Groups of friends rarely dissolve on television. That’s the kind of inertia the medium requires. Once Phoebe and Joey are friends, they’re going to remain friends forever, because it’s not like Lisa Kudrow is going to consistently start getting stories off on the margins, all by herself, when she could be hanging out with the rest of the Friends. In real life, groups of friends shift and change over time, expanding and contracting as people fall in and out of love or get in fights or move away to take new opportunities. Yeah, you might reconnect every so often, but it’s not like you’re constantly hanging out with each other anymore. Plenty of shows about friends have made fun of how codependent their central casts are, how unrealistic all of this is. But that’s part of the appeal, isn’t it? Even though your own friend group keeps changing, the Friends or the How I Met Your Mother gang or even the officers on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are eternal. You always know where to find them, and they’re not going anywhere.
Girls seasons two and three have attempted to tell the story of a group of friends breaking up, something closer to what might really happen after Hannah and Marnie moved to the big city and quickly discovered that they weren’t so compatible after all. This has worked mostly in fits and starts—long-term plotting has never been this show’s strong suit—but I’m mostly impressed the show is even trying to do something like this, because if it works, it means that the show will forever be about four separate characters, swirling along in their own separate universes and accumulating planets of their own. However, I’ve seen enough television to sort of know this won’t happen. I opined earlier in the season that the only person I could really see Hannah staying connected with through the years was Jessa, and I still more or less think that’s true. But it’s also true for everybody else. And in figures like Jessa and Ray, the show is already building some of the structures it could conceivably use to bring the core cast back together.
Yet even if the show figures out a way to make everybody best friends again, I’m impressed it’s brought them this close to the brink. There are things I could quibble with in “Beach House,” like how I’m not sure how well Shosh works as a catalyst (something the show tries to get around by insisting she’s a “cruel drunk”). But for the most part, this is a half-hour that sets up a bunch of plot bombs that then spend the rest of the episode exploding, with at least one notable one sizzling away to explode later on in the season. It also features the return of Elijah, now trapped in a go-nowhere relationship with a guy named Paul (played by Jonathan from Buffy, aka Danny Strong) that Elijah desperately wants to go somewhere, and a choreographed dance number. I mean, what more could you want?
The time bomb underneath this season has always been Marnie, and she finally starts a slow-motion explosion in this episode. Anne Helen Peterson wrote a brilliant piece earlier this month in the LA Review Of Books about how she loves Girls’ treatment of Marnie, because this is the girl we’ve been conditioned from lots of prior entertainments to expect to get anything without really trying. To put it in terms of that other show I mentioned earlier, she’s the Rachel. And that’s fine. We all know a Rachel, a pretty girl who gets stuff that it doesn’t seem fair she’s getting. But far more common, at least to my mind, is the Marnie, the person—male or female—who had a pretty firm idea of what their life was going to look like and expected life to just hand it to them once they got out of college. They had done everything right. They had the looks and the education and the five-year plan. But they’d forgotten to build a personality, because they never really had to. As Peterson would have it, Hannah’s unconventional attractiveness means that for all of her class advantages, she still had to come up with a sort of self-deprecating salesmanship that’s allowed her to slowly push her way through doors held open only a crack. Marnie doesn’t know how to do that, so she’s trapped in a slowly unraveling dream that never came true.
Anyway, all of this means that the beach house weekend becomes an almost perfect miniature of Marnie’s life situation. She’s got a perfectly laid out plan, and the more that it unravels, the more desperate she becomes. She’s unable to simply roll with the punches, because she’s too used to the punches rolling off her. Meanwhile, Hannah, who’s had to push her way through that door (and past all of the people who are casually cruel to her because they think she’s a funny girl and can handle it, like Elijah and his friends), and Jessa, who’s got a host of parental issues and has been to rehab, and Shosh, who’s too young to know any better, are all simply there to have a good time and fuck around. To be sure, Marnie initially planned a careful weekend for four, and she’s got an iota of a point about not having enough food for eight. But that’s when you let go of your plans as graciously as you can and find the one pizza delivery place in Northfork (they have to have one). Marnie doesn’t yet know how to do that, even as you can imagine any of the other three very easily doing so.
