"Who is ever in the right frame of mind to see their parents?"
We all have our expectations of life and many of those expectations usually stem from our parents--how we grow up and set out on our own existential video game. We have to strategize, fight bosses, piece together misleading puzzles and occasionally we freeze up and we have to start from square one again. It’s frustrating and maddening but imperative that we keep fighting and going from level to level making special little achievements. But what happens when our motherboard is afflicted? Girls takes a trip away from our usual settings to present us with this intriguing question that makes one of the girls stare into the face of one of the people responsible for bringing her into this crazy world--the people who are her parents--you know, those people who are supposed to prepare a young person for their own existential video game. What happens when those people are just as crumpled and lost as you are, holding the game controller shaking from their own irresponsibly and unpreparedness?
Jessa, the conflicted bohemian princess finds herself compelled to visit her father after a weird text is sent to her, signaling a possible father and child reunion. A signal that Hannah bluntly infers was nothing more than an accidental butt text. It’s interesting, Hannah and Jessa’s friendship. Hannah has always kind of looked up to Jessa, because she is part of what Hannah wants to be; this young woman taking in all of these crazy experiences. The difference is that Jessa enjoys those experiences without the need to utilize them to showcase how broadened an individual she is becoming. Hannah feels the need to prove to the world that she is becoming an adult, while Jessa is just a smidge more comfortable in her own skin than Hannah is. It makes for a shaky sisterly bond that becomes even more shaky in during this weekend visit to Jessa’s father and stepmother’s home. Hannah is the little sister and Jessa is the big sister. Hannah spends a lot of the trip trying to gage Jessa’s feelings about her strive in making a connection with her father, but Hannah isn’t really able to fully understand Jessa’s world because she’s wrapped up in her own. While these two young women go into this trip to upstate New York together, they are alone in their own personal revelations about their very different parents.
Jessa’s father (Ben Mendelsohn) is sort of a hippie, new age dude who has been rather absent from much of Jessa’s life, supposedly while her and her mother fumbled in their own relationship. Jessa's last moment decision to visit her father is full of seemingly perfromative parental/child interaction. Jessa’s stepmother, Petula (Rosanna Arquette) is hiding behind Hannah throughout this entire experience, utilizing her as cushion. Everyone is putting up these walls and facades of being okay with one another when there is a great deal of hurt silently bottled up between them. It’s sort of sad to see Jessa turn into this little girl begging for her father’s attention for an episode when she is usually a young beautiful woman who so frequently puts on this carefree wild child persona in order to shield herself from her own vulnerabilities. I wouldn’t doubt it if Jessa’s father is the same way because of his relationship with his parents. He obviously had Jessa when he wasn’t ready or doesn't have the aptitude to handle the responsibilities of being a father and I’m betting that Jessa’s mother doesn't either.
From the moment Jessa and her father reunite, they go through the motions, talking of the past and such like good old friends and barely getting to the point of this visit in the first place. Like most dysfunctional families, all things seem pleasant and chummy on the outside, but one rarely gets a peek at just how broken things are amongst their clan. One can tell that Jessa is aching to find a common place of engagement with her father, but she never gets there with him. Just her father’s body language in certain scenes he and Jessa share indicate just how badly this man wants to hide from his responsibility as a parent to help guide Jessa in her life, especially after her marriage with Thomas John went south so quickly. Jessa’s father just doesn’t know what appropriate things a father would do or say in a situation like this at all.
At one point Jessa’s father insists that she can’t be saddened about her marriage ending because they aren’t “like other people”, which makes it seem like Jessa has to feel that way because that’s how she was brought up. Jessa may be the liberal free spirit, but she emulates her parents just as much as any other kid does, but in this case she probably shouldn’t. Jessa and her father are like lost kids still trying to rely on something or someone in their life so much so that they fail the people who are relying on them to learn how to play their own video game of life. At least there is Petula, who tries hard to make the uncomfortable reunion go as smoothly as possible. However, Petula’s attempts to ease this situation only makes Jessa more frustrated. Jessa might see Petula as someone who relies on her father and someone her father relies on, when Jessa is taking her own time and energy vying for her father’s attention the whole weekend. It doesn’t help that Petula has an odd nineteen year old son, Frank that could also be relying on Jessa’s father as well. But then again, given how new age both Jessa’s father and Petula are, the normal Western conventions of parenthood responsibility are eschewed, which leaves Jessa so free to continue down the road of her destructive path…
Jessa and Hannah’s night out with Petula’s son, Frank and his friend, Tyler takes some weird turns that further display just how much Hannah and Jessa’s relationship is occasionally toxic. Besides the dangerous use of whippets while driving, Hannah seems to find that her big sister, Jessa is maybe a little too thirsty for experiences even for her. Hannah tries to hang and have fun with Jessa and these two bored high school boys driving recklessly on a dark road, but Jessa’s shenanigans end up being too much for her in the end. Those experiences Hannah wants are still too scary for her, as she's left shrieking in the backseat for the car to come to a complete stop.
