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Girls Recap: Boyfriend Redux

Good morning from your new recapper, dear viewers. As we jump into season two, you’ll recall that the finale of season one left our sad little narcissist beached in Coney Island eating cake, her lady friends off frolicking with Thomas John, Ray, and that SNL dude. Perhaps Hannah sat there and fantasized about holding the golden ticket to the confessional lottery — she had just witnessed the maiming, by van, of her boyfriend. I found consolation in thinking she might let this brief moment of isolation blossom into that period of monkish exile so necessary to becoming the great, uh, memoirist (not to mention person) that she is hoping to be destined to be. Maybe her self-absorption would morph into self-reflection after enough time alone!

Or maybe not.

If the premiere is any indication, Hannah is still Hannah, and that book proposal will be fed by tales of poorly managed relationships, sexual or otherwise. Breakups — or quasi-breakups — are the fodder of choice. Rising from the ashes of last season’s couplings is the shared predicament: Can you stay friends with a man who was your lover? Are best friends as expendable as sketchy summer subletters from Craigslist?

All the single ladies, and the married one
Let’s get Jessa out of the way first, since she doesn’t make more than a token appearance. Who knows if our free bird is finding marriage to be the gilded cage she always dreamed of? I presume she’ll get screen time as soon as the honeymoon phase can be plausibly disposed of. (Hat tip for the show’s use of the same Louis Vuitton duffle that Jessa had on her when she arrived in New York last season.) Anyway, this episode is not about happy beginnings but rather all those mornings after the morning after and all those bleak nights after the breakup. (Excepting the introduction of Community’s Donald Glover as Sandy, a young, black Republican — ah, The Fountainhead! — and Hannah’s new love interest, which squarely fulfills the shock quota for your average season premiere as well as tempering, maybe, the race issues that have dogged the show since its inception. Here is Lena’s response to the question of how conscious a decision it was to cast Glover.)

The single ladies are having trouble navigating their breakups, though each tries their best to play the stoic ex-lover. As she did at Jessa’s wedding, Marnie soothes herself by chugging whatever is on hand, and then finding someone questionable to make out with. I don’t want Marnie to give into her loneliness and get back with Charlie, burdened as he is by his smothering love. But still, poor Charlie! There’s nothing more cringeworthy than your new girlfriend acting out the trajectory of your last one — who just so happens to be standing there watching. (At least he and Audrey will always have Rome?) I was touched that Marnie, close to tears, was allowed into his bed at the end of the night, even if she’ll regret it in the morning. I wish the show would cast a girl to obsess over him. I half-hope it’s a stalker — the sexiest moment he’s been allowed was ripping up that coffee table and calling Marnie a “dick.” He’s pretty lame without someone to get mad at.

Hannah isn’t technically single, but since Adam doesn’t know that, she might as well be. “I’m doing this a different way,” she tells Sandy. And she is, with him, while keeping her relationship with Adam almost exactly the same as it was before, with added servile duties. Instead of pissing on her in the shower, she’s bent over, holding the pot so he can relieve himself — he misses. But Hannah’s learned her lesson, or so she goes around insisting. You can’t be with someone who doesn’t love you as much as you love them! Too bad it’s a rule that doesn’t account for her natural attraction to Adam — why else refuse to tell him about Sandy, except out of fear that he might not want to see her again? Or perhaps its guilt. Or maybe she’s just scared of him?

Shoshanna’s approach with Ray is to maintain her self-respect, and zen. Of course it’s hard to imagine not giving a spurned virgin all of our sympathy. Okay fine, it’s hard to imagine not loving Shoshanna the most. What adorable verbal patter you make, Zosia! “I can deal with it because I have my big girl pants on,” she tells him, and then shuts him down when he tries to make a joke about her skirt. These are her feelings, and she wants him to know she’s entitled to them. We often watch Hannah go uncomfortably silent around Adam when he’s saying things that offend her, but such is, refreshingly, not the case with Shoshanna.

