'Girls': Growing Up Is Hard to Do

The Atlantic

After the complicated emotions last week's Girls inspired, episode four, "It's a Shame About Ray" — hark, a Lemonheads reference! — went a long way toward redeeming and refocusing the show. There were real, heartfelt, pretty honest moments; there were moments that were difficult to watch; and sometimes these moments were the same. While Hannah Horvath remained her narcissistic self throughout most of the episode (with no talk of her downstairs neighborhood Laird, with whom she ended last week's episode; I expect he'll return at some point), she had a couple of moments that went a long way toward reinvigorating the female friendship motif of last season.

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Even better, though, there were legitimate hints about what these characters want, and why they're doing what they're doing, with less of the sassy glibness or meta-commentary that the previous episodes have offered. There's a little less is-this-parody? and a little more this-feels-relatable-and-even-true-in-some-way. And there's a sense of motivation, even if it's a motivation we might not want for ourselves. Purpose! It is here, a little bit; it has shown its face, and for that, I am glad. I don't care if these characters are rotten — there can be something great about unlikable characters — but I want to have a clue about why they're doing what they're doing, and if I don't have that clue, I want them to acknowledge that they don't have a clue, either. We kinda got some of that, which felt good. 

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Here's what happened:

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After Hannah booted Elijah from their place after he confessed during last week's coke-athon that he'd slept with Marnie, we see him actually getting ready to leave, a reenactment of a friendship-ending that already happened. "I resent the fact that this was a monologue, not a dialogue," he tells Hannah, and says he won't pay the rent he owes, which takes them back to their college relationship, in which apparently he paid for her fancy burritos and she bought him a butt plug. Perhaps they're even, perhaps no former-lovers-temporary-roommates can ever be even. There's a telling line in this little scene, in which Hannah says to Elijah, "I made a mistake trying to repurpose you." You can't, it seems, despite your best efforts, just replace friends with other friends. You can't repurpose or refurbish them, either, making a former boyfriend into a substitute for your ex-roommate and best friend like he were a vintage sweater. That's a little bit of enlightenment there.

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This idea of repurposing people, or trying to make them fit what you want and failing, is all over this episode. Elsewhere, Jessa and Thomas-John are getting ready to have dinner with his parents, whom Jessa is meeting for the first time and whom she is fully prepared in the most Jessa of ways to not attempt to impress whatsoever. Why would she? That's not very true to Jessa; more true to the girl we know is seducing her husband before they're supposed to go out and then being late to meet his parents. Of course, the dinner is an abject disaster. Jessa is epically and impressively rude, which is kind of fine because Thomas-John's parents seem to be as deplorable as Thomas-John. When they arrive at the restaurant, which wouldn't seat Thomas-John's waiting parents, "because our whole party wasn’t here,” they say with annoyance, Jessa responds, “I hate this restaurant but I didn’t care because I’m so happy to meet you guys.” The evening goes on just terribly, with Thomas-John's dad flirting and his mother essentially accusing Jessa of marrying her son for his money. And Jessa confessing she went to rehab for heroin. Happy first meeting, new family. 

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Back at Hannah's apartment Elijah's gone and she's invited over "new friends" Charlie and Audrey, who looked so much like Marnie in this episode I confused the two ladies at first. They're sitting expectantly as Hannah cooks pad Thai for them in celebration of her post for Jazzhate. Then Marnie shows up, and everything becomes terribly awkward, most of this blamed on poor Marnie herself, who Hannah presumes should have gotten the hint that even though she was invited she wasn't really invited. Everyone stays, anyway; things are about to get worse. Ray and Shoshanna show up (late, because they were, it turns out, having sex, because that's what "adults" do), and that sparks a full-table discourse about butt plugs and buttholes and how much Marnie must be thinking about Charlie's butthole. The latter conversational twist is supplied by Audrey, Charlie's new girlfriend, and the girl goes on full attack against Marnie, who she knows recently showed up at Charlie's apartment to ask to sleep in his bed with him. This is a great scene because it felt real (who hasn't had a dinner party go terribly awry) and also because someone cared. Audrey likes Charlie or is jealous of Marnie or both; Audrey has feelings! Marnie gets up and leaves, and Charlie gets up and goes after her (more feelings!), and then we find out that Ray has actually sort of been living with Shoshanna without telling her. Shoshanna is not happy with this turn of events. 

