Your 25th birthday feels more momentous than it actually is, half the time. To a hyper-self-conscious 25-year-old, it can feel like a marker of just how little you’ve actually accomplished in your life up to that point, trapped between the near-adolescence of 20 and the “adulthood” of 30. But it’s also cause for celebration, for the accomplishment of having stayed alive for 25 years on this planet, an accomplishment that wasn’t always a given in the history of this species. I always felt like the two halves of my 20s were vastly different, those first five years marked by a kind of headlong rush forward into whatever awaited me and the second half marked by a quiet, increasing confidence in the idea that I knew what I was doing and was figuring out my shit. Of course, I was married and working at a full-time job when I turned 25, so there are some significant differences between Hannah and me, but I could recognize the way that she just sort of rode out her birthday party, having a good time, but managing to make it less all about her and more just about getting her friends and family together. The Hannah of the pilot wouldn’t have been able to do that. The Hannah of this episode is slightly more mature and, thus, able to find that middle ground.
“She Said OK” is a weird episode in some ways, something of a transition from the relative peace and stability of the first two episodes toward something more chaotic, as represented by Adam’s sister, Caroline, who enters the story like a tornado. It’s an episode that puts the focus on Hannah and Marnie’s relationship and displays how the two are drifting apart without lingering on it for too long, and it’s an episode where I don’t think Jessa has a single line. It also features a copious amount of Ray, and episodes featuring lots of Ray are often the best episodes. This one doesn’t quite reach that level, but it does feature everybody’s favorite coffee shop manager getting his ass kicked by John Cameron Mitchell, which is a thing I didn’t know I needed to see but am now very glad to have witnessed.
Mostly, though, this is an episode about the tiny step forward Hannah takes when she turns 25. There’s a lot of talk early in the episode about the flare-up of her obsessive compulsive disorder from last season, and it mostly serves to remind me of a storyline that didn’t really work, but there’s a point to it as well: Because of how close she came to losing everything, Hannah has found a kind of peace and grace that comes from realizing that not everything is in her control. The episode wants to draw that clear line between a Hannah who’s moving forward in both her career and her personal life and the Hannah who was nearly dragged down by her demons last season, and if it pushes a bit too much on this regard, it’s tempting to forgive it for trying to let the audience know that it’s got a handle on all of this material.
On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious this is just the calm before whatever storm is coming. Hannah continues to be unable to deal with other people’s problems, unsure of how to handle whatever Marnie’s going through and inviting Caroline to her birthday party when things threaten to get too intense with Adam’s sister (though, to be fair, the invitation is hilarious). And the people around her have so many problems! When the episode ends with Hannah and Adam sitting alone in their bedroom, Hannah asking if he still wants to have sex after Caroline’s latest outburst, I’ve seen enough television to know that this season is going to at the very least seriously test this pairing and, at the worst, completely and utterly dismantle it. Adam and Hannah were forged in the midst of considerable stress, but what happens when the stress comes from outside the two of them? Is there any way to fight against that?
I’m not sure how I feel about Caroline yet. On the one hand, Gaby Hoffman is one of my favorite underused character actresses out there, someone who is completely fearless and sinks her teeth into whatever role she’s handed. (Her turn in an episode of Louie was absolutely terrific.) On the other hand, Caroline feels like a too-easy collection of “crazy girl” clichés at this point, on a show that’s usually better about finding the real pain that underlies those clichés. The question is if Caroline sticks around. If she does (and I suspect she will and am grading as such), then this is just the way Hannah first gets to meet her and get a slight window into what her boyfriend has put up with his whole life. Future episodes can deepen the character and add shades to her. On the other hand, if she simply disappears, then this is all for naught, and she’s just this random person who comes into Hannah’s life and sows chaos everywhere she goes. That might be fine for a character with no connection to any of the main characters, but in this case, it would be nice to use Caroline to get a better sense of who Adam really is.
The truth is that we don’t know a lot about Adam. We know that he’s troubled and occasionally not the nicest guy to be around. We know that he’s fiercely loyal to Hannah—but that loyalty sometimes results in disloyalty toward others. We know that he lives off the largesse of his grandmother and continues to work on his art. But we don’t know very much about his back-story, and he’s a guy who seems intent on keeping the other characters (and, by extension, the audience) out of his inner workings as best he can. Caroline being around could give us just enough of a glimpse into who Adam was before his life intersected with Hannah’s to make the whole arc worth it. Again, this largely depends on her sticking around, but I suspect you don’t bring in Gaby Hoffman for a one-episode thing where she acts messed up.
