"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Sunday night’s episode of “Girls” was a bit of a departure, taking the show’s core foursome out of their usual grungy environs and placing them on a sad shorefront somewhere just short of the Hamptons. The trip, intended as a healing retreat by obsessive hostess Marnie, erupted into an outrageous airing of grievances both earnest and spiteful. Positioned as it was, just after midway through the season, this episode, with all its expletive-riddled honesty, could be a major turning point. Or it could simply be, as Adam once put it, another example of the “hysterical” nature of female friendships. Back to help me make some sense of it all is Molly Oswaks, our first ever participant in “Watching ‘Girls’ with Girls.”
This Week’s “Girl”: Molly Oswaks, 25
Job – Journalist
Adam or Ray – Adam
Favorite “Girls” girl – Jessa
Episode Watched – “Beach House”
At the beginning of the episode, we see that Marnie has tried to plan this absolutely perfect weekend. She’s getting their rooms ready and setting flower arrangements. Remember that a couple of episodes prior, Ray and Marnie had this debate about what’s wrong with her and now she’s making this big show of trying to put her relationships back together. “I want to prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group.”
That was hilarious.
What do you think is her reasoning for trying to do all of this?
It could be partly that she really enjoys it and the pleasure that she gets from it is not necessarily matched by the other girls. Everyone gets the bed she assigns them, they eat the julienne vegetables, they eat the duck — it’s all very proper. She’s very different from the rest of them. The dinner party could have been much more fun and not so strained if she wasn’t such a tight ass I think.
I actually felt really sorry for her. There’s an anal part of me that would be upset if I planned a dinner party and then I didn’t have enough food because new people crashed at the last minute.
Oh, totally! I get it. But I don’t think she handled that very well. She got mad at everybody. The party she made is essentially still going well except the duck isn’t going to work out. And that’s it for her. If there’s not enough duck then it’s a disaster.
Hannah is the one who is supposed to have OCD, but Marnie is actually very rigid. She also makes a very big deal, especially with Hannah, about this notion of healing. After the dinner they unpack all this animosity toward each other. It’s spearheaded by Shoshanna holding a martini — which is hilarious. Shoshanna calls Hannah “narcissistic,” to which Hannah replies that, yes, she is narcissistic and has been called that since she was young and that she’s unlikely to change. Her suggestion was that Marnie lower her expectations.
I think that was probably inspired by things that people like us have said about the characters. They’re kind of using the media’s words about these characters. People love to say Hannah’s narcissistic but Marnie is whatever. But I also thought it was probably one of the more genuine scenes I’ve seen on television or in movies, I guess, of girls fighting and airing grievances. It sounded like all of the things that you say to your girlfriends behind your other girlfriends’ backs. But they were saying it to each other, getting it all out.
At the end of the episode, they’re waiting for the bus and they go back to doing the dance together in unison without speaking, and you’re sort of led to believe that all of this will be fine in the morning and that it will be as if nothing happened.
You’re skipping the scene in the morning where they all walk into the kitchen and silently help each other clean up the huge mess. I thought that was so sweet. You can say so much and fight with somebody and say the meanest things but do you really care about each other? I think there’s this sort of silent acknowledgment that, “We were drunk last night. We said some things. But we do love each other. We’re going to clean this up together.”
I don’t know if that rings true to me. I feel like some terrible things were said that were also very truthful. I’m not sure that I think that these people like each other, especially Marnie and Hannah. I don’t know if they should be friends. And then, Shoshanna says something like, “I wonder if my social anxiety is keeping me from meeting the people I should be around.” That might be true. Maybe it’s time to move on.
Don’t you have friends that are so different from you, but for whatever reason they are still an important friend in your life? You might disagree with a lot of what they do or say or believe but, on some level, they are just your friend?
I don’t have a friend to whom I would say something like, “You know, you’re a narcissist and it drives me crazy and makes me want to throw up.” I don’t have friends like that because, to me, that means you’re not really friends. You don’t actually like the person at a core level.
If Hannah is an actual narcissist then she has a whole world of trouble ahead of her. I think she is just self-absorbed. You say somebody’s a narcissist, you’re calling them a sociopath. I think Marnie was more saying that Hannah is a huge insensitive asshole. They were super-drunk on that Long Island punch or whatever they were drinking …
The North Fork Fizz.
It was one of those late night drunken fights. The tension was already there, Marnie was pissed, and everybody was feeling it. They were primed for that fight.
So, you think they could return to business as usual and it would be fine or do you think something should be gained? Story-wise — even character wise — what do you think should come out of this episode?
I was wondering if Shoshanna might try to branch out and make new friends.
How do you want to see Marnie come out of this episode?
I hope she becomes less of a Type A drill sergeant of a friend.
The question is whether she’ll actually keep Ray around. Come to think of it, there is a scene in this episode where she mentions something about how Ray has been encouraging her to develop her artistic side. The guy she’s talking to looks at her like she’s crazy and asks something like, “Since when have you been hanging out with old man Ray?” She shuts up immediately as if she’s embarrassed. But you know how it is when you’re with somebody often and you start repeating what they’ve said to you to other people. It means they’re clearly on your mind. There’s some real connection or attachment to him — which I like.
They could be good for each other similar to the way he was good for Shoshanna for a little while. He sort of opened her up, I think.
Just in terms of the episode itself — just the structure of it — I thought it was really interesting for them to go away for this, to put the characters outside of their world. It looked different. It was a much different backdrop.
I obviously don’t have a house like that, but I’ve had the experience of being invited away like that and it’s always a crazy weekend. You escape from reality. They said things they normally don’t say. They did things they wouldn’t normally do against that backdrop. Because that just brings that out in you.
Neil Drumming is a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter @Neil_Salon.More Neil Drumming.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)