Charlie has followed Marnie up to the roof, where he tells her he's sorry about how his insecure, threatened girlfriend acted toward her. Oops. And after we get this really honest, revealing statement from Marnie — "I don’t know what I want; I don’t know what the next week of my life will be life. Sometimes I wish someone would tell me this is how you should live your life; this is how the rest of your days should look" — Charlie kisses her. Of course, she doesn't want this. That may be the one thing Marnie does know. She tells him she's seeing Booth Jonathan, and he, denied what he wants (because Charlie still clearly wants Marnie, and maybe Audrey's words and the recent slumber party convinced him there was hope here), he tells her rather assholishly, “You will never get any of this.” When Charlie gets back to Hannah's, he rails on Marnie, calling her a cunt; Hannah defends her friend, calling Charlie a jerk, but at the same time, letting him in on the Elijah-Marnie no-longer-secret. Hannah calls Marnie a jerk, too, but there's something there in this defense of her best friend, I think: Marnie is still her best friend.

Back at home after dinner with the parents, Jessa and Thomas-John are having the sort of break-up fight where it's nearly as possible that they will suddenly kiss and make up as it is that they'll end it for good. Insults are thrown back and forth; these two really hate each other with the kind of hate that sometimes goes along with love, or love lost. But do they or have they ever loved each other? I'm not sure about that; I think probably some psychologist would have a lot to offer about what this relationship says about what they love and hate in themselves. Maybe Jessa is actually breaking up with a part of herself she deeply hates here. Thomas-John, on the other hand, who says in this exchange, "I’m a unicorn. You’re just some dumb hipster who’s munching my hay," might just hate Jessa. But he probably hates himself a little bit, too. "You know why I like hookers?" he asks. "They respect me." Moments later he compares her to a whore with no work ethic, she punches him, and says "Grow up." Ultimately he agrees to pay her a lot of money ($11,500) to leave. She then smashes an award he won for being, as he puts it, “fucking humanitarian.” Yep, they hate themselves as much as they hate each other. She doesn't respect him at all. He might, despite himself, respect her a little. But she doesn't respect herself.

Shoshanna and Ray are another story. They might hate themselves a little bit, particularly Ray, who tells his girlfriend as they wait for the train home "I'm a fucking loser in a lot of ways," and that he's just been counting the days til she figures that out. Shoshanna is more concerned with traditional things, like how he should have his own place, and more interests, and money ... But despite all that, she tells him she's falling in love with him, and he responds that though he's too old for her, "I love you so fucking much.” He says it twice, so she hears it over the subway noise, and she looks at him in shock. 

Jessa makes her way to Hannah's apartment, and Hannah is in the bathtub singing. Jessa is clearly upset; she gets into the tub and starts to cry. There's another soft moment from Hannah here, as she doesn't know quite what to do, and then she does — she holds Jessa's hand, and Jessa, with the other hand, blows her nose and then quietly deposits the snot in the tub. "You just snot-rocketed in the tub," says Hannah, and they start laughing. And then there's another statement that I choose to believe was heartfelt: “I really love you and I’m sorry you’re sad,” says Hannah, who tells Jessa that regardless of all that, she can't snot rocket in a bathtub. 

Maybe this is a turning point in the season, or maybe it's just a turning point for now, but it feels good to think, as I leave these characters until next week, that things are not so bleak and fraught and awful and farcical as they sometimes appear, that these characters, as Dunham & Co. have drawn them, have at least some potential to find themselves and figure out what they want while making the mistakes that everybody makes (well, some of us make) as we become adults. And maybe that it's been happening in front of us the whole time, a little bit. But it's not like everything changed here, either. Far from it. At one point during her dinner party, Marnie tells Hannah to "grow up." Hannah responds, "I am grown up, that’s why I cooked all this food." It takes more than pad thai. That's the ever-loving problem with adulthood. 

Winners: Ray and Shoshanna. Let 'em have love. And Hannah and Jessa and maybe even Marnie, too. For continuing friendship despite continuing friendship. 

Losers: I would say Thomas-John but it's probably better that Jessa's gone (for the most part) from his life. Minus the check he's going to have to send her. But, yeah, Thomas-John's dad, he probably fits the bill here. 

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