As a season of television, there’s no doubt that the first six episodes of Pulling are a better arc than the second six. It’s a consistent and compact series of episodes, deftly paced, and ends heartbreakingly. But the second series, for all its broad overreaching and cartoonishness, contains some of the best stand-out episodes of the show. The show’s tenth episode is one of them, both outlandish and aching. Here, it’s finally possible to believe that Donna and Karl had a relationship that was full of hope and vigor instead of power manipulation. And it takes until now for any of the women to really take each other to task for despicable behavior. Donna, Louise, and Karen all have keen observational skills for everyone else’s failings, but it takes another one of the group to point out their own flaws.
The trouble begins with the gang out at a bar for Louise’s birthday, where she makes Karen swear that she’ll stick with the rest of them that night. Cut to Karen slumping into a tai, calling out that she’ll be back right after she goes home with the stranger she pulled. Second-season Louise is a different animal than she was when she first appeared on the show. Instead of waiting for Karen’s leftovers and haplessly ruining Oleg’s life, Louise manages to intervene, if unsuccessfully, in her friends’ destructive behavior. After Karen scares off her one-night stand in the kitchen the following morning and sweeps up some spilled cornflakes with Louise’s birthday cards, Louise finally snaps. “You’re mean to that man and you’re mean to me. You’re mean to everyone,” she scolds. “You’re just trying to distract yourself from the fact that you’re a mean-spirited slag.”
Karen doesn’t pause for long before retorting that Louise is a nobody, whose greatest accomplishment is balancing three plates at once. That’s the thing about friends that close: They know how to hit you where it hurts. Louise appears at the café in tears, all her stuff in tow, and moves into Richard’s bizarrely Moroccan apartment. Richard is an expert at saying the right thing, but when he gives Louise a pep talk on making her dreams happen, it ends up being a forced meeting between Louise and his business investor.
What follows is one of my favorite scenes in the whole series: Louise arrives at the café crisp and polished, turns down a coffee and confidently begins a presentation. “I’m just going to say one word: Cockloleeze.” Yes, those are penis-shaped popsicles. Richard looks like he doesn’t know wether to cry or flee the room. Louise produces two Cockloleeze (patent obviously pending) to the men, and they begin to nervously suck on the ice phalluses. But here’s the thing: The idea is brilliant. What initially looks like a nose dive turns into a stroke of genius. “Mardi Gras, gay festivals, the Love Parade,” Louise continues, producing a map of potential hot spots. And before you know it, the investor is setting up a meeting with his business partner.
But, as they must, Louise and Karen make up. Karen comes into the café looking guilty and apologizes. “Cockloleeze?” she asks, delightedly, when Louise says that she may be starting a business endeavor. And then they go for dinner that results in Karen taking tequila shots by herself and Louise passed out on the floor, her investment meeting forgotten in the haze of friendship and alcohol. Like Donna, whatever Louise does to improve her life ends up in the same place.
Meanwhile, Donna is struggling with an incident of personal theft. After the failed birthday night with Louise, a rowdy teenager snatches an all-meat kebab she had ordered and runs away with it. It would be disorienting for anyone, but for Donna, it’s a catalyst for self-righteousness and vague rules about moral decency. She calls the police, and a weary officer mocks her. “So that’s the world we’re living in,” Donna proclaims. “Someone tell me what the difference is between this and murdering an old lady for her purse. Yeah, it’s different. I mean of course it’s different. But is it really different?”
This doesn’t get much sympathy from anyone, and Donna is miffed. “I don’t want to overplay this,” she tells Louise, “but I may never be able to trust a human being again.” So she does what she always does when she’s feeling upset: She goes to see Karl, to reassure herself that she’s still doing better than someone. Karl immediately expresses outrage at the kebab theft. It’s this collusion of petty obsession that made them so compatible—it’s what makes any relationship work, really. “What does it have to be, a gold kebab, before it’s a crime?” Karl huffs. Donna smiles, comforted. “Karl always knows what to say, even if it’s rubbish,” she tells Karen.
Donna’s character is nothing if not thorough, so she goes to the police station the following day to file a claim. A harried investigator tries to let her down easy, but Donna refuses to go quietly. She steals his sandwich, and Karl has to bail her out of prison. It’s on the way out that Karl reveals his plans to sell the house he had bought for Donna and him to live in after they got married. He’s moving on and being healthy about it, but Donna can feel him slipping away. She appears at his house in a tizzy about his comments to Tanya, and storms off to run straight into the kebab thief. She goes back, collects Karl, and they administer some light vigilante justice. Glowing with victory, they head to a pub for a drink, and have a moment where the old flame comes back. Donna lingers over a goodbye kiss and then leaves, surprised at herself. Karl’s left dumbstruck.
- The one-liners in this episodes were so great. Here’s a small collection:
- Donna on leaving her guinea pig outside. “It baked to death. It looked like a hairy crab sick. I cried for three whole weeks.”
- “What if it was pita bread but I kept money in it?”
- Karen: “I don’t remember anything after 7:30”
- And Karen’s life motto, presumably: “Who needs friends when you have possibilities?”