'We Are Who We Are' Episode 5: Jenny, Caitlin reveal how easily we give up the quest for our authentic selves
"I'm not that way," says Jenny with a pained smile/grimace to Maggie, right after they have spent the afternoon making love, followed by the two-step dance of domesticity in grocery aisles, smelling cumin. She is in the middle of revealing how she, pregnant with Danny, chose to marry Richard. She explains Richard treated Danny as his own but in her own home, after being interrogated by Danny, she accuses Richard of never treating Danny like his own son.
Jenny consumed with fulfilling others' needs to ensure her own status quo has perfected the evasive maneuver of leaving tracks with one foot while erasing them with the other. She looks like a prey most of the time, wide-eyed and always on alert because she is constantly reacting to what others need her to be — to the point that she has lost herself entirely.
When Richard calls her by her real Nigerian name instead of "Jennifer" or "Jenny" which stands for her false, cheery Americanized persona, she bursts into tears. That name makes it harder for her to pretend like she always does — even in ordinary situations. For instance, when she pretends she makes "pizzas in the microwave" to make a young couple more at ease with the gadget.
Throughout the episode, we see that the day is a particularly windy one. It seems determined to strip the characters of their artifice and masks. It whips Caitlin's hair around, foreshadowing how she will strip her body of the hair that makes her so distinctive and also distinctively female. Jenny looks like she in the middle of a tornado, the wind whipping around her body, as Danny demands to know if his father was Muslim and asks how many things she will turn away from in one lifetime.
When Guilia kisses Caitlin in her "Harper" persona (with a fake mustache), they are sheltered against the wind but as soon as Guilia wipes of Cailtin's mustache and says she knows she is a girl, Caitlin steps into the open and faces the harsh wind and the harsh truth — she has not passed as a man like she wanted to.
Between Jenny and Caitlin, we realize that how we want to be seen or identified might or might not correspond to who we really are. But being viewed a certain way is very necessary for the structures we have built up in our life. Caitlin is just beginning to realize this game of pretending that adults play after she comes back home with her shaved head to find Richard waiting for her. By cutting her hair, she is becoming 'more' than how he perceives her. So he screams at her.
Caitlin, who has already faced one blow to how she wants to present herself, immediately collapses and takes on the identity assigned to her by Richard — of being his baby girl. When she collapses into his arms, finding reassurance in his protective but restrictive embrace, she is also embracing the known structure in her life. Similarly, we see Maggie folding herself into Sarah's conception of her as "her wife", right after she intuits that Sarah sees her as "basic" like Jenny and Richard. But her real self continues to worry about Jenny not being back home safely.
It is an interesting episode with complex themes. But what it boils down to is this: We are who we are depending not only how people 'see' us but also what we can reap in terms of companionship, love, acceptance by being who we are with them. While adults choose stability over authenticity, teenagers, more free of structures, experiment more with their 'authentic selves'. But does an authentic self even exist, is the question, given how we can so quickly be 'not' who we are, depending on circumstances.
'We are Who We are' Episode 6 will air on October 19 on HBO at 10 pm ET.