Desperate moves on men aside, there isn’t a whole lot to Louise’s character for most of the beginning of Pulling. It takes until Episode Six, the finale of the first season, for her to evolve a bit beyond a desperate—though hilarious—sidekick. When her mother shows up at the door in an outfit that Rizzo from Grease would be proud of, Louise takes one look at her tear-streaked, overly made up face and slams the door on her. Turns out there’s only one woman in the world who out-Karens Karen, and that’s Louise’s mother Eileen. It gradually unfolds that Eileen’s boyfriend kicked her out, but also that Eileen’s boyfriend is 17 and that she’s been living with him in his childhood bedroom. For all her talk, Karen is still off-put by that level of cougar-dom. “Bit of an age chasm, Eileen,” she sneers, as they share flask of whiskey to pour into their morning coffee.
Louise isn’t moved by her mother’s plight. It’s not the first time Eileen’s come running to her, and apparently the only time she hears from Eileen at all is post-breakup. When Eileen appeals to Louise to let her stay, Rebekah Staton gives one of the most masterfully indifferent brush-offs in the history of television. “I think you should…you know…piss off?” she shrugs. Karen convinces Louise to take pity on her mom, and all three of them go out to the club. Eileen is again wearing something straight out of an MTV special about unfortunate clothing choices—a mesh shirt over a bandage bra—and it takes her no time to scoop up the filthy-looking men at the pub. “You talk to Max, Lou,” Eileen introduces a balding chap to her daughter, “His wife’s just died!”
Eileen is a brilliant foil for Karen, because she recalls some of her worst moments. There’s the feeling that Karen sees herself in twenty years, writhing on the dance floor. As Karen and Louise watch, Eileen grinds on her pub date and flails around. “Oh god,” Karen observes, “Did I just see her drink sick out of that glass?” Louise just sighs. “Yeah, the never-ending pint.” The following morning, Karen wakes to find Eileen having sex in the bathroom, and her own dirty knickers that Eileen borrowed strewn on the floor.
Karen then convinces Louise to kick her out, but Eileen and Louise have an actual mother-daughter moment. Eileen, teary-eyed, holds onto a donkey she got for Louise in Ibiza, and it’s then that Louise decides to stick up for her mother, no matter how ridiculous she is. Of course, it’s also after that conversation that Eileen’s boytoy, brilliantly named Skinzo, appears at the door demanding his woman. Sharon Horgan is a wizard of these awkward moments, a grand magician of cringe, and the lecture Louise delivers to Skinzo on her mother’s self-respect coincides neatly with Eileen dropping out of the second floor window to clatter back to Skinzo’s car.
Donna’s plot this week has, again, to do with the idea of what her life should be like clashing with what she actually wants. Sam is everything that Karl isn’t. He’s cultured. He’s fit. He has matching cutlery and a group of friends who love Sunday brunch. Donna doesn’t want to admit to herself that she’d rather be eating donuts, watching Miss Congeniality 2 than at a gallery looking at art. But at the heart of her relationship with Karl, there’s a compatible couple of couch potatoes who love fry-ups and terrible television. Donna’s attempts to meet Sam’s friend at the gallery is one of the most gut-crunchingly difficult scenes to watch. First Donna insults the artist’s work, not knowing that the person she’s being introduced to is responsible for them, and then she raves about a piece that represents the sculptor’s mom’s cancer. To try to make amends, she tells the artist that she was just trying to get in with her; she didn’t really think the work was shit. “Wow,” the artist deadpans, “Now I really respect you.”
Last week I complained that the Karl thing felt unresolved after Donna’s big play to get him back, but taking this episode in consideration, it feels rather appropriate. Donna’s relationship with Karl is one of backsliding shame, sure, but it’s also true that there must have been something compelling to keep them together for five years. The way the episode ends, with Donna looking pained about choosing Karl over Sam and Karl’s creeping smile as he puts an arm around her, is a very apt way to close the first season. Donna’s back where she started.
- Karen’s sit-down is an awful intervention technique. “It’s about your mum. She’s a filthy slag. Get her out of here.”
- More Karen wisdom (I’m going to make a quote-a-day calendar one day): “If God didn’t want you to get drunk on a Saturday, Donna, he wouldn’t have made the morning after pill.”
- The gallery scene here shows one of the big differences between Pulling and Girls. In Girls, Marnie is at home in the gallery world, whereas Donna is stepping above her comfort zone. There are echoes of class in Pulling that are more self-aware than the entitlement in Girls.
- I really feel a lot more sympathy for Louise after seeing her mother. I can only imagine what it’s be like to be raised by Karen.