Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Girls asks “Is it important to be nice?”

Illustration for article titled Girls asks “Is it important to be nice?”

One of the recurring themes of contemporary feminism is the notion that women are too nice, that societal pressure has taught women that they’re expected to be as selfless as possible while men are congratulated for taking whatever they want. Pantene made waves some years back with an ad campaign asking why women are constantly apologizing for taking up space in the world. And sure, the underlying message is somewhat blunted when the takeaway is “Don’t apologize for buying a crapload of our shampoo,” but it was such a big deal because a major retail brand thought “Stop apologizing all the time” was a message that would land hard with today’s woman.

Lena Dunham is narrowly representative of today’s woman, and she prides herself on not apologizing for merely being who she is. The years of fielding sexist complaints about the amount of nude scenes she does in Girls seem to have only emboldened her. There’s a scene in “Queen For Two Days” in which Hannah pulls off her clothes and climbs into bed after a long, stressful day of hating everything, and with the camera aligned at nightstand level, Dunham’s naked southern hemisphere is on full display. The shot isn’t gratuitous; like all of the nudity on Girls, it’s meant to contribute to the naturalism and reinforce the lack of judgment. But it’s also a shot that could have easily been reconceived without impacting the scene in any measurable way. Dunham’s radical body positivity is a core element of Girls, and it’s a proud declaration that she doesn’t feel the need to be nice.

So it comes as no surprise when Hannah’s first lesbian hookup tells her it isn’t important to be nice. “Fuck nice,” she says. “Nice is a mask angry people wear to hide their inner assholes.” It’s not a call to action as much as it is a come-on, but it’s exactly the push Hannah needs to at least mentally commit to breaking things off with Fran, if not actually go through with it. Hannah doesn’t apologize for much of anything, certainly not her body or her diet or her extreme narcissism, and yet she feels apologetic about wanting to break up with perfect Fran. I’m still not seeing the vision of Fran everyone in the show seems to see, but according to Tami Sagher’s script, Fran is the quintessential “nice guy,” and Hannah feels obligated to value that. Loreen, who has dragged Hannah to a hippy-dippy weekend women’s retreat, suggests that witnessing years of microaggressions between her parents has left Hannah unable to love anyone who is kind to her. Hannah denies it at first, but before long, she’s ready to at least consider the idea.

It’s an odd story for Girls to be telling at this stage because it’s one of the earliest stories the show has ever told. It’s basically another take on the dynamic between Marnie and Charlie, in which Marnie (who, at that point, was still a recognizable human being) felt smothered by Charlie’s kindness, generosity, and dedication to her. Hannah felt very strongly that Marnie should dump Charlie if she was so unhappy with him, and Hannah channeled that advice into journal entries that Charlie and Ol’ Man Ray later turned into a song. Charlie and Marnie later reconciled, mostly because Marnie missed the companionship and was hurt by how quickly he had moved on, but as soon as he started being his sweet self again, she recoiled in disgust. This is familiar ground for Girls. Hell, Laird was nice to Hannah too, but at no point did anyone suggest that his kindness formed some kind of covenant between them.

Though the story is familiar, it means something different in “Queen For A Day” because Girls is nearing the end of its coming-of-age tale, and Hannah is starting to make some meaningful progress. The weekend retreat gives Hannah the opportunity to actualize her unapologetic, resting bitch-face, dance-like-nobody’s-watching best self. As soon as she and Loreen arrive, Hannah is being admonished for standing around waiting to be told what to do, then again for interrupting the admonition. Hannah’s aggravation intensifies as she’s repeatedly asked to stop using her cell phone. It’s pretty standard “those darn millennials” stuff, but it’s profound to Hannah as her circumstances at the retreat start to resemble the circumstances of her relationship. She’s stifled and irritated by the expectation of sterile kindness, which Hannah interprets as inauthenticity.

But then, just as Hannah is riding a wave of badassery, she gets a face full of the opposite of nice. When she wants to pull away from her lady hookup, she’s denied the right to. Like Hannah, the yoga instructor has dispensed with being nice, she’s ready to take what she wants, come what may. So even though they’re in a scorching hot sauna and Hannah’s face is mashed between her legs, her only concern is her orgasm. She heads back to the room to be comforted by Loreen, only to be shocked to learn that Loreen doesn’t want to divorce Tad after all. Loreen (an amazing-as-usual Becky Ann Baker) learns just how easy she has it with a gay husband, someone she knows and loves who makes a formidable Scrabble foe. That’s when Hannah finally figures it out. Just maybe it’s okay for a woman who never apologizes to date a man who does. Maybe it’s okay for her to be deeply flawed while Fran flirts with perfection.


Jessa makes a similar discovery during her date with Adam. She sheepishly invites Adam to meet her half-sister Minerva, which turns awkward in a hurry when Jessa asks Minerva to loan her the money to pay for her training to become a therapist. Without missing a beat, Adam sticks up for his new girlfriend and offers to pay for her schooling with the money he made from his clinical depression commercials. It’s the exact type of offer Jessa might have been uncomfortable with had it come from Thomas-John, but Jessa too is learning to let a man be kind to her. Shosh may be on course to learn that lesson too, now that she’s heading home (to Scott?) after her brief stay in Japan. And also Marnie is a character in this show.

Stray observations

  • I’m slightly bummed that Shoshanna didn’t decide to stay longer in Japan, and I’d have loved for that story to end with more of a climax. Granted, the job at the cat cafe didn’t seem like a great career trajectory, and Yoshi is as much as virgin now as Shosh was when the show began, so that’s a whole situation. But I wish I could have seen more of Shosh’s struggle with being in Japan as opposed to watching her go from thrilled ex-pat to ugly-crying American without notice.
  • Also there’s the matter of how expensive it must be to shoot on location in Japan, so I get it. Shosh in Japan went out with a bang at least, with some choice dialogue from Aidy Bryant’s Abigail. (On Yoshi: “He looks like an Asiatic One Direction member.” True!)
  • The final shot of Shosh is lovely too, and I believe the first time Girls has run credits over an image.
  • I’d watch the hell out of that Yosh and Shosh show.
  • I can’t get used to Adam and Jessa no matter how hard I try. But I do like that they share a passion for taboo roleplay.
  • No Marnie again this week. I’m starting to understand why Dunham thought a Marnie-focused episode would be a good idea.