The final season of Easy on Netflix got its very own #MeToo storyline. I guess that’s how you could describe episode 6 of the third and final series. Or you could call it the Marc Maron episode. Or you could use its actual title: "Blank Pages". For me, it's the episode that made me tired.
Following the news in any capacity requires us to withstand a barrage of stories about sexual assault and harassment and very often, television is my one salvation and distraction. It’s inevitable that such a movement should infiltrate our fiction, too. Good, even. Potentially profound. It’s just exhausting, to be angry while I’m trying to relax.
So here we are, watching Marc Maron play successful but brooding graphic novelist Jacob again. His novels have always been about his past relationships, told without the consent of his former partners. In this episode, he must find out what it’s like to be the one written about, as he learns that a former student of his has written him into her own graphic novel. His agent tells him the extract about him is not flattering. She alleges that there was a power imbalance, she being his 26-year-old student at the time, and he is immediately deeply concerned…about how he will fare in a society that is finally speaking about precisely these sorts of abuses.
First of all, of course this character deserves a contentious sexual backstory. He has just the sort of foppish charisma and ego for it to be entirely believable that he would take advantage of his position as a teacher and seduce a young woman with a litany of professional praise and promise. It is so him. He is an egregious jerk in this series, but he’s also witty and a bit of a silver fox, so we haven’t learned to straight-up hate him. We don’t have a generous reserve of pity for him, though, given his history of dismissing women’s pain, shagging hot young girls and ignoring the obvious adoration of his female best friend, Annabelle (played by the awesome Jane Adams). When Jacob hears that he’s been accused of 'behaving badly', he cannot even specifically recall what happened with this woman. It’s been 15 years and he has barely given her a second thought. He taught her, he seduced her, he forgot her. Because of course he did. This is a man who has only ever had time for his own side of the story.
Maron's character is an egregious jerk, but he's also witty and a bit of a silver fox, so we haven't learned to straight-up hate him.
When Jacob meets his former student for a confrontational latte, he has to listen to her side. As we hear from her, he used to tell her that her work was groundbreaking, special and interesting. He told her that she was going to make it as a writer. This praise – from a mentor, from a lover – was consuming and beguiling for her. Of course she wanted to sleep with him; it was the ultimate gesture of approval from a man she admired. She confused her professional desires with her sexual desires; he deliberately played to her vulnerabilities and her dreams in order to sleep with her. It’s a classic abuse of power and exactly the sort of revelation we are getting, now that (some) women are able to speak about the people in power who’ve done them wrong.
It’s quite interesting to watch Jacob learn how his behaviour affected this woman. He has to at least begrudgingly acknowledge that she is entitled to her perspective and he even congratulates her for writing what she has, which is just as well, given that his entire career is based on the assumption that brutal emotional honesty is more important than a subject’s feelings. He didn’t realise his liaison with his former student Beth was inappropriate at all because that’s precisely the sort of accusation he’d count himself immune to. He then has to hear straight from her that she was crushed by it; immobilised both in her career and her personal life. She was made to feel small, insignificant. She learned to question whether she deserves any success or has any talent, because the most important arbiter of that slept with and then discarded her – the worst review she’s ever had for her work. She was stung and confused and wounded and unable to proceed with her life, which we know is how a lot of women feel when they’ve been through an encounter like this. She gets an apology, which is at least minimally gratifying, if not wonderfully satisfying.
All of this goes on, by the way, at the time Jacob chooses to sleep with Annabelle and then ignore her the next day. When she asks him "Do I even exist?" he yells "Fuck you" in her direction several times. He's clearly not a fast learner. Not when it comes to empathy, patience, or how to treat women. He has the great privilege of Annabelle’s steadfast loyalty and he still treats her as utterly disposable. They make up by the end of the episode but they don’t sleep together again immediately – mostly because, as they say laughingly, they’re "too tired". SAME. This whole episode made me tired. Angry-tired. I am exasperated to see a man behaving as though his precious career trumps the feelings of the women he’s manipulated. Jacob is another guy who's lived his life comfortable in the knowledge that his is the only version of the story that matters. It is, at least, comforting to watch a female character given the chance to challenge that.
All three seasons of Easy are on Netflix now