My Brilliant Friend, episodes 7 and 8

The show is interested in two characters only: the relationship between the girls. All the other characters are instrumental to this unfolding engagement. There is no other interiority but theirs and only a dawning interiority for Lila. The first season is done. What am I supposed to do? Episode 7 was a bit of a slog. Too much boy and not enough Lenu and Lila. Each girl picks a less violent male she doesn’t desire to fend off a more violent male who arouses rage. In the case of Lila and Marcello, the beautiful, rich-boy bully, it’s more than rage. It’s also sexual attraction. Who has not hated a person you also wanted to fuck? She tells him she will kill him if he replaces her with another attraction. At the same time, she agrees to marry her smitten boy if he promises to keep Marcello away from her. She doesn’t want to be in Marcello’s power. It would be worse than being in the power of her brother and father, who are dominating but at least afraid of her. Lenu lets a boy feel her up because she can use him to scare off the twitching mustache letch who molested her the summer before and whose son she wants. It’s confusing. It’s all confusing. The less violent males turn out to have their own agendas, and they are not really less violent, only more smitten and temporarily bendable.

It’s enjoyable and painful to see Lenu in love with the letch’s son, a surly, baby intellectual with unshaved fuzz. Her eyes grow soft and hazy. Impulsively she presses his hand to the table, wanting him to stay at the wedding party, even after he has declined to publish a piece she has written for his little journal. She has been burning to see her name in print. The boy has been told Lenu is a better writer than him, and the piece has been polished by Lila so it’s a combination of their talents. Lenu is deeply disappointed. You can see the light go out of her eyes and the air leave her chest, but when you want someone, what’s one more piece of power you let them have over you? You tell yourself they are not a jealous bastard, and you grab their hand. He walks out, anyway.

In episode 8, the season finale, Lila and Lenu are back together, and we see what we have seen from their first moments together: each for the other is the only person in the world who speaks the same langauge. Not to share a language is isolation of a deranging sort. To share a language is to share an inner and outer world of understandings. To the girls, the phrase, “normal life” translates into “male control that will block all exits or produce so much trauma the exits won’t be visible. Lila decides to go entirely underground, where she has mostly lived with the exception of Lenu, and marry a man she does not love in order to leave the home of her father and brother. It’s a conscious choice and in making it Lila sees what she is turning into. Lenu comes to see it, too. It’s spoken of by the girls in their funny, truncated bursts of dialogue and sudden avowals of belief in each other. The scene of Lenu bathing Lila before her fake happy wedding is breathtaking. “Stand up,” Lenu says to Lila, and she rises, naked, and we see the glory of youth’s body she is going to trade away. The mind that has devised the trade puts at risk the the thing in her that ticks away, the cascade of language, depositing more and more along a restless shore. The teacher who discovered the genius in the little girl thinks Lila’s great gifts have been scattered and swept away. She won’t allow her into her apartment. Benj DeMott

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