At the onset of the new season of Girls, it is normal for viewers like myself to feel a degree of nervousness and uncertainty. The last season completely scrambled the relationships between the characters, and the hermetic Girls universe became even more messy and insular. The first three episodes have been an interesting reset, and the show seems to be travelling in an interesting direction.
Episode 1: All I Ever Wanted
The opening shot of the season is Hannah’s laptop screen: she has written a piece, brimming with “I survived” rhetoric, about Jessa and Adam, her best friend and boyfriend, betraying her and getting together. Following a feature in The New York Times, she is hired by the online publication Slag Mag to report on a surf camp in the Hamptons where women “essentially take surf culture, co-opt it, and turn it into shitty yoga.” It must be said that Hannah’s responses in this job interview are golden: “I definitely feel like more of a dumpling than a woman at this point,” and “I give zero fucks about anything, yet I have a strong opinion about everything, even topics I am not informed on” are highlights. Hannah then embarks on a strange and unfunny holiday romance with her surf instructor, during which she surrenders her New York cynicism to become one with the ocean… It all becomes very Spring Breakers, with Lena Dunham sliding on the dance floor clad in cornrows, and watching the sun set while musing about love being easier to do than hate. I was glad to see the things I love about Girls still remain present in this season: sly digs at millennial culture, self-absorbed “delusional girl” quotes from Hannah, and Lena Dunham in unpalatable styling choices.
“The two, with their recklessly sexual philosophies and penchant for constant nudity, seem almost too compatible to be a convincing pair”
Back in New York, Hannah’s friends are neglecting reality as well. Marnie and Ray still bizarrely overuse “baby” when referring to each other, and Marnie is still using infidelity to address her discomfort with being in a stable relationship. She ends up sleeping with Desi, her ex-husband, yet again exemplifying her persistent, anxious quest for drama and the next best thing. As for Adam and Jessa, I am still not sold on what exactly they are doing. The two, with their recklessly sexual philosophies and penchant for constant nudity, seem almost too compatible to be a convincing pair. One season into their relationship, they still appear to have been shoved together for the sake of convenience, to give both characters something to do. The episode eases viewers back into things, giving us the chance to settle into the new arrangements the last season left for us.
Episode 2: Hostage Situation
As a thematic progression from the last episode, Episode 2 explores the lessons we learn about ourselves from our relationships with others. Hannah accompanies Marnie and Desi on a secret romantic getaway to Poughkeepsie, where Marnie discovers that, for the entirety of their marriage, she was too self-absorbed to see that Desi was literally addicted to Oxycontin. She finds the pills in his briefcase, pushing him into a violent spiral; at one point he tries to snort Oxy off the floor between shards of broken glass. After the girls kick Desi out, he eventually punches through the kitchen window, and Hannah swats at his arm with a plastic spoon. The scene, vacillating drastically between being funny and genuinely scary, was shot so ‘en genre’ that it actually resembled a horror movie, with Desi as the proverbial villain stalking around outside.
“As her curtain of propriety and togetherness is continually peeled back, we see more of her darkness and her mangled sense of morality”
The debacle ends in quite a beautiful way, with Hannah delivering the most pot-calling-kettle-black line in the history of moving pictures to Marnie: “It can be pretty hard to have observations about other people when you’re only thinking about yourself.” On the subject of Marnie, her character arc is one of the most interesting plot-lines of the show. As her curtain of propriety and togetherness is continually peeled back, we see more of her darkness and her mangled sense of morality. This has allowed Allison Williams to access deeper emotional intensities and imbue more psychosis into her portrayal of Marnie’s controlling nature, which really enriches the viewing experience.
Meanwhile, Shoshanna drags Elijah and Jessa to attend the “WeMun” women’s networking event (“Women Entrepreneurs Meet Up Now!”) hosted by Shoshanna’s college best friends, whom she abandoned last season to walk on the wild side with Jessa. In her absence, the girls have founded “Jamba Jeans”, a successful denim company. WeMun and Jamba Jeans are the stuff of baby boomers’ nightmares about millennials: one of the founders wears a metallic choker and a handlebar ponytail while discussing synergy and business strategy: at one point she even tells the crowd: “For those of you asking on our Facebook if the group is open to trans women, the answer is … we don’t know, okay?”
This jungle of vapid, vacuous, smoothie-feminism is literally Shoshanna’s utopia, but she is barred from this paradise thanks to Jessa’s corruptive influence. It’s actually quite sad: Shoshanna’s hoop earrings are as large as bicycle wheels, her grand plans gone, and her professional ego made so small that she introduces Elijah as her “executive assistant.” The stark contrast between the life that Shoshanna wants and what she has becomes tangible in the staging of this scene: Jessa is defiantly rude, and Elijah slips away to do coke with the waiter; we cannot help but feel Shoshanna’s frustration at how much her life has been compromised by bad friends and poor choices. The episode captures, somewhat painfully, the extent to which our lives are dictated by those around us, as much as we try to exercise agency over our own paths.
Episode 3: American Bitch
The third episode is definitely the most interesting and thought-provoking, intellectually. It mostly takes place in the apartment of Chuck Palmer, a renowned writer now accused of pressuring female students into sex on his university tour. Hannah has condemned him in a blog post, arguing that “the internet is cool because it allows otherwise marginalised and silenced voices to be heard.” This episode explores the complex moral ambiguities of internet call-out culture in a supremely uncomfortable but fascinating way.
“This episode explores the complex moral ambiguities of internet call-out culture in a supremely uncomfortable but fascinating way”
The difficult matter of treating Tumblr posts and anonymous accounts as fact, versus the equally important priority of hearing and trusting victims’ stories, come to a head when Hannah tries to defend her writing and Chuck tries to defend himself. Two further complications are added: Hannah admires Chuck’s work, and must constantly strain to separate him from his art; Chuck’s young daughter also features in the episode, showing him to be a man who cannot respect women, but genuinely adores his child and structures his whole life around making her happy. The whole situation is intense and discomfiting, but adds important human elements to the discourse surrounding witch-hunts and public shaming, especially in the internet age. Especially impactful was the final shot, which showed a horde of faceless women trailing into Chuck’s hotel as Rihanna’s ‘Desperado’ played over the background. This was my favourite episode of Girls thus far.
Overall, the beginning of the final Girls season has proven itself more challenging and provocative than ever before. The show has steadily improved in terms of its emotional and intellectual depth, as well as character development and acting ability. I have come away from every episode increasingly interested in the characters, which is frankly a welcome change after waiting six seasons to feel this way. I am excited for what comes next
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