My Brilliant Friend Episode 2

I have not read the Ferrante books. Yes, I have been encouraged to. These thoughts refer to the HBO series, alone. I am most struck by the foreground of female rivalry set against a backdrop of male violence and the atmosphere of general terror it produces in the community. Fathers are supposed to rule their households even if they do not wish to. Girls are not supposed to be educated in the mainly lowly ranks of these villagers. Class and sexism join forces to confine girls to the role of drone in her family of birth and later in the family where she serves as a wife. The system feels feudal, although the story takes place in postwar Naples. The female teacher of the girls is the only force countering these values, and although she tries to steel Lila’s mother to intervene on behalf of her brilliant child, she relents, seeing the effort is futile. Lila’s father will throw her out a window after she says she will take the test to enter middle school regardless of what he says. Her arm is broken in the fall. It is a horrifying moment. The women gather around the child, who downplays the injury. The women, including Lila’s mother, say, “She fell.” Lila is going to exit her circumstance by any means necessary, and it kills her that Lenu, who is devoted to her, has been given permission by her father to take the test. Lila devises a scheme to sabotage Lenu by enticing her to cut school and walk to the ocean. The scheme doesn’t work, and Lenu understands the betrayal, but she also understands its twisted source. It is the logic of: If I can’t go, then why should you? And Lenu deals with another version of this with her mother, who seethes with resentment at the way Lenu’s father dotes on her. She can’t bear the disparity between her fate and the possibility her daughter will not replicate her life, and in their interaction we see the machinery of sexism working inside women. Lenu’s mother goads her husband to beat Lenu for cutting class, taunting him to show he is a man. If the world of female roles is not a fixed thing, if it can be altered, then Lenu’s mother did not have to forfeit her own buried hopes. The thought that her own existence wasn’t necessary is unbearable, and all her energy will go to propping up the system that will keep them both in place. There are moments of beauty along the way. Lenu’s father beats her but insists she will take the test, and Lila’s brother stands up to their father and says he will pay for his sister to go to school because, “Everyone knows she is the smartest person in the village.” He fails, of course, but it is a gorgeous gesture, as is the kindness toward Lila of another boy, whose intelligence has been thwarted and who has been tracked into hawking produce on the street. We see Lila through her actions and the ferocity of her calculating mind that she shares only with Lenu. She does not need Lenu to be who she is, but she wants an accomplice and an audience. Lenu needs Lila to become herself, so she forgives the betrayal. She does not want to know what she has learned about Lila, but she does know, and the knowledge will peek out from what obscures it from time to time. The episode is extraordinary in its complexity and in the way it remains focused at all times on the drama of the girls to become themselves. Their reading of “Little Women” over and over until the pages become grimy, is enormous here. It might as well be scaling a dangerous mountain. We’re inside Lenu’s consciousness. This is the mind we can penetrate partly because she is telling the story, sometimes in the voiceover of the adult writer. Also because Lenu is not fixed and rigid as Lila is said to be and as we can see as well. Lenu is the collector of ambivalence that will never be resolved.

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