“Thith ith a Prothetic or You Cum Just Right”
August 24th, 2009
“I left a boy to marry a man.”
I’ve been enjoying Hung’s first season, and have especially enjoyed the recent series of episodes. Jemma’s entrance has given us a really intriguing point of view into how Ray’s new employment is changing his own life, and seeing a glimpse into Tonya’s home life last week was another example of the show trying to branch out beyond the show’s premise in order to tap into these characters at a deeper level. I don’t think anyone who has kept watching can truly claim that the show is even remotely about sex, or Ray’s penis, or any of those things.
But the one element of the show that I’ve had trouble reconciling with a lot of it was the question of Ray’s ex-wife: Anne Heche is a fine actress, but Jessica as a character is shrill and annoying, and any of the show’s attempts to garner sympathy for her has felt like a distraction. Her husband’s financial issues are not really Ray’s concern, and when the show veers into her life it just seems like she had nothing to add to this story.
I don’t think this week’s episode justifies the amount of time we’ve on occasion spent with her, but I do think that it more clearly puts her position into context. The past has always been a sort of unspoken part of this show: Ray has never really figured out why his wife left him, and it’s almost as if his present has been soul-crushing that he’s been stuck in it rather than looking either forwards or backwards. And now, in his new job, the past is irrelevant: there is still no past or future in the midst of his various encounters, and that’s something that he has absolutely no problem with. It’s when you start to play with emotions, the “mindfrakking” if you will, that things begin to reflect what Jessica saw as Ray’s lack of maturity.
And what I see as the show’s greatest accomplishment thus far.
There is something very sad in that final scene, as Ray Drekker is essentially a drunk teenager unable to take off his own clothes, having gotten them soaking wet by pulling a stupid stunt in the rain. That scene was really a breakthrough point in the episode, when Ray faces off with the pitcher off whom he hit a game-winning home run in 1982. On the one hand, it’s a scene about looking to the past: for Ray, the home run was a stepping stone on the way to a brighter career that he has long forgotten, fallen by the wayside due to inury; For Cliff, the pitcher, it was a moment that in his frustration made him obsessive, in a way “loving” Ray and following every game he played. However, on the other hand, it’s two grown men drunk on a baseball field risking catching pnemonia to settle a decades old score.
For Ray, it’s another sign that he’s capable of delivering when it comes to the game itself (whether that game be baseball or sex), but when it comes to the preparation, and the fallout, he isn’t as capable. Being a prostitute is the perfect source of employment for him because it means he can cut out everything else: he can put on a show, or hit a home run, without having to worry about what’s happened in the past or what happens in the future. When he prepares to sleep with Patty, he’s coolly sipping his wine and then having sex with her, all without any of the neuroses that were bothering him as it relates to Jemma, who we saw stand him up as he prepared to take her on a “real” date. That he can shut that off is something that seems to be his fundamental flaw, and a defense mechanism that has likely been in place for quite some time.
The very end of the episode seems to indicate it was also present when he and Tonya first slept together: the scene was in many ways about that sexual tension, seeing if it would go to the point of Ray and Tonya sleeping together again, but when drunk Ray says that Tonya cummed just fine for him. Perhaps there is some part of Ray who isn’t as likely to screw things up, or who isn’t as likely to say the wrong thing; this isn’t to say that drunk Ray is a better approximation of a human being, but rather that there is something about Ray’s personality that has shut off anything that could relate to the past or create a future, subtlely or unsubtlely.
It’s why I found his relationship with Jemma so fascinating, but also what makes it so ultimately tragic: she established a relationship with him so that he could feel what she had felt before, having your heart broken by someone when all you’ve done is be kind to him. She paid $2000 to do it, mind you, but it is nonetheless a rather terrible thing to have to experience. And I think that what perhaps stings the most is that I think Ray has felt that way before but that he never really let himself feel it. The show has very nicely demonstrated how having to strip out the emotions of a relationship in terms of his clients has also made him more keenly aware of his own emotions (as he began to feel for Jemma), and this episode was a good example of just what that would do to a person’s psyche when you strip all of that away and reveal the whole world to be a cruel mistress.
And that’s really what the show is getting at here: while Ray’s initial problems were his living conditions and his financial struggles, his real problems existed long before there was a fire, and long before there were citations being levied against him. His problems go all the way back to high school, and will continue to haunt him if they’re not truly dealt with. The same goes for Tonya, whose problems we saw in closer detail last week. “Happiness Consultants” has the potential to offer both of them “success,” but the process has thus far has balanced progress (Ray’s finances, Tonya’s passion) with regression (Ray’s emotions getting trampled, Tonya’s sexual frustration). The result has been a very interesting show, certainly, but also one that is none too pleasant as it relates to these characters’ future.
- Kind of odd how quickly Tonya’s photographer boyfriend brushed her off so he could get up early to patch his Dad’s driveway – it seemed a bit sudden, and a bit artificial as a way for her to be as vulnerable as possible in the episode’s final scene.
- The first of the episode’s two titles was really irrelevant to the episode (his son now has a tongue-stud, not that the kids got more than a couple of lines in the episode), and seems instead like an attempt to trick people into thinking it was going to finally show Ray’s “greatest talent.”
- The show does need to be careful about how hapless they make Ray: him wanting to get advice from Ron about Jemma is one thing, but him not realizing that “It was the money, right?” went beyond passive aggressive is honestly too naive for me to believe.