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Girls heads east in another strong episode

I’ve got your picture of me and you

B+
B+

Girls

"Japan"

Season 5 , Episode 3

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If you have the moxie and the wherewithal to do so, there’s no better way to spend your 20s than to try living in different cities. Indulging youthful wanderlust can be incredibly fun, rewarding, and the best kind of terrifying. Girls was in a position to explore that last season, when Hannah packed up and moved to Iowa. But two factors prevented the show from fully committing to Hannah’s Iowa reinvention. The first is that as the main character of Girls, and the nexus of the most of the show’s relationships, Hannah couldn’t realistically be removed from Brooklyn indefinitely. The show didn’t suffer as a result of her absence, but it was a hell of a lot better when she came back. The other issue with the Iowa experiment is that it wasn’t a story about Hannah trying out a new city, because the entirety of Girls has been the story of Hannah struggling to keep her head above water in the big city. Her brief journey to Iowa was about her barreling towards her dream of becoming a writer, along with all the insecurities that came with it, only to swerve out of the way.

Shoshanna’s relocation to Japan is the first time Girls has dropped one of its characters into a new, uncomfortable position and let them flourish. Actually, to describe the way Shosh has taken to her new home as “flourishing” might be damning it with faint praise. It’s probably best to let her speak for herself, as she did in a moment of candor with her new work friends at the public baths: “Even though I’ve only been here for a very short while, I truly feel like this is my home and you people are my family, and I don’t even really care about people in America anymore.” Of the four main characters, Shosh would have been chosen the girl least likely to acclimate beautifully to a new job in a foreign country. And yet here she is, going through her morning routine in a beautifully shot cold open, then focusing on her budding romance with her boss Yoshi, even as the endlessly sweet and loyal Scott waits for her back home.

Shosh is beginning to seem a bit commitment-phobic. There was the impulsive hook-up with the security guard back when she and Ol’ Man Ray were still an item. That seemed like a fluke at the time, an outgrowth of the claustrophobia she was experiencing in that relationship. Considering Ray’s misanthropic ways, it didn’t seem at the time like Shosh didn’t want a boyfriend, she just didn’t want that one. Scott has been nothing but a perfect, well-adjusted gentleman. He supported her through last season’s demoralizing job search slog, and he seems genuinely interested in being there for her over the long haul. But Shosh isn’t ready to commit. Not to Ray, not to Scott, and probably not to Yoshi.

The only thing Shosh is prepared to commit to is having the types of novel experiences—like a night as a sadistic nurse in a backroom pleasure dungeon—that you can only have when you’re not tied down to anyone or anything. Watching Scott trash his flowers and adorable hand-made “Welcome Home” sign at the airport was heartbreaking, and Scott is the type of guy Shosh might wish she had settled down with if she isn’t married by 32. But it’s a matter of timing, and right now, it’s time for Shosh to see the world and collect some anecdotes.

The biggest problem with “Japan,” written solely by showrunner Jenni Konner, is that it doesn’t focus exclusively on Shosh. Based on the episode’s title, I was hoping it would be closer to an episode like “One Man’s Trash,” which was polarizing, but the type of experiment that often results in the best episodes of Girls. Instead, the episode splits its focus between Shoshanna’s will-they-won’t-they action with Yoshi, Jessa’s yeah-they-probably-will action with Adam, and Hannah’s conflicts with Fran, who has been hoarding nude photos of his past conquests on his phone and masturbating to them.

Fran has been pretty fascinating in these first three episodes, because I still don’t feel like I have a solid idea of who he’s supposed to be. It seems like defining Fran’s personality should be a priority for the season, since Adam is now officially out of the picture having moved on to awkwardly pursuing Jessa. So far, Fran has been framed as a sort of foil for Adam, the classic “nice guy” to Adam’s moody weirdo. But so far, I haven’t seen how Fran’s behavior is markedly different from some of the tone-deaf things Adam did when he and Hannah were dating. Last week I mentioned Fran’s tendency to refer to Hannah with such platonic terms of endearment as “buddy” or “champ,” the sort of words you call people when you want to remind them that you guys aren’t dating. But the photo incident is something else entirely.

Hannah is almost always overreacting in situations such as these, but in this case, she’s on solid footing. Even if Fran has a moral objection to pornography, which is reasonable, why would he think nothing of using photos of his ex-girlfriends as a masturbatory aid? It’s not an unrealistic thing for a guy Fran’s age to do, but he was blithe and dismissive about it in a way that suggests he’s not quite the nice guy he’s purported to be, at least as Girls has defined what a “nice guy” looks like. (He’s the nicest guy Hannah has dated “by a planet distance” says Marnie, but she married Desi, so...) Fran’s argument is logical, but lacking in sensitivity or emotional intelligence, not unlike many of the fights Hannah had with Adam. I’m not always on Hannah’s side in interpersonal conflicts, and deleting the pictures out of his phone without his permission was a dick move under any circumstances. But I’m writing her a pass on this one.

Hannah and Fran’s disagreement is a bit precious because as is often the case with Girls, it feels like a self-conscious response to the criticism Lena Dunham gets for flaunting her nude body on the show. Between the Japanese spa, Desi’s honeymoon shower, and Hannah’s boudoir photo shoot in the coffee shop, there was plenty of nudity to go around. But Hannah’s complaints about how the photos in Fran’s phone annoyed her because of her body issues feels a bit on the nose considering how many times Girls has clapped back at its detractors in not-so-subtle ways. In a show largely defined by its naturalistic, non-judgmental approach to nudity, it feels like an odd time for this discussion. But Hannah’s “Paint me like one of your French girls, Ray” was one of the biggest laughs of the episode, and funny forgives all.

Stray observations

  • Last season, Marnie managed to bug me in a very brief Skype appearance when Hannah was in Iowa, and here she is again bugging me over Skype from her honeymoon. A little Marnie goes such a long way.
  • To clarify, Shosh does not know Ashley Tisdale. It was all a big misunderstanding.
  • I can’t say enough about how much I liked the cold open, appropriately set to the catchy tune of “Girl” by FLIP. I have a question about the title card though, since “Welcome To Bushwick” featured a slightly different Japanese translation. Someone care to explain the difference between the two?