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

Girls: “It’s A Shame About Ray”

Illustration for article titled Girls: “It’s A Shame About Ray”

Throughout “It’s A Shame About Ray,” characters tell other characters to “grow up,” either literally in those words or just in general. Girls is a show about people who think that being grown up requires doing things a certain way—preparing pad Thai for your friends from scratch, getting married, having a house, moving on past a broken relationship—but they’re only starting to realize that nobody quite understands what being grown up means. It’s not an achievement you can unlock. It’s a thing you keep moving toward, until you’re old and perhaps experienced and realize just how little you knew back when. Put another way: I look back at the me of 10 years ago, the me who was 22 years old, and I think, “Jesus Christ, that guy was an idiot,” but I lack the self-awareness to know that 42-year-old me will look back on this version of myself and say, “What the fuck was he thinking?” Being grown up means being perfectly self-aware, and that’s almost impossible to achieve.

“It’s A Shame About Ray” takes place over the course of one long evening, in which revelations are made and relationships are broken. It so neatly ties up the first four episodes of this season in a little bow that it actually raised my opinion of the first two on my rewatch, but it also leaves some other things hanging, that it might have story room to maneuver in the weeks to come. The best episodes of Girls buck the serialization trend and function as tiny short stories about significant events in these people’s lives. With its compare-and-contrast structure, which draws thematic links between Hannah’s dinner party and Jessa’s meeting with Thomas John’s parents, the episode finds a way of bringing all of the characters to a moment of catharsis, but never quite pushing them over the edge. (Perhaps surprisingly, Ray ends up being the one to take the biggest chance.) They come close to understanding what they must do to move forward, but they back away just as quickly.

Let’s start with the dinner party, because that’s the more immediately accessible storyline here. Hannah has invited Charlie, Audrey, Shoshanna, Ray, and Marnie over to celebrate the publication of her first piece at jazzhate. Naturally enough, Hannah figures that Marnie just won’t show up—thus negating the need to navigate the complicated waters around her former relationship with Charlie. Naturally enough, Hannah is completely wrong about what happens, and Marnie shows up, just making things even more awkward. One of the things I like about this season is that Hannah is just a bit more confident in herself after the events of last season, but she’s mostly using that confidence to bluster her way through a sort of play-acting of what it means to be grown-up. Here, that means making pad Thai, and it means keeping the conversation going when things turn awkward at her party. Which, of course, only makes things more awkward when she eventually pushes Shoshanna to realize that she and Ray are living together.

The dinner party scene is a good one because it brings a bunch of things to light that need to come to light, while also putting some stakes on the season’s other storylines. Ray and Shoshanna seemed mostly happy together after they hooked up again in the season première, but now, she’s learned he’s homeless. Shoshanna, in fact, may be about the only thing Ray has left, and as the two wait for the subway, and she confesses that she’s falling in love with him, only to be met by his bluster about how it’s too early in the relationship to be saying that. Then he says it himself—twice: “I love you so fucking much.” It’s as close to sincere as anyone ever gets on this show, and it’s not hard to think that Ray’s age advantage over everybody else (hell, he’s older than me) is what’s prompting him to take this chance, to hold onto something that he’s come to care about, even if their initial hook-up was this out-of-nowhere fling. Ray and Shoshanna may make a very odd couple, but there’s something about these performers that makes seeing them so happy together all the more rewarding. The look on Zosia Mamet’s face when she realizes what Ray’s said is all at once hopeful and heartbreaking, and I’m excited to see where this goes in the next few episodes.

Meanwhile, there’s the complicated relationship pentagon that is Hannah-Charlie-Marnie-Elijah-Audrey. Elijah moves out at the episode’s beginning, his final word to Hannah as his roommate being “buttplug.” (Later, Shoshanna will wonder if Ray also wants a buttplug. This may be her shining moment.) Hannah manages to finagle a way to keep all of the furniture—since George paid for all of it and wants Hannah to have it out of spite or pity or probably both—and then she invites everybody else in this weird little clusterfuck to come to the dinner party. There’s a moment when Charlie leaves Audrey to see if Marnie’s doing okay, then kisses her. There’s also a moment when Marnie tells Charlie she’s seeing Booth Jonathan, possibly just to get him away from her. But what’s most significant here is the way that this becomes a story about reaffirming Hannah’s love for Marnie.

