“It’s really amazing that the four of you have accomplished so little in the four years since college,” Shoshanna tells Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa on the occasion of Hannah’s 25th birthday. They’ve gathered at a bar to celebrate, an occasion that reveals both the truth and the limitations of Shoshanna’s accusation and her definition of adulthood. Hannah’s parents are picking up the tab, and also cutting the rug unselfconsciously while Adam looks on in admiration. David, Hannah’s editor, is having a decidedly undignified night out on the town that ends up shaking Ray’s dignity. Marnie’s using the event as a chance to put on the dignity that’s been mothballed at her mother’s house. And Adam, a man without a job or much respect for social conventions, is trying his hardest to break Hannah’s streak of rotten birthdays.
But what struck me most about the half-hour is that episodes like “She Said OK” are a reminder of what a great handle Girls has on Ray, who’s evolved from a pompous straw man to the character who most recognizes an actual human. So much credit for this is due to Alex Karpovsky, who makes his big, mournful eyes unshutterable windows to Ray’s feelings, in contrast to the black holes that Adam Driver offers up to Hannah and to us. The torrent of caustic talk that Ray offered up at Hannah and Marnie’s initial dinner party turned out to be the desperate attempts of a guy trying to conceal the unconcealable: Ray feels so much and worries so constantly that he’s basically walking around raw and vulnerable to the world around him.
Ray’s also the show’s resident grown-up, occupying a decade the girls who are his friends and employees can barely begin to contemplate, and a lot of the tension of this episode comes from Ray’s discomfort with his status, and the things he knows because of it. “I’m kind of scared,” he tells his boss, who is ill and in the process of turning his business over to Ray. “I’m scared of being a boss. Like, a real, legitimate boss. Making decisions for an entire team. Having boundaries.” But out and about, it’s clear that Ray has his boundaries pretty well established, setting them first with Shoshanna, and then, with Caroline.
With Shoshanna, Ray’s lines are emotional. After suffering the disappointment of finding out that a new potential friend — a valuable commodity when you’re in your thirties — is at the bar because he’s one of Shoshanna’s conquests, Ray comes to relatively quick terms with what he can handle, and lets Shoshanna know them as kindly as possible. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I just don’t. I’m sorry. I don’t think I want to be friends with you,” he tells her in one of the show’s quieter, and most effective, scenes this year. “I just don’t. I don’t want to be polite with you. I don’t want to have small talk with you. Anyway, enjoy your evening. Enjoy your life. Cool cigarette.”
Caroline, who seems like Girls’s latest attempt to make the main cast seem saner by importing someone with the home training of a Real Housewife and the mental health of a late-stage Hapsburg intermarriage, is another matter. Ray’s old enough not to want to have sex every time the opportunity to do so crosses his path, particularly when that opportunity will bite you if you won’t dance with her. But what’s funny about the scene with the two of them isn’t just that Caroline’s behaving in a completely incomprehensible way, but that Ray is desperately trying not to be extremely rude to someone who’s acting totally irrationally towards him.
And what’s even funnier about Ray’s altercation with Hannah’s editor David, who crashes her birthday party, steals her phone so he can download Grindr on it, and then starts requesting LMFAO songs, is that it’s based in Ray’s conviction that there’s a way the world ought to work. “When you accept my request, we enter a contract!” Ray harangues the D.J. “It’s a breach! Breach of contract!” And he hollers at David that “There’s a queue. And this is the way the queue works! … Songs should never, ever, ever end in the middle! Things should never end in the middle!” Ray’s spent so much of his screen time on Girls explaining to other people how they ought to come into compliance with his sense of how the world ought to work that it’s hilarious, but not in an unkind way, to watch him come unraveled when things feel profoundly unfair to him.
It’s fascinating to contrast Ray’s efforts to grapple with the failures of his sense of the rules of the universe, especially those that govern meritocracy and decency in relationships, with Marnie’s constant attempts to put on a sort of pseudo-adulthood as a cover for her own self-aggrandizement. At Hannah’s party, Marnie’s dressed like she’s hosting a political fundraiser, and she’s taken center stage at an event that’s actually being paid for by Hannah’s parents. Her declaration that Hannah is “wearing a Birthday Bitch hat, like she oughta,” has the air of a woman congratulating a toddler for some feigned accomplishment.
And even though it’s insanely repetitive of last year’s reunion with Charlie, Marnie’s attempts to turn her toast to Hannah into an opportunity to reprise their duet from Rent and to show off her singing voice still feels pretty perfect. I’ve known women like Marnie who find it incomprehensible that they’d ever not be the center of attention, and “She Said OK” does a pretty good, funny job of turning her absolutely terrible music video into an opportunity for Marnie to wrangle the time and energy of everyone from YouTube customer service to her friends.
We didn’t necessarily need to see Marnie perform again, but the downturn of Lena Dunham’s mouth when Hannah realizes what’s happening to her is an absolute delight. She may be the person wearing a trucker hat and singing off-key on stage next to a woman who’s done her hair perfectly and has a stageworthy smile, but for once, Hannah is the mature person in their relationship.
Hannah’s Compassion for Caroline: I blame David to a certain extent, but there is something in Hannah that just lights up when Caroline declares, “I mean, I guess I should have known what was going on from the beginning. He had so many pets and he was so good to them. How can a man who loves animals with such a haunting totality just turn around and brutally rebuff me?” Maybe when she’s off deadline, Hannah will learn that there’s some material that’s just not worth it.
Marnie’s Instagram Obsession: “This is the nicest distraction for me to have,” Marnie tells Hannah of planning her birthday party. “And I’ll have a bunch of party pictures to post to Instagram!” That seems to sum up Marnie’s entire approach to life at the moment, all style that isn’t exactly papering over the gross, self-absorbed substance.
Shoshanna’s Ciroc-Ad Life: The crotchety aunt in me wants to buy Shosh Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me to warn her that she’s in danger of becoming the insane woman from the wedding chapter. But at this point, Shoshanna is so obsessed with hitting all sorts of absurd metrics for her senior year in college that it might be a fruitless quest. Let’s hope all her Kobes turn out to be decent.
Jessa … Actually, there’s not a single thing that Jessa does in “She Said OK” that’s a dealbreaker. Maybe the rehab took!