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Girls Recap: All for the Story

We pick up shortly after last week’s episode. Hannah and Charlie and Marnie are all still fighting over the diary debacle. When Charlie storms out, taking his (very nicely made) coffee table with him, this actual diamond falls out of Hannah’s mouth. “Hey, Marnie, if you had read the essay and it wasn’t about you, do you think you would have liked it? Just as like a piece of writing?” Hannah Horvath, I love you, you sick fuck.

This episode is all about doing things in search of a story, or the idea of a story. Hannah wants to know if her “story” (really just an account of her life) is any good, despite what it’s done to Marnie’s life. Marnie wants the fairy-tale love story. Jessa wants the sex revenge story. Hannah wants the boss sex story, even though she isn’t actually interested in having sex with Richard Masur. (Who, by the by, deserves a golf clap for sticking around for a second episode.)

No. 1: The Love Story
Marnie doesn’t know where Charlie lives, which I love. In New York City, where real estate is king, never going to your boyfriend’s house is the ultimate power move. After Obnoxious Ray forks over the address, Marnie is on her way, wearing nude stripper heels, because that’s what it’s going to take. I knew there was hot sex in your future, Charlie! It turns out that Charlie is a master craftsman and his apartment is full of blond wood things he’s made himself. Charlie basically lives in a Design*Sponge male fantasy (Marnie calls it a “Target ad,” which is a dis and a half). Here’s the story Marnie is telling herself: She wants Charlie back.

Flashback! Oberlin College, 2007. (I am so tempted to include a photograph of myself at the Oberlin Drag Ball in 1998, but I won’t. It’s pretty much this flashback.) Marnie has bangs, and has taken some drugs and can’t move. Hannah and gay boyfriend Elijah talk about makeup and head off to dance to the Scissor Sisters (naturally), but not before pulling over Charlie, with bad hair and a baggy cardigan, to make sure Marnie doesn’t freak out. True love, just like that. It turns out poor Charlie has always just been something for Marnie to prop herself up on.

Back in present-day New York, Marnie begs and begs and begs, and offers blow jobs, and Charlie, poor sap that he is, gives in. When they’re finally in bed, Charlie makes a lot of sad, sweet demands (“Act like my life is real”), which is when we know that this is capital D Doomed. He keeps telling her to keep her face close to his, and repeating that he loves her, and Marnie snaps. It’s over. I am so sorry for you, Charlie, but there are so many other girls who would love to lie with you in your beautiful bunkbed, while you softly say sweet things to them and stroke their faces.

No. 2: The Icky Boss Story
Hannah awkwardly tries to seduce Richard Masur with the line, “I am gross, and so are you.” Richard Masur doesn’t actually want to have sex with her, which makes Hannah flip out. She threatens to sue, but Richard Masur rightly says, “There’s no suing app on your iPhone.” Hannah tries to extort money, but Richard still finds her charming. On her way out the door, Hannah sticks it to him — someday, she’s going to write an essay about him and not change his name. And just like that, voilà, she got her story without having to have sex with Richard Masur. Very crafty.

Despite Hannah’s assertion, Richard Masur clearly isn’t actually as gross as Hannah first imagined. Even though he does get “handsy” with the women in his office, he’s not actually trying to have sex with them. Which is, yes, confusing. His reaction to Hannah’s awkward seduction seems to prove that he really is a generous guy, as the two women claimed in last week’s episode. He’s so nice that he doesn’t want Hannah to quit, even though she doesn’t know how to do anything and has just tried to extort money from him. Now, that’s a nice boss, even if he occasionally massages your solar plexus. (Please note: I would still quit, because that is hella gross, not to mention illegal and inappropriate.)