The rest of the episode spends more time checking in on how Marnie and Ray are handling the big break-ups of last season’s finale. For Marnie, that involves reinvesting in her relationship with Hannah by planning the birthday party and trying to drag her friend up onstage to perform “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent. (“What show is this from?” shouts a delighted Laird.) Among other things collecting in the fallout from the relationship, Marnie is dealing with the fact that Charlie put a video of her singing a heavily AutoTuned cover of “What I Know” by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians up on YouTube. (The song was also covered by Emma Bunton of the Spice Girls, Google informs me.) The video is hilariously awful, in a way that’s clearly meant to make the audience go, “What?!” but it’s also just fun to watch Marnie, who’s probably the most sheltered of the four main cast members, try to get the video pulled without contacting Charlie. Where Hannah seems to be kinda, sorta getting things together, Marnie increasingly seems like she’s completely losing herself in the wake of last season’s events. I’m hoping she has a moment that would suggest some optimism for the character going forward soon, but I’m also not holding my breath.
Ray, meanwhile, has his work as the manager of the new Grumpy’s to throw himself into, but that all gets shoved aside when he sees Shoshanna at Hannah’s party. Shoshanna’s invited some other guy to the event, having run into him on the street, and Ray’s perhaps acutely reminded again of the age difference between him and his former girlfriend all over again. He thought last season that if he made himself seem more mature and responsible, Shosh would immediately realize just how much she loved him. The problem is that this might have worked if Shoshanna were older, but as a college senior, she pretty much just wants to have fun and celebrate her last few years of being wild. With everybody else settling down or flailing in their attempt to avoid doing so, Shoshanna’s the one character who can still have reliably wacky adventures, and that’s not something that’s going to mesh well with the increasingly buttoned-down Ray.
Girls’ treatment of its male characters has always been interesting, because they’re generally portrayed not just as bedrocks for their female compatriots to gain strength from but also as people who are genuinely improved by the women they date. I don’t know if Girls believes in a true equanimity between the sexes—the men, even when they’re basically homeless, tend to be the ones who have the most perspective and wisdom in many situations—but it definitely believes in the idea that a good relationship should build both partners up, instead of building one up to the detriment of the other. Whatever Hannah and Adam have going on right now is sort of Girls’ ideal of not just a romantic relationship but a human relationship, with both parties able to be honest and supportive of each other. And yet even as the show is able to build these things up, it’s always suggesting the fissures that will inevitably tear them apart.
All of that is why my favorite scene in the episode is the one where Shoshanna and Ray attempt to make small talk and Ray fails miserably. Girls values honesty above anything else—even if that honesty is completely painful and humiliating—because it’s a cringe comedy, and the basis of most cringe comedy is a horrible self-awareness of human foibles and shortcomings. What’s interesting about this scene is that it’s, in many ways, about those twin poles I talked about in the opening paragraph, the place between being closer to 20 and being past 30. Since this is, after all, a TV show, I still suspect Ray and Shoshanna will end up together in the end, but there’s some bitter truth in this scene that makes me hope they won’t. Thanks to the simple bad luck of being born 10 years apart, Ray and Shosh aren’t likely to have a lot in common when they’re not having sex, and you can sense that exhaustion when Ray breaks off their conversation. It’s not just the exhaustion of having to talk to her when he’d much rather still be her boyfriend, which is also there. It’s the exhaustion that frequently comes up in the show from someone who’s older than our main characters, looking at them and realizing that, ugh, being that young is just a little horrifying.
- Marnie’s YouTube comments seem like another shoutout to the show’s haters. There’s not a huge gap between what’s said about her and some of the worst stuff that’s been said about the show as a whole on various Internet sites.
- Caroline shattering glass with her hand while standing around in the bathroom with no pants or underwear on is the most oddly horrifying image of the season so far. I hope she sticks around so we get more of a sense of what drives her.
- It’s always a delight to see Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker as Hannah’s parents, and if nothing else, it was nice to have them around so Scolari could wear that jaunty hat.
- The scenes at the birthday party were a great reminder of how many characters the show has added to its world over the course of its first two seasons, though I kept hoping Elijah would randomly show up at one point, even if it was unlikely, given how he and Hannah left things.
- Also: Hannah appears to have one interracial lesbian couple as her friends. All of the show’s diversity problems are solved forever!
- Hannah is right to not want to sing “Take Me Or Leave Me.” That’s not a very good song.
- Seriously, though, did Jessa have a line in this episode? I don’t think she did.