So much of Girls is filtered through the point-of-view of Hannah Horvath that we’re only really beginning to understand just how much of it actually is. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that this is why many of the show’s viewers—those who both love and hate it—seem confused by the notion that we’re supposed to see Hannah as an often self-involved twit, that Lena Dunham is completely aware of the way her lead character will often come off. This has been the biggest gulf between the show’s fans and the show’s critics, in many ways. Hannah can be a thoroughly unpleasant person to hang out with, but she’s meant to be that way. And, crucially, she comes through for her friends from time to time. She’s not wholly unlikable. She’s just unlikable much of the time.
The gap between how Hannah sees herself and how the world sees Hannah, however, is complicated by the fact that the show is largely told from Hannah’s point-of-view. Even the problems I have with the show—like Jessa’s non-development—are more or less a function of this issue. Who is Jessa to Hannah, after all, but a much cooler, much more worldly woman than anyone else she knows in her age bracket? It’s a dangerous tactic, of course, because it can result in the audience writing off characters before we’ve really gotten to know them, but as we get into the back half of this first season, more and more of Dunham’s long game is becoming apparent, and the more I see of it, the more impressed I am with the show as a whole and not just as a collection of short stories about these characters.
The most slow-building character development has been for Adam. Where Hannah’s opinions of, say, Jessa and Marnie are more or less frozen in amber, her opinion of Adam is slowly shifting the more she gets to know him. In the early episodes, the series presented him as the worst potential partner ever, the guy who calls Hannah up for a booty call now and then, then doesn’t bother writing her back for weeks at a time. And, yeah, even with the further explanation of who this guy is, that’s still a shitty thing to do. But over the last few weeks (particularly since the scene where Hannah went to his apartment to chew him out in episode four), we’ve gotten to see other sides of Adam and other versions of who he is, in addition to how Hannah sees him. Tonight, we finally get something like an emotional confession out of him, and it’s sort of flooring: He’s wondering why Hannah doesn’t take his feelings more seriously. She doesn’t care about him. She didn’t even know he was a teenage alcoholic, and that’s a huge part of his identity! To her, he’s just some guy she has sex with. All this time, the two of them were holding the same misinformed opinions of each other, and when the episode ends with Adam asking angrily if she wants him to be her boyfriend, then cuts to her, Adam, and Marnie in the back of the cab, a smile growing across Hannah’s face, it’s sort of amazing how far this show has taken this seemingly broken down relationship.
It’s weird that I’m talking about what’s the most dramatic moment in this episode, because it was, by and large, the funniest episode of the show yet. The first 20 minutes are nothing more than a series of Reader’s Digest anecdotes about what it’s like to go to a giant party in Brooklyn, and there are some great gags in here. Shoshanna on crack, for instance, could have been way, way too much, but Zosia Mamet found some way to make the whole thing work. She’s got a bead on the character that keeps what could be an overbearing stereotype from going too far over-the-top. I also loved Hannah talking to Tako (she can just tell when people are pronouncing it with a C), which was a great encapsulation of that oddball you meet at a party, then have a striking conversation with. There was plenty of fun stuff in this episode, and I suspect there’s a portion of the audience that wouldn’t mind if the show dropped the more dramatic aspects of its run and focused more on just being a slice-of-life comedy about privileged kids fucking around in Brooklyn.
The episode also finally got the entire ensemble in the same room, to the point where seemingly everybody who’s been on this show for more than an episode was in that room. (I, honestly, wouldn’t have been surprised if Hannah’s touchy-feely boss had randomly shown up.) Charlie and Ray’s band was performing. Hannah’s college boyfriend was there for Marnie to lean on (and to snap back at her when she completely lacked self-awareness). Jessa’s boss showed up after she returned his text. And, perhaps most importantly, all of Hannah’s friends finally got to see Adam—and she finally got to see him with a shirt on.
Now, granted, the show didn’t really do much with having all of these people in the same room. They still mostly kept to their own storylines, but that strikes me as fairly true to life. At a big party like this, you’ll often meet somebody you’ve heard a lot about or see a friend with someone they’ve told you about, but you probably won’t learn everything there is to know about your best friend’s occasional sex partner. Instead, you’ll probably just see him across the room, teeth glowing in black light, and wonder what the hell your friend might see in him. But just putting all of these people in the same room is a step in the right direction, and it allows the show to do some goofy things that end up working out, like having Ray have to babysit Shoshanna when she’s high on crack, a decision that leads to him having to chase her all over Bushwick. (I loved the way Jody Lee Lipes—Dunham’s long-time cinematographer—chose to direct this episode and this storyline in particular, with lots of long shots that isolated the characters in odd situations and made you look for them for just a split second.) This is an episode that’s about these many worlds colliding, in some ways, and it’s just a nice counterpoint to last week’s more dramatic half-hour.
But it also highlights the way that we never really know people or what they want, until they come right out and tell us. Marnie keeps looking for a sympathetic shoulder to lean on in the wake of learning about Charlie’s new girlfriend, Audrey, but she’s unable to. To just about everybody, she comes off as a whiny ex-girlfriend who’s not complaining about anything she should be complaining about. We get where she’s coming from—even if we might agree that there’s no good reason for her to be complaining—because we’ve spent some time with her. But to most of these characters, she must seem like some new person who’s not altogether pleasant to hang out with. And that goes on with everybody else, too, as the characters are forced to make split-second judgments about people they’ve heard a lot about but haven’t met before after seeing them across a crowded room. In that sense, Lipes’ direction uses those long shots very, very well. Here’s the face of a person in the midst of a crowd of other people. How well do you know them? Do you even want to know them?
- I still don’t have that much affection for Jessa, but she and I are the same in at least one way: I also refuse to save numbers and frequently get texts from numbers I don’t recognize. I realize how irritating that makes me, but my technological laziness is profound.
- I will say that this was probably my favorite Jessa storyline since her near-abortion. Granted, this isn’t saying a lot, but there you have it. I was glad the show steered away from the obvious hook-up between her and her employer, even if his mid-life crisis issues were fairly standard. (That said, this might be a case of us seeing the character through another point-of-view again.)
- It’s surprising to me just how poorly this show is handling the whole fake-Internet-site thing. Hannah’s Twitter account didn’t exist when that episode aired, and now, near as I can tell, Charlie’s band doesn’t have the website Ray mentions at the end of their set.
- I did think this episode captured the feel of a giant party (though I have never been to one this huge before) really well. The way that the room was so full of people that everybody ended up hanging out with their own friends mostly was true to my own experience, at least.
- Charlie and Ray's band sounds pretty good in that sense where they sound like every other Brooklyn indie rock band.