Get married. Have a baby. Raise the children. Please the husband. Die. This is the cycle of life as laid out to the women in the world of the 1950s as depicted by “My Brilliant Friend,” and the dreary cadence against which the newly married Lila (Gaia Girace) is now rebelling. In this season, that rebellion culminates in the cunning Lila’s most visceral act of vengeance yet: the violent defamation of her wedding portrait.
Jumping back a bit, Lila has made it clear to Lenu (Margherita Mazzucco) she wants nothing to do with the industrial-marriage complex to which she’s wedded herself. “The idea of getting pregnant disgusts me!” she spews at Lenu, who’s asked by Lila’s cruel, shallow husband Stefano (Giovanni Amura) to carry the message that he wants a child. “She has an evil force inside her,” Stefano tells Lenu of his wife, whose dark edges begin to glimmer again in this episode after her body and soul were literally beaten out of her in last week’s outing.
Lila starts to get her groove back at the beginning of this episode, when she gussies up — did they have Bump It in 1950s Naples? — and trots over to the Solara family haunt, where she muscles her clout (i.e., turns her sexuality into a weapon) to inveigle the boys into helping get Lenu’s potential suitor Antonio (Christian Giroso) out of the draft. Antonio, for the record, is bummed out over Lenu’s increasingly chafed reactions to his affections, for it’s really Nino she has eyes for. But this episode puts a pin in that side plot (which eventually gets explosive, if you’ve read the books) for now.
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There’s also a little part of Lila taking a perverse schadenfreude in her own suffering and torture. She openly mocks her husband — and in front of Lenu — and provokes him into beating her with a sick grin on her face. “His beatings do nothing to me,” Lila tells Lenu. “Afterwards, I’m better than before.”
This week’s episode felt a little insular, and it’s hard not to miss the rich chorus of characters that last season — and last week’s episode — set up. Lenu’s brief encounter with Alfonso (still closeted, bless his heart) and Marisa (she has no idea) on a crowded, sunny beach day — God, it’s hard not to miss those, either! — offers a cool breeze of respite from the clenched inner worlds of Lila and Lenu. Until Lila shows up to dump storm clouds over everything by scolding Lenu for not telling her about a book she’s reading about the origins of inequality, given to her by her Latin teacher. For Lila, an intellectual inner life is waning in the shadow of her marriage, and no one else is allowed to enjoy themselves in matters of the mind until she can.
This episode is again directed by series creator Saverio Costanza, and edited by Francesca Calvelli, and together they pay obsessive detail to the shifting glances and subtle facial modulations of each character, who at any given time is almost never saying what he or she actually means.
Not pictured this week is Nino Sarratore, the crush of everybody in town, even Lila, as tied as she is to hiding it (for now). He’s jaunted off to England to pursue more cosmopolitan interests than his fellow Neapolitans. “You and I could do those things, too,” Lenu tells Lila, whose life right now is limited to running a grocery store with Stefano, and her brother Rino, and enduring daily beatings. Except for that one little bomb she drops just before the episode’s chilling fade to black: “I’m pregnant.”