Two middle-aged, single women also brag about their sexual exploits: both Marnie’s mother and Marnie’s boss. It’s no mistake our resident “prude” — to quote mom, played by a delightfully clueless Rita Wilson — is tasked with throwing into relief two adults who know what they want and how to get it. These women are having sex with younger men, because they want to have sex. Marnie’s distaste for their behavior springs from her desire to always do the responsible, tasteful thing. At the party, she tells Charlie she can go eight months without having sex — only to end up on the couch with Elijah that very night. It seems implausible that these older women stay up at night feeling embarrassed by their actions (whether or not they should be is a separate question), whereas you know Marnie is going to wake up hating herself for one reason (Elijah) or another (Charlie).

May-December Romances, or “I didn’t even know there was a G train.”
The comedic relief in this episode comes courtesy of Elijah, balancing as he does so delicately on the cusp of this adult and emerging adult world. “Maybe I want to be Wendy Murdoch, maybe that’s my new thing,” he explains drolly to Hannah. Then a lacquered George come to the party and acts like a child, accusing their generation of being “too cool,” in a scene reminiscent of Thomas John’s toddler tantrum over his rug, and the girls’ indifference to the billable hours it took him to buy it.

But Elijah can’t hate George for it. “I can’t even think about that. Our lives are so entwined ... Like he pays for everything.” George does not represent for Elijah, necessarily, an oppressive baby daddy. Instead, he represents a logical choice. Is putting up with George as a means to pay bills a better solution than, say, having to deal with one’s parents? Or, even worse, having to get a real job? Oh, the compromises of youth!

I can’t help but group Ray’s relationship with Shoshanna in a similar category, sans fiscal benefits. Ray’s first appearance on the show is after he’s picked up a random stranger from “the mall,” whom he tells: “I try not to date women that are under 25, or that have been at one point in their lives penetrated by a drummer.” Ray’s older and wiser, and more often than not the voice of reason tasked with puncturing holes in Marnie and Hannah’s world. We don’t know Ray’s age, except to say that he’s $50,000 in debt from college, and an orphan, both of which lend him gravitas beyond his years anyway. The actor playing Ray, Alex Karpovsky, is in his mid-thirties, while Zosia Mamet is 24 (her character, still at NYU, is skewed a few years younger than the actress herself).

Ray cites the age gap as the problem: “When you just send me a text of emojis it is so easy to dismiss you.” Yet Shoshanna has not been easy for our jaded barista to dismiss. Ray oscillates between being put off by her cutesiness and fascinated by her penchant for forthright honesty. Their dynamic is all the more surprising given Shoshanna’s refusing Ray as much power as she can muster. But as the otherwise douchey junior camp counselor so wisely explained to Shoshanna: “Virgins get attached, or they bleed. You get attached when you bleed.” It’s tough to fight nature! I hope they stay together forever.

“Sexually Transmitted Humiliation (STH),” or total lack of kismet
The first season began in a bougie restaurant — the parents wore taupe — with Hannah getting cut off from the money-drip. This scene is followed by one of domestic tranquility: Marnie, wearing her retainer, is wrapped in Hannah’s arms. They have not yet woken up. “Sorry I have a boner, it’s not for you,” Elijah tells Hannah as they lie in bed this time. Not much has changed! Hannah’s still getting dicks that aren’t meant for her. (Recall Adam’s accidental text message of his genitals and fur.)

Later Elijah can’t stay hard for Marnie, though he admits it isn’t a problem when Allison Janney comes on television. (Who doesn’t Google C.J. Cregg doing the Jackal every now and again?) I must admit Marnie’s refusal to remove her dress during their ill-fated hookup is perhaps the best rendering of a girl stalling in her good-girl-not-yet-gone-bad redemption plot. This is the girl who made it out of Oberlin without so much as pecking someone of the same sex — for whom leaving college and entering the adult world meant growing out her bangs. Every girl has that one friend who won’t let you see them naked! But her sense of decorum is charming, really. But so is Hannah walking into Sandy’s house and dropping her clothes at the door (not sure how plausible it was that Hannah would have a matching bra and thong set, but whatever). Here, at least, is a girl getting what she wants when she wants it. Even if it was preceded by playing a maid to your ex-boyfriend’s crabby patient, and not the kind where you don a uniform and break out that swedish accent from study abroad.

Photo: Jessica Miglio /HBO