My Brilliant Friend: Season 1/ Episode 4 “Le Smarginatura (Dissolving Margins)” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Elena and Lila at a party.
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As Elena tries to find ways to keep up, maybe surpass Lila, she comes to a point of realizing that girl is in a league of her own.


Network
HBO
Director(s) Saverio Costanzo
Writer(s) Elena Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci, Saverio Costanzo
Air Date 11/26/2018
Introduced This Episode
Gino Riccardo Palmieri

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A Tug of War: Lila, Elena, Pasquale, Rino, Marcello, Michele

The foundation of Elena and Lila’s relationship has always been about Elena inspiring to be like Lila and Lila? Well, Elena consistently being accessible and good company. Sometimes Elena tries to be Lila’s equal but the problem is, Lila has known, since the first grade, Elena wants to compete with her. So, perhaps to bug her, she tries to stay ahead of the curve.

For example, Elena gets enrolled into high school but Lila spends her free time learning Greek before Elena learns a word. Then there is the issue of boys. Lila knows how to dance both the classics and new style and Elena? Well, she can’t even get a boy to ask her. Something which becomes apparent when Lila and she go to a party and damn near every guy looks at her with lust in their eyes. Heck, Marcello even gets Michele, out of jealousy, to get Pasquale removed so he could get a turn with Lila.

Now, as for how she reacts to all this? Well, slightly flattered but mostly indifferent. For the most part, Lila finds the boys to be cool but most don’t interest her much. Actually, that’s a lie. Pasquale does have a slight edge, but only because he knows about government, local history, and these are things Lila doesn’t have a book to inform her on. Giving him a slight edge.

However, her heart belongs to Rino. Her big brother, business partner, and her seasoned advocate. The only person who seems to get her. Well, at least for now.

Commentary

Lila listening to someone.

Being that this whole story is Elena’s perspective on Lila, you have to wonder how did she feel about Elena – low key – trying to compete with her? If not often moping about because Lila always seemed ahead of the curve? Because there were times when Lila seemingly became distant, as we saw in episode 3, could it have been because she started to grow tired of Elena trying to find ways to be better than Lila? Maybe she thought Elena was squandering the opportunities she was given and it frustrated her?

That is perhaps the main issue with this entire story. As much as Lila is given her props for her brilliance, we won’t have her side of the story. So while we saw she was lonely as a child, frustrated by misogyny as a teenager, and get to see how she seemed from the outside in, who Lila really is feels like a bit of a mystery. All that is for sure is that Elena felt like a moth attracted to a flame and she wished she herself was a heat source rather than one basking in the glow of one.

A Strong Pull: Elena, Gino, Lila, Nino, Stefano, Lila, Pasquale, Alfonso

Though high school begins as difficult as middle school did, Elena eventually gets the hang of it. In fact, it makes her feel like she has a bit of an edge over Lila. Why? Well, it means she gets to travel, she can see the ocean, and while their neighborhood may not have boys who push to speak to her, at school there is. A boy named Gino asks her out, and she sheepishly goes for it, Alfonso may have some interest and Nino is around.

Now, it should be noted Nino has grown into a heartthrob who doesn’t talk to Elena once, but she is willing to stalk him. Be in his line of sight to see if what he said in elementary school still stands. Even if she has pimples. Yet, each day she returns home and Lila seems to get all the attention. Even people like Stefano, who she had issues with as a kid, he is kind to her. Even instructs Alfonso to get the grocery list of Lila and Elena to speed things up for them. Her influence is on that level.

Which, so it seems, she isn’t necessarily comfortable with. On one hand, it seems her presence is strong enough that even Pasquale, son of the man who murdered Stefano’s father, can be invited to a party he, Stefano, is hosting. Yet, all this attention seemingly is getting uncomfortable. Also, she is recognizing the effect it is having on Elena and while there is a certain power dynamic to their relationship, she doesn’t want her best friend, besides her brother, down and depressed. So, she tries to create the narrative that it isn’t all about her. The boys like her too.

Which may very well be a lie.

Commentary

Elena being hard on herself.
Elena: She always did the things I was supposed to do.

Before we get into Lila, let’s briefly go into Elena real quick. I think in this show, she downplays herself. I get Lila is brilliant and all, but you can only contribute so much of Elena’s success to Lila being one of the best effortlessly. The reason she is in high school might be because Lila tutored her a bit, but it isn’t in every subject. Reading is clearly not Elena’s strong suit, but we don’t hear about her struggling in math and other subjects now do we?

Also, even if Elena’s milkshake doesn’t bring all the boys to the yard, as she notes, what Lila is attracting are people who are at her family’s level – blue collar. Gino is the son of a pharmacist. That sounds like good money and social mobility. Granted, Lila is working on social mobility without having to marry up but dammit, sometimes you got to take what you can get.

