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'Californication': South of heaven

November 29, 2009 | 10:31 pm
For a brief and almost startling moment Sunday night, we saw something in Hank Moody that we’d never seen before: fear. Gunshots were going off, the rifle-toting owner of a market chasing out the two punks who had just seconds before pointed their own pistols at Hank and his best friend, Charlie. In the aftermath, Hank and Charlie slumped over in a state of shock. We’d never seen them so shaken, so genuinely vulnerable. It was an odd and somehow wonderful thing.

Then they settled into the dirty Porsche, still silent. Until … 

“I thought that was it, Hank. The End,” Charlie said, Hank nodding. “What was going through your head?”

“What do you think?” Hank said. “Karen and Becca. How much I love them. How much time I’ve wasted being a selfish prick.”

Charlie talked about his life flashing before his eyes like a TiVo on fast-forward, and “it was really pathetic,” he noted. “OK, so what now? Where do we go from here?”

“Home” was the answer I hoped for, for until that sequence Hank (David Duchovny) and Charlie (Evan Handler) had been two drunken buffoons, parading around Venice, around Dogtown, as if they were its annoying Lords. Instead we got this: “Not entirely sure,” Hank said, “But if you thought we were drinking before you’re dead wrong, because now we’re going to do some drinking. Are you with me?” 

“Oh, ‘til the end, my Nubian brother. ‘Til the bitter end.”

The car moved forward. They moved backward. Hadn’t these men learned anything?

Granted, I’ve never been in a traumatic situation such as theirs and so yes, perhaps one does need a very stiff drink soon thereafter. But the decision to drink on -- and enough so to then end up, apparently, in a tattoo parlor? -- just struck me as a little odd, given that they’d just spent so much time both before and after the incident talking about how much they wanted to be home with their families.

But perhaps I’m just being nitpicky again. Hank did end up back home in the morning, looking at Karen (Natascha McElhone) in a way that was somehow the same and completely different. And, after all, I suppose the message of this episode was acceptance. The show made this perfectly clear ...

Exhibit A, an early scene with Hank and Charlie at the bar:

Hank: “Two hamsters in a cage, going round and round. When will we ever learn?”
Charlie: “Do you think we’ll ever get it right?”
Hank: “That remains to be seen. I think that ultimately, they’re going to have to raise the white flag and just accept us for the emotional retards that we are, don’t you think?”

Then later, Becca with her mom:

Becca: “He’s never going to change. He’s always going to be that drunken fool in the middle of Abbot Kinney. The same guy who wrote this book. If that’s not what you want, then you have to be the one to walk away. Because he never will.”

In the end, she didn’t. She never can. When he appeared in the kitchen that morning, hung over and hungry, she ultimately did the very same thing she did years ago in a similar situation, the thing that had made Hank’s heart sing then, just as it did here. She made him breakfast. We gentlemen are simple creatures. 

The message was simple. Karen was accepting Hank for who he is, not who he’d like to be. And perhaps I should finally stop complaining and accept this show for what it is (a comedy first, drama second) rather than what I’d like it to be (the other way around). In fact, a commenter to last week’s blog, Janey, might have nailed it when she wrote, “It seems that overall, this season has focused heavily on the comedy and let the drama and the more serious aspects of this show go by the wayside. It also seems that by doing so, the show has become more popular in a mainstream kind of way.” She’s right. The ratings this season have soared, even if this season has lacked the soul of the first two. 

I just don’t know how much longer the same formula can remain interesting to me, that formula of Hank screwing up but making us laugh, then apologizing to his family in a sweet closing scene where he promises to try harder while a sweet song takes us to the credits. Did I smile along with Hank when Karen reached for the eggs as Blind Pilot’s “Three Rounds and a Sound” faded in over the top, the lyrics going, “Now I see you, ‘til kingdom come you’re the one I want…”? Yes, I did. But I also knew I’d been in this same place before, thinking, “OK, now he’s got it, now he’s ready to change,” and then he doesn’t.

I still have hope. Series creator Tom Kapinos teased us in a Q&A this year about ending this season on a note that's more emotional than comedic, and just the other day I noticed that the voice of my “On Demand” channel has begun teasing me, over and over again, to "tune in to the surprising season finale of 'Californication' " in the coming weeks.

Well, we have two episodes left. I think I’m closer to reaching Karen’s state of mind, her acceptance. This show is what it is, I suppose. I should really stop making it out to be more. But true acceptance is hard, isn’t it? I have to believe that there’s still a part of Karen that will always and forever hope that Hank will somehow, someday, actually change, actually reach his full potential.

Two hamsters in a cage, going round and round. When will we ever learn? … 

A few more things:

-- As for that notion of comedy first, drama second, the comedic payoff of Hank and Charlie continuing to drink instead of returning home was them waking up by the Venice Pier and discovering that they’d gotten tattoos the night before. Hank got an anchor with the names Karen and Becca attached. Charlie’s choice? A butterfly on his lower back. Badum-bum.

-- A bit that didn’t work so well, though, came at the bookstore. After Charlie and Hank discovered a signed copy of Hank’s first book, “South of Heaven,” they came upon the new book by the dreaded Julian Self. Hank farted on it. Another fart joke. Really? “A tell-tale sign that a great show is losing its creative stones: starting the episode with a fart joke,” a commenter to last week's blog wrote, and here I have to agree.  

-- Meanwhile, for all of the manlove that existed between Hank and Charlie in the aftermath of the shooting incident, each telling the other how good of a friend he is, one of the most interesting lines of the episode came in the heat of the big moment, when Charlie lied. "I got a daughter," he told one of the gunmen. Wasn’t that a huge betrayal of sorts? Charlie using a line that only Hank had the right to? Hank just gave him a look that I still can't quite discern. The scene gets even more interesting the more times you watch it, and I’m curious to know your thoughts on the moment, as well as all the rest.

-- Josh Gajewski

Photo: Hank (David Duchovny, front) and Charlie (Evan Handler) wake up by the Venice Pier on Sunday night's "Californication." Credit: Showtime. RELATED:

Kapinos talks about that season finale, among other things, in a Q&A

Duchovny talks about his literary life

Handler talks about the near-death experience he actually had

Madeleine Martin and her mom talk about "Californication"