Still, Hannah tries to emulate Jessa when she engages on a sexcapade with Jessa's young stepbrother, Frank, thinking that Jessa would do the same thing with Tyler. It’s foolish, yet totally Hannah to think that someone she looks up to would approve of this reckless behavior--behavior that know doubt maybe led to the return of her urinary tract infection. Probably the only reason Jessa did not have sex with Tyler is because she’s out of her element, still thinking about how she can make a relationship with her irresponsible father. Jessa admits later that she isn’t in the right frame of mind to see her father. Which is true. Jessa is just coming out of a divorce from a marriage that she really wanted to have work out for the better, which is a huge emotional dilemma. To force herself into another personal confrontation is just a disaster waiting to happen.
When Jessa finally does confront her father on his irresponsible behaviors, she says some things I think a lot of people would like to call their parents out on at times. Jessa is maddened that her father isn’t even able to clean his own house--he can't stay one place for too long--he’s useless in guiding her in any way and he has the audacity to try and flip the responsibility on her when she is the child. Jessa shouldn’t have to grovel and beg to be given a little help from her parents. And even when she does, she’s still frozen out--given false promises that her father will do better. But just in hoping, Jessa falls for it again until she realizes that he’s gone running again. It’s painful watching Jessa go through a cycle she is probably grown accustomed to dealing with, but that doesn’t mean she’s numbed to it. It’s painful each and every time. And Hannah is left once again humiliated by imitating what she perceives as a very “Jessa thing to do” and coming to the realization that Frank is gay and in love with Tyler. So basically, Hannah was just an experiment for Frank and Hannah can add another gay man she’s slept with to the list. And all because she was trying to be like her big sister, Jessa. But still, Hannah does in the end help a young boy find his sexuality, which as Jessa insists is “one of the most noble things one can do”. In that sense, Jessa ends up being more of an ideal parent than her father is.
Just as Hannah loves to emulate Jessa’s experiences, Hannah is almost bewildered by how different her and Jessa’s upbringings are. Hannah is sort of Jessa’s confidant in this installment--a witness to all of the ridiculousness that goes on in Jessa’s family. Her erratic father and his inability to stop running from his responsibility--from his video game--are passed onto Jessa, even as she attempts to end that hurtful cycle, Jessa ends up following in her father’s footsteps. She wants to start a new life for herself and become this person who is able to deal with her own problems and responsibilities. But Jessa just ends up running away just as her father would, but this time from her little sister, Hannah, who is just as lost and ridiculous as any child can be. Hannah attempts to emulate Jessa in every way, but unlike Jessa, Hannah ends up facing her own personal trouble with her parents by calling them and informing them of how much she appreciates them--how much they support her as she goes through each level of her own little video game. Which is something that maybe Jessa is envious of--having people there she can truly rely on.
In the beginning of the episode, Hannah says something that I think is very important concerning this entire episode and its themes: “It’s like my worst nightmare as a kid, you know, being the last one to be picked up from school or some social event, and all these adults know about your sad home life and your irresponsible parents.” It’s probably how Jessa feels all the time concerning her parents, especially her absentee father. No one really likes that their parents are absent or irresponsible. Yeah, it might give them more freedom to have experiences and weird sexcapades, but in the end all a child wants is their parents’ attention, support, and love. Jessa, no matter how much she tries, is never going to be able to get that or at least not from her father any time soon. Hannah’s revelation comes as Jessa makes another reckless departure, leaving her little sister behind to get back to New York by herself. Hannah’s heartfelt expressions to her frustrated parents comes and goes as her mother is left believing that her daughter is playing games and attempting to coax something (probably money) out of her and her father. It seems having parents that help guide you in your own video games comes at a price, as all Hannah’s parents expect in her expression of gratitude is more selfishness and her usual solipsistic habits. That has to hurt worse than her UTI!
This all makes for yet another surprisingly resonating episode of Girls, which takes us into the world of Jessa Johnson, the bohemian princess who happens to have rather horrid parents. The themes of children and how they occasionally emulate both the good and the bad of their parents are thoroughly realized. The location sets in the episode are refreshing and beautiful in their simplicity and I personally love the changes in direction that the past few episodes have had. Jemima Kirke is excellent and heartbreaking in this installment and I hope her character pops back up sometime soon before this season ends. Her exit feels true to the character of Jessa and it will be exciting to see where this young broken woman ends up next in her own existential video game. "Video Games" gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013