If you’re watching Girls hoping for something wildly original, you’re probably not getting anything in that department. Tonight’s episode involved Hannah discovering that her college boyfriend was gay, someone coming on to Marnie forcefully, and Jessa shooting the shit with the father of the kids she babysits. There’s nothing here—at least in terms of the plot—that hasn’t been done on a million TV shows before, and I can’t really say that the episode itself strayed from the plot as we know it will play out in any highly intriguing fashion. Hannah was hurt by the revelation. Marnie was turned on, even if she likely knows on some level she shouldn’t be. There was a bit of a spark between Jessa and the dad. Shoshanna watched game shows.
But if you look beyond the plot, at the way the show is telling these stories, there’s much to appreciate. I think one of the reasons I love this show is because I like watching people think, and Lena Dunham’s direction goes out of its way to give us lots of shots of people who are trying to puzzle out what they just heard or what they’re seeing, shot in tight close-up on the face. To me, there’s no more interesting shot in all of filmed entertainment, and if somebody made a TV show called Look At This Face, I’d probably give it an A+. Close-ups on the face are the sort of thing most TV shows don’t have a lot of time for. They might isolate a single person in a shot, or they might do a medium shot that allows for one or two people to react to something, but something like these close-ups is exceedingly rare. They end up being the bread-and-butter of Girls, and that means that something as clichéd as the “I’m your ex-boyfriend and I’m gay!” revelation plays out with a certain degree of emotional acuity. The filming style forces the writing to be sharper.
This makes the emotions play that much more vividly. When Hannah’s dealing with the news that her ex is gay—and when the two get into a fairly nasty fight that involves him implying that her father is gay—the camera isolates her, so that we’re watching her slowly come to terms with this news. In a lot of shows, the revelation would be played as a big joke, as something that was there for us to laugh about our heroine’s unlucky ways with love. In this episode, however, the whole thing is just the latest indignity to be heaped upon Hannah’s head. She’s got HPV. Her current boyfriend is kind of a dolt—witness the way he lays on his back and furiously does bicycle kicks into the sky. Her rent is due. Nothing is going right. And now she finds out this guy is gay? And everything he says just makes the situation worse.
Hannah can be a loathsome, awful person, but in this moment, it’s hard to have anything but sympathy for her. Who would want to get this news? Ever? And who would want to have it made even worse by having him say that there’s a certain handsomeness to her? She starts crying almost immediately. At first, he’s sympathetic. But she eventually turns things nasty, and the two are soon in a fight over essentially nothing. Hannah’s right to feel hurt by this revelation—and by how he deals with her crying—but she has a tendency to take things too far, something that pops up again here. It’s amusing to watch these two kids snipe back and forth, and the final sequence, where Hannah tries to get the last word but is unable to, might be the comic highlight of the episode, if only for the line: “It was nice to see you. Your dad is gay.”
For a show with the title it has, I’m pleasantly surprised by how many of the big laughs Girls is giving to the men in its ensemble. The four central women get to have their laughs as well—even Shoshanna gets her little monologue about a game show named Baggage—but the guys keep getting these goofy little bits that just make me laugh. Tonight, we not only have Hannah’s ex suggesting her dad might be gay, but we also have Adam seeming completely oblivious to Hannah’s worries about her HPV diagnosis, as well as Charlie’s big, dumb shaved head and his mention to Hannah that she looks like she’s going to go put curses on the popular girls. (In rewatching these episodes for these reviews, I’m surprised by how many Charlie lines I like. I remembered him as sort of forgettable the first time through.)
I’m not as impressed with the Marnie storyline this time around. It’s so obvious where it’s heading that I can’t get too involved in it. I do like that the show telegraphs immediately where it’s headed (with the guy’s cocksure boast that when he sleeps with Marnie, she might be a little scared at first), but there’s not a lot to this right now, and I’m not exactly looking forward to watching everything play out in the exact order we know it will. On the other hand, I like the relaxed nature of the story where Jessa watches over these fellow children of privilege. There’s not a lot of class-consciousness in this show (okay, there’s not any), but this storyline really does feel like a way of showing us just how sequestered from reality these women have been from birth. Plus, I liked Jessa’s easy chemistry with the dad. There’s something about Jemima Kirke’s easygoing nature that makes scenes like this work. You always feel like she might bolt for the door.
The episode takes its title from the idea that all “adventurous” women have the sort of scare Hannah has with the HPV. What I like is that the disease functions almost like the potential of the various characters: It’s not an immediately big deal, but there’s the possibility for something more in the years to come. It’s lurking behind the scenes, and while there’s no guarantee it will lead to anything, there’s always the fear that it will change everything. Girls is a show about people who haven’t really had to live all that much being forcibly pushed outside of their comfort zones and sent into new directions. It’s about experimentation and trying new things, and sometimes, there will be bad things that happen because of those new things. But that doesn’t mean that having the adventure wasn’t worth it. When Marnie comes home at the end and sees Hannah trying to compose a tweet about her experience (an elegant way to peek into her subconscious and see her creative process), Hannah reveals her ex was gay. Of course he was, Marnie agrees, and the two are able to laugh about it. In the moment, having an experience can be scary and horrifying, but once you’re on the other side, maybe you laugh about it. Maybe you’re glad you had it.
- Another great close-up: Marnie’s reaction shots during the scene where Charlie reveals his bald head. The emotions that float across Allison Williams’ face are all so perfectly conveyed. (Another great moment for Williams: telling Hannah the rent is due.)
- I realize that Lena Dunham speaks from a position of experience, but I’m not sure I’m too excited for stories set in the New York art world. This is just a hazard of where Marnie works, I guess, but I can’t say I’m enthralled about the idea.
- I have the remaining episodes on screener, so reviews will be on time every week. I know you’re super psyched.