With that said, I like how, without having Lila speak for herself, there is still an effort to make her well-rounded. She is painted to be this attractive and vibrant figure, yet can come off petty and also she has a filthy mouth. As smart as she is, there is a need to recognize she is almost socially awkward. Almost in terms of she is so firm in who she is, it seems she doesn’t have much of a desire, or ability, to adjust to who she is around.

Take the whole dance situation, referenced in the first topic. She is well aware there are issues going about, but she also has this desire to separate herself. Leading to the reason why she likes Pasquale explaining things to her. Her awkwardness comes not only from knowing what is comfortable for her person, but also being so comfortable that she is blind to her ignorance. So as much as she knows there is beef between families, it sometimes seems, just because her family isn’t involved, she can’t, or decides not to, understand the full weight of what is going on. Hence her crying when Pasquale got upset.

And yet, there is the need to question if she was manipulating the situation. What controls a situation more than a girl crying? How else could she calm Pasquale who was ready to fight and either end up like his dad or worse? I mean, there are levels to being considered brilliant and I remain firm in believing that Lila loves to see where the line is with people. Otherwise, why would she dance with Marcello after Pasquale? Why would she cry and why would she accept assistance from Stefano’s family? Even work towards him and Pasquale setting things aside?

A New Beginning: Rino, Stefano, Lila, Elena, Michele, Marcello

Which, granted, could have been something on Stefano’s mind already. However, validation from Lila? The cutest girl in the neighborhood, that means something. However, as much as he may want to turn over a new leaf – for the better – many don’t. Take Rino. He has it in his mind, so badly, that the shoe he is working on with Lila will make him rich, it changes him. How? Well, that kind and quiet guy he has always been? The right hand of Lila? Well, be it puberty or trying to avoid coming to terms with the life he lives, he gets a bit more aggressive. Angry perhaps better said.

Why? Well, being that Lila knows word of mouth would mean everything, she doesn’t want their travel shoe to be crap. Hence why she wants it reinforced, wants a better seam, and even to do it all over if they must. However, Rino is so stuck in the dream he forgot how much effort it takes to make it a reality. If not being tired of the effort and wanting the spoils.

It especially gets bad at Stefano’s party where he decides to antagonize Michele and Marcello who, granted, started it. However, rather than ignore them, he challenges them. I’m talking, even when Michele is firing a gun, he walks toward the gun. Showing the same boldness we’ve seen Lila have many times when facing people stronger or higher up on the totem pole.

Commentary

Rino cursing the Solaras after they shoot fireworks towards him.
Rino (Tommaso Rusciano): You’ll all burn together. You’ll all die together.

I fully recognize, at this point, everything all leads back to Lila with the commentary. Yet, take note of what is going on. Lila is a disrupter. Her draw isn’t just Elena seeing her as a reason to challenge herself. Look at Rino. He has had a long-term investment in his sister and with them being so close, he is losing it a bit. Perhaps because he sees and knows Lila is coming upon that age where guys could very well end the dreams he has had which rely on her. It could be that, with him feeling like she may forget him, he is starting to distance himself from her – if not seeking a way to do so.

In that, you begin to see how much he and Lila are alike. Multiple times, we’ve seen Lila do something to push Elena away, to test her. In my mind, Rino isn’t trying to test Lila but prepare himself. Maybe see what would be a sign she would drop him? It could be his way of conveying how invested he is and that he is worthy to stick by her side. There has to be more to this frustration he is experiencing than his patience wearing thin.

With that said, there is the need to question what is Stefano trying to get from bringing the neighborhood together. Is this to just regain the position his dad once had in the neighborhood? Could he have political aspirations? May this all be to attract Lila or Elena? There is this desire to believe he really does want a new start but how believable is that really? Especially considering he knows, if he may one day want to take on the Solaras, he’d need the whole neighborhood behind him.

Highlights

  1. After initially introducing to what felt like way too many characters, people feel established now. At this point, you can recall who is who, what is their relationship with this character, and feel like most people aren’t random names.
  2. The Lila and Elena dynamic, though favoring to Lila, has a nice back and forth sway to it.
  3. I liked that this episode primarily focused on the future and how these kids could either change their lives, and the relationships they have with their neighbors, or continue the paths their parents laid out.
  4. Rino making it clear Lila isn’t the only bold, to the point of seeming foolish, one in the family.

On The Fence

  1. We’re halfway through the series at this point and it strangely feels like the beginning. For while Lila has made her impact, it makes you wonder will everyone else really get to step up, be seen, heard, and get to leave an imprint on you?


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