At the climax of last night’s episode of Girls, set in a house on the North Fork that Marnie had borrowed from her mother’s friend for the purpose of living out her fantasies of occupying a great house and forcing her friends to “heal” with her, Shoshanna seemed to awaken from the Valley Girl fugue state she’s been trapped in all season. Like some sort of cracked fairy tale, Shosh, who always has intense reactions to large amounts of substances, shook off whatever fog has been occupying her brain all season. But rather than greet the people who had roused her from her slumber with a big, wet, Disney-princess smooch, Shosh seemed to march out of the fog for the express purpose of bitch-slapping everyone around her.
Of Hannah, Shosh declared, “I have never met anyone else who thinks their own life is so fucking fascinating. I wanted to fall asleep in my own vomit all fucking day listening to you talk about how your bruise more easily than other people.” To Marnie, who remained upset over the reception her carefully prepared dinner had received, Shoshanna snapped: “Oh my god, can you chill the fuck out about dinner? Seriously, that duck tasted like a used condom and I want to forget about it.” Jessa, who’s been crashing with Shoshanna since season one, got zinged for what she sees as her own newfound wisdom: “Jessa goes to rehab for five fucking seconds and we have to listen to everything she comes up with?”
And Shoshanna, in her role as audience proxy, didn’t hold back from going after herself, either. “You guys never listen to me,” she complained. “You treat me like I’m a fucking cab driver. Seriously, you have entire conversations in front of me, like I am invisible. And sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me, instead of a bunch of fucking whiny nothings as friends.”
That’s the question Girls has been daring us to ask all season by leaning into its characters’ worst attributes. Why do we keep hanging out with a sulky, pretty girl who’s shocked by a breakup, a hugely self-involved addict who doesn’t take her recovery seriously, a drama queen of an aspiring writer, and yes, a college girl who thinks a “sexual walkabout” is something profound? And while in this episode, Girls goes a little obvious, saying out loud almost everything anyone in the real world has thought about the characters at some point, it also represents a turning point in the season. In glimmers, Girls is giving us permission to like Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and in particular, Shoshanna again.
Earlier this year, Lena Dunham and Girls executives Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow made headlines for their sharp responses to a critic who asked Dunham, yet again, why Hannah was naked so much on the show. “Beach House” was wrapped long before that incident, but the kerfuffle makes it particularly appropriate that the episode builds this question into its events.
Headed into town to shop for groceries, Hannah’s friends have changed clothes, but Hannah’s still wearing her green bikini and nothing else. “Don’t you think you should probably be wearing clothes and shoes if you’re going into town?” Marnie wants to know, but Hannah’s convinced everything will be fine. “No, this is a beach town, that’s not how they operate!” she says, biking happily along. But of course Hannah ends up stuck outside the store where her friends have gone shopping, relying on Shoshanna to make the case to Marnie that the gang should pick up some of her favorite snacks. And even if the situation is of her own making, it still feels nasty when a group of gay men, which turns out to include Elijah, spots Hannah from behind and starts mocking her.
“Hannah, I’m sorry,” Elijah apologizes. And Hannah tries to stay brave. “About the Spring Breakers comment?” She wants to know. “Because that didn’t offend me. I think that movie was a beautiful blend of art and commerce.” But however awkward their reunion starts out, it becomes a reminder that even someone as difficult as Hannah deserves kindness — and also that she’s capable of extending it to someone else.
When Elijah’s horrible boyfriend du jour (Danny Strong) tells Hannah that she reminds him of one of his friends, who is “always trying new things, she is such a dilettante,” Elijah slaps back at him. And later, when he makes fun of Elijah for having a mistaken impression of what inertia means, Hannah whispers to him that it’s fine, that he’s not an idiot, that with her, he is okay. And even though Hannah, in the midst of their terrible fight, tells Marnie, “I don’t expect anything from any of you,” she’s also the person who brings the group together again in the sweet, sad, wordless sequence at the end of the episode by jumping into their choreography.
