Monday, December 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'My Brilliant Friend' - Elena's Vacation Opens Up New Connections That Still Take Tragic Turns in 'The Island'

HBO's My Brilliant Friend - Episode 1.06 "The Island"

On the island of Ischia, Elena runs into the Sarratore family, reigniting her childhood crush on Nino, who is at odds with his father, the charming Donato. Back in Naples, Lila's resistance to Marcello's pressing courtship reaches a breaking point. On Elena's 15th birthday, an unexpected encounter leaves her shaken.

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 Island" was written by Elena Ferrante, Franceso Piccolo, Laura Paolucci & Saverio Costanzo and directed by Saverio Costanzo

It's absolutely devastating that a handful of old men are trying to control women throughout this story. That has always been a part of Elena and Lila's lives. Their fates were often dictated by what their fathers were willing to let them do. They have both accomplished many things. And yet, their lives are starkly different from one another here too. In fact, this is the hour that really puts things into context about how they have the potential of growing apart as they get older. Lila is still trapped in her neighborhood in Naples for the summer. She is at home with her terrible family and trying to resist their temptations for her to get engaged to Marcello. She is still essentially a child. She is way too young to have to take all of this seriously. But it's something that is being forced onto her because that's the only good use her father sees from her. He doesn't care that she is brilliant. He wants her to marry the son of the wealthiest family in town. He sees that prosperity and desperately wants it for himself. He will beat up his children if they don't comply. The entire neighborhood can appreciate what Marcello gives them. As such, they are easily distracted by who he truly is as a person. Lila never forgets that though. No matter how charming and sweet he comes across, he is still the next generation of toxic masculinity that is trying to bully her into this situation. He doesn't care what she wants. He sees all of this as inevitable. It will only be a matter of time before she is his. He is growing impatient with her because he doesn't think a man should have to work this hard for something that should naturally be his in life. That's absolutely sickening and horrifying. It's bound to only create more hardships for Lila as well. She is so isolated in this life. Her brother will stand up for her from time to time. And yet, it's too fleeting as well. He can't make much of a difference because it would be burning down his livelihood too. He doesn't have a better offer for his family to make all of this go away. Lila wants to be nothing more than an innocent teenager who has the opportunity to explore whatever she wants. That's the freedom that Elena currently enjoys because she was allowed to continue her education. And now, Lila feels burdened by her problems. She doesn't want to write to Elena while she's on her vacation and detail all of the nuances of her pathetic situation. She understands that Elena will come running back to Naples because she wishes to support her friend. That's such a key element of this pairing. They love each other but their codependence may force them to cut other opportunities in their lives short.

The majority of this hour is Elena's story as well. It's her far away from Lila exploring a completely different world. She has never been on a vacation before. She doesn't know how to act. She visits Oliviero's cousin and wants the details for the responsibilities she will have while staying here. She is prepared to tidy up the apartment and care for the other families staying here by making their meals. However, that only takes up a small portion of her day. The rest of the time she can do whatever she wants on this beautiful island. At first, she doesn't know what to do. She is so accustomed to a rigid schedule to her life. If she doesn't have that, then she just follows whatever Lila suggests to do. Here, she is still susceptible to suggest. She goes to the beach and discovers that she knows how to swim mostly because Nella encourages her to go. Then, she just spends her days with whatever family happens to be staying at the cottage at that time. That still includes a lot of trips to the beach. She is forming connections with these families. Everyone loves her. It just doesn't make it seem like she is the one making decisions about her life. She is more than fine doing whatever anyone else thinks is best. She doesn't understand how to push back or explore the world around her for herself. That's what makes things so complicated when the Sarratore family arrives. They are a family that she knows. She has been stalking Nino at school. He is the boy who declared his intentions to marry her when they were younger. She has never had the confidence to talk to him at school. He happens to know what she's been up to though. He knows enough while keeping his distance too. However, this is a story about the differences between Nino and his father, Donato. In the very first episode, it was clear that Donato was a scoundrel because he was having an affair. He sent out a book of poems to all of the women in his life. Now, it's clear that his son despises him because he is so arrogant. He believes that just because he makes people happy he can get away with absolutely anything. Even though he had a public affair that everyone knew about, his wife still stood by him and will continue to excuse his behavior. He is still so charming. Elena can actually engage with him too. With Nino, it's more of a struggle. But it also has the blossoming feeling of a teenage romance where both parties are hesitant to act. They like each other but keep their distance out of fear that the other doesn't share the same feelings. As such, they go the summer without acting on these impulses until his last day. Nino leaves without Elena having the chance to say goodbye. And then, she decides to leave to help Lila once more. That forces Donato to take such a despicable action. He rapes Elena. That's so heartbreaking and disturbing. Elena admired him and what he had accomplished in life. He saw that as a flirtation that welcomed him to take these actions. That's horrifying. Elena does absolutely nothing in that moment to encourage his actions. She just lays motionless. The tears well in her eyes and he still thinks everything is fine. She runs away. That is the appropriate action to take to ensure this doesn't continue. But the narration also points out the tragedy of all of this by saying she was never able to share this experience or talk about how it made her feel until she sat down to write her story. That's brutal and shows that her inability to express herself is a byproduct of her surroundings and experiences. She can share it now. She is free from Lila once more. But it's only emotional for those getting caught up in her story too.