This episode of GIRLS takes us outside Brooklyn, which, as we Brooklynites know, usually spells T.R.O.U.B.L.E….. Lest I mention the similar New Yorker “99 problems” had by S.J. Pee every time she visited Aidan’s cabin in “Suffern,” New York. In “Video Games,” Hannah escorts Jessa to her parents’ house, which is located in some dusty, tree-filled hamlet called Manitou. (For those nerds among us, “manitou” is attributed to the Algonquian Indians and means “spirit” or “supernatural being.”)
Jessa’s “free spirit” can more accurately be called a “flight spirit,” as in the physiological flight or fight response experienced by humans when we encounter an obstacle or something that causes us stress or anxiety. We stay and fight or leave and “take flight.”
Jessa floated into Brooklyn in episode 1 of Season 1 fresh from her travels around the world; she marries Thomas-John on a whim and is divorced from him not long after. The air of mystery surrounding her, we assume, will be resolved in this episode based on the psychoanalytic supposition that our childhood very much makes us who we are. And, indeed, most recaps of this episode focus on the father-daughter dynamic between Jessa and her scruffy, Penthouse-hoarding father, most of which conclude that Jessa is nothing less than her father’s ape. As A.J. Daulerio says in his Gawker recap “Bonded by Blood,” “that’s the thing about Jessa, what we realize and she realizes, is that the daddy issues can only last for so long before they can only become Jessa issues…. Jessa, just like her father, decided to bail early because that’s who she is and, you know, YOLO.” Or as similarly put by Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey, “Perhaps recreating the circumstances of her childhood—always leaving, hopping from city to city, always being on the go—is a way for Jessa to connect with her father in his absence. (Something she would have to do, since he is usually absent.) By taking on the role of the leaver, abandoning loved ones, maybe on some subconscious level she’s trying to understand her father, so she can understand why he treated her like he did” (“Daddy Issues”).
Most recaps of this episode offer spot on Freudian interpretations of both Jessa and her dad’s relationship as well as explanations for her inevitable departure—she bails on Hannah with a flippant but provocative note, and we all know that she’s probably not bound to be blowing snot-balls in Hannah’s bathtub upon the latter’s return to Greenpoint. The episode really could not have concluded any other way—if “Manitou” wasn’t ominous enough (even if not as explicit as “Suffren”).
I want to avoid the focus on the father—because Imma lesbian and I rambled on nauseatingly about the GIRLS boys in my previous recap—and move on to some other aspects of this episode that, I think, better encapsulate its ethics. In particular, I want to talk about Petula, played brilliantly by
Cherie Jaffe Rosanna Arquette (because August 10th babies are just naturally brilliant). Petulare means “to ask” in Latin, and some of Petula’s thoughts definitely are begging some questions as well as responses—and I’m not referring to her “a rabbit a day keeps the doctor away” remark, but feel free to deconstruct that one on your own time.
Below are three of Petula’s statements that couch larger ideas about life and relationships, the latter of which when stripped down to their most bare and most pessimistic elements are nothing less that relations of use value (i.e. how useful is this entity, this person, to me? Does she make me feel good? Does she assist me in achieving my professional or personal goals?) It’s kind of shitty to think about relationships this way, but Aristotle totally had it right. Think about it for two seconds, when do we break-up with someone, or distance ourselves from them? When they no longer do something for use, when they no longer please us.
Petula is ecstatic when she meets Hannah for the simple reason that Hannah is “the cushion” between her and her step-daughter Jessa. The logic here is the softer-side of the logic of the third: Hannah as the cushion actually enables Petula to bond with Jessa. The distraction or addition of a third person to any fraught coupling (sexual, familial, or otherwise) allows the couple to connect through its function as mediator.
A cushion is comfy and Hannah provides comfort to both individuals, if only to Jessa for her presence as someone to project all of her parental frustrations (“It’s food and it’s delicious!”). Hannah tells Petula that she’ll gladly assume the role of cushion, but, as is typical of her, she expands this role of the cushion to include Petula’s son, Frank, who she—what?—pity fucks and effectively becomes the pinkwashed cushion to alleviate the rumor that Frank and his bff and “local poet” Tyler aren’t SO GAY…because they SO ARE.
“This is all one big simulation. We just all need to grow a pair and get to the next level”
What Hannah reads as a metaphor—”life is just a video game” (hence the title of this week’s episode, “Video Games”)—Petula takes literally. “It’s not a metaphor,” she says, “this is all one big simulation. We just all need to grow a pair and get to the next level.” This statement may seem a little bro-tastic, especially as Petula punctuates it with a crotch-grab. Hannah, however, is somewhat horrified; for her “life seems pretty real” because “it’s pretty stressful.”
Petula’s “video game” theory is reductive Buddhism strained through a postmodernist filter. It is the idea that materiality—our very material existence in our very material world—is both an illusion and an obstacle towards a more enlightened existence. (Did anyone else catch Petula’s Jefferson Starship t-shirt?) The consequential logic of this theory is that life right now, as it exists within and of materiality, is irrelevant, unimportant. (Morrissey agrees that this is Petula’s message over at Jezebel: “[Petula] believes that everything about their existence is a simulation. So of course people who think that life isn’t real aren’t that concerned that the way they live could have consequences — particularly for others.”)
And yet Petula completely undercuts her assertion with her emphatic crotch-grab, which I read as a literal grabbing onto materiality (and a very suggestive one at that) in order to substantiate or ground her statement, more so for herself than for Hannah.
Hannah’s passive skepticism about this “video game” theory is one we’re quite familiar with as evinced by her behaviors and actions that we’ve witnessed in both seasons—life is very much about materiality and we feel, or are affected, by our material existences.
Hannah’s “crotch-grab” is a chest-pound
…as if Hannah and Frank fucking in a graveyard, even for a mere 8 seconds (or as fast as you can say “Hocus Pocus”), wasn’t a Donne-esque exclamation about the very reality of the material world.
“Love is actually a Western concept.”
Petula’s comment at the dinner table in reflection of Jessa’s failed marriage, “love is actually a Western concept,” is one that was quickly overlooked by those at the table. But it is a maxim that is obsessed about by our romance culture, whose participants constantly engage with the it in terms of failure (cf. Hannah’s life, Jessa’s marriage)—because the only effect of engaging with an ideal is that of failure. Why? Because there’s no “crotch” to grab on to; an ideal is immaterial, even though it is certainly affective. The concept of love is exponentially made fraught when we demand stability from it, or when we demand stability as an effect of it. For Jessa, as for her father, this stability is impossible, and so love is the thing that they constantly crave while simultaneously running from it.