Californication: “The Party”
B+

Californication: “The Party”

B+

Californication

“The Party”

Season 5, Episode 11

In a season of Californication that’s introduced some hazily developed characters and reduced a couple of series regulars to cliché, Kali has arguably been the most under-nurtured ensemble player. When we first met Meagan Good’s sultry R&B hopeful in the opener, she was all too eager to whip out Hank’s snake during a flight to L.A. But over the next few weeks, we learned that she’s practically Samurai’s kept woman, and actually possesses great talent and sensitivity. 

Fast forward to “The Party,” and she’s a smirking, manipulative sexual predator with a thing for young men who, in Tyler’s smug observance, are a “better, younger version” of Hank. Couple that with Becca’s continued obliviousness toward her boyfriend’s philandering, Lizzie’s almost unconscionable treatment of Charlie (for which he admittedly deserves at least half the blame) and Karen’s self-described “ping-ponging” between “absurdly wrong” partners, and it’s difficult to avoid crying the dreaded M-word—misogyny— at Tom Kapinos’ portrayal of Californication’s leading ladies. 

Gender politics aside, Kali is written with a lazy cynicism that’s hard to justify and even harder to watch. “The Party” careens into squirmy, uneasy territory during its third act and, par for the course with season five, has particular trouble in its final minutes. Karen and Hank nearly have a moment, Hank catches Bates misbehaving but gives him a pass, Hank catches Tyler in the act, Hank deservedly pounds Tyler’s face, and everyone scornfully appraises Hank while Becca runs to her man’s side, scowling in disbelief at her impish father. Hmm, when have we seen this before?

Next week’s finale should clear the air about two-timers Tyler, Bates, Kali, and Stu, and its title, “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place To Be,” may just apply to Hank, Karen, and Becca alike, rather than poor Hankie playing the scapegoat in exile. There’s no doubt Bates, Tyler, and Stu will get the boot, but the real question is: If/when Kali confesses to Samurai about her flings with Hank, Tyler, and who knows what other sexually dysfunctional, pasty novelists, how severely will the Apocalypse rain down on all concerned, especially Hank?

But before we leap ahead, let’s rewind to that electric first 20 minutes of this week’s installment. Up until and excluding Charlie’s continued enraging submissiveness to Lizzie—and, by proxy, Stu—“The Party” lives up its billing, continuing the grand Californication tradition of gathering all its misfits and weirdos for one last hurrah as the season winds down. 

At first blush, Bates’ conversion to Jesus felt like a contrived dead-end. That is, until Hank catches Richard getting head from his nerdy, sanctimonious AA sponsor (an ideally cherry-picked Patrick Fischler, a.k.a. Mad Men’s Jimmy Barrett and Southland’s Kenny “No-Gun”), perfectly upending their shady self-righteousness. It also frees Hank to accept Karen’s invitation for adulterous sex on the beach, guilt-free. The fact that he declines (albeit regretfully) is one of several instances in which Hank continues to demonstrate that he’s turned a corner toward actual rightness. It’s echoed in the chorus of voices that visit him for one-on-one reassurance at various intervals.

Marcy—who’s still ignorant to Stu and Lizzie’s “blowies” but is at least heavily present and graphically acerbic as ever—tells Hank that Karen and Becca “love you to pieces, you dumb shit. We all do. You just have trouble loving yourself.” Hank, whose rapport with Marcy is sweet, witty, and sorely missed, replies, “Thank you, Dr. Sigmund Smurf.” Touché. He’s less quick on the feet when Karen pines, “It’s always the same thing, ya know, whether you’re coming and going. My heart skips a beat or two, and I just have to clean up the mess you leave behind.” It’s a line that echoes Trixie’s wish in “Perverts & Whores” that one day, “sparks will fly” between them once their lives are less cluttered. Even Charlie gets deep, encouraging his best friend and client to “realize my limitations and stop expecting me to be someone I’m not.”

If only that principle applied to others’ patience with Hank, or if he hadn’t burned all his goodwill several bloody noses, escorts, and prison terms ago. Maybe Hank knows his luck has dried up and there’s not much to lose, and perhaps that’s why he refuses to let Tyler brush him off as “an old man.” And it could very well be that Charlie would feel more vital if he smashed those champagne glasses in Stu’s face and only figuratively implored Lizzie to blow him. But, as Hank himself explains to Marcy, men are stupid creatures who do stupid, unexplainable things. It just so happens that Hank and Charlie are fighting and eating shit, respectively, to defend the honor of the women they love. Once they’re accepted for their past mistakes and embraced for their sincere conversion to relative maturity, they can, at last, happily leave youth to the young. 

Stray observations:

  • I love that Becca high-fived Hank’s jab at Bates, only to ask, “Do you need a ride to the airport?”
  • “Waiting On A Friend” was an apt enough song choice for Hank’s scene at the bar.
  • Lizzie is “Wetting my whistle.” Ew.
  • Hank’s deadpan, disinterested “Yeah” when Gabe insists, “It’s Gabriel” was classic Moody. If only it all had the chutzpah. 
  • Marcy’s drunken, bemused, “You do?” in response to Bates’ affection for a woman on her period is classic Marcy.
  • I hate Lizzie and her stupid sore jaw.
  • Marcy’s “bloody cooch” is just “a little rusty.”
  • Hank telling Bates, post-Gabriel’s blowjob, “You’re in emotional West Hollywood right now.” I only recently visited L.A. for the first time, and was tickled to feel in on the joke.
  • I loved Bates telling Gabriel that they don’t just have some stuff to discuss in the car, but “A great many things, my dear boy.”
  • More prime Bates—trying to rationalize getting a BJ from his sponsor while Karen was in the other room—when he asks Hank with absolute, childlike earnestness, “Yes, why is that weird?” 
  • This was a tough episode to grade (fleet, funny, and absorbingly crass, but also frustrating and stalling), so take the letter with a pinch of sodium.