The next time you have a hard morning after a serious night out drinking, you can comfort yourself with the beginning of Episode Five of Pulling. This is what real rock bottom looks like. Louise staggers out of a nightclub bleeding from the lip, leaning on her gaudily dressed boss Richard, only to be packed off in an ambulance by her lonesome. “I haven’t had sex in two years,” she mumbles to the EMT, who implores her to shut up. Karen’s benders have been fairly horrific already, but getting arrested for peeing in a phone booth wins some sort of embarrassment prize. The shot of Karen, crouched in the corner while eating unidentifiable discarded take out with her hands is one of the most cringe-inducing moments in a show that lives to make you cringe.
And then there’s Donna. Episode Four is one of the best of the series—it so perfectly encapsulated all the post-break-up despair and bad behavior that Pulling is about, drawing it into a neat circle. My main gripe with the fifth episode is just that it seems like an outlier from the Karl situation. We don’t get any real hints on what happened between Donna’s tearful attempt to get Karl back and her tryst with Gary, the hard of hearing barman. This time things actually seem to be going well for Donna. Despite slapping him on the face outside of the club, she manages to nab a decent-looking guy named Sam. He’s a dude who respects women who wait before jumping into bed—no slags like his ex-girlfriend—and, of course, Donna has to pretend that she’s got a higher bar for that sort of thing than she’s previously had.
Rapturous with meeting someone new, Donna invites Richard back to her house for a glass of wine. In the assumption that he’s not particularly interested in people of her gender, she drunkenly tells him to climb into the bed with her to pass out. It turns out that Richard is very much straight, as Donna recalls in flashbacks while trying to scrub her teeth free of the events she is only half-remembering. And not only is he straight, but he’s hoping that the fling will be more than a one-night stand. He shows up to her doorstep with wine, and isn’t exactly in line with the whole sneaking out the window to avoid her roommates. Donna worries what Sam will think, despite the Richard incident having taken place before they were dating, and it all comes to a head when she tries to cook a nice dinner for Sam only to have Richard show up with flowers.
Richard and his bizarre Dolce and Gabbana shirt aren’t the only horrifyingly awkward thing at the table. Louise’s desperation leads to her to take out Oleg, a fellow employee of her café whose salient characteristic is his love of drum and bass clubs. Oh, and his date attire: a powder blue tracksuit. He shares a sad, broken bunk bed with his cousins, so Louise crashes Donna’s date in the hopes of luring him into her bedroom. But Louise can’t even get some action when throwing herself at Oleg. He respectfully declines, saying that he hopes to get to know her better first.
Karen, meanwhile, vows to quit drinking after her time in the jail cell. It doesn’t go well, to put it mildly. She implores a fellow teacher what she does on weekend nights, if not go to a bar. “Watch some DVDs,” Karen spits. “I guess I’ll try that.” Her fall of the wagon happens in the middle of dinner, and she begins drunkenly apologizing to Donna for making the situation awkward, which obviously only increases the tension. Next week marks the close of the first season—and the end of the cliff-hanger with Sam, who has to decide whether he can overlook Donna’s dalliance with Richard. But I’ll say this: a Karl-less episode of Pulling feels like the Vatican without the pope. I’ll be glad to see him back.