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 threw the most immature “adult dinner party” in TV history, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Chloe Pantazi: In her prim apron, ardently preparing an organic feast for friends, Hannah fleetingly resembles the indomitable chef Julia Child – until Hannah says something, and we forget about Julia and remember the “child.” Hannah’s dinner party in last night’s Girls was meant to be a civilized occasion – perhaps like the vegan dinner party a 16-year-old Lena Dunham hosted for her school friends. But, as the food toasts to crisp fodder in the oven, there are some delicious arguments cooking at the table, between good and bad friends, couples and jaded ex-lovers.
Before all that, though, Hannah was making every effort to appear grown-up. She even invited Marnie, who showed up with flowers to find Charlie and Audrey there. One wonders whether Hannah hadn’t planned this uncomfortable gathering from the beginning, using Marnie’s ex to get back at her for Elijah (who Hannah made clear she wasn’t inviting to her party after booting him out of their apartment). I’m not convinced that Marnie would really stay, given her last quarrel with Hannah, but she does. As Audrey opportunely accuses her of having feelings for Charlie, reminding her of the time she slept over at his apartment, Marnie flees the party and heads for the roof – though I suspect, in real life, Marnie would’ve chosen the less dramaturgical route home. When Charlie follows Marnie and ends up kissing her, she pulls back and tells him she’s seeing Booth Jonathan, giving him his cue to return to the dinner party, where he learns that Audrey has already left.
Next to leave the dwindling party are Shoshanna and Ray. Shoshanna has realized sometime during dinner that Ray is sort of living with her. Embittered at his taking advantage of her, she pings scornful looks at him, and as they wait for the L train back to their home, Ray admits his financial shortcomings along with other insecurities — like his doubts about why someone like Shoshanna would want to be with someone like him: 33, homeless, and Grumpy. Yet this only prompts Shoshanna to tell him she’s falling for him, disproving that she’s as materialistic as the show’s made her out to be. Ray surprises us more when he blurts out, “I love you so fucking much!” – sending a million emoji hearts fluttering in Shoshanna’s head. Though a fairly unrealistic match, Shoshanna and Ray’s shared vulnerability in this scene convinces me that they work as a full-fledged, real-life couple; I enjoyed them before, but now I believe them, too.
As one couple moves in, another falls apart with the end of Jessa and Thomas-John’s marriage. Introducing Jessa to his conservative parents, it’s clear Thomas-John is embarrassed of her. Yet, as Jessa points out, he doesn’t seem to have a problem enjoying her carefree nature when it suits him sexually. Reduced to “some dumb fucking hipster” and “a whore with no work ethic” – insults that hit a little close to home in the age of hipster sexism – Jessa’s quickly shunned by her husband, and finds herself faced with a degrading question. How much? She hesitates, then gives a six-digit figure, and proceeds to haggle – which bothered me, but perhaps it’s more real this way. Just as we expect Shoshanna to care more about money, we expect Jessa to care less, and so she doesn’t leave with an assured sense of self-worth, nor does she have the sassy last word. Turning up at Hannah’s – whose dinner party has, by now, fallen in on itself like a depressed soufflé – she climbs into the bathtub, where she finds Hannah singing “Wonderwall.” Though Hannah comes off in the rest of this episode as obnoxious, as she consoles her crying friend and makes her laugh a little, we remember the line she doesn’t complete: “Maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me.”
Julia Pugachevsky: It’s been well established that Lena Dunham always intended for Hannah to come off as selfish and spoiled, but in this episode she practically has an out-of-body experience of bitchiness. She sticks to her guns on a decision she made on coke and kicks Elijah out, even keeping the furniture because she can. She then throws a party and invites her ex-roommate’s ex-boyfriend and new girlfriend, whom she never seemed to be that close with in the first place, and explains that Marnie showing up is “psychotic, because it was a courtesy invite.” She even seems to enjoy Marnie and Audrey’s fight. As a little smirk sneaks onto her face, it’s clear she feels like Marnie and Elijah sleeping together has finally given her the entitlement to act however she wants, at least for a little bit.
