We can add death to the list of abstract concepts that early 2000s America was bad at and that Maya and Anna will bump up against for the rest of their lives. It joins female sexuality, race, class, and whether thrift shopping is cool or not.
Like Anna, I got in trouble for laughing at a grandparent’s funeral. Knowing I would get bored at the four-hour reception, my family packed a grocery bag full of divertissements: YM magazine, crosswords, and Simpsons comics. And it was while reading those comics that I got in trouble for letting out a hardy har-har. Bart told me not to have a cow, but apparently you are obligated to have a cow at a funeral. It’s not like I didn’t love my grandfather, but I couldn’t sustain the long-form performative sadness of mourning.
“Grammy” is an Anna-centric episode juxtaposed against the double dose of Maya we got in the previous two episodes. Anna is still figuring out her place in the world as a child of divorce — what she owes to which parent and how much of her life she’s allowed to claim for herself. Maya? Maya is tweaking.
Anna’s grammy has come to live with her daughter and granddaughter ostensibly to “help out,” but Anna winds up doing more of the caregiving than anyone else in the house. Poor Anna is trapped in a caregiver role she lacks the capacity to fulfill. With Grammy home, Kathy abandons Anna to hang out with her friends. It was nice to get some unsympathetic Kathy in this episode. For too long, she’d been the more even-keeled parent, but we need to be reminded she’s still as much of a mess as anyone else in this show.
Anna is still growing up too fast. As a peer says in her “teens in need” group at the Unitarian Universalist church, she talks like she’s 40. Anna is still being made to decide whom she’s going to live with, and she has correctly identified that if she doesn’t live with her dad, he will lose his shit. Kathy got the house, and as Anna says, “If he doesn’t get me too, then what’s he gonna do?”
Meanwhile, Maya gets diagnosed with ADD and Irlen Syndrome. She is prescribed medication for the former and Matrix glasses for the latter. But don’t worry, her doctor seems to say, Haley Joel Osment has the same glasses! Just look at the framed photo I keep with me at all times! The framed photo of Osment is a perfect “How do you do, fellow kids?” feint, like a youth pastor trying to compare a TikTok sound to Jesus Christ. Bing bong! What do you wanna tell our Lord and Savior right now? I wonder what this poor doctor sold Irlen Syndrome in between Secondhand Lions and Osment’s status as a fun podcast guest and Comedy Bang! Bang! ensemble player.
Anna and Grammy really only spend one day together, which is supposed to include a Blockbuster run. Instead, Maya and Anna are trapped with Grammy and her demands for sherry and hair appointments. Right when I wrote down I was impressed Grammy hadn’t said anything fucked up about World War II to Maya, she commented on her “Mongoloid features.” There it is, there it is. Anna and Maya make the best of it, doing Grammy’s hair and nails — almost as good as playing pretend kitchen-sink drama. Anna is scared the rest of her childhood will be spent in servitude to Grammy, but don’t worry! She’s already dead.
(And did Grammy have to die that night? Felt a little contrived. Would a time jump have been so hard?)
When Grammy dies, it seems to come as a relief to Kathy and Anna. Anna was worried her entire childhood would be spent as her grandmother’s servant and hairdresser, and Grammy was so overbearing it’s remarkable Kathy hadn’t cut her out of her life already. Notably, Kathy doesn’t give Anna even a little bit of shit about laughing during her eulogy. Maybe she shares the “I should care more” feelings of ambivalence that her daughter can actually express.
However, it is disappointing not to see Anna’s atheistic dread make a reappearance when confronted with death. In the season-2.5 premiere, Anna had the most existential of crises, and you’re telling me she doesn’t feel any type of way about it when someone dies in her home? If there’s one criticism to have against PEN15, it’s how episodic the show can feel. On the one hand, if we had to deal with the whole “hair in Brandt’s locker” thing collectively as an audience every episode, we would expire. On the other hand, sometimes events on the show can feel really disjointed. The school play popped up out of nowhere, and Anna’s blasé attitude toward a death in the family rings a little false for someone who — not two weeks ago — was very concerned about where we go when we die. Maybe she’s too horny with Steve in the picture to be scared of death.
Speaking of, Steve is still hiding from Kathy. But he introduces himself to Curtis at the funeral, making a big show of shaking his hand. It’s dumb/cute as hell. Right now, I like Steve, but he is on the thinnest of ice. Sometimes a friend makes such bad choices you are preternaturally against anyone they date, and Anna is one such friend. And Derrick, the friend he brings for Maya, isn’t doing him any favors.
Let’s discuss Derrick. In some ways, Bill Kottkamp is a perfect addition to the PEN15 family. He’s sweet, dopey, and kind of annoying — just like literally everyone else on the show. But his facial hair is too fully grown; it’s fourth-wall-breaking. Derrick is stuck with Maya in one of those classic “pair the spares” moments. Who hasn’t been the victim of one of these? Derrick is far more interested in Maya’s meds than he is in her as a person. When she asks if he wants to be boyfriend and girlfriend, he replies, “Your glasses are weird. Okay.” Time to watch these two trains utterly wreck themselves, I guess.