Hannah tries to dig deep — with a Q-Tip — while her friends expose their true selves, for better and for worse
Being over the edge can actually be embarrassingly useful. It, like losing one’s job, forces confrontations mere happenstance cannot easily achieve. In reasonable doses, it’s the means by which we erode meaningless bonds, break people down to their elements, and collapse all the strictures polite society was designed to achieve.
BUT NOT QUITE YET.
As we begin this season’s penultimate episode, we slide up into what I have begun to think of as a Dunhamian shot: the bed and bedroom seen from the side, like Freud’s ideal diorama. In this bedroom are the yet-more-encoupled Nat (Natalia) and Adam, about to make love. We know this because Natalia says, “I’m ready to have sex now,” telling Adam “You’ve been really nice all week,” then laying out information and prohibitions, including “no soft touching” (takes her out of the moment) and coming outside (“I’m on the pill”). Though his expression is briefly inscrutable, Adam reacts to these proscriptions with relief. “I will do all of those things … I like how clear you are with me.” How, responds Natalia beatifically, could a person do anything any other way?
Well, you could be Hannah, who transmutes anxiety into compulsion, giving her brain the control over her person it cannot exercise over her life. She’s picking her underwear and jerking her head in an elevator on the way up to her editor, giving her own body a tense copyedit before he does. Apparently her work is lacking “the pudgy face slick with semen and sadness” her editor had been banking on. Who is this person writing these Austen-like squibbets on relationships and friendships?
Ray would like to know the same thing about Shosh, who, still reeling from betraying him with a handsome doorman, has taken to pouring his tea and ministering to him with the kindness reserved for the mortally ill. “What’s with this geisha shit?” he asked, somewhat undermined by his own pastel-patterned kimono. But he too is finding unseen depths of empathy and generosity, because, after being ordered to by Shosh, he agrees to help the songwriting, humming Marnie lay down her new track on Garage Band, even going so far as to take a new tack himself by apologizing to Shosh.
And herein the episode takes on Austen-like aspects — exactly the kind of which Hannah has recently been accused by the editor who’d prefer she’d write about sex with teens. Charlie, in a rather “Persuasion”-like fashion, has risen in the world to the tune of 20,000 MAU’s (Monthly Average Users!) and is so fulfilled by work he forgets lunch with Marnie, then invites her to the company party. Natalia, in a “Mansfield Park”-like strategem, brings Adam to an engagement party for one of her friends. Ray and Shosh show up at Charlie’s celebration, where Ray snarks at Adam and is crushed by Shoshanna’s rampant flirtations, and Marnie looks around at the ground she has lost and makes a bid to reclaim equal footing — by singing the song Ray’s helped her lay down. (I could spend this entire recap breaking down the song. Breakin’ II down the song.)
And where IS Hannah, by the way? Should I spoil this one, for you late-watchers? I’m going to pre-spoil by saying what Hannah does is extremely satisfying if you are obsessive compulsive and extremely painful if you’re not, and also that it — one tiny Q-tip, one little eardrum and one massive neurotic fit — are the means that bring Adam back to her.
Because acting on your impulse is, at the end of the day, explosively satisfying. Marnie’s insane burst of song, her unintentional self-abasement, at the party leads Charlie to yank her into his office, ask what’s wrong with her, and then have sex with her on the desk, just as his forgetting their lunch entirely — and the power that conferred on him — led to her being at the party in the first place. Shoshanna’s bizarre behavior to Ray ultimately brings him closer — and also I will have to further examine why she confessed only to holding “the doorman’s hand,” which I’m convinced actually has darker intimations. And Hannah’s digging a Q-tip into her ear so deeply that she must go to the hospital to have it removed (by, sigh, yes, an Indian doctor, yes, this is becoming a problem, I agree) is the means that brings her to the street where she meets Adam again, thereby plunging him into a tangle of drink with Nat, who we learn is not quite as willing to play by his rules. (Adam also keeps picking at his ear — actor’s privilege? Actual direction?) “You have the kind of girlfriend whose friends get engaged!” Hannah tells Adam vacantly, holding up her bloodied Q-tip. “Jesus, kid, take care of yourself!” he says. Then he returns to the party, where he starts to drink again.
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.
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