Romantically speaking, the two big relationships in the show (Jessa and Thomas-John, Shoshanna and Ray) have gone in completely different directions – one completely shattered, the other strangely made much stronger, all with the introduction of a respective conflict. We find out that Ray is technically homeless and has been freeloading off Shoshanna, which she didn’t even realize until Hannah’s party. However, this confrontation leads to an unexpected declaration of feelings – and it doesn’t get more honest-sounding than “I love you so fucking much” being muffled by a Brooklyn-bound train. This mismatched relationship starts to make sense, as we see these characters’ deeper sensitivity and empathy for each other, despite being from completely different worlds.
In Jessa’s case, meeting the in-laws wasn’t just ruined by a gaffe or awkward silences – the relationship with Thomas-John and his family was over the moment Jessa sensed even the slightest hint of judgment, to which she responded with detailed stories of her past heroin use, challenging all of them to keep up the pretense of politeness. Eventually, in one fell swoop (and the very appropriate smashing of a “humanitarian” award), their marriage is predictably over, but not before Jessa tells him that his most exciting experience will have been living with her. Like the wedding itself, their crash and burn came out of left field. Facing this sudden change, I wonder if Jessa will return to the conversation she had with Katherine back in Season 1, in which her motivations and desires in life were put into question for seemingly the very first time, and re-evaluate the advice that may have ultimately scared her into marrying, for lack of a better plan. While Jessa may be in the worst position out of all the girls (no job, going through a divorce, no close family members, history of drug use), the adrenaline rush from this final collapse may just push her, like a horse in blinders, towards finally pursuing what she really wants in life.
Alison Herman: After giving myself a few hours to let this latest episode of Girls sink in, I’m still not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I got what I’ve practically been begging for all season: messy, substantive plotlines for Shoshanna and Jessa, giving both Zosia Mamet and Jemima Kirke plenty of material to make their characters more than just running gags. On the other, in between — and sometimes right along with — some of the rawest, most sincere moments of Girls thus far came new lows in several characters’ maturity and, well, likeability. By the time Jessa launched a “snot rocket” and Hannah reacted with tension-zapping fake disgust, I can’t say I was feeling for either one of them.
Both Hannah and Marnie had relatively little screen time this episode, but that still gave them plenty of time to prove you’re never too old to act like the worst kind of college freshman. Hannah confuses adulthood for cooking organic pad thai, when it’s really something more like not passive-aggressively inviting both your best friend and her ex to your dinner party. Marnie reacts by storming up to the roof; as she tells Charlie, she feels (understandably) lost, but she deals with it by fishing for compliments in the worst way, sporting an aw-shucks-you-mean-me? smile that’s sickeningly recognizable. At least she takes the high road when Charlie leans in for a kiss, letting the audience know she’s still seeing Booth Jonathan for some reason and giving Charlie his own chance to throw an irrational temper tantrum. I’ve always respected Girls for having the guts to make its characters so unlikeable, but in episodes past their gapingly obvious flaws served a purpose, satirizing 20-somethings’ deluded self-importance. This time around, Hannah and Marnie felt awful for awful’s sake.
For a character typically treated as a fan-service afterthought, Shoshanna shed her irritating abbreviations during the dinner party scene to become someone we’ve never seen before: hurt, indignant, and most surprisingly, in control. This newfound maturity — something Shoshanna’s usually denied in favor of pink bedroom décor and a tendency to quote self-help books — only made the subway scene even more emotionally wrenching. Because as much as I was supposed to find Ray’s confession of love triumphant, his speech was right: Shoshanna is too good for him, and while that conversation might propel their relationship through another few months, at the end of the day, a careerless 33-year-old and a bright young college student just won’t work together.
Finally, there’s Jessa, a character who, like Shoshanna, was given more depth than ever before but still managed to come out as unpalatable as Marnie and Hannah. She certainly started the episode strong: her sudden realization of Thomas-John’s parents’ total disdain for her and her puckish determination to prove them right by dropping references to rehab and atheism was hilarious. But the “Humie”-smashing meltdown in their gorgeous apartment showed her uglier side, a side that would rather act like a high school bully than admit that cool isn’t everything. Jessa may be in a bad place by the time she strolls into Hannah’s bathroom, but the terrible marriage that put her there is entirely her own doing.