My Brilliant Friend on HBO

The first episode aired last night. I have not read Elena Ferrante’s books. I was a captive of the show. At the center of the life of every female human is not a man, not a child, not parents, not siblings. It is a female best friend. It is the person you sit next to on the bus or are chosen for her kickball team, and you feel you never want to leave her. You will figure out a way to marry her. You will sleep in her bed. You will look for her for the rest of your life. She will leave you. You will outgrow her. You will find versions of her. Female friendship is your one true north, and it’s maddening and funny because no one depicts it. No one is willing to express the endless life of female friendship because part of its power is that it is a secret every female knows. The show knows this in every frame. The girls are beautifully cast. The way they eye each other before the bolder one who is also the more socially awkward one makes a move. Once they join hands, the bond it set. The bond is to escape the condition of being female. The girls understand it as a condition. Every girl does. It is the defining quality of girlness to know that girlness is a thing that you are born into and must escape by any means necessary. You need a partner. You need an army, but a partner is what you have for starters. You want to be who you are, and you are a girl, but girlness and the implacable march to a woman-future is not for you. In Naples it is opera day and night. Loud and sad and horrified and worn out by thirty. There are male humans, but male humans are registered only in so far as they are or may be instrumental to how girls will leave the condition of girlness. In a breathtaking sequence, Elena, writing as the older author looking back at her childhood, recalls a dream in which, suddenly, millions of beetles are released from sewers and fissures in the land and swarm the streets, scale the walls of the houses, and cover the bedding of sleepers, diving into the open mouth of a woman asleep on her back. The beetles with their hard carapaces and endless capacity to replicate are, collectively, the feeling of the female condition. When the girls clasp hands, they have begun the great adventure of their lives, which is to leave the understandings of other people and reinvent everything.

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