Saturday, July 23, 2016

BSN Mini-Review: "Lena"

“Lena” gives us another deep dive on a character (no points for guessing which one), though it’s not quite as deep as the look “Puck” gave us at Puck. Or perhaps I should say that it’s not as broad; whereas “Puck” gave insight into at least three important areas of the titular character’s life, “Lena” focuses all of its attention on conveying Lena’s awkwardness and her crush on Deme and her awkwardness about her crush on Deme. It spends a minute or so moving plot, as Lena and Bryn’s conversation sets up future shenanigans. And it spends a little time establishing the outlines of the personalities of Mia, Deme, and Zander, with Mia getting the most attention and Zander the least. But the vast majority of Episode 2 is the Awkward Lena Show.

And what a show it is. We get to see only one narrow aspect of Lena’s life, but we see it in searing detail. From offering to hold Deme’s jacket, to dancing just outside the circle of people who know what they’re doing, to sending and then hurriedly retracting a kiss emoji, there’s not a minute of “Lena” that passes without a soul-killingly well-conceived example of how difficult Lena finds it to interact with the world. By the end of the episode, we don’t just know that Lena’s awkward, we know exactly how she’s awkward. We know that she wilts under pressure. We know that she’s fully aware of, and instantly apologetic for, her every social failing. We know that she has a crush on Deme, and that she wants to act on that crush, but that every time she tries, her courage fails her.

That lack of confidence is the root of all Lena’s awkwardness. Not a single one of her painful interactions in this episode—at the fridge, on the dance floor, over text messages—would have been nearly so bad if Lena had simply followed through on her intentions to ask Deme out, to dance, to send the kiss emoji. Lena’s problem is internal—which suggests a possible outline for her story arc.

So “Lena” sets up for its central character a goal (Deme), an obstacle (lack of confidence), and a potential self-inflicted stumbling block (whatever’s going to go down with the Idleness). And it does so without ever feeling rushed. In fact, “Lena” is full of pauses for breath, moments when the episode seems to sit still and let you simply wallow in Lena’s pain. The only conversation that moves quickly is Deme, Mia, and Zander’s at the beginning, which may be why it’s the least satisfying interaction of the episode; it’s almost entirely exposition, meant to establish certain bare-bones facts about the Lovers to hold you over until they can be fleshed out in more detail. (Deme’s into Mia; Mia’s dad doesn’t like Zander; Deme’s looking to get high tonight; Zander has the kind of image that makes it hard to imagine him doing drugs.) This is all important information, and it’s not as if the scene is a chore to get through, but it’s neither emotionally gripping nor dryly funny, the way that the rest of “Lena” and all of “Puck” are.

But if “Lena” starts slow, it finishes on fire. TCW banked on Kalisha Wasasala’s acting ability to carry the final text conversation between Lena and Deme, and Wasasala returns magnificently on their investment. She pulls Lena from relief to amusement to a kind of ecstatic hope in total silence, as Deme’s last line—“Never stop”—lingers on-screen, urging her onward. It embodies the deeply emotional, almost magical feeling that is so far the best thing about Bright Summer Night.

Random Bits

Wasasala carries the episode, of course, but Maddie Adams deserves a mention for her speech to Lena about how to flirt with Deme. The speech isn’t about Mia, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of her character, and Adams nails it.

Perhaps the only character motivation in “Lena” that isn’t fully clear is Bryn’s when he sits down with Lena. I can think of two reasons why Bryn might decide to talk to her. Either he’s playing the part of the good guy, being gregarious, talking to everyone—or he’s trying to hit on her, and backs off when it becomes clear she’s got her eye on someone else. Both of these possibilities are in line with what we know about Bryn so far, and though one interpretation is more flattering than the other, neither of them really involve Bryn actually caring about Lena’s feelings.

Food for thought: In this episode, Deme and Bryn both go up to complete strangers and introduce themselves. They share a certain confidence in their own belonging.

“I said ‘Kill me now, I want to die.’” What a killer music cue.

I wonder who Deme knows at this party.

“I will not be put in a bubble!” says Petra in passing, setting up what will presumably be the first scene of Episode 3.

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