Once Marnie’s slowly pushing things toward destruction, however, it’s Shosh who pushes the big red button, by calling Hannah the most narcissistic person she’s ever met. (Hannah says people have been telling her that since she was 3, and with just about anyone else, I would consider that a joke.) Pretty soon, they’re all lighting into each other, with words they’ve always wanted to say but have kept held back out of politeness. I’m of two minds about this sequence. On the one hand, I found it a little forced, with Shosh’s outburst sort of a placeholder for a more organic way to build to the fight. On the other hand, I found the fight itself one of those real, bruising fights you’re having with people you’re probably not going to see again for a long, long time, because the tensions have built up too much. This was a conversation these women needed to have, and I loved the way the dynamics played out, with Shoshanna continuing to put salt in the wound and Jessa trying to calm things down, while Hannah and Marnie were clearly continuing to play out the ongoing death spiral of their friendship. But it’s Shosh’s final realization—that she doesn’t really want to hang out with any of these people—that cuts the deepest. These people were friends because of inertia; there’s nothing saying that a strong enough force can’t end that inertia instantly.
The episode ends with the four sitting at the bus stop, Hannah beginning the hand movements from the dance number they earlier learned, the other three joining in one by one. At first, it seemed a little cloying to me, a little too much like the episode trying to elbow the viewer in the ribs and say, “C’mon! They’ll be fine!” But the more I thought about it, the more I saw a kind of sadness in it. Earlier in the episode, Paul and one of his friends were laughing together about how Elijah thought that inertia simply meant going really fast, and it’s something of a throwaway moment meant to prompt the later one where Elijah asks Paul to treat him better, then confesses his love to a horrified response. But it’s also key to where this episode’s head is. The girls of Girls, like so many TV friends before them, are simply friends because of inertia. Their own internal inertias are heading in vastly different directions, but they maintain a kind of slowly decaying group inertia that’s hard to let go of. They’re friends because they don’t know who to be if they aren’t friends, and that’s, in and of itself, tremendously crushing.
- I’ve complained gently about how the series’ new focus on consistency above all else means that we don’t get some of the standout episodes seasons one and two had. I don’t know that this episode is at the level of those, but it’s the first that really seems to be trying to reach those heights, and it certainly comes far closer than anything else this season. Which is to say that I think it’s a good suggestion that Girls hasn’t entirely given up on doing those sorts of things.
- This is the first episode credited to all three of the series’ executive producers, and I’d love to hear how the breakdown fell in scripting duties among Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow. It’s also directed by Jesse Peretz, who is basically Dunham’s directorial backup at this point. The episode also receives a credit for “stunt and water safety coordinator,” which I guess is just the guy who made sure no one injured themselves while jumping in the pool.
- The plot bomb that doesn’t go off is that Shoshanna doesn’t find out about Marnie and Ray. However, a couple of Elijah’s friends put two and two together, so I’m sure everyone will learn about this soon enough.
- It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you get enough drunk and receptive people around a choreographer, he will attempt to choreograph something with them. And if they’re drunk enough, it might look sloppy but still enthusiastic and, therefore, pretty good.
- I was greatly disappointed Jessa’s friends from the bus never showed up. Two old people could have been a fun element to toss in the mix, though it probably would have been an element too many.
- We get the most detailed explanation yet of what happened between Marnie and Charlie. He called, saying they needed to talk about some stuff, because he wanted to propose but needed to discuss some things first, but when he finally came home (after she had grilled some pizzas), he was packing up his stuff to move out, telling her he didn’t love her and never had.
- Hannah: much skinnier than crazy-ass Sadie.