Alison Herman: Just a few hours before “On All Fours” aired, Lena Dunham tweeted that “tonight’s ep…is my favorite ever.” I can see why; this episode felt the most sincere, stripped down, and emotionally powerful Girls ever has. For a show so often touted, however self-consciously, as the voice of its generation, Girls usually doesn’t deliver on that promise — or at least, it hasn’t until now.
Our protagonists weren’t exactly less irritating or emotionally unaware than they usually are; in fact, once Marnie whipped out her iPod I actually had to pause the episode for a few minutes to prepare myself for the impending cringefest. But from Hannah’s compulsive Q-tipping to Shoshanna’s amped-up neuroses to, yes, Adam’s disturbing sexual humiliation of his new girlfriend, every dumb decision tonight made perfect sense. At times, the dialogue of Girls can feel forced, or quirky for quirky’s sake. The awkwardness tonight, on the other hand, felt pitch-perfect, particularly Hannah and Adam’s first post-arrest conversation outside the bar. It was straight out of the kind of tales-from-my-20s confessional memoir that Hannah’s trying, and failing, to write.
Even stranger for a show with such a frenzied recap culture, I didn’t feel the need to scrutinize the characters’ every interaction: each scene managed to speak for itself. Charlie is a compulsively caring guy who’s attracted to Marnie against his better judgement, so he tries to help her snap out of her downward spiral by sleeping with her instead of telling her off. Adam is an alcoholic with serious issues who doesn’t feel like he deserves a healthy relationship, so he pulls a Hannah and tries to derail it by showing his partner the worst he has to offer. And Hannah’s continuing to (justifiably) freak out over the pressures of a book deal and a bad breakup, so the show wisely let her sort through her existing issues rather than introduce any new ones. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess that’s a pleasure to watch.
Julia Pugachevsky: In a sense, I feel that this episode of Girls was a drawn out moment of dramatic irony. As I watched it with my friends, we were yelling at the screen, trying to save every one of the characters from hazard, be it digging deep with a Q-tip or letting your new on-the-wagon boyfriend have a drink with you. Marnie’s song was a disaster before that DJ pressed the play button. Every good-hearted American wanted to stop her.
That naïve vulnerability in Marnie’s lyrics and voice broke our hearts. Even if you don’t like her, you feel so, so sorry for her, up there in her body-con dress and wannabe American Idol voice, as her too-successful ex-boyfriend watches with a mixture of embarrassment and validation. Charlie’s reaction validated the feelings I’ve always had about him: he just isn’t a nice guy. Despite his enormous success, he still enjoys the moment when he gets to have Marnie trailing behind him for a change, as he “forgets” lunch plans, and her humiliation makes their sexual encounter even better for him, because he won. It’s one thing to fantasize about revenge after a breakup and another thing entirely to act out on it, especially after you’ve acknowledged that the person in question is struggling to find herself.
Interestingly enough, the scene with Adam and Natalia after the party is far more complex, even though the sexual offense is much worse. This is the kind of scene that electrifies us as viewers and makes for groundbreaking television – a scene that makes us question whether we can even call the sex we’re witnessing consensual. Sure, Natalia never said “no” or “stop,” but no part of her looked or sounded like she enjoyed what was happening to her. Not everyone feels comfortable saying “no.” Not everyone is firm in how she feels because not everyone knows how she feels. Chances are, Natalia knew she unleashed something in Adam that night, and she wanted to agree. She wanted to be supportive. She got on all fours, she let him grab her and ruin her dress. The lines were blurred for her, and her mind escaped her mute body in that moment. But he was supposed to sense that.
Adam was drunk, and he has a problem. He will wake up the next morning, hungover, and — with or without Natalia by his side — he will know what he did. He’ll start to question himself, and realize that part of what happened had to do with his encounter with Hannah earlier, and his need to prove to himself that Natalia could understand and love him in the same way she did. He’ll rub his forehead and stare at the ceiling, and wince when he remembers that he slipped and called her “kid.”
Chloe Pantazi: At the start of “On All Fours,” we find Hannah just about on two feet, in an elevator en route to meet her editor, and in the process of de-wedging her knickers – which she does with precisely eight tugs. She’s suffering terribly from an anxiety that’s only exacerbated when her editor pressures her to invent an interesting sex life to write about, in lieu of a real one. Later, Hannah jams a Q-Tip too far into her ear – a literal tipping point as she goes from bad to worse. Alone and in pain, she winds up in hospital, whimpering like a frightened child.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s friends are at a party she wasn’t invited to, celebrating the success of Charlie’s app. Forbid may be working well, but it’s clearly not helping Charlie, as he invites Marnie and they end up having sex in his office. He’s brought her there after she spontaneously performs a song at the gathering, apparently mistaking a relatively low-key party for an open mic night. While it’s unlikely that someone would even attend an ex’s business party, let alone sing at it, Charlie reacts realistically – like an asshole – as he relishes telling Marnie that she’s “flailing.” This might be true, but condescending advice followed by a few thrusts on the desk is hardly helpful; Charlie’s more concerned with his wants than Marnie’s needs. Meanwhile, Shoshanna’s struggling with her guilt around Ray after the doorman debacle. One moment she’s Monica Geller, playing hostess with the mostest (guilt), and the next she’s Rachel Green, flirting with boys at Charlie’s party. Then she blurts out some bullshit about holding the doorman’s hand and feeling terrible about it to Ray, to which he responds by reminding her that he loves her.
On her way home from hospital, Hannah runs into Adam, outside the party he has gone to with his new girlfriend, Natalia. Both are startled by the chance encounter, and as Hannah tells her Q-Tip story, Adam’s genuinely concerned. “Jesus fucking Christ! Careful, kid,” he says. When Adam says “kid,” it makes Hannah feel something. (Maybe her mind, like mine, went first to Humphrey Bogart, then Carrie and Big.) Then he mentions the girlfriend, and it makes her feel something else. For Adam, who returns to the party to order a Jack and ginger, the encounter ruins more than his sober streak; it ruins his new relationship, as he makes sexual demands back at his apartment that make Natalia uncomfortable. When they have sex earlier in the episode, she’s clear with what she likes. Being left with a trail of come on her chest after being taken – quite forcefully – from behind is not it. Never has a scene in Girls felt quite so real.