There are times to laughs and times to stop and think. When the pain of loss is great, it leads to characters taking time to look back at their lives.
Television shows often rely on flashbacks when doing this, such as in “So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show” on The Simpsons when Bart pulls a prank that lands Homer in the hospital and the family reminisces about what makes Homer so great and memorable.
Sometimes television turns this trope on its head, such as in Community’s “Paradigms of Human Memory,” which was all about parodying flashbacks and clip shows by flashing back to previous episodes, but with entirely new scenes.
Like “30 Minutes or Less,” “Faith, Hope, Love” has some dramatic moments that feel more tense than natural, but also felt like an attempt to throw winks and nods to what we know will happen to these characters as the series progresses. There aren’t as many laughs to be had here, but the dialogue is great nonetheless. The episode just tries too hard to pull at your heartstrings.
The episode begins with Hank arriving at the hospital, where he meets up with Marcy. Hank gets in his feelings and blames himself for not being on time, but Marcy won’t have Hank beat himself up. Soon enough, a sweaty and tearful Charlie arrives and Marcy briefs him on the situation: the drunk driver that hit Karen has sent her in and out of consciousness, as well as caused some internal bleeding.
Charlie and Hank do their part by donating blood, though Charlie is woozier than Hank, as is always the case when he donates blood.
We then flash back to Hank and Karen getting ready to leave their home. And they take their sweet time arguing about how Hank is trying to be the opposite of an asshole, while Karen insists he’s being just that. The two have an appointment with a counselor- an appointment that Hank doesn’t want to attend and one that Karen has had to reschedule many times. Almost as many times as Hank has punched holes into walls. Yup. Apparently Hank liked to punch walls way back when.
Back in the present, Hank asks Marcy and Charlie if he’s always been an asshole, and they tell him that he has, but to varying degrees. The three are in a slump. They used to be so happy and went out to dinner on a regular basis. Now Hank’s messing around with Heather Graham, while Marcy and Charlie are considering a million dollar sex deal.
Yeah, Marcy’s not a fan of the fact that Charlie told Hank about Stu’s deal, but Charlie counters that he needed to open up to someone. Only reason that Marcy didn’t tell Karen is because she knew that Karen would frown upon it. When you’re right, you’re right. Karen, Hank says, was the sanest out of all of them. She centered all of them. He fears that he may not have time to make up all of the bad things he’s done, but he then goes after Marcy and tells her that he will never get over taking Stu’s offer. Some things you shouldn’t do. I doubt Hank considered this before or after he decided to get Levon a prostitute.
We flash back to Hank and Karen’s meeting with the counselor, played by Christian Clemenson. Hank believes that Karen is having an affair, which the counselor says is symbolic of a deeper problem. Karen concedes that she’s considered making love to a man named Bill, and chances are that would be better than the infrequent, nonexistent sex life she currently has with Hank. Karen calls Bill an emotional friend, which doesn’t make Hank feel any better, as he believes that Bill only pretends to get along with Karen just to get into her pants.
Karen, however, finds no satisfaction in a relationship with a drinker as frequent as Hank. The counselor asks Hank what he’s willing to change, which puts him on the defensive. As Karen notes, Hank isn’t a talker. He buries himself into his work, goes out to drink, flirts with anything that has a vagina and barely has time for his daughter. But Hank is very focused on his upcoming film, so he needs to devote his energy to that. And yeah, he might be into wanting the women that he sees, but that’s just called being a guy. Hey, his words, not mine. Hank, feeling a lot of pent up anger, doesn’t want to punch himself in the dick, so he finds the nearest wall.
And with that, we return to the present where we find Hank fighting a vending machine. He’s losing. A man, played by Jeris Poindexter, approaches him and offers Hank a dollar. The man is there because his wife is in surgery for cancer, so he’s seen the hospital many times. He asks Hank if he’s married, and of course, he’s not. They’ve just had a lot of on and off time. The man, however, has been married for 44 years. Marriage hasn’t always been easy, but just because he and his wife aren’t on the best of terms all the time doesn’t mean the end of the world. Once you get past all of the bullshit, it’s all about being friends and having someone to hold you while life kicks you in the ass until you realize that your body is only on loan.