See, Charlie tries to turn all of this back around on Marnie once he comes back in the apartment to find that Audrey has left. But that’s hardly fair. Like everybody else on this show, he’s avoiding responsibility for what he’s done. When he does so, Hannah, even though she’s still arguing with Marnie, tells him off and says he’s being a jerk. Girls has always been smart about the unshakable bonds that can form in a friendship, and what I thought of here, weirdly, was the way The Americans also dug into the unshakable bond between its lead characters in its pilot. Hannah is allowed to be mad at Marnie, in her own mind, but nobody else better say anything critical of her best friend without expecting Hannah to come at them. That’s just how it is. That bond is tighter than the bond either has with anybody else, and it’s the bedrock of the whole series.


Meanwhile, in the other storyline, we finally get a glimpse into the Jessa-Thomas John marriage, and it’s not a pretty picture. Jessa’s the kind of person who can realize she’s on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg and start setting things on fire, so when a dinner with Thomas John’s parents starts to head south, she actively starts encouraging it to do so, both by telling his parents more and more stories of her former life—dropped out of Oberlin! went to rehab for a heroin addiction!—and by at once bristling under the disapproval of his mother and simply drinking in the way his father treats her like some sort of beautiful flower, in a way that’s so overt that it becomes incredibly hilarious. (I think my favorite is when he says he’s relieved she never did something to hurt her face or her body.) Thomas John, still cowed by these people, eventually stops trying to defend her, and that naturally turns into a big fight once the two get home.

What’s best about this fight is that both participants in it are right. When you live with someone, even for a short amount of time, you start to find all of the things they like least about themselves, and that gives you the option to utterly destroy them in an argument, should you so choose. Jessa and Thomas John don’t escalate, really. They just both go nuclear at the same time, and the effect they have on each other is so devastating that there’s no way their marriage could survive. I think everybody in the audience knew Thomas John would be shown the door sooner or later, but this whole scene is one of the best in the run of the show. Thomas John is boring, Jessa says. He can’t really disagree, outside of the sort of macho crowing about his own uniqueness that made the character so irritating in his first appearance. But he also levels a blow at Jessa that hits home: She’s just someone who likes to have experiences and will never engage in something real.


Look: I think these two getting married was a terrible idea, but there’s truth to what Thomas John says, and it’s a truth that applies to all of the characters. We’ve talked about this in the first three episodes this season, but a big part of this show is about watching these women try on new personas and pretend that’s who they really are. Jessa wanted to be a successful married woman for a little while—a desire spawned by that woman she was a nanny for, remember—but that eventually gave way to getting bored and moving on. Calling her a whore with no work ethic is needlessly mean, but in his other criticisms, Thomas John gets at something about Jessa that can make her both hard to understand as a character and a human being: She’s a surface skimmer, a drifter who keeps running along the water’s top without ever plunging in.

It’s fitting, then, that the episode would end by putting Jessa together in a bathtub with Hannah, who’s anything but a surface skimmer. Hannah dives into everything, and she usually ends up bruised and battered for it, but at least she’s trying stuff and giving it her all. Thomas John’s words leave enough of a mark on Jessa that she comes to Hannah to weep, but Hannah’s also there to cheer her up in the most Hannah way possible: being very concerned that she’ll get some of Jessa’s snot on her. There were times in the first season when it seemed a little strange that these people’s lives would revolve around Hannah, but the second season has gone a long way toward correcting that. In her feeble, flawed attempts to grow up by presenting the trappings of being a grown up, Hannah has somehow become the most stable person in her friends’ lives. And that’s worth something, at least.


Stray observations:

  • Marnie’s description of her life so far: “Nothing that great. Nothing with condiments.”
  • Girls really nails the way that humans use passive-aggression in day-to-day interaction, but I don’t think it ever does so well as it does with Jessa, who doesn’t even like that restaurant but is just so excited to get to know her new in-laws.
  • More passive-aggression: Audrey keeps saying the word “butthole,” which drives Marnie a little nuts.
  • After last week was rather music-heavy, this week seems to have a little less of it (or, rather, it’s more in the background), but Hannah’s bathtub singing of “Wonderwall” is pretty great.
  • I just realized we haven’t seen Adam since Hannah kicked him out of her life. It’ll be interesting to see how he creeps back into the story, as you know he must.
  • Hannah’s obvious glee over her own cooking was also great, though if you look at everybody’s plates, nobody’s made much of a dent in that pad Thai.
  • I generally really like Lena Dunham’s acting, but she was pretty unconvincing when she screamed at Jessa’s entry into her bathroom.
  • Griffin Dunne is great fun as the father of Thomas John. Too bad we likely won't see him again.
  • Marnie would also like you to know that Booth Jonathan is of average height.