In-depth character analysis of Hank Moody — The protagonist of the show Californication.
Henry James Moody (Portrayed By David Duchovney), the protagonist of Showtime’s Californication, can be described in many ways. Hank, as he’s known, is smooth, suave, charming, and handsome. He’s a loving father, friend, and ladies man. He’s careless, reckless, and immature. He’s an egotistical, narcissistic rambler. He’s a self-loathing, depressed, alcoholic. And finally, Hank is a brilliant writer, a wordsmith, and an architect of the English language, that is, when he’s not losing the never-ending battle with the blank page that often takes the form of writers block.
What does seem to remain constant in the life of Hank Moody throughout the duration of Californication’s seven seasons, is his unconditional, undying love for his daughter Becca, and his perpetual yearning to win back the heart of Karen, the love of his life and the the madre of his bambino. Hank, of course, has a well-established proclivity for getting into terribly sticky situations that hinder him on his quest to repair his damaged relationship with Karen, who would describe him as a walking id. Hate him or love him, what’s undisputable is that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this complicated, depth-filled character, and we’re going to peel back some of those layers and dive in.
Whether you’re familiar with Californication or not, the name clearly suggests that sex is a huge part of the show. It’s also a huge part of Hank Moody, and it’s pretty clear to anyone watching, that sex is an addiction that plagues the character throughout his journey. As Karen so eloquently puts it in season one, Hank is “preoccupied with sticking his [male sex organ] into any [female sex organ] that will have him.” In the very same season, Hank, himself, also comments on his affection for the fairer sex, stating “I love women, I have all their albums.” Of course, for Hank, the ease with which he’s able to sleep with a seemingly endless stream of beautiful women only fuels his addiction.
There are many factors working in Hank’s favor that ultimately come together to make him so irresistible to women, not the least of which is the fact that it’s a television show. If we throw that aside, or even conclude that it accounts for only a small, if not inconsequential, portion of Hank’s sexual escapades, we can dive deeper and see that Hank does have an abundance of characteristics that contribute to his charm and success with women. Is he handsome and cool? Sure, but that alone isn’t enough to do it in LA where handsome and cool men aren’t in short supply. What is in short supply in LA? Todd Carr, the director who turned Hank’s last novel into a fruity rom-com, answers that very question in season one. “When you’re not wallowing in self-pity, you’re the rarest thing this town has to offer. Someone with some damn vision.” Hank is not just a famous and successful writer, he is an amazing one, who, as Faith puts it in season six, is doing exactly what he was put on this planet to do. Those who are avid readers of Hank, don’t like his work, they love it. The fact that Hank is a handsome, accomplished, and revered novelist certainly helps him pick up women, but we haven’t even gotten to the big guns yet.
Arguably the biggest factor contributing to Hank’s success with the ladies is that he is truly in complete control of every single conversation he has. As previously mentioned, he is an architect of the English language. He uses his expansive vocabulary masterfully, and is also equipped with an enormous library of sayings, isms, axioms, and quips. He’s a writer so we can surmise that he’s done quite a bit of reading, which, of course, contributed to that library. His deft command of the English language allows him to remain calm, smooth, and in control while engaging in conversation, as he always has something compelling to say. Again, this is arguably the biggest factor contributing to Hank’s success with women, but there is one more thing he has going for him that probably even trumps it.
On top of everything we just mentioned, Hank doesn’t care. When he’s engaged in a conversation with a beautiful woman, he genuinely doesn’t care whether he successfully seduces that woman or not. He doesn’t care because that woman, however beautiful, amazing, or both, is not Karen. The fact of the matter is, Hank’s happiness doesn’t hinge upon his success in seducing woman that aren’t Karen, so he doesn’t care. He’s really only happy when he’s in Karen’s good graces, but, as we’ll get into shortly, even that is only temporary. It’s clear to the women with whom Hank interacts, that not only does he not care, but more importantly, that they can’t have him on an emotional level because he isn’t emotionally available. As conventional wisdom applies, we want what we can’t have, so these women ‘have him’ on a physical level so that they might be able to get him (they can’t) on an emotional level. Hank’s charm is complex, but it has some very strong components, including this one, that work in his favor.
