“Jeremy’s Broke” (season five, episode three; originally aired 5/16/2008)
Last week, the introduction of Dobby seemed to provide a light at the end of the tunnel of Mark’s lonely, self-imploding quest for “the One.” This week finds our heroes foundering again. The exact details of Mark’s psychological block may be harder then ever to suss out, but by now, the faithful viewer will have some conception of its general dimensions, and that is one long-ass tunnel.
In his head, Mark’s failure to have found true happiness feels especially pressing to him now, because his birthday is fast approaching. Toward that end, he has planned a party for himself, and has also taken up speed-dating, in the hope that he will meet someone who will be willing to accompany him to his own soiree. Jez is indignant over this: “Speed-dating and a party?” he snaps. “Mark, you know that if you end up a basket case, I’m the one who’s going to have to wheel you around the Army Museum.” Jez has reached a crisis point of his own, and it’s one with immediate implications for his relationship with Mark: He’s somehow blown through all the money that his mother once gave him, and so can no longer chip in on the rent. Mark has the bad taste to suggest that he seek gainful employment, but as Jez points out, “given my creativity,” for him a job would constitute “a kind of abuse.” The question isn’t whether he speaks for a generation, but whether he speaks for several of them.
At speed-dating, Mark meets a high-spirited Australian woman named Saz and, looking to kill two birds with one stone, invites her to move in, generously allowing Jez to sleep on the couch until he can find another place. (He also stocks the kitchen with horrible, healthy food, to punish Jez for eating his bacon and Cherry Garcia. “If you’re going to steal my food, Jez, I’d prefer that you not enjoy it. And not enjoying it myself is a small price to pay.”) Jez can see what’s really going on here. Mark thinks that, if he and the Aussie are confined in a small space for long enough, something just might happen. “This is what it’s come down to, eh? You don’t want to bone me, so I’m out. It’s that brutal.”
This j’accuse hits Mark right where he lives, though he doesn’t try to oust Saz until after Sophie has visited the flat to find a trio of drunken young women whooping it up and affectionately calling Mark things like “filthy little dirt box” and arguing about which one secretly wants to fellate him. It’s less a scene out of Penthouse Forum than a sensitive loser’s nightmare about wandering onto the wrong playground and becoming a ritual sacrifice to the Mean Girls. The shared realization that this is not a sex fantasy come to life is enough to get Mark and Jez to bond again, for a few traumatized minutes. “I’m out of my depth here,” says Mark, a line that could have been for him what “Ayyyy!” was to Fonzie.
Cringe comedy seldom gets more brutal than the latter half of this episode, starting with the conversation in which Mark sits a hung over, anxious Saz down and gently suggests that she move on, and Saz gingerly suggests that, if she can just stay, she might almost sort of kind of see her way to being… interested in him? Mark, just as gingerly, wonders if that would mean he could refer to her as his “girlfriend.” She nods her assent, looking as if she’s choking back vomit. Mark has no illusions about what’s going on here: “Money may not buy you love,” he thinks, but apparently a furnished flat can get you a reasonable facsimile.” His total awareness makes it feel as if, should anything physical happen between the two of them, it would count as rape. But hey, why go there, considering the odds of anything physical happening between the two of them? It can only lead to the inevitable scene at Mark’s birthday party, where Mark, having used the “G’ word to describe Saz to everyone from work, gets to watch Sophie dancing with one man, while another—and not just another, but the hated oaf Geoff—all but makes out with Saz on the dance floor.
Worst of all, Dobby is either dancing or engaged in a sign-language contest—it’s hard to tell which—with a bloke called Stalky Pete, Mark having all but catapulted her into his arms by blowing her off when she offered to be his date for the evening. Does Mark prefer to abase himself with trash-talking Australian coke fiends than offer Dobby his arm because he doesn’t think he’s good enough for Dobby? (I’m not saying I’d argue with him about it.) Or is it a point of pride with him to be with, or even just try to appear to be with, the statuesque vacuum with the supermodel looks? Is Dobby too accessible? Would Mark never want to belong to any club that would have him as a member?
“”Jeremy’s Mummy” (season five, episode four; originally aired 5/23/2008)
Jez starts out in an euphoric mood: His Aunt Gwen has died, and he expects to inherit twenty grand, which, he says means that “I’m a millionaire again!” Perhaps the least mystifying thing about this whole series is how it is that Jez can’t seem to hold onto money for very long. Reminding Mark what a lucky break this is for both of them, he says, “I owe you over a thousand pounds.” “Four thousand,” says Mark. “Exactly,” says Jez indulgently. “Over a thousand pounds!”
Leave it to Jez’s mother to put the spanner in. She shows up with her new beau, Martin—a glowering, judgmental hardass with a military background, who would be an unwanted father figure even if Jez didn’t already have Mark half-filling that role. Mum and Martin invite Mark out for dinner, which seems reasonable to him at first: “Parents do tend to like me. Apart from Dad, of course.” But then, he wonders whether “they’re going to blame me for Jeremy. I should have done more.” In fact, they want him to step in and help. Reluctant to give Jez any more money to piss away, Mum suggests putting him on an allowance, and having Mark allocate it as he sees fit. To sweeten the offer, Martin asks Mark if he’d be interested in ghost-writing his memoirs of his time in the service. On the surface, Mark expresses polite interest. In his interior monologue, he drools, “I would literally stab a baby to do it!”
Preparing to make his best pitch for the job, Mark invites Martin’s glowering, foot-dragging daughter Natalie over to ask her about her Dad’s time in the service. Natalie has too much to drink and passes out on Mark’s bed, and when Mark wakes up, she discovers that she’s climbed on top of him and they’re doing the nasty. She continues until he climaxes, despite his protests, and then makes that least reassuring of romantic declarations: “I’m not a lesbian!” As that unlikely pair of sexually enlightened kibbutzers Jex and Super Hans point out, this is a pretty clear-cut case of rape, though Mark has no intention of complaining about it; if there’s a chance that telling Martin that his daughter raped him to prove that she likes men might sour Martin on their literary collaboration, Mark is more than happy to just deal with any signs of PTSD. Jez, ready to play any card he can pull from the deck to roil these waters, is not so reticent. In the end, Jez gets no money, Mark is forced to admit to himself that neither Martin nor Natalie is the One, and the title “War Dad” is just sitting there, unused.
- The scene in which Jez uses the picture of the Queen on a bill as a masturbation aide certainly pushes the envelope a bit.
- Mark, after claiming a kiss from Saz: “Did she wince? That’s not good. Wincing isn’t mentioned by the great romantic poets.”
- Jez explains why the emotions inspired by he death of his aunt (“I couldn’t be more pleased if I’d murdered her myself!”) are so different than the respectful, grief-stricken feelings appropriate to the passing of, say, Ian Curtis: “She was never going to make a seminal album! She couldn’t even make very good Christmas cake.”
- Mark interrupts Jez’s pouting over not getting the inheritance he expected, telling him to “stop being Hamlet.” “I’ll stop being Hamlet,” says Jez, “when you stop being…” There ensues a long, painful pause while Jez tries to think of a character from Shakespeare. Finally he blurts out, “A massive tool!” “Ha!” thinks Mark. “He couldn’t even think of Romeo! Romeo’s easy.”
- Super Hans just materializes out of the woodwork, explaining his presence in the flat by saying that he “had a key made. It’s easier.” It is, which is why the writers probably chipped in on it.