The ensemble of Girls almost functions better as an actual ensemble than it does as four actresses playing four separate characters. Tonight’s episode, while good, was probably my least favorite of the show so far, and that stems from the way the characters split off into their own storylines. I found some of these fairly entertaining—Hannah’s workplace weirdness was fun—and I didn’t mind others—despite a couple of “I’m not sure guys would talk like that” moments, I liked Charlie and Ray hanging out in the apartment to build Marnie a coffee table out of street trash. But there was at least one that really put me off, and I can’t say that’s happened before with this show. At the same time, the series is cultivating a good idea for how to end an episode, and that means everything pulls together in a really satisfying way in the end.
Let’s talk about the storyline that didn’t work, though. Honestly, I don’t buy the “the show should be more diverse” critiques of the series, even as I think they are completely valid. Let me explain. The thing is, I don’t find it that hard to believe that Hannah Horvath and her friends mostly hang out with white people. I can totally see their social circle consisting of mostly their own race. So when there’s hue and cry for the show to add characters of different races, simply because they’re of different races, it edges uncomfortably close to tokenism for me. (If there was an actress of a different race on the show, but she never had any lines and was written with less alacrity than the other characters, would that somehow be a huge step up?) Where I think the criticism makes sense—kind of—is in the idea that the world these women live in should be filled with people of all races, religions, and sexualities, and in the first few episodes, it just wasn’t. Brooklyn’s a big, diverse place; the show should be, too.
But that’s less something to hold against the show right now and more the start of a dialogue. If the show is entering its seventh season and has yet to prominently feature any characters of more diverse backgrounds—like, say, How I Met Your Mother—then, yeah, it would make sense to level that criticism as forcefully as it’s been leveled against the series on the basis of just three (when thinkpieces were being written based on the screener HBO sent out) episodes. Yet already tonight, we’re seeing the series expand the scope of its diversity. Hannah’s workplace has people of other races in it, and that makes sense. Our workplaces are often where we encounter the most diversity, simply because they ostensibly don’t care about race, religion, gender, or sexuality, so long as the job gets done. (Sometimes they do care, but that’s another show, most likely.)
Yet the Jessa storyline was the first time I found myself rolling my eyes at the show’s lily-white depiction of New York. Jessa, of course, goes to the playground with her young charges, and while there, she strikes up a conversation with some other nannies (most of whom are of other races and portrayed fairly stereotypically, of course), who are shocked—shocked—that she’s a nanny and not a movie star. (What with the earlier and awkward dialogue between the two older guy friends about Jessa, much of the episode sounds like Lena Dunham attempting to explain to Jemima Kirke why she’s so darn pretty.) Granted, it’s a short scene, and the ultimate point of it is meant to be that Jessa’s still young enough to get caught up in conversation with these women so she loses track of the kids she’s watching. But the characters are still there to be contrasted against Jessa’s perfection and to facilitate her journey. There was room here for an interesting look at these other women, but the show makes them props in Jessa’s journey instead. Obviously, it’s a 30-minute TV show, and it needs to get on to the next thing, but this was the first time when I was really irritated by something Girls was doing when it came to trying to broaden its scope past the four central characters.
At the same time, a lot of this stems from the fact that Jessa’s just not as fully realized as a character as the other three women are. Even Shoshanna, who sometimes seems constructed from leftover sitcom parts, has come to life, thanks to Dunham’s decision to depict her virgin status sympathetically and Zosia Mamet’s acting. Jessa is free-spirited and flighty, but we don’t really have a good insight into why. She mentions a mother who made her childhood unhappy, but that’s all we’ve gotten. This is not to say that all characters on a show should be fully realized in episode four (far from it), but the stabs of personality we’ve gotten from the other three women and even Adam and Charlie have been far more successful at suggesting to us who these people are than anything we’ve seen of Jessa just yet. I really want to like Jessa, since I think it’s so fun to watch Kirke play off of the other actors in her scenes, but she’s easily the character I’m least invested in, and having a whole storyline that consists of other characters telling us what to think of her didn’t help in that regard.
While we’re being cranky, I also didn’t really buy that that guy wouldn’t sleep with Shoshanna because virgins get clingy. I mean, I buy it as a character motivation, but c’mon! Mamet was playing the hell out of that scene, and she was pretty much throwing herself at him. It’s another case where Mamet is overwhelming the part to such a degree that some of the stuff she’s asked to do isn’t entirely believable. This is just the sort of thing that takes time to calibrate, and I have every faith in the world the show will figure it all out by the time Shoshanna’s actually ready to lose her virginity. (I hope it’s not to that guy. That guy’s a dick.)
The rest of the episode, though, unquestionably worked, particularly everything that involved Hannah, Marnie, and Charlie. The opening scene of Hannah getting the text of Adam’s penis wrapped in a fur was hilarious and filled with some great lines. (I finally got why Marnie and Charlie were hanging on to each other beyond stasis in this scene.) Hannah’s workplace experiences were sharply written, and I liked the idea that the other women who hung on to their jobs, even though the guy was touchy-feely, had recognizable motivations for hanging on in a bad workplace environment. (They also had some good advice for how to deal with Adam, as it turns out, even if Hannah doesn’t really listen to it.) I also like that the guy is totally aware of how he’s perceived, and that Hannah doesn’t say anything when he says she can. I imagine a lot of workplace sexual harassment goes down like this—with all parties at least vaguely aware it’s not okay, but no one really wanting to disrupt the workplace ecosystem or have to find a new job.
What really sells the episode, though, is once again the final scene, where Charlie and Ray’s band performs for a small, not terribly enthusiastic crowd, then breaks out the final song, which is taken from Hannah’s diary, where the two have just learned that Marnie wants to break up with Charlie. The episode left Charlie and Ray having discovered and read the diary, but it hadn’t come back to them. In retrospect, I should have realized that discovery would fuel the final scene, but I didn’t put it together until they said their next song would be called “Hannah’s Diary.” The scene brings all of the episode’s story arcs full-circle, and it even hammers home the theme: How much should you be willing to put up with if you’re comfortable? It’s a question every one of these characters asks themselves, and it’s almost certainly one they’ll never stop asking themselves.
- I only now realized Christopher Abbott’s not credited as a main cast member. I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see of him, because Charlie’s turned out to be one of the show’s funnier characters. Also, his band performs songs about Keds, so you know he’s got to come back.
- I liked that the parents of the girls Jessa is the nanny for didn’t believe Lola’s story about how Jessa had lost them. Kids’ll say any old shit!
- This is the first episode not directed by Dunham, and, indeed, there aren’t nearly as many close-ups. Maybe that’s what I’m missing!