the hills season 3, episode 20, “back to l.a.”

April 2, 2008

  • ok, MTV, i do have, like, a job and stuff, so could you please cut it out with the double episodes?
  • i mean, i understand, they should rake in the cash while they can, but wouldn’t they make more money stretching things out and banking some change off that overflow into the 10:30 slot? you would think they would use this chance to launch a show but obv. every show pales in comparison to “the hills” and so they’re not going to hold the viewers; we learned that last season from the incredible plane-crash failure that was “kaya.” anyway, for the sake of both my sanity and canonical naming conventions, i’m going to split my coverage into two parts. here is episode 20; my discussion (i don’t like the word “recap”) of episode 21/juliana hatfield’s blog and my song for this week will come tomorrow or friday.
  • i love how lauren comes in super excited and bouncy and then when audrina asks how she is she says, “i’m jetlagged.” really? i am taking her statement that “my body never really fully switched times,” as further evidence of generation: lost. (also, when brody cryptically says “i’ve got a friend in paris” it of course made me think of ben’s “i’ve got a man on the boat.” brody’s man is definitely a producer, though, no mystery there.)
  • yes, now that the season premiere is over, this (“i love how _______” + disparate pop reference) is basically the level of discourse i’m returning to, fyi.
  • what is really interesting about the first scene is that it communicates the exact same information as the recap that directly precedes it. in the recap, we are reminded that lauren and whitney went to paris, we hear matthias offering to take lauren to the eiffel tower at night, and lauren reminds us in her VO that, “after two years, whitney decided she was over working for the magazine.” in the first scene with audrina, right after the recap, lauren talks about what it was like being in paris, she tells audrina that she went to the eiffel tower at night with matthias, and she notes that “i think whitney doesn’t want to work for teen vogue anymore.” it’s a recap of the recap.
  • this has, i’m sure, happened before but this is the first time i’m noticing it in this way.
  • similarly, a reheated thought with fresh garnish: the shots of the girls in the opening credits are their facebook profile pictures that they are allowed to choose and pose for and make sure they look good; tabloid photos are like the pictures they get tagged with by their asshole friends.
  • the whitney-lisa love thing was a non-scene. lisa can do bitchy meryl streep really well but her elegant grande dame meryl streep is not always so good. there’s definitely a gesture towards it with her phrasing (“recommendations will be made in your favor” instead of “i will write you a recommendation,” as if a recommendation is some secret masonic ritual or whatev) but it’s a little limp. still, i respect her effort. she will have, i guess, one more chance to shine in whatever episode lauren leaves to go work for people’s revolution.
  • i have decided to play with visual symbolism in this episode so it’s “important” to note that in whitney’s camera angle in this scene you can see a picture of a bright yellow bird in a cage behind her.
  • p.s. apparently lisa love is going to be in the next vincent gallo movie? here is a creepy picture of them holding each other.
  • the heidi-kimberly scene. the recap – we see that heidi went to colorado and that spencer came and they had a fight and then she came back from colorado. beginning of heidi-kimberly scene – kimberly: “how’s everything going with you?” heidi: “umm, you know, getting back from colorado, just trying to figure out everything with spencer…” recap of recap.
  • this scene is pretty meh. unlike other main character sounding boards like whitney/audrina/elodie/lo, we have no narrative/personality traits/interesting things to associate with kimberly. thus, without any notion of her personality, you can’t read anything into the way she talks or acts you can the other characters. the same is true of audrina’s monologue catcher at epic records, chiara.
  • continuing my visual symbolism shtick, in the background in the shots of heidi, you can see a large framed image. it seems like a reproduction of a painting of a hardwood floor and on the hardwood floor there is a lit candelabra, two champagne bottles, and two glasses of champagne. this strikes me as basically a vanitas painting.
  • it’s a “hills” version of a vanitas though. this is no dusty cask of corked wine, it’s champagne, and the glasses are decidedly half full, not empty; the candles are burning, not snuffed out; there is no skull. it’s a prelude to a party, not a death; it’s a reminder that saturday night is transient, not that life is. the image is covered with some kind of clear plastic and catching a lot of reflections – hey, dutch masters, forget your earthy oil paint and canvas, it’s shiny!
  • doing my extensive research for this tangent on wikipedia i also noticed something about vanitas paintings i didn’t learn about in intro to art history which is that they are apparently connected to ecclesiastes 1:2, which “is translated as Vanity of vanities; all is vanity by the King James Version of the Bible, and Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless by the New International Version of the Bible.” either translation seems a fitting motto for “the hills.”
  • along these lines note the balance between the tiny silver cross around heidi’s neck and her enormous hoop earrings.
  • i do like at the end of the scene when kimberly starts to tell a story about her personal life and it’s so obvious that heidi is not paying any attention at all and after kimberly stops speaking heidi closes her eyes, and touches her temple, saying “i don’t even want to get into that territory” – i.e., you are a minor character, we/i have no time for your story. audrina proves that she has learned this lesson in the first scene, when she responds to lauren’s monologue with a rote “i know you exactly how you feel.”
  • heidi – “i gave up everything for spencer. i literally gave up everything for him.” of course she literally didn’t; this is “the hills” not some fucking morgan spurlock martyrfest. the only thing she gave up was lauren; her “everything” is lauren.
