This season of Girls has experimented with its narrative technique, and in particular with the last couple of episodes, "One Man's Trash," "Boys" and this week's "Video Games." Each episode has been something of its own intimate movie, a full arc to the story it tells that often ties in not a whit with the episode before it. While I do appreciate and even admire this unconventional approach, it hasn't always worked for me. I like that Girls is challenging us and going unexpected places this season, but at times I've felt it's been at the expense of our connection with the characters.
That's why "Video Games" was such a welcome change. Sarah asked last week if I cared where this season goes, because she's found her interest waning. I've remained invested in the method of Girls - I find each episode intriguing in its defiant storytelling and always technically stellar. But as for what happens to the characters, no, I haven't really cared. None of them seem to be on a cohesive journey from one episode to the next this season, and while that's a completely valid way to tell a story - I've heard comparisons to Louie or Seinfeld, and that seems apt - it's a jarring change from last season, in which a clear episodic arc could be argued for Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shosh.
But I fully admit that could be an issue of my own expectations. And keeping that in mind, with this week's episode the third standalone little movie in a row, my expectations had been adjusted to be open to that approach. And "Video Games" worked for me in a way that the previous two episodes haven't.
Part of that, a large part, is that I'm not yet willing to give up on caring about these four girls in whom I see parts of myself, and this week we learned more than we ever have about Jessa. Her negligent, insensitive father, her string of step-mothers, the life she lived as a child all guide us in our understanding of her nomadic, often incredibly selfish adulthood. From the beginning, Jessa's need to believe that her dad's butt-dial was a symbol of his trying to tell her something broke my heart. This is a woman who needs a sign, and who creates her own sign when the universe and the people who are supposed to take care of her won't lead the way.
Jessa's relationship with her dad and step-mom (and we get two amazing performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Rosanna Arquette here) rang so true to me. She hates her step-mother Petula but becomes furious with her father for hinting that he's about to leave her. She wants to present herself as an invulnerable free spirit to her dad but then finds herself sobbing to him, "I'm the child" when he says that he needs to lean on her, too. She's crushed by his abandoning her but then does the same thing to Hannah as soon as things get messy. In one 25 minute episode, we learn more about Jessa than we have in seventeen episodes before it, and while I've always loved the character and Jemima Kirke's performance, Jessa feels tangible and meaningful in a way she never has before.
Hannah tagged along for this little side adventure, and am I the only one who wondered what this episode would look like without her? I think I would have liked to see Jessa go home alone, an episode focusing entirely on Jessa the way "One Man's Trash" and "The Return" have focused solely on Hannah. Dunham has excluded all of the main cast from one episode or another, except for herself. I'd like to see an episode directed by Dunham but not starring her, to see how much room that gives the other characters to grow. Hannah takes up all the air in the room when she's around.
But that's merely an observation, not a complaint, as Hannah's completely hilarious in this episode. Her discomfort with whip-its and bunny-eating and her daggery-feeling UTI made her a pretty delightful sore thumb this week, and I love that she misinterpreted Jessa's declaration that the women in Penthouse are noble for leading boys into their sexual manhood by having sex with Jessa's 19-year-old weirdo step-brother. "That was fully just me trying to have continuity with you," she claims.
But Jessa won't allow that continuity, telling Hannah "Please don't talk about our parents like they're the same kind of parents." And it's true - at the end of the episode we get a quick cameo from Hannah's parents when she calls them to tell them she loves them and appreciates that they supported her in a way that Jessa's dad never will. But the tragic truth of this episode is that it doesn't matter what kind of parents you have - it's never easy. You're never speaking the same language. Hannah's mom assumes she's making fun of her and hangs up, and Hannah pees alone by the side of the train track, this time with no Jessa to smile fondly on her.
Sarah, did this episode draw you back in? Would you like to see a Hannah-less Girls, or is that no Girls at all?