Friday, 15 October 2010

Californication 3.12 'Mia Culpa'

“That's the thing about secrets… They have a funny way of coming out." – Mia

A serious episode quote for a serious episode - that was a dark, dark episode of Californication but what a sublime half hour of television it was.

‘Mia Culpa’ was a million miles away from the rather light-hearted season we’d had up until now, from the moment the recap montage featured Mia you knew that Hank’s dream of returning to New York as a family was not going to go smoothly.

Stephen Hopkins was on directorial duty and after Sky1’s Thorne: Sleepyhead we are well aware that he is very adept at handling dark subject matter. Don’t misunderstand me, ‘Mia Culpa’ was by no means as dark as Thorne but for a show that has been almost slapstick at times this season, this was a very dramatic turn of pace.

Even the show’s opening credits were jettisoned for this episode, possibly to wring every last second of running time they could out of the gamete of emotions that Hank and our characters experienced in ‘Mia Culpa’ or possibly because the credits are quite light in tone and would have been too much of a contrast to the heavier nature of this episode; either way, that cold opening was a harbinger of what was to come.

I’m not suggesting that ‘Mia Culpa’ was completely devoid of the humour and wonderful dialogue that Californication is normally stuffed with, but this was by far the most emotionally challenging episode of the show I’ve ever experienced.

The episode began with a rather creepy dream sequence in which Hank sat in an inflatable chair in a swimming pool like some aging rock star swigging from a bottle of liquor. Swimming around him were all of his recent conquests – Jill, Jackie and Felicia – all nude, giving Eva Amurri her last chance to gratuitously show off her magnificent fun-bags.

At the side of the pool sat Becca and Karen looking on with disdain looking very disturbing in vivid red coloured clothing – Becca looks a little like a demon child at the best of times but this was something else.

Hank awoke from his nightmare and headed to the kitchen where Becca and Karen were enjoying breakfast, together the family shared what would become one last happy meal together before things would be changed perhaps irreparably.

Because in a not-too-shocking twist Mia then swanned back into all their lives, back in the locality on a whistle-stop book tour promoting the paperback version of the book she stole from Hank.

Some people probably get pleasure from watching Hank squirm when presented with his past indiscretions, because the guy never learns does he? And although those initial scenes with Mia were just the right amount of awkward what was to follow you wouldn’t wish upon anyone, no matter how much of a douchebag they could be at times.

You see, Mia wasn’t alone, with her was her new manager/boyfriend played by Paul Raines himself James Frain, looking ten years younger with a shaved head and sporting a surprisingly decent US accent – although just to make me only see him as Paul Raines some more his character was named Paul.

Paul had discovered Mia’s little secret and planned to use the scandal surrounding the nature of the book’s release into the public domain to reignite interest in his now floundering client and girlfriend, citing a possible Oprah appearance – is he nuts!? Didn’t he see what she did to James Frey!?

Hank of course wanted no part of this and almost came to blows with the sleazy bastard – one thing I’ll say about Frain is that he plays a jerk-off extremely well.

From there we had a dejected Hank, as his world came crashing down around him – as viewers we probably still clung to the hope that maybe he could weasel his way out of this and keep the family from discovering the truth and ruining their move east but looking back at how drastically his demeanour changed I think it’s clear that from the moment Mia returned Hank knew this was going to be hanging over him forever if he didn’t come clean.

Another nightmare in which Karen and Becca left him in the pool with his former lovers as Hank called out for the love his life and daughter compounded the fact that this story, or at least this chapter, was not going to have a happy ending.

The next morning Karen told Becca to take a distant Hank out for a walk during which Becca revealed she was no longer a virgin, but she apologised for all her bratty behaviour over the course of the season and professed her undying love for Hank and Karen.

Hank took the news of his daughter’s cherry-popping surprisingly well but this little talk with Becca seemed to spur Hank on to try one last round of bargaining with Mia.

Just as he seemed to be getting through to her, Paul showed up and after a comment about Hank having sex with her when she was underage a brutal fight ensued in which Hank beat the shit out of Paul in Bill’s pool.

The violence was very graphic and uncharacteristic for Californication but it really worked in the context of this episode and the dark places it was exploring in Hank’s soul.

Paul’s parting shot as a battered and bloodied Hank headed home was “you’re fucked Moody, I’m calling the police”.

With no alternative Hank revealed all to Karen, or at least he revealed something to her that caused her to descend into an hysterical fit as the whole uncomfortable exchange was rather eerily soundtracked by Elton John’s Rocket Man so we never actually heard what was said.

Matters soon spilled out into the street and as Hank tried to hold onto Karen the police arrived, possibly due to Hank’s assault of Paul, possibly due to his statutory rape of Mia or possibly just because they saw a man and woman struggling in the street.

Whatever their reason for showing up, when Hank turned round and punched one of them as they tried to get him off Karen, there was no doubt Hank was getting hauled off in cuffs.

The episode ended with Hank being driven away in a squad car as an hysterical Karen and Becca looked on, we then cut to the dream sequence from earlier as Hank fell from the inflatable chair and sank into the pool, the last shot was of his bottle of liquor floating in the water and with that we faded to black for another season of Californication.

The lack of dialogue for the show’s longest running plot thread reveal should have harmed it but it really worked – I’ve never considered Rocket Man to be too much of an emotionally weighty song but boy did it ever give that scene a hell of a visceral punch.

All in all that was one hell of a season finale and for a show that is notoriously slow at moving along plot arcs a great deal seemed to happen in such a short space of time.

In addition to the Hank storyline that dominated the episode there were a couple of season four threads potentially set up for the Runkles. First their seemingly rekindled romance was left hanging under a cloud as Marcy signed the divorce papers and left them out for Charlie to sign – and after he offered to reverse his vasectomy for her, shame on you Marcy!

Secondly, in a welcome return, Kathleen Turner reprised her role as Sue Collini to ask Charlie to sell her memoirs, which will hopefully mean more Collini in season four and will give Charlie a 100% increase in clients to the grand old number of 2 for next season.

If this was the first episode of Californication you’ve ever seen then you probably think it’s a very different show to the rest of us; but irrespective of the contrast between the finale and the rest of the season, and hell, even series, ‘Mia Culpa’ worked on so many levels and was by far the most rewarding episode of the season and again, maybe even the series to date.

Bullet Points:

- A dark episode yes, but it wasn’t without some great one-liners. Hank calling Charlie a “fucktard” and then his reaction to hearing the names of a couple of young actors – “Evan Rachel who?” & “Michael who?” – were my personal highlights.

- in addition to Rocket Man, there was some more great musical moments in ‘Mia Culpa’ – The Faces’ Ooh La La as Hank, Karen and Becca enjoyed that last good breakfast was especially apt as the sound faded up on that great refrain “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger”.

Becca creepily reciting the words to Warren Zevon’s Carmelita in Hank’s nightmare was also a brilliant use of music and song lyrics – a cover of Carmelita could also be heard in the dream sequence.

- This review concludes my reviews for season 3 of Californication, but keep a look out on the site for my compendium which will feature each individual episode review and a general season overview which will be up soon.

Californication has been renewed for a fourth season and is due to premiere on Showtime in the US in the New Year.


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