deep dives

What Is Going on With Shoshanna on Girls?

season 3, episode 5 Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

I was very into the first two episodes of this season of Girls. I’ve seen the next three, and I’m into those, too. I loved the first two seasons. I find the show funny and provocative and candid, and I find the characters interesting and vulnerable. But unlike other Girls fans, I was never that into Shoshanna, and in Sunday’s episodes my general dislike edged into confused pity. Does Shosh have cognitive disabilities? Are we supposed to think that she does?

She’s always been the quirky, naive one of the group.She’s still in college, she accidentally smokes crack, she wears weird hair doughnuts, and she talks like you just pulled a string in her back. Every Seinfeld needs a Kramer, I guess. Friends needs Joey, cop shows need rookies — it’s handy to have a character to whom things can be explained. And Shosh fills that role, particularly as the person to whom Hannah can explain herself. But in “Truth or Dare,” Shosh wasn’t joking about having a favorite utensil. She was really serious. As a 21- year-old person, she thought it would be a good idea to play truth or dare with two other people. Based on these last two episodes, I would not trust Shosh to make medical decisions for herself. I would not put her on a jury. It’s not clear to me that she has a firm grasp on reality.

Girls is full of weirdos. That’s its deal! (Or one of them, at least.) But when Adam and Shosh have a conversation, Adam still seems like a real — albeit odd — person. He has a familiarity with causes and effects, and is aware that his (often bad) actions have consequences. Adam’s actions and attitudes stem from a consistent need to be a rescuer and a fixer, and never to be seen as weak. Marnie wants to feel like part of things, like she’s not being ignored or left behind. Hannah wants recognition — not just fame, but to be taken seriously by the people around her. Jessa wants to be loved. All these characters’ behaviors speak to these essential wants and drives. I have no idea what Shosh’s essential wants are, and unlike the other characters, her behavior doesn’t teach us about her personality, her behavior is her personality.

And her behaviors trouble me. She thinks rehab is “totally cool.” When Hannah tells a completely credible story, Shosh responds that Hannah is probably remembering it wrong. “You were probably the one who was crying,” she says, though it’s unclear why she would think that. At the rehab center, Shosh frantically paces through the waiting area, even after a receptionist asks her to stop. She praises Adam for not having “a job, or responsibilities, or places to be during the day, or a best friend,” without any idea that that could be perceived as a hurtful thing to say. It’s not that she doesn’t care what other people think. It’s like she’s unable to realize that other people do think. All the other characters have gotten more fleshed out, where Shosh has gotten more flattened out. She’s more superficial and less self-assured; ditzy where she used to seem just tightly wound. Shosh was always sort of prickly and occasionally inappropriate, but there’s a difference between a devil-may-care attitude and an I-lack-the-ability-to-care one.

What Is Going on With Shoshanna on Girls?