If life was easy, the man says, people wouldn’t fuck up as often as they do and they’d have no regrets. The magical sage man heads off, while Hank calls Becca.
We then flash back to Hank speaking to 11-year-old Becca, played by Aubrey Miller, about a boy who called who called her weird. Becca, however, thinks the boy is cute, and since boys and girls make the world go round, she’s at least got her eyes already set on someone. Becca asks if Hank and Karen will get a divorce, which they won’t since they aren’t married, but the point is Becca wishes the two didn’t fight so often. They aren’t like the couples on television and movies where life always ends happily ever after.
In the present, Charlie and Marcy reflect: they’ve been obsessing over all the wrong stuff. What matters to Charlie is that Marcy is healthy and next to him. Still, Marcy argues, they need money. Charlie insists that there must be a better way, prompting him to wonder why they make such a big, fucking deal out of sex. If Charlie was hospitalized, Marcy would just care that he’s okay.
She admits that she now better understands his kinky desires and why he did what he did with Dani. Dani was hot and wanted to be spanked, so Charlie obliged. Charlie hates that Marcy is being so rational, but he’s also not so happy when Marcy admits that if she saw a picture of Stu’s cock, she’d get wet, but only out of reflex. That matters. The two just need to acknowledge their triggers as normal so they can move on with their lives.
Hank returns and notices the man from before, now speaking with a doctor. We don’t hear their conversation, but from the man’s reaction, the news is not good.
With that, we flash back to Hank and Karen on the road after their session. The two are still arguing, with Karen insisting that Hank not put her in a box and telling him to grow up. Get used to that, Karen. She calls Hank selfish. He just wants to live out his life, while everyone around him is just a supporting character. I feel like that’s as close to leaning on the fourth wall as this show’s going to get.
Hank drives straight into traffic, unaware of the crazy move he makes until four cars come from different directions and almost cause a collision. When the two arrive home, they are much calmer due to the fact that, you know, they almost died. Hank feels their argument seems so silly now, but also wonders where the two went wrong. They used to be perfect, but Karen is more realistic: Hank just wants the two of them to be the love story of the ages, which Hank believes they are. They just need a little work. It’s been a long time since their fiery sex sessions.
Soon enough, the two find their spark and make up.
In the present, Hank enters the hospital chapel. As he approaches the altar, a nun, played by Gia Crovatin, grabs his attention. However, Hank insists that he’s not a religious person. As a writer, he believes in sitting down, shutting his eyes and hoping for the best. Beyond that, he’s a blasphemer, and after telling the woman that he’s not married to Karen, she agrees.
We flash back again to later that day, after Hank and Karen’s fiery sex session. They made love, a phrase that Hank hates saying, so it must mean something. Karen asks if it’s possible for them to live happily ever after. Hank says it’s feasible, so long as they bottle their feelings and bust them out when things get cloudy. But Karen believes that even couples that have great sex don’t always make it to the finish line.
We return to the present when the doctor, played by Ping Wu, approaches and tells Hank, Charlie and Marcy that Karen had a concussion, but there’s no internal bleeding. She’ll be there for a couple of days.
Hank heads into the room and gives a very bruised Karen a kiss on the forehead. Slowly, but surely, she awakens, insisting that the accident doesn’t change anything and she’s still pissed at him. Hank, with a smile, replies that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
We flash back one more time to Hank and Karen arriving at Hal’s Bar & Grill to meet Charlie and Marcy. Charlie is interviewing for a new assistant since his last one got caught looking at porn. The company was afraid that he masturbated at work. So Charlie may have a potential keeper: blonde, female and tattoos. All right, show, we get it. You can stop dropping hints about Season One.
Marcy wonders why Hank and Karen are in such a good mood, so they spill on the sex. And it sounds like the Runkles could use a kick in their own sex life. As the four talk, they wonder if they’ll be doing this years from now. Hank insists that they’re not done taking the town by storm. Plus the show hadn’t actually begun at this point, so there’s still time. We come to a close as the four toast to hard cocks, wet pussies, bald heads, Smurfs and weathering the storm.
