Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Topics: HBO, Girls, Lena Dunham, hannah horvath, little women, female friendship, Sex and the City, Sex, Writing, writer life, ebooks, Art, TV, Television, Girls recap, Editor's Picks, Hurricane Sandy, staten island, nyc, Entertainment News
Poor Staten Island. After being battered and nearly eclipsed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it has now suffered an even greater indignity: being made into a metaphor by Ray.
If the “Girls” episodes up until now have been about the hazards of striving, this one is about the perils of having actually arrived. First up is Hannah, who, as the episode begins, is being courted by an actual, real-life, buying-the-drinks editor. He’s got gray hair. He knows money men. And he’d like her to write a book — an e-book — the kind that must be delivered in a month. Hannah leaves the lunch and, like a newly expectant mother, pukes on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, Shoshanna is trying to convince Ray that he should invest in more than the mop he is scornfully pumping up and down. She would like him to attend an entrepreneurship seminar given by Donald Trump. “Don’t you want to run your own coffee shop one day?” she asks. Ray laughs at this dubious honor, then hands the mop to Hannah, whose e-book deal, however illustrious, has not yet provided her the means to not be mopping Grumpy’s floor. “I can’t believe I have a friend who signed a book deal!” breathes Shoshanna. “It’s so adult and intriguing!” Intriguing enough that Hannah herself may need some guidance. “How fast do you think you can write a book?” she asks Shoshanna.
But it’s a far more concrete book that sets events in motion: Ray’s signifying copy of “Little Women,” given to him by his godmother. Hannah has left it at Adam’s apartment, and Ray needs it back, since his godmother has written notes about “his shit” in the back. (Say what you will about Ray and Hannah’s chemistry: They may not have sex, but they have plot.) Not only, we have learned, is the “Girls” cast passing around a copy of their literary progenitors like Cliffs Notes for themselves, they argue over which character is who. Ray seems to think he is Marmee; Hannah thinks he’s the absent March patriarch. I’ll just note for the record that, though Hannah is an obvious Jo, the March family cook is named Hannah.
Meanwhile, Marnie — NOT Marmee — is reveling in her version of Hannah’s e-book: Booth Jonathan’s bed. There, she lies in such delicious coupledom that even the arrival of Booth’s Marnie-aged assistant, Soo Jin, does not seem grounds for comment. Soo Jin, however, is not long for this Booth, since she has taken a bite of his just-purchased rosewater ice cream without remorse. Soo Jin is incredulous, then infuriated, that Booth cares. Cut to the suddenly understaffed Booth asking Marnie, “Do you mind being my hostess for a reading?”
No, no! Yes, I know. Don’t even say it. Wait for it. Because right now Ray, who’s been tapped for the job of getting back his own copy of “Little Women” (Shoshanna: “It’s really your duty as a man to go”) is in Adam’s apartment, trying to be a man. But the book is in the bathroom, where Hannah has left it, being guarded by a cerberus-like dog named Dog.
You see what’s coming. Well, you probably don’t. It emerges that Adam has stolen Dog from someone who lives on Staten Island. Adam, after tossing around words like “dick” and “shit” and “piss” — the only manly tools he has left — hatches a plan to return Dog, with Ray, intrigued by the idea of himself as “extra muscle.” On the way over, Ray blasts Staten’s Island’s ferry-goers. “Look at these people. Hopeless. They know where they’re doing.” To Ray, Staten Island is the fool’s gold of boroughs, where people are too stupid to even know they are hopelessly marooned. “All of these people want to live on Manhattan, so they live on this fucked-upped little island,” Ray says, gesturing to Manhattan’s distant, Oz-like peaks.
And here’s where it all goes so wrong. Having triumphed as the hostess of the party in a transparent gold-tinged frock, Marnie receives her payment — not Booth’s love and gratitude, but a few hundred bucks. “Wait, was I working?” she asked, echoing Shoshanna’s, “Wait, are you my boyfriend?” a few episodes ago. “You’re a hostess for a living. I didn’t think it was that weird to ask you to host,” Booth says.
Meanwhile, Adam and Ray’s quest has suffered a breakdown. After a pleasant chat about how young women and older women are great because they have no expectations, Adam abandons Ray, who’s made a few digs at Hannah. Ray finds the address, but, as it turns out, even Dog’s owners don’t want Dog. The owner’s daughter rejects them both, hurling a stream of invectives at a protesting Ray, much of it regarding his evident lack of a job. “You’re a piece of shit that’s got nothing better to do,” Dog’s owner’s daughter finishes, then tells Ray what Staten Island really thinks of Manhattan: “Go back to yogatown, kike.”
In an interview, the director of “Sex and the City” — yet another “Girls” predecessor — once explained why the tutu’d Carrie gets splashed by a puddle from a bus sporting her own image at the end of the opening credits. However high you’ve risen in the city’s esteem, you’re still not free from its pitilessly democratic sewage.
“Little Women” was another story about consistently foiled ambitions — even one, if I’m remembering Amy March’s party correctly, about ice cream. In e-book world, Hannah, on line for the bathroom at Marnie’s party (get it? On line?) strikes up a conversation with a fellow waiter. Apparently, his friend also has a book deal. Still, he’s not sure if it’s real book deal. It’s an e-book.
Marnie cannot accept how much she’s misread the signals. “Usually when I think someone’s my boyfriend, they’re my boyfriend, and I’m not delusional about it!” Marnie wails to Booth. Cut to her calling Hannah from a walkway, her transparent coat abandoned. She was wearing the hostess’s new clothes.
But most brought-low is Ray, who was already pretty low. Not only has he failed at being the muscle and the heroic returner of Dog, he’s even lower then people who live on Staten Island. Looking out at Manhattan with Dog, he tells the animal, “You think I’m a kike? I’m not even that. I’m not what everyone thinks of me. I’m nothing.” Ray, Hannah, and Marnie have learned that Manhattan isn’t out of reach to the people on Staten Island. It’s really they who, despite their best efforts, are still watching it from a distance.
Last week’s episode, in which Hannah sleeps with a Brooklyn divorcé played by Patrick Wilson, brought about a fairly nauseating display:Critics musing whether or not Lena-Dunham-as-Hannah is attractive enough to command the attention of anyone as good-looking as Patrick Wilson.
Setting aside the truth that all reasonably sexually active people know — anyone can want to sleep with anyone — there’s yet a greater wrong being perpetrated: that a show that has a chubby girl sleeping with someone cannot be about anything else. Indicting anyone on the basis of his or her looks is always reprehensible. (And critics: Talk about low.) But failing to discuss a writer’s actual work is, by my lights, a greater wrong. But that’s the kind of sewage this city throws on anyone successful enough to be on the side of the bus.
Lizzie Skurnick is the author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stop Reading. She writes on books and culture for the New York Times Magazine, the Daily Beast, Bookforum, the LAT, and many other publications.More Lizzie Skurnick.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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