think, is because Jessa is miserable, more miserable than Hannah even knows how to be, and for reasons that she, rightly or not, doesn't believe Hannah can understand.
The two sit and wait for a very long time for Jessa's dad to pick them up. Hannah mentions how late he is, and Jessa's response is, "That's really lame that that bothers you." But if it bothers Hannah, it doesn't have to bother Jessa, and instead Jessa can criticize it. We find during this conversation that the inspiration for the trip home was a text from Jessa's father, full of a bunch of garbled letters, that she thought meant "he was trying to tell me something." Hannah points out this might have simply been a butt dial. Either way, clearly Jessa and her father have some troubles communicating. When he does finally arrive he's got a car full of ancient computers he won't throw away. He's holding onto garbage, yet he throws away daughters and wives (including Jessa and her mother, including a more recent mother-daughter pair) like they're nothing. Suddenly, Jessa's toughness and rage and emotional distance and super-speedy marriage to a man she didn't even like become a lot more clear. One of my complaints with this show has been that I don't understand the character's motives. Well, here was a big old look into why Jessa has done the things she has. I feel for her in this one.
There are a couple of key bonding moments between Jessa and her dad that show a glimpse of the bond between them. The first is in the beginning, when they arrive at the house. Jessa and her dad are talking to one another in a fake plummy sort-of English accent, and Hannah feels left out. "What accent are you doing?" she asks. "I don't like not getting jokes." They ignore her, and Petula, Jessa's dad's wife, tells Hannah that she's the "cushion," or the person there to stand between Petula and Jessa and keep things O.K., essentially. Hannah is the cushion. But she's Jessa's cushion, not Petula's, because Jessa can use Hannah as a conduit for her frustration and despair and anger.
Later, Jessa is telling her father about the end of her marriage. She seems truly sad, and as if she doesn't understand what happened. "It's like we didn't even take vows," she tells her dad, and he says, "We're not like other people." "No, we're not, are we?" she says. Over on the other side of the house, Petula is giving Hannah life advice. It's all just a video game, and "if you're not with me, you're against me, and I'm going to take you down." Great metaphor, says Hannah.
Everything on this trip to the country is awful. The place is filthy. The bath towels are minuscule, "like for a Borrower," says Hannah. Petula's son, Frank, is a strange teenager who is either "attractive in a loser way" or "just a loser," per Hannah. As the girls wait for dinner they uncover an ancient Penthouse from the '70s. “In a way it’s the most noble thing you can do, to help a boy become a man,” says Jessa of the ladies inside the magazine. Later, this subliminal suggestion (or something) impels Hannah to have sex with Jessa's stepbrother. This trip is one big mistake; it's white picket fences gone terribly wrong. They have rabbit for dinner, the rabbit that earlier Petula was petting and showing to Hannah, and then Frank's friend Tyler shows up. The boys ask Jessa and Hannah if they want to come out with them for the night, and Jessa says no, but it turns out her dad has plans. He's letting her down again, and yet, when she calls him on it, he throws it back at her. "How was I to know you were going to show?" he says.
Jessa's a child who's been forced to act like an adult, and so now, she acts more like a child. They head out with the boys doing whippets and drinking. As Tyler goes down dark, windy roads, Jessa covers his eyes with her hands, and he swerves as Hannah freaks out. She tells them to stop the car, yelling "that is not funny, that is amateur!" (another child reference?) jumps out, and runs into a handy nearby cemetery. Frank follows her, and they have sex after he clarifies that he's over 18. He's 19, in fact. She returns to Jessa. "It lasted 8 seconds," she says, and Jessa tells her she's disgusting, Frank's "a child." Hannah tries to explain she'd had been under the impression they were both having "sexcapades." And perhaps that's exactly what Jessa wanted her to think, because it's another opportunity for Jessa to feel a little bit of schadenfreude-esque relief by watching her friend squirm in uncomfortable situations. It's as if Hannah is the pre-Jessa, or the Jessa who might have existed in a different life or different world, the one who would be allowed to feel bad about her father not picking her up, or eating a rabbit, or having sex with an inappropriate partner. Or the one for whom those things simply wouldn't happen. Hannah is a surrogate for Jessa's feelings.
That night, Hannah tries to empathize with her friend. "Are you O.K.?" she asks. "I don't think I was in the right frame of mind to see my father," says Jessa. Hannah again tries to say she understands, but Jessa shuts her down: "Don't talk about your parents like they're the same kind of parents." It's true, their parents are not the same at all. But Jessa's only recourse is to shut down love or caring. As she tells her father the next day, it's all she knows; he never taught her anything else.
In that scene, Jessa and her dad are talking, and she confronts him. "Don't act like leaving a woman and her child is a casual thing," she says, and, "Why can't you do one single thing you say you'll do?" He retorts, "You think I can rely on you?" "You shouldn't have to," she says. "I'm the child. I'm the child."
Of course, she's right, at least she was right, he wasn't there when she needed him to be. He knows it, and somewhere inside he feels bad enough about what he's done and who he is that he offers to make her her favorite, bangers and mash, for family dinner. He asks her to take a later train and stay longer. She agrees. One more chance, even if it's just a chance to see things play in the same messed up way yet again.
There's a brief, weird interlude in this strange episode, which is a lot like peering into someone else's mortifying family album. Frank confronts Hannah with a line that echoes a line from the "jack-rabbit sex" episode of Sex and the City: "I feel like you used me, for sex." She tells him that's crazy; he says "you did, though." Noble Penthouse lady of the '70s, she is not. In the background of the room where this conversation is taking place, there are those paintings of the very house they're in. It seems so innocent, so sweet, so perfect. It is not what it seems. Rarely is anything. "Everyone thinks I'm in love with Tyler," says Frank of his friend, "but I'm not. If anything, Tyler is in love with me."
In the penultimate scene, Jessa and Hannah are waiting outside of the country store, where they've been dropped off to buy groceries for dinner. Jessa's dad promises he'll pick them up. He doesn't. "He's not coming back," says Jessa. "This is what he does. Next thing we see is Hannah, peeing, moaning because her "urine feels so daggery." She walks out in the bedroom, and there's a note from Jessa. "See you around, my love," it reads. Jessa's doing what her dad has done all along to her, of course. But Hannah can take it. Hannah has people who care, her "hammock" of support.
In the last few minutes of the episode, she's on her own, at the train station, waiting. She calls her mom and dad, who are excitedly planning for a trip to New York to see her. Her dad is goofy and adoring and can't talk properly into the phone; her mom is dubious about what she wants and grows more so — "obviously you need something” — when Hannah unleashes on them her unexpected appreciation. "I was calling to say thank you for making me feel so supported as a child and as an adult," she says. "I love you." She does seem sincere, but her mom doesn't buy it. "I don't know what you're up to, I'm not falling for this crap," she says. Though Hannah's moaning through the pain of her UTI, she's got to feel sort of lucky. That's kind of her mom's way of saying she cares.
Winners: Hannah, and her family. May her appreciation of them continue, and may her mother stay skeptical.
Losers: Oh, poor Jessa. I hope she went somewhere good. And, oh, poor Frank. Get out of that house, kid. Get out while you can.