The biggest curiosities hovering over Californication have always been, “Is L.A. really like this, and has it really possessed this series’ characters to be so casually permissive of such reckless behavior?” The answer to part one of that two-fer gauntlet remains subjective. In creator Tom Kapinos’ city-view, Los Angeles can be a fantasy, the kind propagated for years as American fairy tale and wishfully imagined in the show’s opening credits, not to mention tonight’s flashbacks. That perspective, along with much of “Love Song,” essentially answers the second question: Yes.
We’re at the midway point of season five, and it feels it. “Love Song” is this year’s most concise half-hour, zeroing in on the symbolically (and, soon, matter-of-factly) intertwining sagas of Hank/Karen and Samurai/Kali. That’s a sentence Hank himself would feel ridiculous for having written, but those worlds are on a collision course, and “Love Song” made it clear that their respective outcomes and collateral damage—more so than Charlie’s escapades as a sexually deviant bachelor or Marcy and Stu’s marriage of perverse convenience, or even the fate of Santa Monica Cop (never not funny)—are what to watch for as the next several episodes tick down.
There were moments when “Love Song” couldn’t resist the allure of a superfluous makeout scene or what’s become a patented habit of introducing baby-mama drama at the very last minute. But mostly, it was an opportunity to see the ensemble at their most tender. Even Samurai, who’s so heart-sick over Kali he’s arranging ballads for her album on piano. Meagan Good finally gets an opportunity to show some range, and Kali was given the episode’s best lines, even if she was speaking more as the ghost of Hank’s relationship past than someone who’s own backstory requires bearing out. Still, it was nice to get some insight into what makes Kali do things like apply for the Mile High Club with strange middle-aged novelists, and her scenes with Hank treated the songwriting process and her own artistic journey with nuance.
As for those aforementioned flashbacks to Hank and Karen’s early days in L.A., they were unexpected but pretty pivotal. We’ve only been given fleeting glimpses into the couple’s dynamic prior to when philandering and awkward dinner parties became de rigueur, but have never really peered into where it all went from monogamous bliss to habitual disloyalty and childishness. That story gets told in “Love Song,” and it parallels Kali’s tale of unrequited love and poor life choices that led her to this moment and provide the material for lyrics she and Hank are penning together. The black-and-white flourishes were a bit too Calvin Klein-ad, and Hank’s Wayne Campbell haircut was more distracting than authentic, and certainly made it hard not to laugh when a young blonde gushes over how gorgeous he is.
But when that same young blonde, a movie-studio flack working with Hank on God Hates Us All, sexually harasses Hank to no avail, it’s one of episode’s most surprising and effective moments. Likewise for he and Karen’s exchange on the beach that same day, when Hank votes against staying in this corrupting place, but Karen insists they seize the day and don’t look back. In flashback, it’s so easy to see where one false move sent everything straight to hell. Hank knows that now all too well, and it’s what draws him sympathetically to Kali’s story and back into her arms (the fact that she’s mind-alteringly sexy doesn’t hurt). It’s also what he already knows will be his undoing with Samurai. As for Karen, she’s one step ahead and already broken. Her attempt to settle down with Bates-y in the ‘burbs has been mostly good for Becca and provided us viewers with plenty of laughs, but for poor Karen, it’s just another dead end in need of a do-over. Sadly, it’s too late for any of these fools to hit reset, go back to New York and make it all OK, even if the answer to their problems certainly isn’t on Sepulveda.
- Eric Stoltz. Nice.
- Hank writes “books, screenplays, e-mails,” but not songs.
- I love when they write in moments like Karen still chafing from the morning. The fornicating on Californication is far from actually sexy most of the time.
- Hank sure was in a sing-song mood tonight.
- Kali: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way." Raaaarrr.
- I love the little bit when Hank whispers to Karen, “You know how I love jargon.” A great little glimpse at Hank’s initial, pure cynicism about L.A.
- Kali: “What if I think the truth makes me a bad person.” Just some good writing this week.
- Well, it only took nearly five season, but Hank finally uttered those titular (pun intended) words: “Let’s Californicate."