Bottle Up and Explode
The Apartment
Bottle Up and Explode aims to explore a tradition that is unique to television: the bottle episode. Each installment will examine one such episode to understand the constraints of the form, its particular strengths and weaknesses, and what it says about both the particular television show and about the medium in general.

"Can we leave yet?" "No, I still got some fires to put out."-Jackie (Eva Amurri) and Hank (David Duchovny)

The classic bottle episode plotline is a simple yet diverse concept: the characters are trapped/stuck/elect to stay in one place and work through their conflicts as a result. This format has been used ad nauseum over the course of television history, and several times so far in episodes we have examined for this column. Often times, the tensions dealt with in the bottle episode are problems that have been building throughout the season or the series, and are issues that will likely continue to crop up even after they are "resolved."

So while Californication's "The Apartment" fits into this format exactly (and serves as a pretty great example of the form), there are a few things that set it apart. Before we get into those, however, let's get all of the pieces squared away. Season Three of Californication follows David Duchovny's playboy writer Hank Moody as he takes a job teaching creative writing at a college. Anyone even remotely familiar with the show (or able to read into its title at all) will know that Hank is an insatiable ladies man, and over the first several episodes finds himself embroiled in three romantic entanglements in addition to his always complicated relationship with the mother of his daughter (and his dream woman) Karen (Natasha McElhone). He is sleeping with Jackie (Eva Amurri), a quippy student making her living as a stripper, with Jill (Diane Farr), his hopeless romantic of a TA, and most recently with Felicia (Embeth Davidtz), the Dean's (Peter Gallagher) wife and mother to his daughter Becca's (Madeleine Martin) best friend Chelsea (Ellen Woglom).

"The Apartment" opens with Hank skyping Karen, his one true love, and trying to seduce her into having video sex (their daughter is sleeping over at Chelsea's). She declines, and he barely has time to pick up his guitar when he hears a knock at the door. It's Jackie, who is celebrating and has brought two of her stripper friends and a handle of Jack Daniels over and wants to party. The next morning, Hank wakes up with a vicious hangover and three half naked women passed out in his bed (though he abstained from defiling them, in an attempt to remain true to Karen). This is all well and good, and a fairly average morning for Hank, until one of the strippers won't wake up. Fortunately, Hank's best friend and agent Charlie (Evan Handler) and his new client Rick Springfield show up and are happy to help. Until there's a knock on the door and Jill shows up, forcing Hank to hide everyone else in his bedroom. And then Felicia shows up, forcing Hank to hide Jill in Becca's bedroom. And things sort of devolve from there.

Staged as a farce, things devolve completely out of Hank's control very quickly, as each of the women in his life is itching to get him to commit to them and none of them know he has been sleeping with anyone else. I mentioned earlier than a few things set "The Apartment" apart from other bottle episodes. The first, and the one that mystified me the most when I first saw the episode, is just how early in the season it comes, considering it is arguably the climax of every one of Hank's ongoing conflicts for the season. It is the eighth of twelve episodes, meaning the fallout from it lasts for four more episodes before the season closes. This is a bold move for a show that tends to have a season-long arc that it plays with for 11 episodes then wraps up in the finale. But also, it indicated the show's desire to do something a little more meaningful in season three.

By the time the episode is winding down, all three of Hank's current women know about each other, and the Dean, Chelsea, and Becca all know about all of them as well. As things seem to have reached a new nadir for our hero, the episode leaps forward for the first time since Hank woke up. We don't get to see how he managed to get everyone out of the apartment, but it quickly becomes clear that is not particularly important. See, Hank never really cared about any of those women and was trying to end things with each of them anyway to clear the way for a reunion with Karen. One of the recurring themes of Californication is that there are only two women in Hank's life that really matter: Karen and his beloved (and beleaguered) daughter Becca. And the episode ends with the most frank conversation yet between the two of them about her father's childish womanizing and its effects on her.

She asks him why he does the things he does, and refuses to take "I don't know" for an answer. Then she poses an even more important question: "What do you want me to take away from this? From how you treat women? Are they all just walking vaginas to you?" For a show that often treats Hank's trysts as little more, posing this question, and from the mouth of the smartest and most well adjusted female character, is a momentous step forward in terms of the territory this show can address. Is Hank a misogynist? Is he just a useless jerk? Or can he redeem himself and make himself the man his daughter needs him to be. As the episode ends, he tells her "I don't know how many times I can say I'm sorry before it loses any meaning to you" and she responds, both wisely and tragically, "Neither do I, but something tells me we're going to find out." Hank has failed before, and he will fail again (there wouldn't be much of a show if he stopped making ill advised sexual decisions after all). And while there has always been the implication that his childish behavior would have negative effects on his daughter, this is the most blatant example to this point in the show's run that Hank has really wounded her and isn't likely to stop anytime soon. For most of its runtime, "The Apartment" is largely a comedy of errors, with Hank trying his best to put out metaphorical (and eventually literal) fires and keep his life together. But in its poignant and surprisingly powerful denouement, it slows down for a moment to show us just how badly Becca has been burned.

Read more Bottle Up and Explode here

Coming up on Bottle Up and Explode:

2/12: "The Conversation," Mad About You

2/26: "Fly," Breaking Bad

3/11: "Spin the bottle," Angel

3/25: "In the Closet," Sealab 2021
Tags: Californication
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