So now we are at the crux of Jemma. They’ve danced around their feelings for one another, from a Martin Luther mambo to an epistolary pasodoble, and just when it looked like they’d found the right rhythm, Jenny was forced to confess that she’d done a little jig on the side, a little jig called the Ben Bugaloo. It’s really great how this episode starts; it’s totally abrupt, Jenny just going, “Ben and I had sex.” You know, a kick to the stomach, in case you’d forgotten how the last episode ended. Kasia Borek and Lucy Scherer are both a little bit brilliant at acting with their eyes, Kasia especially. And when Jenny says, again, that she slept with Ben, the light just goes right out of Emma’s face, like a flipped switch at night, a January Christmas tree.
This episode is when I was like, “Yeah, there really is something special going on here.” Not just because of the great chemistry between the actors, but because there’s more depth to this story than just some singing and misunderstandings. I mean, look, any old TV show can do a literal song and dance, pair up some girls and make them kiss; but it takes a special kind of TV show to layer its characters with real desires and real fears, and then see those things through with cohesive narrative. And that’s the thing that makes this story so popular, I think: Watching that raw desire flare up in Emma, tracing the dance from spark to near-consummation. And then this very true thing that’s about to happen where Emma’s ice cold fear splashes back against Jenny, like, “I was going to do it, you know! I was going to let your flame devour me!”
Love and fear — real love and real fear — are about as deeply honest as you can go, and when storytellers commit to that universal truth, it resonates across sexual stereotypes and gender binaries and historical prejudices and language barriers and borders and oceans and space and time. It’s 2011; if I want to watch two girls holding hands and kissing, I can find it on TV. It’s not that hard. But give me a lesbian story that whispers a spark of longing into one of its characters, and then fans that spark with the kind of fear and hope and confusion and desire I recognize (because it lives inside me too), and I’ll find it. I’ll find it in a county where I don’t live, in a language I don’t speak. You’ll find it. You’ll show it to me. We’ll treasure it together.
Americans are arrogant in a million ways, I don’t have to tell you that. But some of our greatest hubris comes from our entertainment industry. Because it’s the loudest and shiniest, for one thing. I love the tales of how Great Expectations made its way across the Atlantic in serial form, and how Americans lined up in the harbors to shout to the sailors coming home from England: “Is Pip still alive? Did he make it through the winter?” That’s kind of how I feel about Hand aufs Herz. Only my harbor is Twitter, where news travels much faster, and less people die of smallpox and scurvy.
Jenny tells Emma that she had sex with Ben, yes, but that it didn’t mean anything, that it just happened. For a whole minute, Emma can’t figure out what to say, because everything she’s been afraid of from the moment it started getting warm every time Jenny walked into the room is warring inside of her. The first thing out of her mouth is, “I thought you weren’t into boys.” Jenny says she’s not really into boys at all, what she’s into is Emma, but she’d given up hope, and hopelessness took the form of Ben and a friggin’ bevy load of liquor. Emma grabs the letter out of Jenny’s hand — she brought it to school with her! — and tells her to forget she ever wrote it. She storms out of the room, and throws it down at Jenny’s feet, like it’s rubbish. Like the whole thing is just f–king rubbish.
Jenny follows Emma to the restroom where she’s hiding out in a stall, crying. She asks Emma to please come out and talk to her, and when Emma doesn’t answer, she says she’ll just stay. She picks up where they left off in the chorus room, promising that she only slept with Ben because she got trolleyed because she couldn’t stop brooding over Emma, and that she slept with him also because he is a dude. She says she could have never slept with another girl because of how she feels about Emma. Then she launches into my favorite kind of love confession, like, “What I am trying to say, very inarticulately, is that I miss you. My head’s all filled up with you and my heart’s all filled up with you, and I just want us to waitress together again and hang banners together again and hold ridiculous seances for disappearing classmates and share blankets in the middle of school riots. I can’t go back to the way life was before you kissed me like you meant it.”