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'Californication': Unfaithfully yours, Hank Moody

November 30, 2008 | 10:31 pm

This episode of “Californication” reminded us why both the show and (eventual winner) David Duchovny were nominated for Golden Globes last year. The writing was perfect, hitting emotional note after emotional note –- whether funny, sad or sweet. The lead actors, Duchovny and Natascha McElhone, both dazzled. And even the extras, like the cinematography and the set and costume designs, were spot on, taking us effectively back to April 8, 1994, to New York City, to Hank Moody's grungy studio apartment on one of the grunge movement's saddest days: the day Kurt Cobain was found dead.

For a sophomore season that has been all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll –- which has too often teetered the pendulum to flash rather than substance –- Sunday was the most refreshing of triumphs. And wouldn't you know: There was very little of California and absolutely no fornication.

Instead, we got a flashback episode to New York and the early days of the Hank-Karen dynamic. We discovered that they began their relationship by being unfaithful to others –- Hank dating a model at the time and Karen a musician who was on tour –- which shed a little light on their destructive tendencies that continue today. And, on that very morning that the news of Cobain's death brought a tear to Karen's eye, she also discovered that she was pregnant with Hank's child. After discussing their options, Hank noted as they cuddled: “We get along really well for a couple of virtual strangers.” “For now, yeah,” she said. “But give it 10 years and I'll just be another woman that you got tired of....” His response: “You know, in 10 years' time you might very well be the love of my life.” Bingo.

But...

The flash-forward from that bed to their current one revealed that very little had changed in 14 years. Their daughter, Becca, was now walking in on them with a disturbed look on her face, as Mom and Dad's on-again, off-again relationship has certainly worn on her.

“We're not getting back together.” -- Hank
“And everything's fine.” -- Karen
“Liars.” -- Becca

Later, as Hank and Karen cleaned up a mess of a house (hello, symbolism), she called Hank out for his unchanged ways. “You can't figure out who you want to be,” she said. “It's your indecision that paralyzes you and hurts us, Hank. I can feel your restlessness. A moment like this? Yeah, you want me, you want us, and then that moment passes and you just, you become like this ghost. Fourteen years ago, 'I love you' was enough.... And now? They're just words. I don't know what they mean to you.” The ever-changing male mind. Happiness vs. contentment. The chase. Wanting what you can't have, then having it but not knowing what to do with it.... This episode and this series has wonderfully tackled these gray states of the mind.

My favorite part of this episode, though, was seeing Hank back at the keys. During a flashback, he sat down at the typewriter, a burning cigarette hanging from the corner of his lips, and hammered away. For a show about a writer, we haven't seen or heard Hank's words in Season 2 nearly enough. So this was a welcomed return, and closing the show with Hank's words was the perfect end to what was probably the best episode in the series' short history. His words:

Dear Karen,

If you're reading this, it means I actually worked up the courage to mail it, so good for me. You don't know me very well but if you get me started, I have a tendency to go on and on about how hard the writing is for me. This, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to write. There's no easy way to say this so I'll just say it. I met someone. It was an accident, I wasn't looking for it, I wasn't on the make. It was a perfect storm. She said one thing, I said another. Next thing I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the middle of that conversation. Now there's this feeling in my gut: she might be The One. She's completely nuts in a way that makes me smile, highly neurotic, a great deal of maintenance required. She is you, Karen. That's the good news. The bad is that I don't know how to be with you right now. And it scares the ---- out of me. Because if I'm not with you right now, I have this feeling we'll get lost out there. It's a big, bad world full of twists and turns and people have a way of blinking and missing the moment, the moment that could have changed everything. I don't know what's going on with us, and I
can't tell you why you should waste a leap of faith on the likes of me. But damn you smell good. Like home. And you make excellent coffee -- that's got to count for something, right? Call me.

Unfaithfully yours, Hank Moody

-- Josh Gajewski

Bonus Tracks:

~ Allow me to be the first to suggest that the flashback element should be introduced to every show. Well, maybe not every single one, but perhaps more than one per season. It works for 'Lost,' and the same certainly applies here, as the only episode that rivaled this in the series' history was last season's “California Son,” which weaved together present-day Hank dealing with the death of his father with a series of flashbacks that illuminated the temperamental relationship he shared with the man. In fact, that episode was even referenced here, with Hank repeating his old man's words to Charlie: “I'm just like my father. There isn't a woman that I've met that I haven't fallen in love with, whether for 10 minutes or 10 years.”

~ Speaking of Hank and Charlie, it was nice to see them together again –- just the two of them at the bar, talking things out. Duchovny and Evan Handler play well off each other and their chats always feel very real and tend to ground the show (in a good way) despite the inevitable humor that always seems to button their scenes. This season, with Charlie running off the reservation into the land of porn and further away from Hank, there hasn't been enough of this.

~ Even Lew Ashby was likable and fun to watch, which hasn't always been the case. His attempt to escape Hank's angry pursuit, which made the mess of Karen's home (Or is it technically Hank's home? Hard to keep track.), was classic, particularly when Ashby shut the hallway door and tried to hang on to the doorknob to keep Hank from coming through. Later, Hank returned Lew's low blow of recently kissing Karen by telling him that he'd kissed Janie, Lew's ex. Lew obviously didn't take it well, but when he pressed Hank on whether he'd slept with Janie, Hank replied with a classic Hank-ism -- “No. Friends don't let friends bang each other's soul mates.” -- and Lew gave him a hug.

Artistic references:

Nirvana's “Heart-Shaped Box” played during the first flashback scene, in which Karen learned the news of Cobain's death as well as her own pregnancy. The song was the first single from the group's third and final studio album, In Utero, which The Musician told me was interpreted by many as a pro-choice take on abortion from the baby's point of view. ... Pearl Jam's “Nothingman” played at the end. Front man Eddie Vedder once said of the lyrics: “The idea is about if you love someone and they love you, don't ---- up ... cause you are left with less than nothing.” Like Nirvana, Pearl Jam was at the forefront of the grunge movement, and “Nothingman” was actually released in 1994, the same year Cobain passed away.

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