Again, this episode was much slower-paced than previous ones and allowed the characters to reflect on their lives. They realize just how well their lives and had so much optimism as they discussed their futures.
There are some decent, if not obligatory, lines about how life isn’t as easy as we may think, but regardless of how hard it is, we find a way to get through it. This spoke to Karen’s line to Hank in “Like Father, Like Son,” when she told him that he didn’t get bonus points for pitying himself, but for how he got through nasty situations.
My problem is that these are all things we already know about these characters, both through this most recent season and every season leading up to it. They’ve even questioned how screwed up some of the situations they find themselves in are, but still go forward with them anyway. It felt like the show had been obligated to make them reflect on things that they already understand.
If the show had to rely upon flashbacks to fill up time, they should have taught us something new about these characters. As is, they just reinforce that Hank and Karen will always have a tumultuous relationship and Becca is the glue that holds them together. We’ve had seven seasons to learn that and these flashbacks don’t reveal something that, we as an audience, haven’t already watched play out.
Instead, they felt more like ways to reference the events of Season One, such as Charlie interviewing a female assistant and how his former assistant had been caught looking at porn while at work. Californication is so above having to rely on tired-old tropes just to fill up time. At least the flashbacks in question were all new material instead of actual flashbacks to previous episodes. That would have just been lazy. However, I still it lazy to fall back on flashbacks to have Hank, Marcy and Charlie look back at their lives because they’ve been doing that all along. I’d go as far to say that this season has been the most reflective because of how they’ve been reexamining some of their bad decisions.
There are some nods that did work. Hank entering the hospital chapel was a direct nod to speaking to a nun in the series’ very first scene. Hank and Becca discussing boys and girls on the bridge felt reminiscent of the moment where Becca would later tell her father that she was no longer a virgin.
Californication has stressed that no one always gets what they want because life isn’t that simple. Or fair. Hank was so confident that he and Karen would live happily ever after as a couple for the ages, only based on his love for her. But like Hank stressed during therapy, he’s a guy and he’ll want to bone any attractive female that comes in his sights.
The show itself teased the idea of a happily ever after ending. If Californication had ended after its first season, where Karen flees her wedding and heads off into the world with Hank and Becca, it would have been the perfect storybook ending: girl leaves boy, boy fights to get girl back, girl prepares to go through with new life, but has second thoughts and rejoins her first true love.
If it were that simple.
While I enjoyed some parts of Hank’s reflection, it didn’t feel genuine. It shouldn’t take a near death experience to have him try and talk some sense into Marcy, the same way it shouldn’t have taken a near death experience to relight the spark under his relationship with Karen. Hank got a prostitute for Levon, has had on-set flings with Amy and Julia, and punched out a dentist in a public place, among other things.
And Marcy and Charlie aren’t in a position to judge, given how they’re still open to Stu’s deal. Sure, by episode’s end, it feels like they shoot it down, but the preview for next week says different. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that Marcy and Charlie were probably my favorite part of the episode. In a way, they’re more screwed up than Hank and Karen, who are at least grounded and have Becca to center them. Marcy and Charlie, while lacking that, do at least confront all of the sexual misadventures they’ve had throughout the series’ run and I did laugh when Marcy told Charlie that his kink was just one of many adventures in the big, sexual jungle.
Marcy’s right: if they just acknowledged their triggers and insecurities, they could just keep moving forward instead of being stuck. By the end of the episode, it felt like this experience had matured them. Not by much, mind you, as Charlie still wanted to try and cop a feel on Marcy’s ass after their heart-to-heart.
So does Hank learn anything by the end when he speaks with Karen? Well, he’s not going to try and stop her from being angry at him, so I guess that’s a slight step in the right direction. To be clear, I’m not saying “Faith, Hope, Love” is a bad episode by any means. Even in a decent episode of Californication, the dialogue still shines. It traded in constant laughs for drama and let the characters realize just how tight of a bond they have and how it’s kept them together. It was nice seeing them happy and optimistic before entering the world that was this show. Where the episode suffered was in repacking and rehashing messages and themes that we’ve had seven seasons to learn. Drama should come by going through the motions, not just for soap opera situations. This show is much better than that.