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Girls Recap: It Just Hurts to Be a Shell

“Marnie’s clearly about to be a pop star, and you’re supposed to be the famous artist in this group,” Shoshanna tells Hannah after Marnie’s showed up to sing and, shockingly, actually found a use for which her voice was intended. Shosh’s superpower may be to arrive at the most cutting possible truth by the ditziest route possible, and while she’s overstating the case on Marnie’s pretty good open mic night performance, she’s getting at a rough truth. Hannah isn’t actually doing any of the work she’s intended to, letting her book project slide while Adam breaks out on Broadway and Marnie stumbles towards making actual art. It’s just too bad that this insight arrived in a somewhat slack, repetitive episode after a series of strong half-hours.

For a show that offers us just five or six hours of content a season, Girls has circled around on itself quite a bit this year. Some of this hasn’t entirely been the show’s fault: Christopher Abbot’s decision to quit Girls meant that Lena Dunham and Co. had to run through Marnie’s breakup again.

But as excellent as Patti LuPone was earlier this season, the decision to have Hannah go back for her, especially on an excuse that doesn’t quite ring true with what we saw earlier in the episode, felt a little tiresome. New York’s a big city. Couldn’t the metropolis, and the design of Hannah’s job, have given her some other experiences — like a deadline that’s getting in the way of her extracurricular writing — that might have helped her realize that creative couples don’t always achieve equal success, without LuPone having to come out and say it again? And what did it really give us to see Hannah suddenly turn on the people she’d been having such a good time with at work? We even got Marnie going back to the Ray well all over again.

I get the desire to remind us that Hannah isn’t a nice person and it’s easy to sympathize. I even understand the pain of these particular realizations about creative success and independence. But while sometimes Girls’ airlessness and repetitions can feel devastating and true, tonight, the show’s recursiveness just made it feel a little cramped, like maybe Dunham needs to set an end date for this particular project.

As is often the case, though, the relationship between Hannah and Adam is so finely drawn that it makes me want to see Dunham and Adam Driver in every possible combination of romantic comedy, be it career-gal-meets-guy-who-teaches-her-to-love or time-traveler-saves-plucky-gal-from-Nazis, as if they’re John Cusak and Catherine Zeta-Jones in America’s Sweethearts. They’re just that lovely together, even when things are going badly wrong. And their sad fizz in this episode, like Champagne left out overnight, comes from the fact that Adam is pulling away from Hannah.

“I feel like you’re leaving me, just in such slow motion,” Hannah tells him when she shows up at Ray’s apartment. And though Adam denies it, it’s true. “I just want some space, and I’m sick of fucking explaining that,” he grouses to Ray, taking a soak in his old apartment and musing, “God, I love this place.” Adam never really had friends outside of Hannah before, and now he’s hanging out with the other actors in his play, and sharing their discomfort when Hannah awkwardly announces that she wanted to get fired. And while I’m not sure the idea occurred to Adam before his bath, when he tells Hannah that he might not come home after the play opens, as she’d expected that he would, he’s clearly shoving the door open to a more permanent departure, to a reversion to the days when Hannah would have to show up at his apartment to get his attention.

Hannah’s decision to toss herself out of a perfectly good job seems, as her role play did last week, an attempt to be as weird and as available to Adam as she used to be, missing the point that such a regression might not win him back either. They’ve both changed, and more to the point, they’re continuing to change in ways that might not plait them together. It’s a credit to Dunham and Driver that it’s this hard to watch.

There’s another fine scene in the episode when Marnie, who’s working as Soojin’s assistant, finds herself alone with an artist she admires (Louise Lasser), and demurring when the woman asks for her advice. Marnie insists that she’s not qualified, because that’s the nice, polite thing for a girl like her to do. And then she’s mystified and frustrated when Jessa, on her way to a job interview, breezes in, and in moments talks herself into a job archiving the older woman’s effects. Marnie may be stiff, she may be hopeful and embarrassing, she may not be grabbing at the right opportunities. But unlike Hannah, she’s trying, sticking with the humiliating assistant job, and actually doing music on the side.

“I hate watching television because all the old women are shells, and it just hurts to be a shell,” the artist tells Marnie, herself a pretty shell who’s beginning to have a person inside. Hannah’s all person, but she has yet to learn that sometimes you need to wear the shell over your raw interior, both to protect yourself and for the sake of those around you.

Dealbreaker Index

Hannah’s Pursuit of Integrity: Honey, if you’re going to lash out at everyone else, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’ve actually got something to lord over your friends, à la Shosh at the beach. Watching Hannah call out her co-workers is as painful as seeing her try to make a haughty exit through a sticky sliding door because she’s never even done the kind of writing that they at least have in their pasts. “When are you going to go from calling yourself a poet to calling yourself a former poet, which is what you actually are?” is a reasonably sick burn, though.

Jessa’s Latest Stint at Recovery: I didn’t know head-banging and screaming into the rug was a reliable treatment for drug addiction. And telling the artist who’s considering hiring you that you’re not a “junkie thief” “anymore” is almost the exact opposite of the Serenity Prayer.

Shoshanna’s Approach to School: Shosh, petitions don’t go over big in business school. Just saying.

Marnie’s Love Addiction: Going from telling Desi “I feel like we have a palpably strong connection” to taking off all her clothes in front of Ray in a bid for what she knows is a reliable source of sex and affection, all in a single evening, makes you look a little desperate, Marn. Even if you’re getting your fix with more panache than when you threw yourself at Charlie.

Photo: HBO