“Dinner with Friends: Or How Almost Every Character from this Season Struggled for Screen Time.” To be frank, this episode was all over the place. What started off as a night between Hank and Karen turned into a haphazard mess with so many characters brought in to contribute something to the overall episode.
Like “Faith, Hope, Love,” this felt cliché and too coincidental at times to have certain events play out the way that they did. As we approach the series finale, Karen pops the question that we’ve been wondering for the longest time; when will Hank let her go? Can he?
The episode begins with Hank paying Karen a visit. Karen is making dinner, but Hank suggests that the two go out instead to a new pop-up restaurant: Abbot Kinney. Hank’s making it hard for Karen to say no, but she concedes.
The two end up at House Runkle. Not the ritziest locale for dinner, but it’s something. Charlie and Marcy are out having dinner at Abbot Kinney. Hank figured that a home cooked meal would be more charming. Karen still won’t sleep with Hank, which wasn’t even in his mind. That’s what he says, anyway. But Hank admits that he’s been adrift: ever since Levon and Julia rocked his world. He’s been down roads that have led him to back alleys- I guess those are deleted scenes- but he kept his eye on the prize.
Karen asks why Hank doesn’t want to start with someone else. Good question. Hank is aghast at the idea. Why should he pursue a new life before perfecting the old one? That’s not a good question, Hank. It is what it is, but Hank doesn’t agree with Karen’s sentiment. Despite all of the craziness that he’s endured, all he’s ever wanted was her. However, as Karen points out, their rocky history should be a clear indication that they are just not compatible. Correct! Points to Karen!
Maybe they should just eat. Karen is actually impressed with the dinner, which is great, because Hank didn’t make it. He opted for some high-end takeout. But she’s at least a bit charmed by his failed attempt to charm her.
Knock number one at the door and in enters Julia. She felt bad and wanted to see how Hank was doing. When Karen spots Julia, she insists that she stay, much to Hank’s chagrin. After all, Karen insists, the two need to bond since their paths will cross.
Marcy barges in an angry huff. During dinner, every credit card was declined. Charlie got angry, which led to the restaurant calling the cops. Charlie enters soon after, while Marcy seeks outside counsel. She finally mentions Stu’s offer to Karen, who is initially intrigued by the idea, but still shoots it down. Though Stu has a pretty huge cock, Julia says that she prefers a pretty penis, sort of like Hank’s. Marcy can so testify. After all, she did tug on it back in Season Four. By accident, mind you, but still.
Knock number two at the door and Krull enters with pages for his rock and roll memoir, including a salacious instance where he walked in on Atticus blowing himself. Well, there’s one guy who could do it!
And then Levon just walks in, accompanied by a woman who isn’t Nikki. No, he’s with a pretty young Asian thing named Mi, played by Hana Mae Lee from Pitch Perfect– a movie I know very little about, but that’s beside the point. And wow, does she embody a lot of stereotypes from her mannerisms and speech. Mi has been around. She knows Krull from the time he rubbed one out on her.
Levon met Mi at a comic book store on Sunset and owes more money than he has. He’s done everything to Mi, in the butt and all. But she did make him wear a condom, even though that made it harder for him to climax.
Julia wants Levon to lay off the hookers. Again, she wants him to lay off the hookers.
Knock number three and Rath enters to speak with Hank. Why?
Because Rob Lowe is back! Eddie Nero enters in a police uniform and riding a wheelchair. He’s moist and getting into character for a role he’ll have on Santa Monica Cop. He figures it could land him an Emmy nomination since a lot of big name celebrities are coming to television. Truer words were never spoken, Nero. But right now, he needs Hank to write hi a killer monologue. While Nero likes Rath, he finds him terse. Hank, however, can provide a golden shower of verbiage. He said it, not me.
Just to show how into character he is, Nero whacks Charlie on the knee with his nightstick before he also recognizes Mi, from the Sunset and Gardner. He apparently pooped on her.
So when all the craziness has calmed for the moment, Levon goes over to Hank, ecstatic that Rath is talking to Karen, if only because he’s not talking to his mother. Nero is, however, and Levon’s stink finger is powerless against him.
So Hank decides to squeeze his way into Rath and Karen’s conversation. He laments that his dinner has been thrown off, but Karen- who points out that she and Hank aren’t together- wants to keep talking with Rath. After all, she can catch up with Hank anytime. Less so with Rath.
Knock number four and Stu enters. He brushes past Leon- Levon’s a hard name to remember- to talk with Charlie and Marcy about their deal. Well, more like he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is, as he presents a suitcase filled with cash. Marcy is enticed, despite Charlie’s warning to resist. Nero asks why Stu wants Marcy, of all people. Truth be told, Stu has never felt more alive than when inside of Marcy. It was like walking into the most wonderful candy store in the world.
Marcy thinks that Stu has lost his mind, but Stu goes further: he offers 10 percent upfront for Charlie and Marcy to do as they please. Charlie, still wanting to go forth with Krull’s book and tired of being insulted in his own home, strikes Stu with Nero’s nightstick. This leads to the most amazing slap fight ever before the two are broken up when Nero fires his gun- a real gun, which Rath did not expect.