Hank’s Golden Fleece
What does Hank Moody really want? What is Hank Moody’s golden fleece? Hank’s mission from season one through season seven is to reunite Karen, Becca, and himself into one big, (really small) happy family. To make that happen, he has to win back Karen’s affection. Getting Karen back, and more importantly keeping her, is the key to that dream, and therefore the ultimate goal. Throughout the show, Hank wins Karen back several times, only to lose her again.
You might point to Hank’s proclivity for getting into trouble and screwing things up as the reason he simply cannot hold onto Karen, but there’s something bigger at play. There’s something that contributes greatly to that self-inhibiting tendency of his to mess things up. The real issue is that Hank’s golden fleece is unattainable because his standards are set way to high. He doesn’t really want Karen, he wants this idealized version of Karen that doesn’t exist because he’s made that version up and put it on a pedestal far out of reach. The reason he’s so emotionally unavailable to every single woman he talks to, however extraordinary that woman may be, is because none of them are good enough for him. But the truth is nobody is good enough for him because he’s using this made up version of Karen as a comparison that even Karen herself cannot compete with. Hank does unquestionably love Karen, don’t hear what I’m not saying, but every time he wins her back the joy and happiness he feels is fleeting. It’s never going to be quite what he thought it would be, and she is never going to quite live up to what he imagined. Once enough of that joy and happiness is gone, he is bound to mess it up all over again.
One of the qualities that adds a tremendous amount of depth to Hank Moody is his unconditional and undying love for his daughter, Becca. The key to really appreciating this quality lies in further evaluating Hank’s relationship with women. Two people can watch the same episodes of Californication and come away with very different views on the subject of how Hank treats women. The truth is, the extent with which Hank uses ‘women for sex’, as a matter of speaking, would probably not be allowed on a television show being made in today’s climate. That doesn’t mean Hank necessarily treats women poorly, and if you watch the show, he does in a way, but he also doesn’t.
Hank does have a certain reverence for women. As he so eloquently puts it in season three, “All women are [beautiful] in one way or another. You know, there’s always something about every damn one of you, a smile, a curve, a secret. You ladies really are the most amazing creatures.” This is a sincere and vulnerable moment for Hank in which he “drops his act.” That reverence and respect that he has for women, even the ones he defiles, is perhaps best shown in his relationship with Trixy, who’s a prostitute in the show. As a prostitute, Trixy is used to being treated poorly, but not by Hank. They have a very interesting, and even loving, relationship that extends as far as Hank painting her toenails and listening to her life story instead of having sex with her while she’s “on the clock.” That reverence and respect that he has for women is also evidenced by the many women throughout the show who find themselves in a position to press charges in some form or another against Hank, (Mia, Felicia, Jill, Jackie) but refuse to do so.
Having said all that, Hank does sleep with women and then tosses them aside at an unacceptable rate, which can absolutely be described as treating them poorly. While it’s clear that men should not treat women this way, we have to remember that we’re talking about a television character here, and that quality paired with his relationship as Becca’s father makes him a really amazing character. This guy is bedding extraordinarily beautiful women, including Hollywood actresses, and tossing them to the side because they don’t live up to his idealistic version of Karen. Through that terrible behavior that he exhibits to all these extraordinary women, he has this unconditional, undying love for his daughter Becca, who, frankly, is an annoying and snotty kid for most of the show, and a devil-worshipper the rest of the time. Despite that, Hank loves her and tries, (though often failing) to be a great father.
There you have it. Hank Moody has a lot of layers. Ultimately his driving force is his desire to be a family with Karen and Becca, which makes attaining and keep Karen his ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the idealized version of Karen floating around in his head doesn’t actually exist, making his golden fleece unattainable. Sadly for Hank, this will always lead to a life full of depression, self-loathing, and alcoholism.