Broad City

Ilana doesn’t often lie to Abbi, so when she does, you know it’s serious. In “Witches,” she acts weird for the first few scenes, rambling about clearly fake plans with her family as an excuse to disappear for a few hours. On top of the obvious lying, she also oddly makes a lot of references to orgasming. That’s not too outside of the norm for Ilana, but she seems even more aggressively horny than usual, another tip off that she’s not being forthright. As it turns out, her big secret is a trip to a sex therapist to figure out why she hasn’t orgasmed in months. It doesn’t take long for her to realize exactly how long it has been: She hasn’t had an orgasm since the election. As her therapist Betty (played with soothing serenity and hilarious timing by Marcella Lowery) puts it, she has suffered “a year of Trump-related pussy constipation.”

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Plenty of shows since last November have referenced Trump: The Good Fight, The Bold Type, The Mindy Project, Black-ish, American Horror Story: Cult. Some of that commentary has been mild and broad (The Mindy Project); some has been fiery and poignant (Black-ish). But few attacks have been as incisive, direct, and visceral as Broad City’s “Witches,” which builds on the season’s existing anti-Trump sentiments, conveyed in just about every episode through protest signs, a pro-Planned Parenthood cold open, and Abbi and Ilana’s general disgust for Trump and nostalgia for Obama. “Witches,” though, puts Trump-related anxiety at the forefront of the narrative.

The emotional and psychological effects of this presidency go far beyond anxiety about reading the news or general frustration, and Broad City effectively explores those deeper, lasting ramifications. On the surface, Ilana not being able to orgasm sounds like a small, insignificant problem in the grand scheme of things. But first of all, as Ilana has reiterated many times, she loves to orgasm, and her very active sex life is a huge part of who she is. It takes her a while to understand why this is happening. And beyond just that, it shows how all-consuming post-election anxiety can be on a personal level.

Of course there are very real, dangerous policy implications of Trump’s presidency—especially for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities—and Broad City hasn’t fully shied away from shedding light on those. The story it tells in “Witches,” however, looks at a different side of election aftermath that’s centered on individual response and mental health. And that story is important to tell, too. It shows that the political is the personal, and vice versa. Every time Ilana gets close to orgasming in her session with Betty, she’s pulled away from pleasure by thoughts of the electoral college, Trump, Pence. She can’t get away from it. It’s more than just a nuisance; it’s affecting her mental and physical state in an intrusive, unrelenting way.

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On top of being incisive and compelling, it’s also hilarious—with an edge of darkness, of course. Broad City doesn’t just drag Trump to be topical; it does so in a way that’s true to both the show and its characters. This storyline is grounded in reality and also grounded in character; of course Ilana’s election anxiety would manifest in this way. It makes sense for the character, and the story feels every bit as much true to the show’s world as the brilliant “Mushrooms” episode a couple weeks back.

And this episode similarly dives into its characters’ heads with fantastically edited, immersive montages. In this case, we see Ilana’s realization that Trump is to blame for her condition unfold in a haunting montage that includes soundbites from the leaked Access Hollywood tapes. The use of those soundbites alone is fascinating. “Pussy” is a word that gets thrown around a lot on Broad City (one of the best episodes of the series is its second episode ever, “Pu$$y Weed”). Coming out of Ilana’s mouth, pussy is a powerful, empowering word. Hearing Trump’s indelible utterance of the word is disturbing, unnerving, a complete contrast to the way the word is usually employed on this show. The episode drives home the horrors of his words, an insidious earworm that echoes in Ilana’s mind and the minds of many survivors of sexual assault in the past year.

Ilana finally pulls herself out of her orgasm-less funk by focusing on the women who inspire her, and we’re treated to another, much more delightful and invigorating montage set in her brain. Between that and the bonus montage that plays over the credits, Broad City pays tribute to women across many industries, including but not limited to Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, America Ferrera, Taraji P. Henson, Bette Midler, Billie Jean King, Dolly Parton, Mindy Kaling, Beyoncé, Alex Guarnaschelli, Malala, Oprah, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Martha Stewart, Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams, Maxine Waters, Janet Mock, the cast of Girlfriends, the cast of Golden Girls, the cast of Sex And The City, and the cast of Living Single. It’s a fiery tribute to powerful women that, again, feels perfectly at home on Broad City, tapping not only into Ilana’s psyche but the show’s overall voice and ethos.

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While Ilana’s storyline stands out as one of the best the show has ever done, Abbi’s is funny, emotional, and nuanced, too. The discovery of a single gray hair sends Abbi into a tailspin, even though Ilana and Bevers team up to assure her that she’s just becoming a witch (Abbi’s disgust at Ilana and Bevers vibing over something is hilarious/exactly how I felt). Her insecurity increases when a much older woman (played by comedy icon Jane Curtin) shares way too much in common with her and then doubly so when she runs into Jeremy and his new partner and kid.

It’s all enough to push her to agree to get fillers from a plastic surgeon in her fifties who looks like she’s in her twenties (“hot,” as Ilana succinctly puts it). After going through with the procedure, Abbi snaps back to her old self and realizes she made an impulsive decision. She remembers that she thinks she’s hot. It’s complicated, and it’s real: Abbi is a typically confident woman, but she still gets knocked down by little things from time to time. The episode doesn’t shame her for going through with the Botox, nor does it suggest that it’s something she needed. It’s more nuanced than that, revealing some of Abbi’s weaknesses at the same time as revealing her strength.

Ilana and Abbi’s storylines eventually merge by the end...in a dark clearing in the park, where a group of women have gathered to yowl and celebrate and share space together. Broad City’s definition of witch is a powerful woman. There’s a sense of magical realism to the episode; witches pull Ilana out of her orgasm drought, and witches gather around the fire at episode’s end to celebrate in secret. There’s nothing explicitly supernatural about any of it, but it still feels mystical and meaningful. This season has felt slightly darker than the rest, and Ilana’s storyline in “Witches” brings that to a head. Broad City still has its playful, weird, surreal moments, but it isn’t ignoring reality.

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Stray observations

  • Betty has lots of strong nicknames for 45, including “human skin tag” and “sexual assault bragging steak salesman.”
  • The episode also touches on the fact that Ilana’s increased dose of antidepressants could also be contributing to her orgasm troubles. This season is being very direct about Ilana’s mental health, and I’m very here for it.
  • I, too, freaked out a bit when I found my first gray hair, and like Abbi, I’m not a particularly insecure or vain person, but it still spooked me! Fun/relevant fact: My gray hairs have increased significantly since November 8, 2016.
  • Curtin’s delivery of “spooky” is, indeed, spooky and also hilarious.
  • Ilana asking Abbi if she looks at Drew Barrymore’s credit card statements killed me.
  • Ilana naming her vagina Abbi also killed me.

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