Hung’s first season is breaking down pretty clearly into three acts. The season’s first act (roughly the first four episodes) was all about how fantasy can override our realities to such a degree that the fantasy becomes the reality. The second act (roughly episodes five through seven) involved puncturing that bubble, revealing that beneath fantasy, reality is always still lurking, most significantly in Tanya’s reminder to Ray that he was still a prostitute and he shouldn’t be letting Jemma play games with him. Perhaps intentionally, these episodes focused the most on Jemma, who was the client of Ray’s that was most lost in a private fantasy that could never quite be fulfilled. And now, in its third act, starting tonight, apparently (unless I’m woefully misreading where this is going), we’re seeing how reality and fantasy can be made to intermingle, to coexist and cohabitate.
Reality wins out most in the story of how Jemma and Ray’s love affair comes to an end. Jemma, whom Ray had fallen for, dumps him completely out of the blue, and he’s unable to figure out why, exactly, though he has to have his suspicions. But when she pays Tanya for the whole endeavor and says that she just wanted to let down a guy with no explanation and break his heart, in the way her heart had been broken so many times, we see that she finally got her ultimate fantasy. In Ray’s case, though, reality intrudes. He may have made her genuinely happy (or so she claims), but he had fallen for her, after all, and no amount of cash or understanding that he had helped her heal some sort of deep-seated pain is going to overcome that broken heart. Instead, he turns to that ultimate facilitator of flights of fancy (though, on its flip side, it can help us see brutal reality once we hit the bottom), alcohol.
Ray, for a guy who knows just what to say to make any woman happy, often seems to have no idea what to say to the people who are closest to him. He regularly misreads Tanya, and tonight, he prompts a conflict between Jessica and Ronnie. He asks just why Ronnie thinks Jessica left him to be with Ronnie in what seems to be a mostly honest attempt to figure out how to fix the Jemma situation. (On a show so interested in the divide between fantasy and reality, it’s fascinating that the central character is someone who regularly takes everything said to him at face value and seems to present himself to the world completely at face value.) It’s possible that Ray had another motive here, but it sure seemed like he was just trying to figure out what it was about him that could make a woman not want to be with him. But Ronnie, like most of us, reads between the lines, sometimes too much, and that leads to a rift between him and his wife. (Though it’s not hard to see why Ronnie reads between the lines like this. The tone Ray takes IS pretty deeply patronizing and seems insulting, even if he doesn’t quite grasp that that’s how he’s acting. And, again, I interpret his actions as genuine in this scene, but I can see where it would be easy to read this as an attempt to undermine Ronnie or something.)
All in all, it’s not a very good week for Ray. He’s getting dumped. He’s causing unneeded strife in his ex-wife’s life. And when he goes to the bar, he runs into someone who hates him from his days as a high school athlete and takes him out, in the rain, to pitch to him. Ray’s still able to hit every ball tossed his way, just like he could back then, but now, doing so feels almost deeply sad. Nothing else in his life is this straightforward, this … easy. As much as we try to make sports into some grand metaphor for life or turn them into our ultimate fantasies (as in that big game montage from a few weeks ago), nothing in real life is as simple as standing behind the plate and leveling a pitch hurled your way over the fence.
Fortunately, Ray has Tanya to fall back on, even if she’s slowly bumping up against the limits of what she’s capable of. What Tanya’s pitching, here, is pure fantasy – the idea that a service could make a woman completely and utterly happy. Of course it can’t, but on the show so far, some blend of Ray’s ability to read people and his penis is bringing them close enough to happiness for one night that they don’t care. But at the same time, Tanya doesn’t want to get down into the reality of what she does. She’d rather talk around it and broadly hint and perhaps say what’s going on directly in person. That might work with someone as default horny as Patty, but it won’t work with most people. Lenore’s right about that. On the other hand, if there are enough women out there like Patty, whose fantasy just seems to be getting to be dirty and then being sexually satisfied, maybe this will work after all. (The scene where Ray meets with Patty was one of my favorites of the series, and I loved its use of the word “fuck” in particular.)
The place in our life where we’re most likely to indulge in fantasy is in our relationships, when we decide that someone is perfect for us, even though the idea of perfection is unrealistic in and of itself. If we can just pour our souls out into the perfect letter, we’ll win the girl back. Or maybe that guy we had the really good sex with actually will call us, even though it’s been weeks and weeks and weeks since we saw him. The basis of almost every romantic comedy hinges on this idea. Think, for example, of how Tanya and Pierce seemed to meet cute last week, only to have this week’s episode drive home that he’s not the Manic Pixie Dream Guy he seemed to be (and thanks for that, comments section) but kind of a flake instead.
If the first few episodes of Hung’s first season seemed to come down on the side of fantasy in the central thematic struggle of the series’ run, and then the next few episode seemed to come down on the side of reality, then this episode tested the balance. Reality won out in some scenes, but fantasy won out in a few others, just not for our main characters, who are increasingly stuck in the midst of a reality they weren’t even aware they were making a few episodes ago. Where is all of this going? We’ll find out in a few weeks, but for now, reality is kicking the ass of Ray and Tanya, even as they bring fantasies to life for everyone else.
- This was a really fine and funny episode, though I didn’t quote a lot of lines in the recap. I particularly liked Ray ripping up the note and throwing it in the air in front of Jemma, which was the sort of broad, physical comedy Thomas Jane does well.
- I hope the show follows up on the idea that Jessica divorced a boy to marry a man. It’s potentially interesting, even if the show often seems to hold Ronnie in contempt as its resident dream killer.
- Thought from my wife, who’s apparently the only female in America who likes this show, if the critical establishment is any indication: Not a lot of the women on the show are traditionally attractive, but the show still finds something inherently beautiful in all of them. I think the show tries too hard to do this sometimes, but I also thought I’d throw it out there in lieu of me coming up with a thought of my own.