God bless Shoshanna Shapiro.
Girls has kept its sometime MVP on the sidelines for so long, I forgot how good it feels when the show puts her in her rightful place as the foursome’s resident Cassandra. She’s deployed to spectacular effect in “Beach House,” an episode’s that co-written by all three of the show’s heavy hitters. The idea of a vacation that strikes a friend group’s killing blow by ripping the group’s tensions out into the open has been done before, obviously. But Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow combine their talents to render a chick-flick cliché in nightmarish detail. “Beach House” pulls this off by showing the way this particular group would implode, demonstrating such a perfect understanding of its characters and the dynamic between them that it’s easy to forget that Girls has been keeping its protagonists separated for so long.
We begin with Marnie, who convenes her friends at a weekend house that’s equal parts Barefoot Contessa and Moonrise Kingdom. She’s assigned bedrooms and assembled an itinerary, but tellingly, she’s at her happiest before the weekend even begins, when there’s no one else around. That’s because there’s no room for chaos in Marnie’s plan, when chaos is the whole point of weekend getaways like these. Basking in the company of people you love necessarily involves spontaneity, making room for the collective snap decisions that happen when everyone’s desires carry equal weight. But that’s not what Marnie’s after. The other three girls aren’t so much her friends as props in her ideal therapeutic weekend, complete with scheduled “healing time.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Hannah confesses to dreading the trip. From the moment they barrel through the door, Marnie’s unable to deal with her friends as real, three-dimensional people who might not abide by her meticulous sleeping arrangements (“Jessa, I put you in the lighthouse because it’s bohemian”). So when Hannah runs into Elijah, his new “boo,” and some friends in town, she quickly forgives him for making fun of her Spring Breakers-style bikini and invites the boys over for a party. All talk of throwing wishes into bonfires is quickly drowned in North Fork Fizzes.
Though we know it won’t last, everyone briefly has a grand ol’ time. They’re drunk, but not too drunk; friendly, but not too familiar; honest, but not too harsh. Gerald teaches them a dance. Hannah gives Elijah relationship advice. Marnie finally opens up enough to tell the whole, horrible story of her and Charlie’s breakup. And for a little bit, it seems like the healing Marnie so desperately wanted might be happening all on its own. She and Hannah have the kind of alcohol-fueled conversation that mends friendships by having both parties apologize before admitting that, despite everything, they still care about one another. Or, as Marnie puts it: “I am okay. I may not seem okay and I may not be okay now, but I am, like, okay.”
But then she gets greedy. First she overplays her hand, demanding that Hannah kick the boys out so all four of them can have a heart-to-heart (careful what you wish for, Marn). When that fails, she turns sulky, ruining an otherwise perfectly good bonding moment with her perfectionism. After what is, ironically, exactly the kind of Instagram material Marnie so desperately wanted to prove to the outside world she and her so-called besties still like each other, we get the inevitable blowup. And Shoshanna is the undisputed star of the show.
We know Shosh has been reevaluating her life lately, so I can only assume she’d thought over the following observations quite a bit before actually saying them out loud.
On Hannah: “You’re a fucking narcissist. Seriously, I’ve never met anyone else who thinks their own life is so fucking fascinating. I wanted to fall asleep in my own vomit all day listening to you talk about how you bruise more easily than other people.”
On Marnie: “Can you chill the FUCK out about dinner? Seriously, that duck tasted like a used condom and I want to forget about it.”
On Jessa: “What is that, some AA bullshit? Seriously, Jessa goes to rehab for five fucking seconds and we have to listen to everything she comes up with.”
On everyone: “You guys never listen to me. You treat me like I’m a fucking cab driver. You have entire conversations in front of me like I am invisible. Sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me, instead of a bunch of fucking whiny nothings as friends.”
It’s lazy to just transcribe Shoshanna’s commentary instead of putting it in my own words. But no one will be able to put their finger on her friends’ many flaws quite like she can, because no one knows them as well as she does — or rather, her writers do. “Beach House” proves once and for all that the insufferability of Girls’s characters is a product of design, and it’s a design that has more of an endgame than slowly driving viewers insane. In fact, this episode has the feeling of something that’s been built up to not just this entire season, but the entire series.
The audience aren’t the only ones who’ve been taking note of Hannah’s narcissism, Marnie’s obliviousness, Jessa’s absurdity, or Shoshanna’s growing bitchiness. All four of the Girls have been gradually grating on each other, and they’ve finally started to ask what some of us have been wondering for a while (again, by design): just what’s holding these people together? When was the last time the four of them actually got along? Did the four of them ever get along?
The group’s always been bound together more by circumstance than common ground or even liking one another. The inciting incident of the series was two roommates’ college friend coming back into their lives and moving in with her cousin. After that, they’ve been through a few breakups and a crackcident together, yet never developed a healthy, lasting bond, possibly because none of them are even capable of meaningful friendships at this point in their lives. And they won’t be for a while, until they commit to the kind of serious introspection Shoshanna’s been doing.
If this were the real world, the foursome would leave the beach house and find the sort of people they ought to have been looking for all along, but didn’t for fear of leaving the post-college safety bubble that old friendships provide. Hannah would meet other writers to critique her work and her personality. Marnie would bond with some SoulCycle classmates as bland and conventionally attractive as she is. Shoshanna would network with equally ambitious future business ladies. And Jessa would go off and make do the way she always does.
That won’t happen, because this is a TV show and its world is therefore a bubble. But the girls have reached a breaking point, and cling as they might to choreography that brings them back to simpler times, something’s gotta give.