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Girls Recap: Is Hannah the Problem?

The ladies begin the episode at a book party for a college frenemy’s memoir, Leave Me Alone. And right away, Hannah offers us a window into her increasingly tortured soul: “All she used to write about were her sexual escapdes, and then she got into a monogamous relationship, and I thought she’d reveal her true, boring nature and start writing travelogues or something, but no, then her boyfriend up and killed himself.” The frenemy in question is played by Jenny Slate, who claims to have “waterbirthed her truth,” which would make me barf up my hors d'oeuvres just as Hannah does. Also: Fancy book party? Passed hors d’ouevres? Where do I sign up? The golden days of publishing are never over on television. Jenny has just been on "Fresh Air" (I wonder if this was written before or after Lena Dunham appeared on the show), and Marnie and Shoshanna have both been drinking the Kool-Aid, which would make Hannah crazy if she were paying any attention to her friends and wasn't not so hate-focused on Jenny Slate.

Michael Imperioli enters, as Hannah’s college writing professor Powell Goldman, which sounds like the kind of law firm that makes enough money to throw this kind of party every week. He has sexy gray hair and invites Hannah to read at the Salmagundi Arts center the following evening.  She wants to say no, because it “isn’t very her,” but eventually gives in, which makes it seem like she’s doing him a favor by saying yes. This book party twitches Hannah so badly that she can’t sleep at all that night, even with the now devoted Adam curled around her like a giant pussycat.

This is one of the most direct episodes to dates — direct in that it confronts the issues that viewers and critics have had of the show, and of Dunham herself. And instead of making any apologies, the show raises its middle finger and sticks out its tongue simultaneously. Yes, Jenny Slate comes off as a disgusting human being (“I want to be so skinny that people wonder if I have a disease”), but Hannah’s envy comes off as ugly and self-destructive. I hate Jenny Slate’s character, too, but I want Hannah to stop slumping around the room and complaining. I want her to meet other people, to be proactive in getting her writing career off the ground. When I was in my early twenties, I did the exact same thing — I read a lot of books, but mostly old books, because they were obviously more important. I hung out with all my friends from high school and stayed out late and wrote terrible, terrible stuff, and then I forced all my friends to read it. It was unpublishable, mostly because I was undisciplined and had no idea what I was doing. Can I sign Hannah up for an MFA program? Or, at the very least, a writing group? A single workshop? It’s not the degree that is important — what Hannah needs are other writer friends, people whose work she respects and takes seriously. It’s no wonder that she hates Jenny Slate, who has managed to write a whole book and get it published. She can move through a party and make annoying small talk even when she has to poop! Hannah can’t seem to do anything except get in her own way.

Back at their apartment, Hannah and Marnie begin to pick at each other — Hannah is sensitive, and Marnie is fed-up, and Adam seems to take a jar of mayonnaise with him into the bathroom, which prompts Marnie to recommend that Hannah ditch Adam and take up with Powell Goldman instead, perhaps because she thinks he might be able to help Hannah pay her share of the rent. Hannah heads back into her bedroom, where a very sweaty Adam is doing sit-ups. I think he has an exercise problem, but then again, he would probably think that I have a cheese problem. Hannah invites him to her reading, and Adam declines, saying politely, “I’ve never been to a reading where I didn’t want to fucking strangle the person.” Burn! That sucks, Adam. You had Hannah sit in on your rehearsal and agreed to do the play “so that she could see it,” but you won’t even go to her reading, which will be five minutes long? I would really like someone on this show to do something nice for someone else, just because. Hannah says that she wants to make a change, which I support, but Adam pooh-poohs before asking her to sit on his back while he does push-ups. This episode is like a contest to see who can make the self-obsessed meter actually break through the glass and start spinning around in circles.

While Shoshanna goes out on her first Internet date, Jessa rearranges their furniture at home. Katherine (Mrs. James Le Gros) stops by. She tells Jessa she wants her to come back, and then proceeds to tell her about all the dreams she’s been having about killing and eating her. Katherine offers Jessa some advice — she needs to grow up and get serious about something, or someone. Jessa declines the job offer, but something Katherine said has made an impact. I think our wonderful Jessa might be the one character to actually experience change, after everything is said and done.

Ray is now my favorite man on this show. He hires Hannah to work with him at the coffee shop, and then tells her to write about something real, like acid rain, or racial profiling, or death. This, combined with Marnie’s earlier assessment of the piece she was going to read as too whiny, prompts Hannah to write something new for the reading. Michael Imperioli is wearing a vest and it’s actually working on him. Hannah tells the audience that she wrote this new piece on the subway on the way to there. (Ouch! Bad! Bad! Have some respect for your audience!) Hannah reads a terrible piece about an Internet boyfriend who … dies. She repeats it for effect, but there is none.

When Hannah gets home, she finds a copy of Leave Me Alone on the kitchen table and confronts Marnie about it. Marnie, bless her heart, says, “It was a book party, so I bought the book.” MARNIE, I LOVE YOU. MARRY ME. They fight, because Marnie is not always in the mood to talk about Hannah. I love this fight — it’s been brewing for years, and they’re probably both right, though I am squarely on Marnie’s side here. I am allergic to confrontation, and this scene feels like pressing on a bruise — it hurts, but I just can’t stop. They argue about which one of them is “the wound,” and I think the sad part here is that Hannah really doesn’t know that it’s her. Finally, after arguing about who is a good friend and who is a bad friend, Hannah says what Marnie needs to hear, that she doesn’t actually care about being a good friend. No shit, Sherlock. And just like that, Marnie is done, and says she wants to move out. Hannah is physically incapable of giving someone else the last word, and they each storm into their respective bedrooms, slamming the doors.

This episode is all about being paralyzed with the fear of being an adult, and of making choices. Shoshanna is taking her sex matters into her own hands, and goes on an internet date, which sadly takes place offscreen. Jessa is in a sad place, and I think there are some internal shifts afoot. And Marnie and Hannah, who have so long been each other’s tentpoles, seem to have collapsed in a heap. We’ve only got one more episode left in the first season, and I think it’s going to be a doozy. Being an adult means making decisions that will alter the rest of your life, and doing so consciously. Let’s see if any of the ladies can actually follow through, or whether they’re doomed to stay floating in this amber bubble of arrested youth for a few more seasons.

Photo: HBO