This isn’t fun anymore. We thought we knew the games Girls played, and the rules, and in turn we played rulekeepers. For the first four episodes of this second season, we kept score: Would it happen? Would it never? Worst, did it happen to us? We did this because Girls had led us to believe in its believability and/or verisimilitude as organizing principle.
Well, now all we can say is: Nice move, Lena. The fifth episode feels not like television, but like a short, bittersweet film. We follow Hannah through two days in her life that are, perhaps, not in her life at all. We can’t imagine them in ours. These are the unlikeliest, loveliest days, days that feel like she is always about to wake up, and if we’re not wrong, what happens in these days will never be acknowledged on the show. But we might be wrong. We know that now.
Girls didn’t change the game, but maybe, maybe it changed the rules. Let’s play.
(Don’t forget to click “next page” to scroll through the full recap. Four pages. We know you love us that much.)
WOULD ANYONE LIKE TO GENTLY STROKE MY WET HAIR?
by Sarah Nicole Prickett
It feels like yesterday I was saying that Girls makes me never want to be a girl again, but really it was four or five days ago, and in those days I spent a lot of time thinking about how to write myself older. Could I be wise, decisive, unafraid, terrifying, beautiful in my work? Would I then be all that in my life? But then how could my work and my life co-exist without this total millennial convergence? I’ll end up a woman married to my work, and so then my work has to have its own shape, distinct from my self. Else it’s not intercourse, just masturbation.
All these things I thought about, alone, and then I watched Girls, not alone, and twenty minutes in I thought finally I’ve caught this fucking city flu. But no. It’s only that I relate to Hannah for the first real time and, to flip and reverse that Icona Pop song: I DO CARE. I HATE IT.
We begin at Grumpy’s, outside, Hannah and Ray bantering sunnily. Hannah believes she has invented the word “sexit,” as in, an exit made for the purposes of getting some… I think. I don’t know. I don’t much like defining words or having them defined, so I didn’t listen to Hannah, just picked up her meaning in the context of the ep.
We go inside. Enter Patrick Wilson, handsome and chagrined. I surmise from the first Hannah-reaction shot that she’s going to fuck him. Actually, for all this episode’s one-off oddness, very little surprised me—and that’s a common thing with Girls, and possibly, its one great trick. To think: Is the show predictable, or are we?
What happens next to Hannah, in this curiouser and curiouser trip into happiness, a trip plotted like the romantic comedies—from meet-cute to rescue to the twist—that Lena Dunham so loves? A frightening thing: She gets what she wants. Except, she didn’t know she wanted it. How would she? We say “got what she wanted, didn’t want she got,” but that isn’t true. What is true is a hard paradox: Nobody knows what she wants until she gets it.
“Don’t tell anyone this,” says Hannah, but—she wants to be happy.
“Everybody wants to be happy,” says Patrick Wilson’s character Joshua (not Josh).
Joshua is a 42-year-old doctor with a barbecue and a brownstone and those perfect, ever-full bowls of fruit that rest on gleaming surfaces. He’s very handsome and exquisitely dull. He plays ping-pong. When Hannah talks, his expression is professional, and when she descends into rank confessionalism, it’s while (because) he is stroking her wet hair as she lays curled in his lap, on his bed, underneath a large photograph of a more conventionally beautiful woman.
“I know that,” says Hannah, and maybe I’m paraphrasing, forgive me, “but I thought I was different.” She’s not. “I want what everyone wants, I want what they want, I want all the things.”
If there is anything I believe about “my generation” it is that we’re more depressed than the generation before us, and that we’re more depressed, in significant part, because we were conditioned to believe we were special. Depression is inter alia a failure to identify, is the dark side of individualism. Once you graduate from school, from arts programs, from first love, from whatever, how quickly “specialness” oxidizes into “isolation.” And, how accelerated is this change when you decide to be, to become, a writer.
When at 20 I was hospitalized for three days (I’ve written a longer explanation of this here, but it doesn’t really matter), I emerged with this fully formed mantra: My depression is not more special than anyone else’s. I repeated it over and over, not understanding it was a contradiction in terms, or knowing that years later—fun!!!—I’d be found to have been misdiagnosed.
Hannah seems more like… self-diagnosed. She explains to a patient Joshua that she feels compelled to take on bad, painful experiences, in order to share them with the world, to save others. She tells him she read that Fiona Apple profile and—here I knew exactly what she was going to say, and curled into a ball on Dana’s couch to escape it, but alas—like Fiona, just wants to “feel it all.” Ooooooouuuuuuuch. Then, Hannah says that whether bad things happen to her, or whether she makes them up, the cause is the same. There’s something broken inside.
And here is a thing you can’t admit, there is no sense in admitting, until you’re presented with a fix. With a doctor from a short story you wrote when you were eleven, maybe, or from a sublimated episode of your mom’s soap opera.
With so much money that nothing ever gets dirty.
I loved Hannah’s vulnerability here, the quick hard way she melted from precious unique snowflake into single pathetic tear. That was, in this least verite, most cinematic Girls ep, the REALEST THING.
And, too, I hated that Hannah’s just been dressing up in nakedness this whole time. Some people have never had a choice to be clothed. Some people don’t, like, choose to feel more, to suffer. I am not saying I’m one of them (although I often think that and so do the doctors!), but I am saying they exist and live and die hard, and it’s unfair for Lena Dunham to sell them out so easy.
I hated also what Hannah took for happiness, though again I was not surprised. I’ve often felt this show to be secretly conservative, and here we see it, plain: Hannah’s artistic bent is revealed to be pretension; her struggle, a ruse. What she’s really about is this Nancy Meyers life. Aren’t we all?
Well, no. Or, fuck I hope not.
When Hannah walks away from these wish-fulfilling, fear-reifying two days, she walks alone. Yes, that “subverts” the romantic comedy model, and yes, she looks good doing it. But the feeling I got stuck with is that she is determined to be happy, if not in marriage, at least in a brownstone she’ll own. Is this far enough from Sex and the City feminism, you know, the feminism that replaces a man with The Man? Is this any closer to… freedom? I think not. I think, never mind “happy” or “normal” or “safe.” I just want to not have to own anything. I really wish.