  • it’s perfectly characteristic that spencer’s response to this whole situation is not sadness or anxiety but annoyance and inconvenience. he doesn’t complain to steff about being depressed, he says, “i’m beyond annoyed that i have to move out. I would rather never moved in if i knew i was going to eventually have to move out.”
  • more visual symbolism: after spencer says that he’s considering dating other people, the next shot we get is a don’t walk sign, the bright red hand in the center of the frame. subtle. it reminds me of the early seasons of “survivor” when they would have like an interstitial shot of a snake writhing on a rock or a spider weaving a web or just some abstract islands or rock formations which were undercut with ethnic music stings to foreshadow betrayals and create tension.
  • you know i love whitney best, but her lisa was “surprisingly supportive” line to lauren was one of the stupidest things she’s ever said. “surprisingly supportive”? the woman has sent you to paris – twice! what else does she need to do to be considered supportive, like, give you a foot massage or something?
  • this continued during her interview at people’s revolution. when asked the most basic possible interview question, “what are your strengths?” she begins, “i could probably be very helpful in terms of whether…” could? probably? “in terms of whether”? strong, active verbs and simple declarative statements, whit! but then i guess she wouldn’t be whitney anymore. it would be like me if i didn’t use the word “meta” every other word or talk about allegorical significance of insignificant things.
  • there is a meta-allegory to this whole job situation. whitney leaves teen vogue because she doesn’t feel she “does enough” (i.e. whitney doesn’t feel she “does enough” on the show, gets enough screen time). kelly cutrone notes that “you’re basically making a deal with the devil” (i.e. the classic robert-johnson-influenced show business contract as satanic pact). kelly cutrone says “you have to give up your life…but the good news is you get a whole new one” (i.e. whitney is reborn as a major character independent of lauren who can have her own monologues and plot lines)
  • this is echoed in the form of the interview of itself. it doesn’t take place in the confines of a private office or conference room like a normal job interview. no, it’s out in the open, it’s public, it’s office theater. as is so often the case, there is a surrogate audience: we get cutaways to “mike” and “jessica” who are watching as whitney does her interview.
  • i don’t know how i feel about kelly cutrone yet. obviously we know that she’ll be a fixture and my feeling is that she’ll be more of an active character than lisa love just because she seems more, um…active. the best information source about her that i could find was an interview in nylon last fall. key quotes:
    • “I’m really about communicating and about art. I couldn’t care less about Calvin Klein or Donna Karan. I mean, not that they’re not important brands, but I don’t understand what the message is. So I tend to find clients in a very narcissistic way. I’m into the underdogs and the periphery and the progressive.”
    • “I told everybody fashion is the new rock and roll! I wanted a PR company that told the truth versus cheer-leaded, represented only things that I really believed in. It’s all very idealistic. I mean, the name itself, People’s Revolution, means the world will change when we change ourselves.”
    • “I’m like the Mother Teresa of the avant-garde. I really love Jeremy Scott because he’s a capitalistic pop artist. When I was 21 I married Andy Warhol’s protégé, Ronnie Cutrone, and I was raised in a circus-like atmosphere in New York by the Warhol family, and Jeremy seemed to me like a modern-day Andy. He’s a visionary and taps into things that are iconic and translates them into a multi-tiered message.”
  • so, the two major maternal figures on “the hills,” love and cutrone, were both, if not exactly factory girls, girls who hung around the factory; they were in the warhol circle. interesting connection; i mean, who knows better about image manipulation and fame for the fame’s sake? coming attraction: the warhol-whitney exegesis. preview, courtesy wikipedia:
    • “The first of those films, Poor Little Rich Girl, was originally conceived as part of a series featuring Edie called The Poor Little Rich Girl Saga. The series was to include Poor Little Rich Girl, Restaurant, Face, and Afternoon. Filming of Poor Little Rich Girl started in March of 1965 in Sedgwick’s apartment. The first reel shows Sedgwick waking up, ordering coffee and orange juice, and putting on her makeup in silence with only an Everly Brothers record playing. Due to a problem with the camera lens, the footage on the first reel is completely out of focus. The second reel consists of Sedgwick smoking cigarettes, talking on the telephone, trying on clothes, and describing how she had spent her entire inheritance in six months. “
  • also, for all the shit talk about ginia bellafante’s “feminist hero” line, about which more tomorrow, the two figures that (ostensibly) control our girls’ lives, that are (ostensibly) their role models, these two are strong, adventurous, independent women. these are not the kind of people satirized in the whole jezebel april fools joke thing; they are real women, like in those dove ads.
  • “oh my god, they have eggs benedict?! this is like my new favorite restaurant.” stephanie pratt converted me (or, in the parlance of her brother, “flipped a hater“) with that line. i still think her vibe is a little too campy and 90210 for “the hills” (and i am too young for 90210, which is why this reunion that everybody is so excited to me means nothing, and is actually kind of an inconvenience because i’m sure i could be making some kind of comparative analysis of the two shows that would be faux-revelatory but jesus i do not have time to watch another show about young rich people in los angeles, i don’t care how much you gen x’ers loved it.), but over the hiatus she really worked on her face acting chops, which are in evidence in her reaction shots in this scene. also, something else: lost weight? haircut/color? make-up situation under control? i don’t know, i’m not going to go CSI on this shit but whatever it is, improvement.