Nero believes that men should not fight like this. Last time he was in a fight, it was with Hank over Karen. A fight that he lost. However, Nero admits that he did not have sexual relations with Karen. He did prematurely ejaculate, but Karen just made it seem like they made love. She didn’t want to betray Eddie’s confidence, after all. Nero wants a second chance, but Karen’s not in the mood.
So he turns to Julia, who we learn once dated a paraplegic until Levon scared him off by threatening to push him into traffic. The man was good at oral, though.
And then, out of nowhere, Mi grabs Nero’s gun and demands that everyone hand over their valuables. When Nero gives pursuit, Mi pushes him over the balcony.
Well, that was a scene.
In the aftermath, Hank takes Karen home. She’s not pleased at his sexual exploits- when is she ever?- but she accepts that it’s his life. She believes that Hank thrives on chaos and needs to be in the middle of a mess that he created. Bonus points to Karen! She believes this makes him attractive, but also impossible to live with. Karen loves Hank, but cannot be with him. Hank cannot accept that. That’s also what makes him attractive. As Karen bids him good night, Hank lights up a cigarette as the episode comes to a close.
This episode felt too formulaic for my liking. The focal point of this could have been just Hank and Karen’s relationship, but maybe the writers opted to include more people since the two got so much screen time last week, even though it was mostly through flashbacks. But maybe due to the so-called drama of the previous episode, this one felt like it needed to cheer people up by making us laugh. In doing so, the episode felt overstuffed and tried to assign tasks or memorable lines to as many characters as possible. Californication has been able to juggle multiple characters and balance out development before, but here, it came off as a jumbled mess.
“Dinner with Friends” also suffers from repetition. Levon still has daddy issues and is into prostitutes. Julia questions Levon’s morals.
Charlie and Marcy grapple with Stu’s offer. We’ve seen these characters go through these trials already. The episode tried to put a spin on things by having Levon hook up with a new prostitute or having Stu and Charlie fight, but this doesn’t change the fact that we’ve crossed these bridges before.
Also, Levon first didn’t want Hank and Julia to fool around. But then on the set of Santa Monica Cop, he was thrilled about the idea of them reconnecting. Now he doesn’t want them messing around again? Pick a side and stick with it, man! I hesitate to call this a filler episode since we do get some plot progression, but it came through clumsy execution.
Hank is as stubborn as he is charming. Somehow he’s always able to charm any woman that comes his way, but Karen centers him. He’s living in his own world and won’t accept the reality of his situation. Karen has no desire to be with him, but he thinks that he can still charm her. He sees them living the happily ever after ending teased at the end of Season One. That’s not out of character for Hank, but I want to see him do some of the growing up that he spoke about. If Hank doesn’t believe in anything else, he believes that he and Karen are destined to be together.
But seven seasons of ‘Will they, won’t they’ should be enough of a sign that the two just can’t work. Heroic gestures don’t work with Karen because she’s known Hank long enough to see how he operates. He’s the architect of his own destruction and drags everyone else down with him.
And this includes his mentality of keeping Karen away from any other man, as seen when he interrupts Karen’s conversation with Rath and denying that Rath is his boss.
Karen, however, spells everything out a bit too clearly. In fact, it’s as if the show has become self-referential in that she says everything that the audience is thinking. She’s ready to move on and deserves better than Hank, but allows him to rope her back in. Not that Karen can just go on with her life without interruption. Hank will always be there to try and win her back.
And what specifically is Karen so upset about? She seems to be at the point of acceptance with Hank’s sexual misadventures, but then she’s always angry at him. Given the laundry list of Hank’s deeds, I’m surprised she even gives him the time of day.
I’m surprised at how little Karen’s car accident is referenced. The show built it up to be a big, dramatic deal, but really, you could probably walk into this episode having not seen “Faith, Hope, Love” and think nothing happened to Karen at all. And if Julia felt bad for Hank and wanted to see how Karen was doing, then why wasn’t she also at the hospital during “Faith, Hope, Love?”
And the whole ‘will they, won’t they’ is just as lazy with Charlie and Marcy. We know they have money woes and that they’re grappling with whether to accept Stu’s offer. We’ve also seen Charlie and Stu come to blows, so having Stu here to show off his money just seemed like an excuse to have Charlie fight him again.
Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Marcy’s acknowledgement of the one time she touched Hank’s cock back in the fourth season.
And if the series is ending soon, I am glad to see Rob Lowe again, if only because Eddie Nero is a very memorable character in my eyes. Plus, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Lowe on television since he left Parks and Recreation. Talk about two different characters that are worlds apart.
Oh, and what the hell was up with Mi? Maybe Levon should just stick to Nikki.
Look, I know it seems like I’m bashing the episode, but I did laugh at moments like Stu and Charlie’s fight, the return of Eddie Nero and, Hank trying to woo Karen with dinner he didn’t even prepare. As always, the writing and performances are spot-on, but “Dinner with Friends” felt like more of the same. It’s like the writers know they’re retreading old territory. To me, the backbone of the show has been the enduring strength of Hank and Karen’s relationship. After seven seasons, though, Karen is ready to call it quits and tells Hank this right to his face. But he won’t accept that. He believes they can work, but considering their past, Karen doesn’t think that’s possible. At this point, the ‘will they, won’t they’ speculation grows worn and tired. Shoving in as many characters as possible doesn’t help, either.