One of the recurring complaints I’ve noticed about Girls (and, boy, are there many) is that nobody knows a Jessa. Even more, nobody who watches the show really likes Jessa.
Funnily enough, I actually have someone in my life who reminds me of Jessa (she has a unique outlook on the world, enjoys the truly bizarre, and whenever we hang out, I always find myself in the most unexpected places with the most unexpected people) but that’s not why I bring this up. It’s that, unlike Marnie and Hannah, whom we’ve learned plenty about from their background and back stories, There’s still missing pieces of Jessa’s puzzling life. (Of course, Jessa would prefer to keep it that way).
Sunday night’s episode of Girls, titled “Video Games”, finally allowed us to put some of that together. In an episode reminiscent of “The Return” and to some degree, “One Man’s Trash”, Jessa and Hannah were taken out of their natural habitat and put into a rural landscape. After receiving a nondescript text from her father, which Jessa interpreted as a secret message and Hannah rightly pointed out was probably nothing more than a butt text, the two ventured to upstate New York to see him. Within five minutes we learned more about Jessa than we did an entire season-and-a-half. For one, she may have been molested as a child and uses defense mechanisms to cope with it, or at least has it somewhere in the depths of her mind to just say something like that for the hell of it. That, and her father is not only someone who is perpetually late, but is an slovenly eccentric (he has a car full of old typewriters and a theory that all Camry drivers “are c**ts”) who could take off, leaving anyone behind.
Jessa’s father seemed happy to see her and the two quickly fell into their own secret language that only family members could share. Hannah, already sticking out like a neurotic thumb (she worried about crossing a “third rail” on a country train track to go pee outside), was put in an even more uncomfortable situation when Jessa’s fathers equally eccentric hippie girlfriend Petula (Rosanna Arquette), whom Jessa, hates tells her she’s there as “cushion” for the group dynamic. She had some interesting theories of her own, like that life is like a video game (it isn’t) and that it’s completely normal to eat your pet bunnies for dinner every night (it isn’t).
But it wasn’t that it was just a strange, dirty house (literally, with dirt and old issues of Penthouse) that was the real problem, it was that it was filled with so much emotional clutter. The topic of Jessa’s divorce was broached with the same amount of concern as him showing up late to pick them up and her father didn’t spend more than three hours with her before taking off to go to a lecture. Jessa was abandoned again, but took off with Hannah, Petula’s very bizarre son Frank, and Frank’s cute, possibly gay friend/Frank’s possibly gay crush Tyler for the night instead. An already disastrous trip, even more so when Frank, Tyler, and Jessa did whippets while speeding down a dark country road and Hannah, thinking she was some part of a sexcapade with Jessa, had sex with Frank in a graveyard the woods. (I image Hannah’s cry of “I feel like I’m in Hocus Pocus!” delighted a lot of her younger fans to no end).
Later, in the room Hannah and Jessa shared, Jessa confessed that she didn’t feel good and that she didn’t feel “in the right frame of mind” to see her father, Hannah tried to assure her that no one is ever in the right state of mind for that. Whether the words were meant to comfort Jessa or Hannah can’t help but bring everything back to herself (more than likely the latter), Jessa made it clear that she did not have parents like everyone else and her upbringing couldn’t be compared to everyone else. (As her father would later put it, “We’re not like other people”).
The next morning Jessa, looking sad, swung on a swing set. She is, and has been, a lost little kid. In one heartbreaking heart-to-heart Jessa called her father on his bulls**t for abandoning her and everyone else in his life. For not being a better parent to her, for not standing up for her, for not checking in on her, for not being able to have a conversation with her, and most of all, for not letting her be the child in their father-daughter dynamic. Instead of truly apologizing or trying to make things right, he invites her to stay for one more family meal, promising to make her favorite dinner and Jessa obliged.
Jessa and Hannah (who had just had an awkward confrontation with Frank) get dropped off at the general store to pick up items for the dinner. As they sat outside with their groceries, Jessa matter-of-factly said that her father wouldn’t be coming back to pick them up, that this is what he does: he disappears. The friends take the long walk back to the house and when Hannah comes back from the bathroom she finds a note from Jessa that read matter-of-factly: “See you around my love.” Because that’s what Jessa does, she disappears.
Jessa makes promises to visit, never does, and then shows up unannounced. She leaves you alone the in country, making you find your own way home, alone. It’s not her fault, really. It’s all she knows and it’s the only way she’s learned to survive. That despite our best intentions, we make the same mistakes as our parents. You don’t have to like Jessa, but you have to at least identify with that. (I don’t think is the end of Jessa though, just a covenant, but not out-of-character way to put Jemima Kirke‘s character on hold as she left the series temporarily for her pregnancy. I sure hope Kirke returns, because between the scene with her father and her post-split breakdown in the bathtub, she continues to amaze on Girls).
Even Hannah realized how difficult and delicate our relationships with our parents are, as she called her parents to tell her she loved them in a sincere, and surprisingly sweet Hannah moment, only to be met with a combination of brash (her mother) and a total softie (her father). Like I said, despite our best intentions, all of us, even Hannah who feels like she’s floating out in space, have traces of our parents and whether we like it or not, will always need them.
While “Video Games” wasn’t as effective as “The Return” often feeling like an easy comedy trope, despite Lena Dunham‘s pitch-perfect delivery (the city girl doesn’t know how to handle the weird country life! she has a UTI! she had sex with yet another weirdo!). I appreciated yet another fascinating character study on Girls and how they masterfully handled a topic that everyone, not just twenty-something Brooklynites, can relate to in one way or another.
[Photo credit: HBO]