Californication Season 4: “It’s getting dark, too dark to see…”

“My heart was beating outside my chest… It’s been almost too much to bear.”

Written by Tom Kapinos and directed by David Duchovny, Suicide Solution was abundantly soulful, transcendently raw and eerily beautiful.

It’s fair to say this episode was Duchovny’s finest moment yet in the series. From Becca’s lonely guitar playing, through Hank’s heartbreaking realization (beautifully, subtly played by Duchovny) that for now at least, he has lost her, to the extraordinary power of its conclusion, when the scuffed poetry of Hank’s words to Becca was overlaid with hypnotic, melancholy dream-imagery, as Hank’s self-medication finally took him down, the show reached a new level. “It’s getting dark, too dark to see,” Hank said in voice over as the waves crashed over him, swallowing him whole.

With this season, the show as a whole is delivering on everything it has promised in the previous three seasons, and more. It’s better at everything now. Executive producer and creator Tom Kapinos is flexing new dramatic muscles, and the show has come back as though it spent the hiatus working out: it’s leaner, stronger, tougher, and its core twin strengths (the genuine love of Hank for his family, and the don’t give a f**kness of it all) are back in full effect, but this time used more precisely and to more subtle, devastating effect.

This season is all sinew, muscles and veins, exposed and raw. It’s all about facing the music in the worst possible way. It’s about staring into the eyes of your daughter who hates you. A life in painful shards, slicing the skin. Season Four of Californication is drawing blood. It’s harsh, unforgiving. And still it’s damn funny. Whether it’s Hank getting unexpected relief from Marcy, or Rob Lowe channeling Brad Pitt’s Floyd and Gary Oldman’s Drexl from True Romance to play Eddie Nero, the crazy A-lister who wants to play Hank in the movie of his book, the show jabs humor with southpaw precision. It’s great to see the show full throttle like this. Its one liners are sharper, its gonzo situations more outrageous. It’s pulled off one of the most difficult tricks in TV: treating darkness and humor just the same, combining them into one scathing, blistering, pain-fuelled but hilarious blend that charms, horrifies, moves and makes you laugh, hard.

There were moments in season three when the show located itself – charmingly to be sure – in the quirkier areas of its world. The drama of it all was traded down in favor of priceless humor. This was a good trade, for a time, but ultimately Kapinos brought the show to the darker place it needed to be, where every seed Hank has sown is reaped.

Throughout the first three seasons, Hank played at self-loathing, played at being the one everyone hated, knowing, or at least hoping, all along that it wasn’t quite true. But now, it’s real, and Duchovny is giving a virtuosic rendering of a man realizing his life really is disintegrating, and flashing that smile or being rogueishly adorable means nothing anymore to those whose hearts he has truly broken. It’s a tough, excruciating experience and lesson: watching Hank learn it is heroically compelling.

Californication is at the top of its game, and getting better.

******

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beyond the darkness lies the truth

Emotional truths are risky things to obtain. To place yourself in the emotional abyss in order to tell us something about the human soul is a dangerous enterprise, whether you are an actress, writer, philosopher, musician, creator of art installations, dancer… Why do we search for this? What possesses artists to go on the difficult journey to bring us some kind of truth? Showtime’s series Californication gives us some insight into this journey, telling the story of Hank Moody, a New York writer forced to stay in LA by a relationship that subsequently disintegrated, leaving him washed up in the brutal city of artists and dreamers. The first episode of this series was a masterpiece in miniature. It revealed the writer, played by David Duchovny in a manner described by the Guardian as “revelatory,” tormented by the emotional realities of a life truly messed up. The writer whose “exercise in nihilism”, God Hates Us All, was turned into a romantic comedy. The writer whose insistence on an alternative, punk, rock’n’roll, Bukowski-loving, tradition-shunning outlook on life has separated him from the love of his life, and his daughter. He journeyed into the darkness to write brutal truths, and perhaps didn’t come all the way back. That first episode ended with Hank staring helplessly into the darkness of an LA night, with My Morning Jacket’s version of Rocket Man drifting mournfully in the background. It conjured an intergalactic loneliness, the lonely voice of God murmuring truths about the dark night beyond the lights, the lizard kings and run-down bars, strange creatures moving around out there, and nothing human left in the universe; a perfect encapsulation of isolation. By the end of episode two, Hank was alone, again, sitting in his car at night, desperately haunted by the emptiness of the passenger seat, while a voice on the soundtrack described how “some nights I wish that the sun would never show its face.” Hubert Selby Jr, author of searing, unflinching portrayals of the human soul such as Requiem For A Dream and The Demon, writes of the requirement to to go as deep into the darkness as possible to bring back the truth into the light. He notes that, “obviously, there is always the chance that you will go too deeply into the darkness and not come back.” He took the risk of the artist in placing himself in unsettling and terrible emotional places; walking the emotional and psychological high-wire out to, and back from, from the loneliest of places. Searching in these lonely places for truth, discovering things about what it means to be human; this is not the end. The journey back still awaits; the truths must be conveyed. It has been said many times that writers lie to tell the truth, since words on a page are not truths or things in the world; they are words on a page, symbols, non-representational. How should the artist convey the things they have discovered? What language should they use? Words and movements, art and music, can evoke these elusive emotions. The most non-representational form can convey the most exact truth. Acting, for example, is not real, but the transformation of consciousness it requires cannot be faked. Who really knows what transformative effects the truth will have upon one’s consciousness? One cannot truly know without experiencing it. It’s why we do it.