All serious break-ups are inherently mathematical endeavors. There’s the practical arithmetic—the sorting of records, books, furniture, and friends—but there’s also an emotional calculus involved. How much of your old life do you want in your new one? Who are you now? There’s also a sense of reckless optimism. The thing that kept you attached to someone is done. Once the string is cut, you float madly in all directions like a loosed balloon. And so, when Donna begins to work through the aftermath of leaving Karl at the wedding rehearsal, it makes perfect sense why she would immediately start poking holes in the other parts of her life. Once you’ve started making a mess of things, there’s inertia to it. Why stop at mundane relationships? May as well make a lunge at a better job.
Which is how Donna ends up trailing her boss at the beginning of episode two, wondering aloud if she shouldn’t look for a position that’s a bit more exciting. “I just think there’s more to life than being a marketing manager,” she says to her supervisor, who gasps. It turns out that Donna’s promotion, six months ago, was a clerical error. As he looks at the ledgers, Donna’s boss bemoans how much extra salary they’ve given her. “We’re going to need that back,” he says.
Donna’s job hunt touches on that vague, inchoate feeling that you should be doing something better with your life, something a little dangerous, and certainly more fulfilling. But, like most of us, Donna can’t quite figure out what that field would be. Donna’s summation to a job counselor that she wants something in “media, human rights, or criminal pathology,” is spot on. It’s reaching for a dream, but it’s not a concrete goal, so much of a vision of a certain lifestyle. A snappy one, where the days are long but meaningful, and co-workers share Aaron Sorkin-level banter, and your hair is always unaccountably perfect. Somewhere out there, people love their jobs and derive a deep sense of self-worth from them. How hard is it to get one of those? As she weeps to Karl, “If there aren’t any decent jobs around, why does everyone on telly have one.”
Karl, meanwhile, is a bedraggled wreck of a human. His interactions with Donna post-breakup are clearly painful for him. Donna comes to cry on his shoulder, expecting the support from their previous relationship without any of the trappings she wasn’t satisfied with. Meanwhile Karl hasn’t left the room in three days and has been “shitting in a Cornflakes packet.” Donna, wrapped up in her own coat of determination and self-pity, can’t quite see him beyond pity and alarm. When Karl shows up at her house with a job lead, he seems to have pulled himself out of his funk, except that he forgot to put on shoes, so his feet are scabby, dirty, and bleeding. It’s the perfect detail—a thin veneer of having yourself together, punctured by one tiny but all-important omission.
Oscar Wilde was on to something when he said that the gods punish us by answering our prayers. Thanks to Karl, Donna scores an interview with a hotshot executive, who spews jargon like “skill units” and “walking a tightrope with two feet is the same as walking it from 200 feet.” She snags the kind of job she thinks she deserves—the kind where impeccably coiffed co-workers relax around a foosball machine installed in the luxury break lounge—but she’s clearly unqualified for the position. As she moves her good luck charm dinosaur into her cubicle, Donna meets two fast-talking colleagues who invite her to jump into a meeting. It’s excruciating. Donna’s clearly in over her head, and the marketing jargon flying at her has almost no meaning. At first she blusters her way through by repeating some of the bumper sticker wisdom her recruiter used, but soon she’s at a loss. She flails, stutters, spouts curse words, and finally quotes Hitler. It’s a devastating commentary on ambition clashing with reality. There’s Donna’s sense of entitlement to a fancier gig clashing against the reality that ambition alone doesn’t really cut it. She ends up begging for her old job back, defeated.
Donna isn’t the only one grappling with job problems this episode. Karen shows up at work hungover one time too many; weeping to her children over a picture book about how alone Bobo the elephant really feels. Her job suspends her, this being another incident after they found her “asleep in the soft play area,” and Karen, finally freed of her responsibility, goes on a magnificent bender. Like Donna, she’s initially thrilled by the newfound lack of structure. Here’s to vodka tonics all day, and no snotty brats to deal with in the morning! But the pub life isn’t glamorous, just sad. Karen goes home with a tweaker, and wakes up underneath a hedge in the arms of a guy we’ve never seen before, who’s possibly homeless. She begs for her job back and the principal of her school concedes to a meeting. Of course, Karen celebrates in the only way she knows how: more vodka tonics.
Louise’s plot is my least favorite of this episode, but it still has some stellar moments. After Karen wakes up startled by a one-night stand in her bed, Louise positions herself to clean up the leftovers, chasing over the hapless, rabbit Brian with everything she’s got. As she waits for him to come down from Karen’s room, she shifts her legs uncertainly, spreading them in a hesitantly seductive position. As soon as he comes in she stumbles about. “Sorry about the leg thing,” she pants. Her technique for getting into Brian’s pants is an old move. Consoling Brian about the flighty Karen—who couldn’t give less of a shit—she slowly breaks down his resistance until they’re canoodling on the coach. At which point, when Louise goes to wash up, Karen stumbles in on her job-back getting hammered tour, and whisks Brian up to her room for loud, acrobatic sex. Louise sulks on the coach below, waiting for a break in the action. It’s not the strongest narrative of the episode, but it’s gratifying to watch the dynamics at work. The love-less passing of a man between the roommate’s echoes so many bro comedies, the genders neatly reversed. Nor is there a question of friendship loyalty or Brian’s feelings. It’s an exemplary piece of women behaving badly, which happens to be Pulling’s specialty.
- The scene where Donna comes into the café with news so neatly skewers the group-of-friends-at-a-diner moments that have become a staple of sitcoms: “Guess what?” Donna says. “You’re pregnant?” Louise offers. “Your Mom’s dead,” Karen snaps.
- I also loved the moment where Donna, hugging Karl, not so subtly kicks the Cornflakes box away.
- I’m definitely going to say that I’m “unfettered by formal skills or education” at my next job interview. And spell “education” wrong.