What do you do when your life isn’t going how you hoped? The mature thing is to maybe reassess some priorities, make some changes, try some new things. The Pulling solution is far simpler: Find someone whose life is in even more shambles than your own. The second episode of series two shows Donna’s shallowness in a light still more unforgiving than the previous seven episodes. Her college friend Catherine, back in town from America, used to be the pinnacle of cool. “She was wearing cardigan coats six month before everyone else,” Donna explains to her incredulous roommates. “And yes, they became naff, and yes, they became primarily a way to disguise a heavier lower half, but that was before all that.”
Trying to impress an old friend with how well your life is going usually results in a failure on one of two fronts: Either you manage to dazzle them by concealing the flawed parts but lose the ability to connect honestly with someone or the whole veneer comes careening off and you’re left, exposed, with all your failures in full view. Donna manages to somehow combine these two. She brings Catherine into her flat, bragging that “we’re quite cultured here,” only to find Billy pissing on the carpet and a flour-covered, drunk Karen stumbling around the kitchen. “I’m going to batter this apple,” Karen slurs, “And then I’m going to deep fry it.”
Donna’s embarrassed enough by this exchange to tell off Karen and Billy, who slump over bowls of cereal in what must be deep, purple hangovers of despair. But Donna’s behavior is equally as uncouth. Arriving at a coffee shop in a lady fedora—the universal sign of trying too hard—she finds Catharine drinking a coffee. Catharine unleashes a tale of woe that sounds pretty soul-killing. Her boyfriend, who she hates, left her for his cousin but now they’re back together “just not to be lonely” with two children she resents. Donna seems not to hear the entire exchange. “Sorry, are those desert boots? Are they coming back?” she asks in the middle of the chat. She late complains to Louise that Catharine’s personality has died, based on her failure to update her wardrobe in twelve years.
Louise, however, has her own problems. She’s finally found a man interested in her who isn’t about to move to Lithuania or abandon her for Karen, and he’s even pretty cute. The problem is that “legally speaking, he has to report interactions with women to his parole officer.” Yes. Mike is a recovering flasher, and his campaign is to be uncomfortably forthcoming and honest about his past. “Don’t judge him,” Louise tells Karen. “Society does that.” Karen has the perfect line delivery for that, though: “Correctly! He’s a fucking flasher.”
The flasher thing seems a little on-the-nose for Pulling. The humor is broad, and the joke is so relentlessly wince-worthy. But it still has shades of the show’s brilliant ability to make you grudgingly identify with the worst impulses in yourself. Everyone wants to be able to excuse things in other people’s pasts, to be open-minded. But as Louise says when she parts from Mike, “I am different. But not that different.”
Before they split, though, there is one of the worst dinner parties ever constructed for the camera. Donna invites Catherine, and Karen has Billy cook after an attempt to throw him out of the house. Karen and Billy’s relationship is so obviously destructive that it edges into caricature, but at the same time there’s something there that’s undeniably perfect. He has a sort of centrifugal force as Karen’s enabler, so even after the unexpected green card marriage he divulges to Karen and the unbelievably awful sex they have (Girls has nothing on this one), she still keeps him coming around. Billy sneaks alcohol into everything and lurches around like Igor at a party. Mike arrives and gives his convicted sex offender spiel to everyone before Louise snaps at him to stop talking about it. Billy headbutts Mike after hearing the news, Karen sits idly by drinking a wine glass full of some noxious electric blue liqueur. At the end of the mess, Donna apologizes to Catherine for the whole mess, only to have Catherine kiss her. “You’re doing really well, Donna,” she says as she leaves. “I know,” Donna smiles.
- It’s amazing that Billy is still employed, even marginally
- A thing you never want to hear in bed: “Can I pop it in soft?”
- I loved Louise’s little rant. “Sir Paul McCartney! Would you tell Sir Paul McCartney?”