For the next few weeks our Girls TV Talk will be a one-sided conversation, as my own homegirl Sarah is totally getting married this weekend (to fellow BAD guy Henri) and will be out honeymoonin'. It's a Badass wedding!
This week's episode is the last that I'd already seen at SXSW, and it's my favorite of the bunch so far. When the third episode ended I felt that the show, a bit shaky at first, was reaching its potential. Watching it again this week, I feel the same. "All Adventurous Women Do" takes Hannah to a very scared place, a very petty place and finally, a free and confident place, and I honestly can't think of a more perfect encapsulation of my entire 20s than that.
Last week, Sarah covered "Vagina Panic," in which Hannah gets tested for STDs because of that stuff that gets around the sides of condoms, and Jessa totally flakes on her abortion but ends up getting her period anyway. Some BAD commenters pointed out that this indicates yet another half-assed example of fiction in which a character debates getting an abortion but it never materializes. I agree that this happens far too often, but I think the open and judgment-free discussion of abortion in the episode at least makes some strides in the right direction. And honestly, where else on television are you going to hear a character say "You threw a really good abortion"?
This week, Hannah gets all tarted up to have some more horrifying sex with Adam, which is precluded first by his calling her stomach "funny" and accusing her of eating for fun (how very dare she!), and then by a call from her gyno. Yep, her worst nightmare is a reality: Hannah's gotten HPV. She accuses Adam of giving it to her, with just cause after his admission last week that women never ask him to use condoms. It's just something about him! He tells her that he was tested last week and he's clear of the virus, and every woman in America watching the show at that moment called bullshit. Hannah, however, buys it, and meekly asks if he'll still have sex with her. This guy must be a lion in the sack, his terrifying child junkie prostitute fantasies notwithstanding.
Actually, no. That's an oversimplification. Nearly everyone has dated an Adam (or an Eve, as it were). We've dated a person for far too long despite our best instincts, allowing that person to treat us badly and make us feel terrible about ourselves. Hannah's attraction to Adam is alien to us because he's weird and pasty and twisted and rude, but there is clearly an animal attraction element. None of us can help whom we're drawn to, but as we grow wiser, we learn to ignore our inclination toward those who are unworthy. For Hannah's sake, I hope she learns to ignore that inclination sooner rather than later. However, as an audience member enamored of Adam Driver's spectacularly weird performance, I hope it's not too soon.
Hannah seems to be taking the alarming news pretty well and she visits Shoshanna for some shockingly sage advice, as Shoshanna curls up on her sofa, petting a fuzzy pillow and watching Baggage with rapt attention. Shoshanna timidly attests that her virginity is her biggest baggage, and Hannah doesn't blanch as Marnie did last week. (I cannot get over how much I love her response of "I don't know what to say. I hit a puppy once with my car?") Once Hannah volunteers that she has HPV, Shoshanna tells her that Jessa, who has two strains, says that all adventurous women do. She also firmly advises Hannah to inform her college boyfriend about the HPV, as it's the responsible thing to do.
Sarah said last week that she relates most to Shoshanna - at least, she did when she was in her 20s. I do love the character and I feel Zosia Mamet has so far been criminally underused on the show, but I don't agree with Sarah that Jessa is the flattest character of the ensemble. I loved Jessa's rant last week about the book Listen Ladies; she's sick of women telling other women what to do. Sure, Jessa's a flake and a snob and she's hipper than thou, but she's adventurous, and she does what she wants. She is not "the ladies." I admire that. She's also the world's coolest babysitter, and I admire that. Just don't sleep with Kathryn Hahn's husband, Jessa. Do NOT sleep with him, okay? But I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the character to whom I most closely relate is Hannah, who immediately turns her STD into an excuse to get out of paying rent. "I have pre-cancer!" she shouts before hanging up on Marnie. I can see doing that.
