You walk to work every day. You see the same things, the same people; you utter the same greetings, catch the same scents on the air. It’s right there in front of you, all the time, but you don’t really see it anymore, and even when it catches your eye, you don’t see it as you once did: The sea. It’s there, a vast, sparkling thing, but it’s also just a fact of life. And so when your daughter crosses a busy street without so much as a glance to either side, when she stands, transfixed, it takes you a minute to understand. It’s the sea! It’s the sea, seen through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before. And somehow, suddenly, you can see it that way, too.
Many such shifts in perspective occur throughout the course of “Le Smarginatura (Dissolving Margins),” an hour that splits its focus between near-universal experiences and those specific to this one neighborhood at this one period in time. It’s not a trick unique to My Brilliant Friend, nor one employed in this episode alone—the first episode used such a shift to illustrate the importance of Lila’s entrance into Lenú’s life. But here, they’re a big part of the focus, even encompassing the episode’s title, which refers to a moment in which she sees her brother Rino (Gennaro De Stefano) in a new light (figuratively as well as literally, thanks to Saverio Costanzo’s haunting direction of that scene).
What’s interesting about the approach of Costanzo and his fellow writers here is that My Brilliant Friend seems as interested in why characters were locked into their previous perspectives as it is in why they suddenly saw things in a new light. Lenú, shrinking from attention and praise, even from a friend, cannot see that people are interested in her in much the same way they’re interested in Lila; no amount of strangers constantly remarking about how pretty she is can change that. Lila, eager to work and work endlessly in pursuit of the perfect iteration of her new shoe design, can’t see that what drives Rino is something much messier and less patient; accustomed to seeing him as her partner and defender, it takes an actual fog, some unsettling lighting, and a rooftop full of screaming men to make this clear. Once seen, it can’t be unseen. The status-quo, particularly in relationships, can be a potent force, but a new perspective emits a pull no less, and sometimes far more, powerful.
That’s certainly the case with Lila and Lenú. Jealousy and a sense of competition have driven them together as often as it’s pushed them apart. Lenú’s increased awareness of Lila’s affect on the young men in their neighborhood, as well as her frustration at being outpaced by a friend whose only ongoing education is the local library, leads Lenú to move further away from a friend to whom she is inextricably drawn. Lila succeeds in Greek, so Lenú retreats to her studies again, racing to catch up; Lila seems to attract every boy in the friends’ shared orbit, so Lenú accepts the first suitor who approaches her, despite the fact that she’s uninterested in him (and despite his being a total fucking creep one episode ago).
But while My Brilliant Friend centers, as always, on the my and the friend of the title, this episode offers much more space to the political and societal forces at work in the neighborhood than previous installments. In both the dance and New Years scenes, you can watch awareness and tension zing across the room (or roof) by simply following the glances of those in attendance. One son watches another warily, and one friend stands ready to pull another back. Long histories and inherited grievances percolate throughout the dance sequence, leading to a sense of uneasiness that doesn’t evaporate until the episode’s last act—and once it’s gone, only a few minutes pass before it flares up again, albeit from a new source.
If the dance sequence is tense—and despite Gaia Girace’s joyful dancing, it’s absolutely tense—then the moment in which the jubilant peace of that New Years Eve crumbles is something else entirely. Pasquale (Eduardo Scarpetta), after offering a new perspective to Lila, gets one of his own from the friends; it’s one they stumbled on as they attempted to understand the intentions of Stefano (Giovanni Amura). The children of a murdered man and the children of the man jailed for that murder forge a new peace, and the Solaras fire explosives into that peace.
But the fireworks aren’t the source of the the scene’s stomach-churning anxiety. The credit there goes to Gennaro De Stefano’s performance as Rino, who shows as a young man whose simmering anger, resentment, fear, and feelings of hopelessness erupt on a rooftop like a volcano of spitting, careening self-destruction. Previous chapters of My Brilliant Friend have ended on a turning point in Lila and Lenú’s relationship, but here we simply watch Lila watch her brother until his death seems all but certain; then she drags him below and we’re left alone, unable to see through the fog.
- Nice moment in which Lila and Lenú once again stand side by side at the Carracci’s door—they just look at each other, remember, and move on.
- You’re telling me Lila read enough to get first through fourth place in the library’s most-read competition and never learned about the black market?