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 accompanied Jessa on an emotional trip upstate to visit her father, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Alison Herman: As an installment of Girls, “Video Games” is a paradox: it’s both a refreshing break from routine and a frustrating repetition of various Lena Dunham tropes. On the one hand, the episode takes the time to flesh out the inner life of a character that isn’t Hannah; on the other, it features just as much immaturity and bad sex as any Girls plotline — and what’s worse, all of these elements felt obligatory, inserted into the script for amusement rather than moving the characters forward.
Jessa’s relationship with her father was spectacular to watch. There’s real pain and grievances involved, and they’re revealed in several scenes that wisely leave the jokes at the door. Jessa recognizes the worst of herself in her irresponsible, unrepentant dad, and it tears her up: the father-daughter pair “aren’t like other people,” which makes disappearing for months on end and failing to show up for five visits in a row just two sides of the same coin. Jessa knows this, and it makes both being around her dad and dealing with his abandonment and callousness just that much more painful. The awareness and anger Jessa shows in her conversations with Hannah and confrontations with her father make a character who’s often treated as a one-dimensional stereotype into a sympathetic person with justifiable rage.
Hannah’s arc, meanwhile, was a dud. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was only included on the trip because she’s the series’ protagonist and Jessa needed a sounding board. Why did she need to have yet more awkward sex with yet another strange guy? Why did she need to demonstrate her total lack of tact by refusing to eat a rabbit? Why did she need to contract a UTI out of nowhere, forcing the audience to watch her pained attempts at peeing? All three of those scenes were played for comic relief, but “Video Games” didn’t need comic relief; I could have watched Jessa confront her emotional demons for a full half hour and walked away happy.
“Video Games” doesn’t do much to move the plot forward, but it’s there for adding depth, not breadth. It’s a shame that it only succeeds in doing so with one major character, leaving the other not just irritating, but also unnecessary.
Julia Pugachevsky: This was the episode for that friend who “forget to text back,” that friend who can’t seem to go to any public place without picking a fight, that friend who, as you’re saying something completely innocuous about having to wait for the food at a restaurant for too long, will out of nowhere slam her palms on the table and tell you to shut up and stop complaining. It’s for the friend who doesn’t make you feel great about yourself, or even like to do the same things you do, but who you can’t, for the life of you, abandon.
While Jessa is many viewers’ least favorite character due to her volatile personality, this episode proves that none of us were too far off in imagining where she came from. Her mother (who she has only referenced negatively in the past) is out of the picture, and her father, a “free spirit” (of course he is), is happily making room in his life for a different blonde woman – so much so that he can’t even spend a full day with his estranged daughter. As soon as we see his car packed to the roof with vintage computers and hear him cursing about Camry drivers, we get the picture. This guy is the sort of person you can only love romantically, for his mind and his quirks; the type of man suitable only for the woman who can follow him everywhere, from the road trips to Newark to the bedroom at the end of the day. But for the kid who’s been raised to be equally nonchalant about time management and promises, this mix is a tragic one, and with both parent and child blaming the other for perpetuating the bad relations. And while friends like Jessa can do terrible things like — say, leave you in the middle of Poughkeepsie when you’re dealing with a UTI — thinking about where these people come from is important. Perhaps dysfunctional families still can’t justify inconsiderate behavior, but unique personalities mixed with odd upbringings brew some strange, broken individuals, and after seeing this episode, I am rooting for Jessa more than ever. I so badly want her to know what she wants.
Chloe Pantazi: From its very first episode, in which Hannah’s mom and dad cut her off, Girls established that no relationship between a child and her parents is problem-free. Hannah’s nothing like her parents, but they’re nevertheless supportive. Marnie’s mother is – in more respects than one – a piece of work. We haven’t met Shoshanna’s parents yet, but they’ve got to be interesting. We met Jessa’s dad in last night’s episode, as she traveled upstate to Manitou to visit him, taking Hannah with her as her “cushion.” During their brief stay, Hannah proves to be a rather uncomfortable “cushion,” as she offends Jessa’s father’s family at dinner, sleeps with Jessa’s 19-year-old “child” stepbrother, and contracts a UTI. (You can take the girl out of Brooklyn…)
But the real focus is on Jessa’s ruptured relationship with her father. As she and Hannah wait for her dad to pick them up from the train station – “he’s always late,” she explains – Jessa fears that she’s not ready to see him so soon after her broken marriage with Thomas-John. When her father eventually shows up, Jessa’s shotgun wedding from last season suddenly makes sense. He is everything Thomas-John wasn’t: erratic, impatient, free-spirited, imprudent. And yet these are the very things that Thomas-John found unappealing about Jessa. Where she finds fault in her father, she also finds resemblances – what makes them different from others, makes them alike. Jessa’s as unsurprised by the things her father does as by the things he doesn’t. He has a propensity for getting himself into difficult situations to moan petulantly about them, and he can’t, as Jessa observes, stay in one place – but neither can she.
Jessa’s troubled most by how much she needs her father, and by how much he isn’t there for her. She hates that he hasn’t bothered to rearrange his plans to make time for her during her stay, and that he fails to deliver the promise of bangers and mash for dinner. Used to her father relying on her, Jessa’s fragility, as she sits with him on the swing-set like a toddler, crying, “I’m the child, I’m the child,” is nearly overwhelming. The episode hit a little close to home; watching parts of this week’s episode, I was reminded of the similar things I’ve said in the past to my father, the similar things he said. It felt real to me, because I’ve known something like it.