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Pulling: “Series Two, Episode Five”

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“You’ve changed, Karl. You never used to put yourself first.” Donna’s plea to Karl for sanity is the crux of this episode, and also evidence of the marvelous television switcheroo that Pulling managed to execute in its measly two seasons on air. In the beginning of the show, it’s clear that Karl is the one dragging Donna down. He’s a bundle of neuroses, and a boring one at that. But the evolution of Karl’s character from sad sack to adventurer is close to complete by this, the second to last episode of the show. He’s moving to Tuscany, selling the house, trying to break out of the emotional loop that Donna’s kept him in for so long. And Donna fights him at every turn with her signature mixture of begging and undermining.

Donna goes to the real estate office and learns that Karl is making a pretty penny on the house that he bought for them to live in as a married couple. In Donna’s head, she still has claims to that house, both financial and otherwise. “I had the idea for that shelf!” she gestures madly to the wall as Karl looks at her, flummoxed. But obviously buying the house would entail, as Karen points out, actually buying the house. Karen’s claims on Karl have weakened with almost every episode, and her argument as to why he should share some of the profits on his house are frankly ludicrous. Really what’s going on is that Donna’s life isn’t what she expected it to be when she left Karl before their wedding. The whole show is basically about the clash of expectations with real life, and this is perhaps the harshest clash in the season.

Donna’s attempts to convince Karl to stay even go so far as to involve Margaret, Karl’s fire-breathing mother. Margaret correctly diagnoses Donna as a hindrance on her son’s happiness. “You’re like a tumor, Donna,” Margaret tells her. “Might I remind you that some tumors are benign,” Donna argues back, weakly. Donna tries to sway Margaret with the argument that is every mother’s deepest insecurity: If Karl moves to Italy, she won’t see him as much. He might become suave and, you know, speak Italian. What to do?

This all culminates when Donna drops by while Karl is showing the house to an interested couple. It’s all going well until Donna decides to start a fight in the living room, and then point out to the potential buyers “That’s where Karl tried to hang himself.” Margaret comes over, and Donna expects an intervention. But her words of advice are “Go for it” and also “get as far away form this succubus as possible.” Finally Donna breaks down. “Do you want to get back together?” she demands. “Is this what this whole charade is about. Because yeah, sure, fine.” It’s impossibly selfish, but it’s also the dying bit of hope that she can keep Karl where he is. Karl turns her down and she goes to drink with Karen and Louise, absorbed in thought and stuttering the word “succubus” to herself repeatedly.

Meanwhile, Karen finds herself trapped in a quasi-relationship with Justin, a man who just has too many feelings. In the opening, he tries to serve Karen a tray of breakfast while she’s asleep. She wakes up, startled, yelling about flying monkeys and flesh, and boiled egg goes soaring. He starts weeping, and Karen agrees to go out on a date with him just to make him stop.

No surprise: Karen is wretched on an actual date, particularly with a weeper. She scarfs her salad and slumps over, and finally suggests sex to get Justin to shut up and stop crying. The next morning she tries to sneak away from the house. “I had to shag him to sleep!” she complains to Donna, to whom Justin was just pouring his heart out about a sad movie. When she finally dumps him, it’s in the middle of a speech he’s giving about having abandonment issues and being a real man. That’s what you get for accidentally picking someone up at the 7-11, I guess.


Louise's plot is the least interesting, which is a shame after her riveting Cocklolleez pitch from last week. When she accidentally lifts a container of milk from a bodega, Louise learns the joy of stealing. Caulk guns, mousetraps, a large salami: she steals whatever she can get her hands on. The frenzied, joyous kleptomaniac streak ends when a pensioner catches her and tries to turn her in. With some quick thinking, Louise manages to have him hauled off by store security instead, but at the end, almost everyone’s unhappy except Karen. Same as it ever was.

Stray observations:

  • “I’m going to Tuscany,” Karl says. “In France?” Donna asks. “Italy,” Karl laughs. “Well, which is it Karl?” Donna huffs. Geography is not her strong suit.
  • “He didn’t tell you he slept with his cousin,” Donna says to Margaret. Eek.
  • Poor Justin. “I’m ashamed to say…I wet myself a couple times.”