  • compare these two things. 1. “I’ll never forget the time when Spencer said, ‘I’m gonna get the Muscle Breakfast,’ and I was like, ‘Why, cause you have no muscles?’ And he was like, ‘Shut up!’ He was so mad ” 2. “When Heidi put on the apron that first night in the kitchen, in their kitchen, in the condo, in their condo, which they would share together, Spencer grabbed her around her waist and he said, “Well, look what we have here, Miss Heidi’s playing house,” and he swung her around a little bit in the kitchen, like a ride. She said, she remembers exactly what she said, she said, “Well, uh, actually, mister, this is a condo, so really, I’m playing condo.”
  • but seriously, look at her face as she says it. she looks down and then, as she’s playing with her hair, her eyes seem to be defocused. she’s lost in the moment; she’s rerunning that scene in her mind and loving it.
  • and in one way it feels ridiculous (ok, more ridiculous than usual) to be talking about heidi and spencer’s relationship troubles. odds are they are totally fake, yet there is no such thing as totally fake. i’ve played with this over and over before, but i think it is endlessly fascinating. when you are not a real actor, what effect does pretending to have a fight with your partner have on your relationship? what kind of real tension does creating fake tension create? what about if they argue about how they are being perceived and how they want to be perceived, who gets to decide? if they have a real fight and one of them goes to the press with something, how does that affect the other one? what is their relationship REALLY like, in private? what do they really do, how do they really spend their time, what do they really talk about, what does really mean? are the tabloids or the main text of the show a truer representation of who heidi and spencer are and what their relationship is? it is all unknowable.
  • i enjoyed the double dose of real talk given to lauren in this episode. first, frankie, with his ridiculous fade and leather jacket at les deux. lauren: “do i really have to be nice right now?” frankie: “yes.” lauren: “why” frankie, emphatic “why not?” it was his one shining moment in the history of the show (besides making out with lo in vegas)
  • frankie sells this as caring about his two friends and he sells it well, because his emotion (desperation) is totally real. frankie is a tertiary character; he gets less screen time than even kimberly and chiara. if brody jenner is out of the picture, frankie is out of the picture. thus his attempt as the music enters at the end of the club scene, to have a sort of face acting neck rolling performance fight with lauren. of course, we know who will always win that fight. still, can’t knock the hustle.
  • second, lo (LO! light of my life, fire of my loins!) explains to lauren that since brody jenner makes her feel bad about herself and brody jenner is in her life that if brody jenner stays in her life, he will make her feel bad about herself. she also says “thank you very much” to the waiter in a delightful squeaky voice!
  • i have nothing much to say about the scene where spencer moves out of the apartment, but it did feature the best dialogue exchange in the history of the show: spencer: “what would i do without my x-box?” heidi: “what else are you taking?” spencer: “i’m letting you have the TV.” heidi: “letting? i bought the TV.” spencer: “you bought the 42 inch, i bought the 50 inch.” heidi: “they were the same price, we just split them.” spencer: “whatever, i’m not arguing.”
  • books i could make out on heidi and spencer’s bookshelf: legacy of ashes, the movie business, executive secrets, the world is flat., the heath anthology of american literature, the norton anthology of world something, some book by chris matthews. oh yeah, lipstick jungle. did you see any others? i will not judge them for their choices but simply commend them for reading more than any other television characters this side of rory gilmore.
  • the scene at the end with lauren and whitney was superb; the inverse of the heidi-lauren farewell at the end of season 2. oh, hisham abed/mark petersen, with your subtle dimming of the light over whitney’s desk for the twilight of her teen vogue career. the banal emotion revelation (“i have a bunch of different feelings. i’m nervous, i’m excited, i’m sad”), the faux flirtation (“we’re having like a long distance relationship right now.” “is that gonna work?” “we’ll make it work”?), the always-taken opportunity to revise history and take a dig at heidi (“we shoulda known then!”) whitney pausing the conversation to put on lip gloss and this lip gloss moment serving as an emotional pivot, followed by lauren tilting her head to the side and looking at whitney longingly, followed by lauren’s sweet yet also kind of creepy reminder that whitney is carrying the same bag that she did the first day they worked together which whitney tries to let pass and then lauren makes it even creepier by reiterating emphatically “first day i met you you wore that bag,” following this with a tiny nod of assertion, followed by whitney taking her voice into a high childlike register and asking “what are we going to do without each other?” followed by lauren doing like a four stage pout which is too complex for me to diagram here, followed by a placeholder shot of whitney saying “ok, i think i’ve got everything”, followed by lauren taking pushing her pout from the previous shot up to the edge of looking like she’s going to cry, followed by lauren and whitney embracing, followed by some other stuff, followed by both of them recovering at the end and bonding over the idea of shared fashion and grooming time in the very near future, finishing with lauren staring at the doorway and rapidly tapping her fingertips against her glossy bottom lip, a tapping that is at once distracted and frightened about the future and also kind of OCD.
  • to close the visual symbolism routine, in the final shot, whitney walks away from the camera, off into the distance, and in the center of the frame there is a “one way street” sign, the arrow pointing down an avenue that we can’t see from this angle. we don’t know where she’s going, but we know she can’t go home again. paris, uh, changes everything?

