Sunday, November 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'My Brilliant Friend' - Elena and Lila Show Off Their Intelligences But Face Punishment in 'The Dolls'

HBO's My Brilliant Friend - Episode 1.01 "The Dolls"

The disappearance of her old friend, Lila Cerrullo, causes 60-year-old author Elena Greco to reflect on the early days of their friendship in 1950s Naples, when Elena and Lila are two very different girls at the top of their class. When the girls discover the underground lair of Don Achille, a criminal figure who controls the neighborhood, they decide to confront him, facing their fears together and laying the cornerstone of a lasting friendship and rivalry.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of HBO's My Brilliant Friend.

"The Dolls" was written by Elena Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci & Saverio Costanzo and directed by Saverio Costanzo

This is a very atmospheric premiere that has to get a lot of exposition out of the way in order to tell its story. And yet, it does a phenomenal job of depicting life in 1950s Italy. There is the genuine and inspiring attraction between friends Elena and Lila. But there is that perpetual fear that society only expects them to be the wailing and weeping wife and mother that is common in this particular world - which is also frequently on display in their homes. They both show off their smarts early on here. However, neither of them truly feel confident in showing the world just how smart and intuitive they actually are. Their teacher is so proud of the skills level they are currently working on. She is confident in hosting a competition with the male students. But that only further intensifies these fears. Their teacher wants these girls to understand that they have the potential of being better than any man who walks into their lives. However, she is also propping up Elena and Lila while basically ignoring the rest of the class. It's not all of the female students against all of the male students in this grade. It's just a handful of representatives from each. As such, it may not be demonstrative of the educational system as a whole at this time. That is a completely separate issue that is worth analyzing. In the moment though, gender politics are still very much on display. Lila does know all of the answers. She only answers a few of them. And yet, that's still enough for the male students to feel embarrassed. Their teacher is already making a bunch of excuses claiming that his kids are tired while swapping them out with other students. He doesn't want to accept that Elena and Lila are brilliant. The boys of this world don't wish to do so either. They want to terrorize the girls for stepping out of their place in society. Meanwhile, Elena and Lila are attracted to one another as friends. They are kindred spirits who aren't afraid of the norms of society. Sure, there are still plenty of terrifying moments throughout this premiere. They still live in an oppressive society after all. They are both beat up because they happened to embarrass the son of the man who runs this neighborhood they live. This setting is very much home to a mobster mentality where one man rules everything and hurts whomever speaks out against him. That has led to his sons becoming very pompous and entitled as well. They believe it's perfectly fine to hurt whomever they feel has personally victimized and embarrassed them. That's absolutely horrifying. But that's the world of this show. Lila refuses to apologize as well. In that moment, she has the strength to stand up to this bully who is hurting her. She is quickly able to relax back into her friendship with Elena. But even that proves that neither of these girls will be able to maintain their innocence for very long. That sinister and ominous tone looms over every single aspect of this show. The girls boldly go wherever their minds and ambitions take them. It's enough for Elena to feel confident in turning down the older boy who wants to date her and who she has a crush on. But she's still devastated when his family decides to move away. She has the support of Lila to continue making her way in the world. But that only puts them at the front door of Don Achille. He is a terrifying presence who has intimidated and brutalized many in this world. There is no reasonable expectation that he has stolen their dolls. All of this just confirms that Elena and Lila will have to face an entire lifetime of hardships. That's so tragic given just how bright and brilliant they are so early in their lives.