Alison Herman: The longer Girls goes on, the more I’m convinced that what began as one of the show’s greatest strengths — a protagonist who’s flawed in the extreme — has now become its greatest weakness. “It’s Back” shone when it gave characters who have long functioned as Hannah’s sounding boards storylines that had nothing to do with her. And though Hannah’s problems in this episode were more serious, and therefore more sympathetic, than usual, her scenes were a reminder that self-absorption is charming in limited doses, but exhausting over an extended period of time — say, an entire series.
Like most people, my feelings towards Adam tend to vacillate between hate, love, and thank-God-you’re-probably-in-jail. But now that the audience has finally gotten to see Adam as a character in his own right (this is the first time we’ve seen him without any other recurring characters), my newfound goodwill towards Hannah’s ex seems like it’s built on a more solid foundation. I particularly loved watching Adam experience the discomfort towards his eccentric fellow AA member that most people feel towards him. And though his frustration with Hannah’s lack of commitment still smacked of a guy more upset at his loss of power than the breakup itself, the first date with Talia felt like the beginnings of a genuinely healthy courtship, or at least one that won’t end with a car crash.
Shoshanna was the episode’s other great success, and not just because “don’t ash my mermaid” is my new favorite catchphrase. Her plotline showed that Girls isn’t afraid to follow through with the logical outcome of its characters’ relationships, no matter how heartbreaking. Fans, including me, may be rooting for her and Ray, but Shoshanna’s starting to recognize that his nasty streak may be more than a lovable quirk; it’s his unhealthy way of dealing with his own disappointment, along with yelling motivational speeches clearly meant for himself at impossibly vain 20-somethings. It’s a painful recognition, and one that drives her straight into the arms of a cute doorman.
And then there’s Hannah, whose struggles with OCD are treated as yet another opportunity to demonstrate her capacity for being awful. The second her therapist tells her she’s “classical,” she attempts to prove she’s exceptional, even at mental illness. She’s also telling everyone within earshot about her book deal, whether they’ve asked or not. Of course she does this, and of course we know she still hasn’t written a page. The problem with Hannah isn’t just that she’s irritating: she’s also flat-out predictable. And neither of these flaws makes me want to see more.
Chloe Pantazi: With Jessa AWOL after last week’s disastrous trip upstate to reconnect with her father, Hannah’s feeling similarly adrift. With her parents in town and the stress of her book deal mounting, Hannah’s OCD has come back and she’s doing eight of everything. Picking up on the return of Hannah’s mental illness, her parents virtually drag their daughter to a therapist – who, very unrealistically, wears the same glasses as Freud.
Meanwhile, in an AA meeting across town, Adam talks about his alcohol problem – and he’s bringing the cookies next week. For being a good, honest, tall chap, Adam’s rewarded with a date, niftily arranged by a fantastically meddlesome mother (Carol Kane!) on her daughter Natalia’s behalf. As it turns out, Natalia’s beautiful and interesting, and the date doesn’t “suck ass” as he feared it might; on the contrary, Adam’s giddy as hell. However much I wish Natalia’s crazy mother would replace my OKCupid account, I remain skeptical that she’s loopy enough to set her daughter up with someone she met through AA – however tall and handsome.
Less tall but still handsome, Charlie’s made himself a small fortune with Forbid, an app that bars its users from calling dangerous numbers on their phone – say, an ex’s. (OK, so it’s utterly ridiculous, but you’ll never drunk dial again.) Unsurprisingly, the app’s inspired by Marnie – who shows up at Charlie’s swanky office for “support.” Though I suspect there’s another motive. Whether jealous of Charlie’s success or attracted to it, Marnie’s reaction is somewhat real: wise or no, haven’t we all made an excuse to get back in touch with an ex when we weren’t over them?
Bumping into an NYU pal she hasn’t seen in aaaaaages, Shoshanna realizes that being with Ray, she’s lost touch with her friends. But Ray won’t make the effort to help Shosh reconnect with them, as he refuses to go with her to her friend’s party, deciding it’s weird for a 33-year-old to go to a college party – somewhat unrealistic given that he doesn’t have a problem going out with a college girl. Attending alone, Shoshanna’s party conversation’s hardly a hit – all she can talk about is Ray – and so she bails. Then, just when I think Shoshanna’s going home to watch 10 Things I Hate About You while Ray’s reading Foucault or whatever, she winds up snogging the doorman. Noooooooo (x8 x8 x8 x8 x8 x8 x8 x8).
Julia Pugachevsky: If a group of embittered men ever need video evidence to support the thesis that all women are crazy bitches and men are amazing, this episode of Girls would do it. Marnie comes to her ex-boyfriend’s office unannounced and later admits that she expected him to endure six years of being a broken person post-breakup, and is jealous of his success with Forbid, a cellphone app he designed to keep himself from calling her (apparently it’s totally possible to go from playing tiny gigs with your band in Brooklyn to presiding over your own hip Chelsea office in under a year). This encounter results in Marnie’s realization that she wants to be the next Christina Aguilera, a discovery driven by Ray’s exhortation to follow her dreams, even after she admits to kind of wishing his friend were a lot more miserable.
Ray is also set up for some serious pain, as Shoshanna unexpectedly decides to hook up with an attractive doorman, at least partially because Ray wouldn’t accompany her to a college party. The undercurrent here is that she’s starting to realize the incredible disconnect in their relationship, but Ray is a reasonable guy, and even if what they have is doomed to fail, she owes him some honesty.
Finally, Hannah has OCD — which I swear I thought she was faking for the sake of a story until her parents intervened and brought up her history with the disorder. This part is actually very unexpected and adds a new layer to Hannah’s character, but it’s a huge problem that definitely needs its own episode, and seemed to just be thrown into a mess of plotlines involving young women slowly becoming unhinged in various ways.
In fact, the only woman who has it together is Adam’s blind date, Natalia, the stunningly beautiful woman with a kickass job and the hair of a forest nymph. Best of all, she admits she’s nervous on the date, appealing to Adam’s need for honesty. Of course, we never see how the encounter ends, and Natalia feels more like an idealized version of “the perfect woman” than a real person. It’s almost as if Lena Dunham made the mistake of listening to the types of critics who hate her show because they think her body is ugly and the main characters aren’t like Natalia; it was as if she, for a fleeting moment, wanted to give those people exactly what they wanted: an episode that tears down her protagonists until they seem like parodies of themselves, and gives the viewer the type of girl they’re used to seeing time and time again, whose only purpose is to fulfill a male protagonist’s fantasies.