Accused by some of whitewashing Brooklyn and beloved by others for depicting the harsh truth of post-college New York life for over-educated women in their 20s, Girls may well be TV’s most talked-about comedy. Considering that most of those conversations hinge on how realistic the show is or isn’t, this season we’re recapping Girls by asking three writers who should know — our interns, Chloe Pantazi, Alison Herman, and Julia Pugachevsky — how real each episode felt. Read their responses to last night’s episode, in which Hannah attempts to emulate Cat Marnell, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Alison Herman: Tonight’s episode felt like the TV equivalent of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s wandering, baffling New York magazine essay: equal parts all over the place and right on the money, cringe-inducing and jaw-dropping. Hannah’s journey begins with a comic scenario unusually reminiscent of a typical network sitcom or Sex and the City vignette. After getting some encouragement from the editor of an xoJane-type site to step out of her comfort zone and “expose all of [her] vulnerabilities to the entire Internet,” Hannah procures some cocaine from Laird, her ex-junkie neighbor whose blend of creepy and sweet reminds me of a certain guy we last saw getting hauled away by the cops.
What follows is one of the weirdest sequences in the show’s brief history. Both of the episode’s major plotlines — Hannah and Elijah’s coke-fueled romp through a nightclub and Marnie’s awkward seduction by pretentious asshole extraordinaire Booth Jonathan — set themselves up for failure by inviting comparisons to two of last season’s stronger scenes. After all, it was Hannah and Adam’s decidedly unsexy sex that got viewers talking about the series in the first place, and Shoshanna’s hysterical “crackcident” that cemented Girls’ place as a voice of a generation. Relative to last season’s high points, this episode came off as gimmicky and even repetitive, cardinal sins for a series in its 13th episode.
Hannah and Marnie’s blowout fight was the saving grace of “Bad Friend”; it didn’t necessarily redeem all the dud scenes leading up to it, but it showed that the action was driving at something. Dunham channels the particular hurt that comes from someone close to you showing they just don’t care: crappy personhood, she points out in a roundabout, candid rant, comes not from refusing to perform the everyday duties of friendship but from a single, telling act of utter selfishness. And that, plus a bit of questionable advice from a would-be boss, is how you end up going home with the addict on the ground floor.
Julia Pugachevsky: Like the publication Hannah interviews to write for in the cold open, this episode certainly takes us out of our comfort zone. When Hannah’s new boss suggests she do coke and write about it, the immediate referent is Cat Marnell, the former beauty editor of xoJane who left the site to write for Vice. Marnell, an incredibly gifted writer (see: her article on Whitney Houston’s death), has garnered an unbelievable amount of attention and controversy from her openness about her self-destructive drug use.
It’s a bold and realistic move on Dunham’s part to have Hannah explore this option instead of proudly reject it – in fact, she barely shows any opposition. Of course, trying drugs “for the experience” isn’t exactly an unrealistic decision for a 20-something New Yorker to make. But, as she demonstrates, “the experience” never ends up being quite as spiritual as one hopes. As Hannah learned, it will probably just involve said experimenter getting upset over a meaningless hookup between a gay ex-boyfriend and best friend, swapping an ill-fitting fruit-print bustier top for a mesh one, and kissing the first guy who notices her, fully aware of how sad this behavior is, but feeling she is allowed to feel sorry for herself, because two of her best friends have betrayed her. But does she have enough self-awareness to see and write about this?
While it seems strange that Hannah doesn’t focus more on losing Sandy (how is she not crying over that loss?) or the fact that Adam went to jail because of her, it was great to see Marnie’s grossly arrogant crush, Booth Jonathan, return triumphantly to woo her by locking her in a tiny room of TVs projecting bloodthirsty wolf faces that slowly morph into crying babies, only to follow with weird starfish-S&M sex while staring into the lifeless eyes of a beat-up mannequin. Booth is as absurd as human beings get, but he does know himself, or at least projects that image. Marnie, having lost her gallery gig and currently working as a hostess, in the aftermath of a breakup with her long-time boyfriend and impulsive sex with a gay man, is probably the most lost character on the show – even trumping Hannah. She picked a job where she utilizes her looks, thinking that this means she is confident and secure in herself. But, without the security of a swanky job and a doting boyfriend, her next logical move is to look to the person who looks like he’s figured himself out, whether or not that means he paints miniature The Shining rip-offs and assumes everyone will have sex with him. It is these kinds of people who draw the rest of us in, the Cat Marnells and Booth Jonathans, because their seeming lack of self-doubt not only brings us uncomfortably close to them, but also makes us question ourselves.
Chloe Pantazi: Last night’s Girls was like last season’s Bushwick episode, revisited. Except, this time, there was no warehouse party in Bushwick, no sign of Jessa’s artisanal dress, and no Shoshanna getting high. There was approximately the same amount of crazy, though. Things may or may not have been that real this week, but they were downright hilarious.
Trying cocaine for the first time, to write about it for her new freelance gig, Hannah starts her night getting weird with Elijah. It’s all dream talk, coke snorts, and giggles until Elijah lets it slip that he and Marnie had sex, to which Hannah can only respond by squabbling petulantly with the two of them. Bickering with Elijah, and after a last-ditch attempt to snog him in Duane Reade, Hannah orders him to move out – and just as they were becoming the “sexiest non-sexual couple.”
Although Hannah’s overreacting, as usual, her reaction registered as real to me – already all over the place, and high, Hannah’s bound to want to kiss Elijah one minute and dismiss him the next. With the kiss, Hannah seems to want to prove that she could have had Elijah instead of Marnie, but once he rejects her, she succumbs to jealousy in her anger. In addition to booting Elijah out of their apartment, Hannah deals with her envy by barging in on Marnie’s hookup with Booth, the artist she met briefly – and masturbated to – last season. As Hannah yells at Marnie, reprehending her for being the “bad friend” in their relationship, we begin to see Hannah become more of one herself. This scene in particular felt real to me; I’ve seen similar arguments being had, though in high school – still, I suppose you don’t stop learning who your friends are through your 20s.
As she successfully destroys two of her closest friendships, Hannah’s overshadowing everyone else in the episode – Shoshanna and Jessa hardly get a look in – but we don’t mind too much; Hannah’s slew of cocaine-induced calamities made last night’s episode the most entertaining of the season so far. We got to see her take a Sharpie to her bedroom walls, throw some dangerous dance moves to Icona Pop in the club, and swap tops with a stranger, donning a neon-yellow mesh shirt that gave Dunham’s nipples an extended cameo. To top it off, Hannah wound up going home with Laird, the former addict who got her the coke and spent his evening a few paces behind her, playing guardian coke angel.
Honestly, though, I’ve no idea how real Hannah’s coke trip was. I’ve never felt compelled to snort cocaine off a toilet seat, or any other surface – in part, because I try to avoid mistakes like those Hannah makes in this episode, but mainly because it looks gross and I hate the idea of putting anything up my nose other than Vicks Sinex, no amount of which will ever turn me on to mesh and other unforgiving fabrics.