the dark side

Girls’ Adam and Jessa Together Is So Wrong It’s Right

Adam Driver and Jemima Kirke in Girls. Photo: HBO

Girls likes a tangled sexual web. Elijah has had sex with both Marnie and Hannah; Ray has had sex with Shosh and Marnie. Hannah has had sex with Laird, who is now Adam’s brother-in-law. Jessa hooked up with Ace, Adam’s then-girlfriend Mimi-Rose’s recent ex. Hannah’s also had sex with Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother. Broken hearts and broken promises abound. So why does Jessa and Adam getting together feel like such a breach? Because they actually might be a good couple, for lots of ordinary reasons, and Girls does not value compatibility.

If anything, the show actively resists the idea. What are Girls’ central pairings? Marnie and Hannah? They have nothing in common, no obvious similar interests, different ideas of what their ideal lives would look like. Season one set up Shosh and Ray as a fun couple without really acknowledging how gross it is for a 33-year-old grump to move in with and mooch off of a 21-year-old college student. Ray and Marnie were interesting in their own prickly way, but “compatible” is a stretch. Charlie and Marnie were very compatible, which is why their relationship was such a black hole. Adam and Hannah bring out some really monstrous sides of one another, and he’s been a pretty terrible boyfriend. They at least seemed sexual compatible, but even that became less and less true, eventually blowing up after a misguided role-playing attempt. These are not people who are in sync — that’s not the same thing as people who should or shouldn’t be together, but in other shows it might be a factor. Probably the most suited pair on Girls were the Horvath parents, and look how that worked out. Being obviously “good together” is not a virtue in the Girls world.

And it may or may not be a virtue in the regular world, depending on your personal vibes. Jessa and Adam have a lot in common — for starters their sobriety, but also the incredibly rigid but esoteric rules they adopt or claim to adopt in their lives. (“I can only swim in open water when I’m menstruating.”) They relate to Hannah in very similar ways, with tremendous overintimacy that’s then rescinded without notice. They’re both prone to jumping into serious relationships (Thomas John, Mimi-Rose) without much of a safety net. They’ve both been arrested. And as Jessa suggests, they would “destroy” each other, which of course makes them both super turned-on.

“That kind of person would just masturbate in front of anyone, any day.” That’s how Jessa described Adam in a season-one episode, and it’s a prediction that came true — or true-ish, at least, the best kind of true. After last week’s impulsive kiss, “Good Man” found Adam and Jessa on an appallingly corny date, where they both seemed to have an honest-to-god good time. When Jessa pleaded with Adam last season to be her friend, it didn’t seem desperate exactly so much as it seemed passionate: These two people really do tend to fly solo, and while that can be hugely freeing and exhilarating, it comes at a cost. Namely that you’ve taught people not to count on you, and eventually (and maybe with a lot of hurt and baggage) they internalized that lesson, and now there’s nowhere to call home, no one by your side. What felt unencumbered at 25 can feel a lot more like lonely a few years later.

Maybe that’s why Girls is ceding a little ground so far this season when it comes to people finding what actually makes sense for them, not something they can force themselves to make sense of. Elijah, whose taste in men has historically been hideous, hits it off with a smart and decent celebrity newscaster. Hannah and Fran find themselves comfortably, almost seamlessly, shacking up. As disastrous as Marnie and Desi’s relationship seems destined to be, at this point they might deserve each other. Next week’s episode is called “Japan,” and we learn more about why Shosh is so happy living there. It really suits her! Even Hannah’s dad’s ostensibly shady random-hookup dude actually came across as sweet and probably the exact kind of partner we’d pick for Tad. Plus, that dog! Oy, what a cute pooch.

But it’s hard to want what’s good for you, and that’s one of the processes of growing up that Girls portrays and examines well. Jessa and Adam are too high-drama for this to be a simple yes, but they’re also too genuinely well-suited for this to be just another disastrous relationship like their previous ones. They’re not quite the emotional time bombs they used to be, but they are putting Hannah in a truly awful position, similar to but distinct from and worse than the one Elijah and Marnie put her in a few years ago. Jessa and Adam’s budding relationship is a distillation of Girls’ central thesis: You can be selfish and wrong but still be right; your choices can be misguided but ultimately sound. Having bad parts doesn’t make a bad whole.

Girls’ Adam and Jessa Is So Wrong It’s Right