A long-term relationship has its own kind of inertia. Once you get past the year mark, your life becomes harder and harder to picture without the person you’re dating, and it becomes easier and easier to see the rest of your life stretching on with them in it, heading off into the future. Even if the person you’re with does something really awful, you might find yourself fighting to get them back simply because having to reimagine your future without them in it can be so terrifying. It eventually becomes less about how much you love them and more about how much your life makes sense with them in it, never mind the fact that it only makes sense with them in it because you’ve reordered your cosmos to include them. Love is a part of it, yeah, and there will be times when you really, really love them. But the real success of a long-term relationship comes from constructing the most comfortable habitat for it, like a really impressive animal cage in a zoo.
Charlie and Marnie have been in one of these relationships for quite some time. We see when they first meet in this episode—at a costume party at Oberlin College in 2007—and he’s already the nice guy that’s always going to be there for her. She’s taken some sort of drug that makes her think she can’t leave the pole she’s standing right next to, and Hannah’s boyfriend (the one we learned was gay a couple of episodes ago) assigns Charlie to watch over the girl while he and Hannah go off to share a dance. Marnie, stuck as she thinks she is, can only ask him to keep hugging her, even as she doesn’t hug back. And thus the template for their relationship is set: He’s really kind to her, and she accepts his kindness but doesn’t do much to return it. It’s easy to see where this would become smothering.
The Charlie-and-Marnie storyline is filled with these sorts of visual metaphors, and they really help the storyline take on the feeling of a piece of short fiction or an essay. Another is the too small bed that Charlie’s constructed in his apartment. It’s really impressive looking, and it functions perfectly for him, but it’s also the sort of place that two people can’t occupy together. He’s trying to build a space small enough to keep her in one place—still attached rigidly to that pole—but she wants more than anything else to take a few steps of her own. The tragedy is that if these two had met even five years later—when both were starving twentysomethings in the big city—they would have been perfect for each other. But the weird codependent place that their relationship started in as college students has created a cycle they can’t escape unless they break up. She goes to win him back. He resists, but finally takes her back. And then, in the end, at the most embarrassing point possible, she says she wants to break up. It’s hard to see these two ever finding a way back to each other.
At the same time, we’ve got Hannah, whose cocksure notion that she’s got to get “the story” leads her into many, many uncomfortable situations. Lena Dunham possesses a real talent for putting her character in incredibly cringe-worthy scenarios, and the scene in which she propositions her boss because she’s blithely certain that it will help “the story” (thanks to Jessa saying so) is both jaw-droppingly horrifying and deeply hilarious (if you find that sort of thing hilarious). Dunham is using Hannah as a character who sort of acts as a catch-all for dumb things girls in their 20s might do, and when she so confidently puts her boss’ hand on her breast, and he starts laughing, it’s the comedic highlight of the episode. There’s always great comedy in someone who thinks they have things all figured out, only to realize that they have no fucking clue what they’re doing. Dunham perhaps overuses this idea with Hannah, but when she comes up with a scene this good, who cares? (My favorite joke of the episode is in this scene, too, when Hannah gets angry that her boss still wants to keep her around after she’s tried to fuck, sue, and extort him. I also liked him saying that she was a good employee, even though she didn’t know how to do anything.)
I’ve seen complaints that it’s hard to buy that Hannah would put up with Adam’s shit, but I find this one of the easiest things to accept about the show. Haven’t we all had someone who was there when we were feeling sort of adrift and lonely, and we kept coming back to them because we weren’t sure where else to go? Adam and Hannah seem to each fill that role for the other, and his apartment is like a weird safe zone where they can both be a little creepy with each other. Adam’s sexual issues seem to be profligate, yet Hannah kind of enjoys the way that he’s right out there and open about them. After she realizes that he thought their conversation of the night before was a break-up—because why wouldn’t he?—and that they only had sex because they were kissing, and that they were only kissing because she looked sad, she heads into his bathroom and sits, tears brimming. Earlier in the episode, she told Jessa that there were three guys who liked her: her dad, her boyfriend, and her boss. Now, she has more or less been rejected by two of those people (and she’s quit her job out of embarrassment), and she’s not on the best of terms with her dad, either.
Yet Hannah will seize any opportunity she can find to reverse her powerlessness, even when it’s just play-acting. When she emerges from Adam’s bathroom, she catches him on his mattress masturbating. At first, he doesn’t respond when she tries to talk to him, but then he goads her into telling him what a bad person he is to be doing this. It’s a role she slowly gets into, especially when she’s able to get him to give her money for a cab (and pizza and gum). What I like about this show is that Hannah is so often sympathetic—who hasn’t had a moment like that one where she felt like she didn’t have a handle on anything?—but she’s also not a terribly good person at all. When the episode opens with Charlie and Marnie fighting and placing her in the middle of it—since it was the words in her journal (or, rather, notebook) that prompted all of this—she says that she doesn’t believe Charlie is a big part of the community of the apartment, which is what he avows. Hannah, however, doesn’t really see anybody as a part of her community, except for maybe Marnie and Jessa. And even that’s a stretch. But that’s just part of growing up. Once you figure out how little you know, then you can get right down to figuring out that you don’t even know that.
- Hey, another Jessa storyline I just don’t care about! Here, she meets up with a former boyfriend, and after she teases him about how he’s with a 38-year-old named Gillian (hard G), the two hook up and head back to her apartment for a quickie. Shoshanna sees, and is labeled, playfully, a perv. And that’s all Shoshanna gets to do.
- Some really great music choices in this episode, especially the Belle & Sebastian song over the closing credits. What was the song that played at the party? I couldn’t catch enough of the lyrics to Google them.
- I really do like the way this show is building up its “universe,” for lack of a better term. It’s fitting that Hannah’s boyfriend returns in the flashback, and I like that the show sees everything that happens as possible fodder for Hannah’s upcoming book. And then, everybody can sue her!