‘Girls’ Review: “Video Games”
‘Girls‘ heads to the country this week and we finally get to meet Jessa’s dad — and her stepmother, and a rabbit, and a boy in a turtleneck. But most importantly, we get to know Jessa a little better, for better or worse.
Hannah isn’t used to being the accessory in someone else’s story, which is why “Video Games” is a good episode for her. They could have easily made this an episode like season one’s “Homecoming,” in which we just follow Jessa off to the country to see her dad and stepmother (the excellently cast Ben Mendelsohn and Rosanna Arquette), but of course she’d take Hannah along for support, or, as Jessa’s stepmom Petula calls her, “a cushion.” This is also the first time I can honestly say I’ve been annoyed by Hannah’s behavior, and I think that that was intentional — Hannah would be the worst person to take camping, which is a given, but she’s also the worst person you want to take on a more self-involved trip because she needs every story to be her story. And that — along with being her best friend — is exactly why Jessa brings her along.
Hannah spends most of the episode being whiny — about her UTI, about the rabbit they’re eating for dinner, about the shenanigans she and Jessa get into with Petula’s son and his friend. But it’s good for Jessa, who wants to visit her dad and needs a distraction from the elephant in the room. We’ve never known much about Jessa’s past, but here it’s illuminated: her father left when she was little, her mother wasn’t very nice (that much we already knew), he subsequently paired up with a series of partners and casually left them and their children behind, and he disappears abruptly for months on end. And so Jessa starts to make much more sense. Lest we forget, when she was first introduced on ‘Girls,’ she was arriving in New York after a bout of globe-trotting, and “Video Games” merely confirms the assumption that her exotic travels are an avoidance and escape tool.
During their country stay, Petula claims that the world is nothing more than a video game, and problems are just villains that need to be conquered. She keeps rabbits for pets and cooks them at every meal, and she drags Jessa’s father Salvatore off to seminars on toxins in the liver and anger-management. If we suppose that Salvatore is a creature of habit, we can presume that Petula is similar to Jessa’s own mother, though probably more kind. It doesn’t take long before the entire weekend comes to a head and Jessa confronts her father for his absenteeism, of which she can be accused of the same — but our parents are our first role models, and Jessa watched her father run away from responsibility because it was too difficult, which has taught her the same. She is now non-committal, flighty, and, when she’s down, as cynical as her father.
“Video Games” captures the complexity of the parent-child relationship in everything that isn’t said. Jessa breaks and whines to her father for never being there for her, and when he tries to blame her for never being reliable herself, she counters with, “I’m the child.” It’s true, and Sal knows it, so he invites her and Hannah to stay for dinner so he can try to make it up to her just a little, but it’s that commitment to express love for his child that leads him to abandon Jessa at the local store, promising to return in five minutes. And Jessa knows the drill — he’s not coming back, it’s “useless,” she says.
It’s easy to look at Sal and see a self-involved man who doesn’t care much for the needs of anyone else, let alone his own daughter, but the truth is that Sal loves and cares about Jessa so much that he feels the need to run away. The depth of feeling is too much, the commitment too scary, the connection too horrifying — and maybe when he looks at her, not only does he see a responsibility he’s too cowardly to tend to, but a love he doesn’t deserve, and more horrifyingly, a mirror image of himself. Rather than confront all of these things, it’s easier to throw his hands up and abandon the conflict.
Jessa, abandoned once again, does the only thing she knows how to do when conflict swells: she runs, abandoning Hannah — who has acted as Jessa’s own petulant child for the entire episode — and leaving a note.
Hannah, meanwhile, calls her parents to thank them for being so wonderful to her, and while her mom is initially pleased, she quickly begins to suspect that this isn’t just a heart-warming phone call and Hannah is playing at something. In a way, she is. She spent the episode acting like a neurotic child, having sorta-sex with a guy who, despite what he said, is probably a minor, being given the backseat to Jessa’s problems, and dealing with a UTI. I don’t doubt that Hannah means a lot of what she’s saying, but the moment she goes for the melodramatic with talk of being dead and alone in space, her mother wises up. If anyone knows when Hannah is full of it, it’s this lady.
About halfway through the episode Jessa says to Hannah, “Don’t talk about our parents as if they’re the same kind of parents.” It’s a selfish line, but both women are right. Jessa’s dad is not nearly as present in her life as Hannah’s parents, but his influence is just as present. Hannah’s right in her assessment that no one is ever really ready to deal with their parents, but since when have either of these girls been ready to deal with anything?