After a run of not-so-comedic episodes — unless you count the performance by the Michaels Sisters, which I found too painful to be straight funny — Girls returns to some more explicitly comedic material in “The Bounce.” It tries to provide a hopeful ending trajectory for Elijah Krantz, Broadway dreamer, and it offers several moments of full-on, explicit goofiness. I’m a fan.
The setup for Elijah’s bounce back into a hopeful career trajectory is the continuation from last week’s scene between him and his co-worker at Bendel’s. Helping her with her audition scene has spurred Elijah back into audition mode, and he spends most of “The Bounce” at an open call for a new musical based on White Men Can’t Jump. (The Bendel’s co-worker: “You’re perfect for that … you’re the whitest guy I know!”) The episode is balanced between following Elijah in several broadly hilarious moments at his open call, and staying with Hannah, who’s left at her apartment while he’s gone to entertain Dill Harcourt. Moments before leaving for the audition, Dill suddenly turns up in search of someplace safe from the paparazzi, Notting Hill style. Unlike Notting Hill, Dill’s paparazzi scandal seems to boil down to Dill trying to buy a white baby, and now he’s turning to Elijah for help and comfort.
It works well on both sides. Back in the apartment, Dill quickly susses out that Hannah’s pregnant, and after he complains about her lack of food that doesn’t have an “activity center” on the back, they talk a little about where they both are. Hannah tells him about waiting to hear back from Paul-Louis, and her ambivalence about even telling him that she’s pregnant. Dill stands up for the importance of fatherhood, while happily admitting that he’s broken and that he tried to fix it. By trying to buy a white baby. The crux of this sequence is when Hannah does finally talk with Paul-Louis, who takes a second to even remember who she is, then responds with a wave of gratitude that she isn’t asking him for anything.
Hannah breaks down sobbing after that phone call. She’s joined by Dill, who tells her that they’re both dealing with the same shit, and they’re just “naked children.” This is hilarious from Dill, who’s wealthy, famous, and entirely capable of dealing with his own self-made mistakes, none of which are as life-altering as what Hannah’s contemplating. (He didn’t succeed in buying that white baby, after all.) It’s a beautiful little scene, though: Hannah’s conversation with Paul-Louis went exactly as she predicted, and she sits through the whole thing without ever backtracking on what she wants from him. Her face falls throughout the call. She’s desperately hoping that somehow he’s going to make this easier, or make her feel less lonely, or anything other than his cool, stunned, grateful distancing. When he doesn’t, a little piece of hope she had about not facing this future alone finally collapses.
It’s a strong scene because it acknowledges that while Hannah’s still committed to continuing her pregnancy, she’s not suddenly free from doubt and fear. Her emotions are ambivalent and overwhelming — because of course they are. The scene also works because Dill, who’s an absurd weeping mess, acts as a foil for Hannah’s intense, overwhelming emotions. For once, Hannah’s the one who comes off as reasonable. She’s the person who’s reacting in a proportional, sympathetic way. Dill’s a clown; Hannah’s actually facing serious ramifications and fears for her future.
While Hannah and Dill cope with their various baby scandals, Elijah’s at his open-call audition, and he nearly chickens out until he runs into an enthusiastic fellow auditioner in the stairwell. Athena Dante, who views Elijah’s cheerful, optimistic scorn, tells him to sing something more true to his current emotional state than “Santa Fe” from Newsies, and sure enough, Elijah then turns around and shows up for the song portion of his audition, belting out “Let Me Be Your Star” from the late-lamented NBC musical show Smash. (This is a stunning, brilliant, hilarious, delightful choice that I feel was made expressly for my own personal entertainment.) Sure enough, it seems to work. He’s invited back for the dance portion.
Everything about this audition sequence — the run-in with Athena, the song from Smash, Elijah’s initially okay dance moves followed by the basketball portion full of goofy pratfalls, the casting directors who openly ignore everyone in front of them in preference of giggling over their phones — is broader humor than Girls typically likes. It’s as though the whole show shifts and relaxes to make more room for Elijah and his Broadway-size dream, and that shift is all the more distinct when seen against the New York settings where Hannah and the other women so often find themselves, whether they’re crammed into tiny restaurant kitchens, stuck inside apartments with another person, or standing awkwardly in the corner of a crowded party. Even the jokes are sharper, and simultaneously more obvious and crueler, especially the ones relating to those horrible casting directors. “He fucking flipped it!” Elijah crows as the casting director carefully reads a list and then announces everyone on the list was eliminated. “I love this bitchy business so much!”
There is one more significant story in “The Bounce.” Finally at the end of her financial rope, Marnie shows up at a pawnshop to pawn her “sweet sixteen” necklace, as she threatened to her mother she would do. The story she’s been told about it is ridiculous, something about Wild Bill Hickock and gold plated on top of platinum, and the guy behind the counter raises his eyebrows and tells her it’s pewter, less than 20 years old. (Marnie: “I bet none of my ancestors were even in the Wild West! Half my wedding theme is a lie!”) Next, the pawnshop owner casually grinds her supposed diamond earrings into glass dust in front of her, and then, when pressed, tells Marnie some hard truths. She can no longer blame anyone else for what’s happened in her life. “The liar is you,” he tells her. Apparently, this is enough. She calls Desi to tell him he owes her nothing. She packs up her things to move back in with her mother.
It’s tough to believe. After all this time, after each disastrous turn of events — her divorce from Desi, the humiliation of performing as the Michaels Sisters, the fallout from her breakup with Ray, and Desi’s crash and burn — Marnie sees the light because a pawnshop owner tells her to look at her own choices. As much as I’ve loved this season (reservations about the pregnancy plot aside), this is my one significant regret about the way Girls is bringing its characters to points of self-realization and resolution. Again and again throughout this final season, Girls has finally forced its main characters to step outside themselves and reconsider their choices. Shoshanna realizes that Jessa’s a mess, and that she needs to give up the long-held fantasy of one day being like her. Elijah gets back on track with a Broadway career. Hannah decides to have a baby. Marnie (might) actually take responsibility for her own life. But every single time, Girls has created these epiphanies through the sudden arrival and just-as-sudden departure of some outside character, who appears, drops wisdom, then heads for the door. For Shoshanna, it was the horrible entrepreneurs at the WEMun party. For Elijah, the sudden appearance of Athena Dante in the stairwell. For Marnie, the pawnshop owner.
It’s been a lot of characters for Hannah. There’s Paul-Louis the water-ski instructor, the magical store owner in Poughkeepsie who gave her a tea set, Matthew Rhys’s character in “American Bitch,” the return of Joshua in the emergency room, and Dill arriving in “The Bounce” to demonstrate exactly how much less of a child she is now.
I’ve loved watching all of these characters face consequences after all this time, and there’s a charitable reading for the presence of these magical outsiders who teach our protagonists some lessons. After all, they’re audience stand-ins. They’re us, finally able to reach through the screen and yell to Marnie, “Hello! Wake up! What are you doing?” But at the same time, it also feels like Girls is rushing toward a conclusion, as it uses a deus ex machina to create closure. How on Earth can you take Marnie from insanely self-absorbed and yelling about wanting to be eaten by a tiger all the way to accepting her own role in life? Magical pawnshop owner!
There are still a handful of Girls episodes left, so it’s too early to say that these self-realizations are the ultimate end. It’s telling, though, that so many voice-of-reason characters are arriving in these final episodes to shake some sense into everyone. For years, one of the complaints about Girls has been that it’s not true to the world, and that its characters all live in a bubble that’s separate from real life. At the end, maybe the rest of the world is finally beginning to intrude.