Can I also nominate some possible future bosses for Hannah? I’d like to see Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt, maybe Matt Dillon? What about Josh Hamilton as the editor of an effete literary magazine? Just spitballing here. Or Ethan Hawke as a novelist who needs research help? Basically, I would like to hire the casts of Dead Poets Society and Kicking and Screaming. Also, while we’re talking about casting, can I just say, how did it take me until now to realize that James Le Gros’s wife is Bobby Newport’s campaign manager on Parks and Rec? I love this woman. Every single line she has makes me die. Sample: “Couldn’t find the key to the storage unit. I guess that means we need new boogie boards.”

No. 3: The Seduction Story
Jessa’s on a date with her ex-boyfriend, who has terrible sideburns and a porkpie hat. He probably plays trumpet in a klezmer-gypsy-funk band. He claims not to want to have sex with her, because he has been with “Gillian, hard g” for six months. Still, Jessa brings him home and fucks him while Shoshanna hides in the closet, scandalized. Jessa isn’t actually interested in this shmohawk, she just wants him to know that she’s still sexier than the girl he’s got at home. Homeboy didn’t even take off his skin-tight vest while they were having sex. Jessa was just proving her “unsmotability,” which she has in spades. Amen.

Jessa’s character is one of Girls’ greatest, most underrated triumphs. She’s genuinely sexy, and funny, and unlike, say, Kim Cattrall’s Samantha, she’s young enough that her womanliness feels precocious instead of jaded. The trumpeteer never stood a chance, and she knew it. Is it slightly vampiric to get that much pleasure from having sex with someone simply to prove you can? Perhaps, but I don’t care. I’m on Jessa’s side in this one. When the time comes for her and James Le Gros to get it on, though, I don’t know if I’ll feel the same way.

No. 4: The Story Story
Following last week’s post-tearful-speech sex, Hannah goes over to Adam’s, thinking they’re now boyfriend-girlfriend. But Adam sets her straight — he was actually onboard for the breakup. Adam has yet to put on a shirt, and he’s doing some “wood-working,” which makes me hope for some kind of vise-inflicted wound. (In the Boys spinoff reality television show, I want Charlie to school Adam in a shop class challenge. Adam clearly couldn’t build anything more complicated than a skateboard. Without wheels.) When Hannah comes out of the bathroom, Adam is jerking off. Aggressively. In a perhaps too-knowing line, he invites Hannah to stay, “for the story.” She is then powerless to leave. Adam wants abuse, and Hannah decides to give it to him, because he fucking deserves it. She wants cab money, but it turns out Adam only has hundred dollar bills, and so she takes one. After one final request — Adam wants her to step on his balls — Hannah actually loses her temper (“Are you fucking kidding me!?!”), which makes him have an orgasm. Belle and Sebastian starts to play, the universal signal for a romance turned sour. Now, that’s a story, Hannah.

Though I am loath to bring up Sex and the City twice in one recap, I think this episode illuminates the life and brain of a writer in a way that that series never did. Hannah is simultaneously trying to document and construct her life. Making bad choices in life leads to good fodder for art, and she is willing to sacrifice a little (or a lot) of dignity in order to get the story. I think we’re getting more of a window into Lena Dunham here than we have in the series to date. Memoirists always mine their own lives for the plots of their essays/books/scripts, and Hannah is clearly willing to throw herself in the fire in order to properly describe the stench of her burning hair.

Last week, I went to see David Sedaris at BAM. It was sold out, with more than 2,000 people paying up to a hundred dollars to watch him stand at a podium and read his work for an hour and a half. He read essays about going to the dentist, and buying a taxidermied owl, and then a selection of entries from his diaries. The crowd loved him, laughing at every line, whether or not it was particularly funny (though of course they often were). I left wondering who else, not including actual comedians, could command such a high fee to sort through their various foibles and humiliation. Give Lena Dunham a decade or two, I say. One doesn’t age out of humiliation, after all. If she’s willing to have Hannah stick with Adam for the sake of a story, just imagine what else she will let happen to her for the sake of the story. Yes, Hannah is a “girl” trying to make it in the big city, but before she’s a girl, she’s a writer.

Photo: HBO