5 Responses to “the hills season 3, episode 20, “back to l.a.””

  1. Adam Says:

    That Spencer/Heidi TV argument so perfectly encapsulates their relationship. You could do a whole dissertation on any part of it:
    spencer: “what would i do without my x-box?”
    – Fantasy life of video games, (which we’ve seen before with the arcade cabinet), intruding on fantasy life of The Hills? Also interesting, I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen Spencer play the Xbox, yet he can’t live without it.
    heidi: “what else are you taking?” spencer: “i’m letting you have the TV.” heidi: “letting? i bought the TV.”
    – Spencer thinks he’s in the right by giving Heidi something that she bought, EXCEPT–
    spencer: “you bought the 42 inch, i bought the 50 inch.” heidi: “they were the same price, we just split them.”
    — amazingly, there is a totally different television in some other room so, naturally, there’s a point of argument. Also, would it be too dirty to read a penis-envy statement in the 50-inch versus the 42? If anything it shows Spencer’s need to always be in the lead, even when he’s incapable of actually winning;
    spencer: “whatever, i’m not arguing.”
    – Because defeat is easier and defeat is something that he’s used to. It seems to have worked out so far, so why try harder?

  2. Adam Says:

    On second thought the above might be too dirty, but I do feel as if Spencer’s need to always be in the lead is what often drives him to failure. I also wonder how much of that argument was fleshed out for the cameras, of course they couldn’t have a scene without an argument, but the subject was so forced and odd as if both of them felt the need to be defensive simply to BE defensive, which is never a healthy quality in anybody.

  3. Sienna Says:

    Excellent analysis, as always. I simple love reading your take on the hills.

  4. […] yeah, this confirms my belief that kelly cutrone is pretty fucking awesome.  i loved lisa love but i can’t really imagine […]

  5. Alison Says:

    Haha. wow.
    it seems the whole time you are bitching about how you don’t like the hills.
    if you don’t like it, don’t watch it, and just shut up and don’t waste your time.
    Your ridiculous.

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