Girls Finally Found Its Worst Character

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn /HBO

The one thing every Girls character has in common is that, at one point in time, they have been called the Worst. But two weeks ago, Zachary Quinto walked in, and his character managed to outdo the entire Girls universe within his first few minutes onscreen.

Quinto plays Ace, Mimi-Rose’s ex, or “former partner,” as he first identifies himself to Hannah. His trademark, which is as confusing as it is awful: casually holding a full-size toothbrush in his mouth. And his idea of a getting-to-know-you conversation: warning Adam that his girlfriend Mimi-Rose is manipulative, then suggesting they take some selfies together and “get really weird.” Ace follows up with the clincher, a direct threat to Adam’s relationship: He’s planning on getting her back. Adam is clearly agitated and confused; Ace, we begin to understand, is the type of person who remains performatively calm as he slowly crushes others under his manicured thumb.

You could say Ace plays an amalgamation of the girls’ defining traits: He has Shoshanna’s affinity for non sequiturs, Hannah’s unfiltered honesty, Jessa’s volatility. Like Marnie, he’s inexplicably an “artist,” and like all of them, he feels entitled. Ace’s most productive function on the show is giving us a glimpse into how intolerable our four leads would be taken as a whole. Individually, they are flawed, but still human beings. Ace, on the other hand, is maybe a monster?

Throughout Sunday night’s episode, Ace stays true to form. On his way to dinner with Jessa (who, in her own bid for “worst character,” only set up Adam with Mimi-Rose so she could move in on Ace), he remarks, “It’s my friend’s restaurant. I photographed her breasts for a project on globalization.” On a whim, he steers them instead toward Mimi-Rose and Adam’s apartment. He’s there to prod at Adam, and to make Mimi-Rose jealous — and she’s happy to play along. (“I guess this is what jealousy feels like,” Mimi-Rose says, like a robot.) The scene is reminiscent of moments from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in which George and Martha introduce a series of sickening games intended to provoke and upset their dinner guests. But here, Ace and Mimi-Rose are actual sociopaths.

After Ace announces, once again, that he’d like Mimi-Rose back, she decides she’d rather date no one at all. Oops! Ace retreats, comically: “Jessa, don’t go, I’m ready to be with you right now.” Adam and Jessa are hardly models for good behavior, but even they are disturbed, disgusted, and hurt by whatever mind-games Ace and Mimi-Rose are playing. Here, Adam and Jessa are as functional as we’ve ever seen them; so functional, they smartly ditch the scene entirely. And maybe that’s the point — that’ll teach us for calling any of our Girls characters the Worst. We had no idea how bad it could get.

Subtly battling a character like Ace is Girls’ only steady-seeming dude, Ray. While Girls often feels overwhelmed by its own characters’ obsessions and delusions, shows full of unhinged types need some source of stability: Arrested Development had Michael, The Hills had L.C., Girls has Ray. He’s neurotic, too, but also older and more self-aware, which prevents him from becoming a caricature. His recent, well-intentioned turn into local politics has him officially becoming the only normal person these characters ever come in contact with. Girls needs this steadying hand — especially if it’s going to keep introducing toothbrush-chomping nightmares like Ace.

Girls Finally Found Its Worst Character