So Hannah takes Shoshanna's advice and meets up with her ex-boyfriend Elijah, played by Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells. As she prepares to announce her HPV, he steals her thunder by telling her he's gay. Hannah responds terribly. She starts out okay, I suppose, with an "inappropriate physical reaction" of sobbing that she promises is due to her total joy. She ends by calling him fruity and failing mightily at getting the last word in, as he snaps, "It was nice seeing you. Your dad is gay," and stomps off. I think we'll see more of Elijah in the future and I can't wait. Hannah was petty and judgmental, but in her defense, she is still reeling from the discovery of the dreaded HPV, and it must suck to discover that her first serious boyfriend wanted to have sex with men the entire time he was with her. Especially when he explains his former attraction to her thusly: "Well, there's a handsomeness to you." She also learns what everyone in the audience already knew - there is no HPV test for men. Adam lied to her and he is almost certainly the culprit. And let's not forget that she is still unemployed and utterly broke. This hasn't been Hannah's best week ever, so let's cut her a break.
Finally, Marnie gets the most fun storyline of the girls as she encounters Jonathan, an artist she admires, at a party at her gallery. Jonathan's played by SNL's Jorma Taccone, who nails a sort of sexy cockiness that one wouldn't necessarily attribute to him. They flirt and she tries to remember that she has a boyfriend when she tells him that she isn't going to kiss him. Jonathan moves alarmingly close to Marnie and murmurs the following line: "Okay, but I want you to know that the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little. Because I'm a man, and I know how to do things." He then walks off. Marnie responds in a perfectly rational manner, which is to run back to the party, lock herself in the bathroom and masturbate herself to orgasm in about fifteen seconds.
Let's discuss this scene, shall we? Jonathan is a bit of an asshole, and he's entirely too pleased with himself. He wants Marnie, but he doesn't need her. He's convinced she needs him but he doesn't really give a shit if that's actually true. He is therefore the perfect foil to her boyfriend Charlie, and that is therefore exactly what she wants. Charlie surveys Marnie constantly during sex, tiptoes around her moods and makes no attempts to see her as a real person rather than a china doll. Sure, Marnie should be honest and end it with Charlie. He's a nice guy and he doesn't deserve to be jerked around. But like we've all dated an Adam, we've all dated a Charlie. I honestly don't know which is worse, but I do know I'd rather fuck Jonathan than date either of those two.
I think it will be easy to dismiss this episode as another example of the characters being terrible people. Shoshanna nonchalantly declares that she doesn't love her grandmother. Jessa may be developing an attraction to a married man. Marnie dismisses Charlie's cancer gesture for a co-worker and generally treats him like dirt. Hannah really shouldn't call her gay ex-boyfriend fruity. But that would be willfully discounting all of the things that are wonderful about these women. Shoshanna is a virgin who shows absolutely no judgment when her friends get abortions and STDs. Marnie is an incredible friend to the people she loves. Jessa really shines with the kids she's babysitting, eating string cheese and listening to them as if they are grown-ups. And Hannah bounces back after one hell of a week with the help of a little Robyn.
There is so much that is real about Girls in addition to being laugh-out-loud hilarious. The frank portrayal of HPV (which plenty of my adventurous friends have), of toxic relationships, mortifying sex and female masturbation - a topic that is ridiculously taboo thanks in part to the MPAA - all add a little something to the texture of this show without any After School Special qualities. These discussions are important without feeling important. They feel ordinary, as they should. Because they are ordinary in life - just not on television.
But my favorite scene of any of the first three episodes of Girls is the final scene of "All Adventurous Women Do." Hannah stares at her Twitter page, trying to craft a sentiment that captures the night she's had. (Noteworthy: she is following 902 people. She has 26 followers. Her last tweet reads thusly: "just poured water on some perfectly good bread to stop myself from eating it. ate it anyway. BECAUSE I AM AN ANIMAL.") She types and then deletes a few maudlin statements. ("My life has been a lie, my ex-boyfriend dates a guy." "You lose some, you lose some.") She types something new and stares contemplatively at the screen for a few moments as Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" starts to play. She begins shimmying slowly to the music as she hits enter: "All adventurous women do." Marnie comes home and smiles to find her goofy best friend shaking her ass alone in her bedroom. Hannah tells her about Elijah, and Marnie joins her in the impromptu dance party before the two hug and the credits roll. And that, my friends, is when I knew I was watching something special.