If anything, Marnie behaves worse than anyone else in this episode, but “Beach House” does a good job of fleshing out the way her good intentions lead her to behave poorly. Marnie frequently makes the mistake of assuming that how things look on the outside is any sort of guide to how they’ll feel on the inside. So there’s something pitiable about how hard she’s trying to set up the weekend, making beautiful flower arrangements and name cards for the beds, fussing over her julienned vegetables, cooking duck because it’s fancy and sophisticated and everything she wants the weekend to be.
And the episode also suggests that Marnie is digging into the misery of her breakup in a way that’s making things worse for herself. While initially, she told Adam at Hannah’s dinner party that she’d bought the ingredients for the grilled pizzas she and Charlie planned to make, Marnie tells Elijah a slightly different, and even sadder story.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I think we need to talk about some things. I love you, and I want to propose to you, but I think we need to talk about a couple things first.’ So I grill the pizzas and I wait,” Marnie says, explaining that Charlie came home with a friend and started packing his things instead, avoiding her gaze all the while. “Finally, he gets to the door, and he’s about to walk out, and he turns around, he looks me right in the eyes, and he says ‘I don’t love you. And I have never loved you.’”
If Marnie’s telling the truth, that’s a much worse thing to have gone through than a simple breakup. Turning a promise of a proposal into a breakup is a horrible thing to do to someone. But if she’s lying to herself, shifting the story so that it matches the immensity of the grief she’s drowning in, that’s actually sadder. It’s been easy to be frustrated with Marnie this season, especially since Girls got stuck putting her through a breakup story line twice thanks to Christopher Abbot’s departure from the show. But shading in these sorts of details is a more effective look in her head than having her spontaneously adopt kittens or schtup Ray.
And while Shoshana and Jessa are a bit sidelined in this episode, with the exception of Shoshanna’s epic blowup, “Beach House” is still kind to them in its cockeyed way. Jessa’s insistence on “sitting in the back of the bus for political reasons” is ludicrous, but her embrace of the older couple she was sitting near, telling her friends “They’re amazing. Luther’s an orthodontist,” is crazily charming. And in the midst of the meltdown, when Hannah declares of Shoshanna that “She’s a cruel drunk and she’s also not an intellectual,” Jessa’s ineffective defense of her cousin is some of the first proof we’ve had that she pays attention to other people. “Actually, she is,” Jessa insists. “I’m going to stick up for Shosh on this one and say I have seen her read the newspaper on my phone.”
After all the damage is done, we get a final reminder that these “fucking whiny nothings” are actually fairly nice girls. One by one, they come downstairs the morning after their disastrous dinner, and wordlessly start cleaning up the kitchen so Marnie won’t have to do it alone. They may behave badly to each other, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten what it means to have good manners, to meet their basic obligations to each other. The Girls’ financial privilege may keep them afloat in New York City. But as awkward and mean and selfish as Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna can be, it will be these kinds of instincts that prevent them from mortally wounding each other, and themselves.
Marnie’s Menu Planning: First, Marn, you’re at the beach. Serve your guests seafood, not duck, and don’t get so fascist when one of them wants white-cheddar goldfish. White-cheddar goldfish are delicious! Second, it’s a house party, so dishes that can be left by themselves to cook, cook in quantities to cover the variable appetites produced by sea, sand, and cocktails, and that’ll save as delicious leftovers, are a must. Next time, try a paella. And maybe a hefty helping of Marnie’s Little Helper to calm yourself down.
Jessa’s Strategies for Getting Hannah Drunk: Honey, telling your friends they better drink or you will, all while trilling, “Do you want that on you, do you want that on you? Relapse city, here it comes,” is not a good look. Maybe if you’d paid more attention to those communication games you learned in rehab and are super-eager to trot out this weekend, you’d know that.
Hannah’s Packing Skills: Hannah’s been dressing much better this season, but I badly want to burn her giant floppy hat, and I’m sure Shosh does, too, after sitting next to it on the bus. Also, listen to your hostess when she recommends packing swim shoes!
Shoshanna’s Bitterness: That was a righteous rant, sweetie. But blowing up a whole bunch of your relationships at once is not going to help with your social anxiety.