"Girls" recap: Goodbye cruel "Girls"

Was that romantic finale meant in all seriousness?

Published March 18, 2013 3:00PM (EDT)

I don't know how I feel about the new Hannah-in-crisis. One of the great joys of Hannah was that even — especially — in her blundering, raw ineptitude, she was a force that, nonetheless, moved forward. Unlike the rest of us, with our piddling one step forward, two steps back, her massive jumps of misplaced courage — “I am the voice — or at least, a voice — of a generation” — were decimated by steady, incremental self-sabotage. The best part was that, unlike us, she would have been hard-pressed to differentiate the two.

So how can we make peace with this Hannah, who, after finally getting what she wants — a good (enough) job and a nice(ish) boy — is overcome by OCD, a terribly crippling condition in real life, and possibly so in drama. A very smart commenter on Facebook recently noted that the ear-poking seems almost an act of desperation, as if Hannah were trying to dig out her neurosis with a Q-tip. It certainly does, but what about losing Adam has caused this syndrome? Is it stopping her from writing the book? Is the book stopping her from writing Adam? Was the plot stopping Dunham from writing an explanation for either of these? Hannah is poking around for answers, lost and alone. As are we.

Our episode today begins with Hannah in bed with the least favorite of her companions: her unwritten book. Her editor has called and, after bumping up her ego slightly by reminding her that she's “the Future,” adds a qualifying “I guess” that throws Hannah back into her emotional spin, which involves searching Google for the aftereffects of eardrum puncture. Actually, something worse might be happening. What happens if she doesn't write the book? They sue her for the advance. They sue her? Yes.

Cut to Marnie, who's lying on the floor in Charlie's apartment being pleasured by her ex-boyfriend, finally having found the position that, once and for all, makes it clear that he's not the one with the vagina. Speaking of vaginas, Shosh would like Ray to take his penis out of hers. As they lie in a rigid spoon, Ray grasping one breast as if to hang on to their fast-deteriorating relationship, she again tells Ray — “This again!” — that his lack of ambition is wearing on her. Ray may think this is because Shosh would like him to get a better job. (Or, as his boss (Colin Quinn!) says, after pinning her down as the girl “with a purse shaped like a croissant," she wants him to be able to buy her “more bags shaped like bread products.”) But those of us who have had a breast clutched in this manner know that she is actually asking Ray for that most necessary balm: to be interested in anything but her.

We then switch to the bedroom of the lissome Natalia, where she and Adam are having what first appears to be sex. He — and we — are quickly disabused of this notion, when he lays what I am going to unequivocally declare is some very mild pillow talk on her, after which she stops him and immediately acts as if he'd asked her if she was a little whore who liked his cock over coffee. “I can like your cock and not be a whore – do you understand?” she says. “Now slow down. Back up. Bear down. Not so fast! OK, a little slower for me.” Adam sighs. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he knows that her note of irritation and impatience is a kind of pillow talk too — of a far more revealing kind.

For the first time, Dunham is using the kind of semaphore that allows any viewer to watch with the sound off. (And, in fact, I did have this on HBOLT for the first few minutes, following along quite happily while wondering why a man kept speaking Spanish in the background.) But maybe sex is the semaphore with which we interpret the vagaries of life, as it is, as Shosh’s plight reminds us, very hard to have someone's penis in you when you should probably be having a conversation. Charlie's being good at head suddenly isn't just a pleasure — it's a sign he was probably sleeping with someone else. Natalia's tedious literalness is a sign that Adam should probably be sleeping with someone else. Ray's behind Shoshanna while she talks to the camera? He's out. (There he goes, with his life-size Andy Kaufman!) Adam races toward Hannah, maintaining their digital face-space before he sweeps her into his arms. Now he's holding her aloft. That naked table-tennis would have been a lot harder to interpret.

It's a given that whenever a show doesn't — or can't — use dialogue to show what happens, it switches to a montage. I'm very fond of this when it's shopping- or date-related — look at Julia in the hat! Look at Jennifer Aniston eating a hot dog with yet another man, possibly gay! — but it's frustrating when it's the scene we need to hear the most. In “Sex and the City,” this occurred exactly twice: when Carrie was asking Samantha to tell her how she “really felt” about the cancer, and when Carrie was asking Baryshnikov how he “really felt” about playing her boyfriend. (Well, she could have been, for all we got to hear it.)

"Girls" asks everyone how they really feel so much that it would be unbearable if it weren't essentially a running gag. So it was difficult to see if these hoary signifiers — Marnie arm-in-arm with Charlie, smiling up at him; Shosh devouring a new man's face in a bar; Adam rushing through the night to Hannah like his 10,000 cinematic predecessors were at his heels — were meant in all seriousness. Early in the episode, Hannah's editor accuses her of “making him that guy, the guy we made fun of in our stories.” Laird, the holy fool, tells Hannah he had feelings for her until he realized she was rotten to the core. Her own father tells her she's manipulative, to which she cries, “How can I be being manipulative if I don't know if I'm being manipulative?” Is Dunham asking the same thing of us?

In a possible answer, we get to see the first line and only line of the novel before this episode closes. It's: “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.” Well, if this is true, it makes sense that watching the girls waltz off into their boy-based romances was not only anticlimactic, but anti-dramatic. But that empty page, when the show was so rich with this story, also seems a worrying comment. Let's hope that this is yet another gloss on the nature of narrative, and not the narrative itself. Because, if so, "Girls" just became as boring as sex with Natalia.

By Lizzie Skurnick

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.

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