Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'My Brilliant Friend' - Elena's Return to Naples Is More Complicated Than She Thought in 'The Fiancés'

HBO's My Brilliant Friend - Episode 1.07 "The Fiancés"

Elena returns to Naples to find Lila has made a romantic connection with Stefano, despite the looming presence of Marcello. As Lila embraces a more glamorous life at Stefano's side, Elena warns her about what people are saying around the neighborhood. Later, in hopes of keeping up with her friend, Elena encourages one suitor and rebuffs another.

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

It's incredibly tragic that Elena doesn't see herself as Lila's equal. Whenever they are in the same environment together, she is always comparing herself to whatever her best friend happens to be doing. When she left for the summer, she knew that she was leaving Lila in a precarious situation with Marcello. She wanted to stay in order to offer strong moral support. Instead, she went off to have her own adventure. That was such a complete and all-encompassing journey as well. One that left a permanent mark on Elena's psyche. That's what makes it so miraculous and tragic that she forgets that entirely upon her return to Naples. She shows up at her parents' doorstep and immediately returns into Lila's life. She is instantly obsessed with and intrigued by what her best friend is doing. Things are still virtually the same with Marcello pursuing her and wishing to make her his wife. And yet, Lila is also plotting with Stefano. That too is a dynamic fraught with tension. He doesn't seem like a better offer for marriage either. He too comes from a controlling family that has loomed over the neighborhood. He too has a nasty history with Elena and Lila. But feelings spark in different ways here. He is in love with her. He tries to earn her hand by making her dreams a reality at the shoe store. It's the same tactic that Marcello used as well. He kept making his presence known while providing extravagant gifts for the family. That's all that Lila's father cared about too. Which suitor would be able to help the family the most? And now, it clearly is Stefano because he finances an entire expansion for the shoe store. They are actually going into production for Cerullo shoes. The secret project that Lila and Rino were working on for so long is now coming to fruition with the hope that it can finance even more of their dreams. Lila is even proud to tell Marcello that she is getting engaged to Stefano. She is more than comfortable threatening him too. She challenges his power and authority in the neighborhood. That proves that she is so much more than what this time period expects from women. However, the perception of Lila changes immediately after she accepts this proposal as well. The neighborhood sees her as a kept woman who has betrayed the ideals of her friends. Pasquale is more than comfortable calling her a whore after she rebuked his advances too. He may not believe every rumor he has heard about her. But he no longer sees her in a favorable light. He sees a woman who sacrificed her ideals in order to move up in life. That's the way that Elena sees the situation as well. She will always stand up for her best friend. She pushes back whenever someone suggests something horrible about her. And yet, she still sees a 16 year old girl who is about to get married. That is enviable to her. It's her intense focus on how mature Lila has become that makes Elena completely ignorant of the trauma that she suffered.

That's what makes it so heartbreaking when everything that Elena endured while on vacation comes back to haunt her in Naples. At first, it seems like nothing more than a ghost of Donato who is lurking behind every corner. She doesn't know if he's truly there or not. She may be going insane just like Melina did because of Donato. She is choosing to avoid Nino at school because she doesn't want anything to remind her of the summer she spent away from the neighborhood. She doesn't even want to go back in the subsequent summer. She conveniently has an excuse with her parents saying that she needs to start working. And yet, she still finds herself spending the summer at the beach. She just finds a job taking care of a couple of children who wish to experience that as well. She even runs into familiar faces at the beach. She has a sweet time with Antonio, Melina's son. She immediately trusts him to watch over her as she's changing in a room that doesn't have a lock on it. But that encounter quickly turns sexual as well. She understands that that is what he desires. She knows that he wants to date her. She may have led him on slightly because she reciprocates those feelings. And yet, it's a painful reminder of the assault that she endured from Donato as well. When he too starts getting very handsy with her, she pushes him away. However, she still allows it to happen as well. Moreover, she becomes his girlfriend. They are dating officially by the close of this hour. That shows that she wants to have this experience even though she can outline the many ways in which she hasn't had any good romantic encounters so far. Like Lila, she has never had romantic love in a meaningful way. Sure, she has had crushes. But she doesn't have the confidence to act on them or know exactly what to do. She is still an innocent girl who is naive to the demands of the world around her. She has the freedom to go wherever she chooses. She has that freedom without the demands of caring for her family. And yet, she is plagued by self-doubt. She sees herself as ugly especially after she gets a pair of glasses to see better in the classroom. She receives no compassion in that regard either. Her mother just lectures her about it being her fault because of all the reading she did. It's another expense added to this family. However, Elena does have confidence when Donato actually does reappear in the neighborhood. When she makes plans to meet him again, she brings Antonio with to ensure that he speaks his mind about the damage he has caused his mother. Elena has empathy for that situation and the burden it put on Antonio as he was growing up. As such, she does have respect for him as a man. However, she's already planning when she will break up with him. She plans on doing so after Lila's wedding. Despite this apparent victory over Donato, she is still in agony over clearly not having the same experiences in her life that her best friend does. That constant comparison has been absolutely excruciating though with Elena not feeling the confidence to share all of this with Lila - despite all that she has achieved as well.