Shoshanna’s Life on Mars: Girls and The Embodiment of the Traveling Blues

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Shoshanna&#8217;s Life on Mars: <i>Girls</i> and The Embodiment of the Traveling Blues

Now in its penultimate season, Girls has found a new dynamic and an equal balance amongst its characters. The series isn’t focusing the majority of its efforts on Hannah anymore and, atypical of her narcissistic nature, she doesn’t seem to mind all that much. Marnie, now being a married woman and all, is also blending into the background and, to be honest, I’m not especially bummed about that. Nothing about this girl ever felt real and that understanding became painfully clear around the time she decided to become a musician. It’s a blessing to many of us viewers that her life has blended into the series’ background, much in the same way that her music would in a dental office. So far, this season of Girls has been one of its best and there are two characters who are responsible for this new sense of maturity: Shoshanna and Jessa. Up until now, their stories never felt as captivating and touching as they do in this season, which is partially due to Hannah’s drama always overriding their own, and partially due to the solid walls Jessa had built around herself; the ones that are now slowly crumbling and revealing a soft, maternal side to Jessa we had never seen before. But the shining star of this season is without a doubt Shoshanna. She has fully embraced the personal growth you can only obtain through travel and the ambivalence of the experience was expressed rather poetically in “Queen for Two Days.”

Settling into a new country and a different culture follows a similar structure to the five stages of grief, and Shoshanna has demonstrated this process perfectly throughout the last few episodes. Her quick visit home in “Wedding Day” was deceiving in that we didn’t have enough time to earth her. But the ingenuity of Season Five’s opener—as far as Shoshanna is concerned—is that she has always been quick to adapt to the latest trend or dating manifesto. But she’s always done so with an air of naivety and an unfocused determination. Her tales of Japan and how the country has influenced her spiritually and professionally aren’t taken seriously; her new sense of self is perceived as yet another one of her phases, when in reality this move has been her biggest step towards self-discovery yet. She has achieved Stage One in the expat existence: the period in which you don’t allow yourself to see your surroundings through anything other than tourist-tinted glasses.

The third episode, “Japan,” was a tribute to Shoshanna’s commitment, curiosity and newfound awareness, a crucial part of the integration process—namely Stage Two: belonging. From the moment Shoshanna gets out of bed and moves about her quirky apartment it all feels natural, as though the place was made specifically for her. As she goes about her morning, everything adds up: the headphones, the outfit, it all becomes her. Most impressively, she enters her work building having actual conversations in Japanese. Shoshanna’s at home here; she’s found her place, her groove and her DJ Cat Cow. She’s found the flaws in her own country and is aware of her own peoples’ asshole tendencies as she welcomes new perspectives. The thought of going “home” no longer has the same meaning—Japan is home. The difficult aspects of integration haven’t quite sunken in yet, she’s still in her honeymoon phase where there’s no time to crave deep bonds and homely treats. Her open-mindedness and readiness to soak up even the most outlandish traditions of a strange culture deserve respect.

That’s what makes “Queen for Two Days” so heartbreakingly honest and undeniably powerful; it is the embodiment of the highs and lows of integration. While many a Westerner would have happily spent their days hiding out in familiar establishments such as McDonalds for fear of—gasp!—trying something new, Shoshanna wants to explore those districts that look like “the inside of Katie Perry’s vagina.” She is determined to share her new findings and insights with Abigail, who remains wary of the whole affair, but applauds Shoshanna’s new approach to life. She may be working in a cat café, but she has had a taste of Japan’s beauty and it’s everything she ever wished for; it’s almost as if she’d dreamt the entire country up herself. But, more importantly, she’s in love with the person she’s becoming; or perhaps she’s just in love with the concept of becoming that person. As she faces uncomfortable cultural clashes in her relationship with her Japanese boo Yoshi, she realizes she may not be ready to fight the odds and surrender entirely—and not just to Yoshi, but to Japan as a whole.

Suddenly, she reconnects to the importance of the mother tongue; she may have been conversing in both Japanese and English with Yoshi and her friends and colleagues, but when thoughts, feelings and humor get lost in translation, it’s difficult to establish familiarity and comfort. The cultural weirdness she had perceived as charming finally becomes absurd and, the more she thinks about it, the further she heads into an unsettling no man’s land, also known as Stage Three: the traveling blues. The exciting unknown has become seemingly routine and, even as she digs deeper into the essence of Japan and its people, she can only scratch the surface. Shoshanna clicks with the country, the fashion, the language, the food, but there is still a lack of emotional connection that has warped her sense of belonging. This realization dawns on her over a plate of the umami experience, after having spent an entire day trying to seduce Abigail into finding the same enthusiasm for the colorful city of Tokyo; as it turns out, her love for Japan is slowly dwindling as she struggles to bridge the gap between two cultures. She no longer feels as though she belongs neither here nor there.

“I’m really fucking lonely. I’m so homesick, and I swear to God if one more person that I bump into bows and says, ‘I’m sorry,’ I’m gonna, like, fucking cut somebody, you know?”

Sometimes a different country can feel like a different planet and Shoshanna is feeling the effects of the rollercoaster ride of emotions that come with being an expat. As she exits the restaurant leaving a baffled Abigail behind, she walks onto the empty streets of Tokyo where the bright neon lights and the sheer quantity of high risers, billboards and shops seem to mock her lonely shadow. AURORA’s voice captures the isolation of the moment as we watch the girl with the messy, bleached blonde hair walk through her sunken dream, to the seat with the clearest view…

Let’s hope it will give Shoshanna the clarity to turn her life on Mars into a best-selling show.