Guys on Girls, Season 2

Did Men Save the Day on Girls?
Talking television.
March 18 2013 4:00 AM

Guys on Girls, Season 2

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Did men just save the day on Girls?

girls_2_10
Lena Dunham.

Jessica Miglio/HBO.

Seth Stevenson: Oh hey, David. Is this FaceSpace, or whatever?

David Haglund: Hey Seth. I have a question for you: Did men just save the day on Girls?

Stevenson: Maybe so. Seems like Charlie has saved Marnie from “the worst year of her life.” And that blond guy saved Shoshanna from coupling with a man she loves “like the way you feel sorry for a monkey.” But it took Hannah a while to find a man who could save her. First she tried to get John Cameron Mitchell to cut her some slack. Then she called her dad to grub for money. Next she asked Laird to salvage her haircut. And then finally it was Adam who saved the day.

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Haglund: I was so glad to see Jon Glaser again—no one says “I nailed this” quite like Glaser—and as Laird he sure gave Hannah a stern talking to. I also loved the climactic finale with Adam, from the trouble he had with his newly purchased iPhone (“Shiri, operate!”) to his delightfully crass dismissal of those bothered by his reckless, shirtless run through the streets to rescue Hannah (“That guy can suck a fucking spiky one”). But I was a little surprised that this show would end on such a traditional note: That shot of Adam literally lifting Hannah out of bed with his back muscles bulging, Fabio-style, was almost a parody of old-timey romance. Almost, but not quite. Right?

Stevenson: To me, it was a bit Freudian: Hannah had been searching for a father figure all episode. After phoning her actual father and trying his patience, she reminisced with Laird about how her dad used to protect her from broken glass, and how now there’s no one around to do that. And then came Adam, calling her “kid,” rescuing her from herself, lifting and cradling her volumptuous body as though she was a tiny toddler.

Haglund: Good call with that picking-up-glass story, which tied everything together: growing up, facing real problems, looking to men to solve them. There’s no question that Dunham & co. know what they’re doing. But there’s a small-c conservative note that has snuck into this show’s worldview, I think, which I first really noticed in “One Man’s Trash.” Last season did end with a wedding—but not, deep down, a happy one. Hannah wandered off from it alone and uncertain, eating cake by herself on a beach.

This season, Hannah’s problems are bigger than just the absence of a stable man, of course. She’s freaking out about her future (and present) as a writer. But the show decided to send us off feeling better with the sight of a very macho figure riding into town. And with that song by Fun: “For once there is nothing up my sleeve/ Just some scars from a life that used to trouble me/ I used to run at first sight of the sun/ Now I lay here waiting for you to wake up.” And then, after you wake up, maybe we go to brunch, like lovey-dovey Marnie, who just wants to make snacks and have babies for her newly rich and sexually skilled once-and-future boyfriend, Charlie.

Stevenson: Yup, many hints of conventionality creeping in. Marnie sure did talk a lot about Charlie’s money for someone who doesn’t care about Charlie’s money. Those two looked like a page from a clothing catalog as they grinned at each other in the show’s closing moments. And Shosh has ditched weird, malformed Ray in favor of a well-dressed guy in a decidedly non-Brooklyn-y bar.

That said, nothing could be less conventional than the union of Hannah and Adam. Adam briefly seemed tempted to drift into normality with Shiri Appleby, but in the end he felt compelled to rejoin his “OCDC” soulmate—the one who ruptures her own eardrums and rarely wears pants. I like to see this as a metaphor for the show itself. It may flirt with standard sitcom tropes and WB-approved actresses, but at its core and at its best it is a deeply bizarre creation.

Haglund: Girls has never hesitated to show us the idiosyncrasies and undersides of its characters—just last week, Adam was doing something really horrible—so perhaps there is some unconventionality in romantically uniting these genuinely flawed protagonists. And I wondered, too, about how interested Marnie really was in Charlie’s money: That scene where they professed their love for each other—which I actually found surprisingly moving (both Christopher Abbott and Allison Williams nailed it, as Laird would say)—didn’t have to end by rubbing our noses in financial matters. I like that it did. And, of course, this show isn’t over. We haven’t reached the rom-com dénouement. Next season they’ll be back, and their lives will presumably be as messy as ever.

Stevenson: Last season’s finale seemed to hedge its bets with a Chekovian zero ending—Hannah on the beach at dawn—that might have offered closure of sorts had there been no Season 2. This finale felt like the product of a writing team that knew it had several more episodes to play with. We didn’t even catch so much as a glimpse of Jessa, who is possibly off somewhere getting her vagina pierced. I’m eager to find out what she’s been up to. And poor Ray, who strived to man up but got kicked to the curb … Do you think he’ll find satisfaction as district chief logistics and operations supervisor/developmental operations coordinator? Or should he finally grind out that Latin studies dissertation?

Haglund: I knew some classics people in grad school. Never heard any reference to “Latin studies.” I fear Ray may not be a great fit for academia. Bust mostly I hope Alex Karpovsky comes back to the show—he’s getting more and more attention for his writing and directing, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he steps away for a while. And while I think Jemima Kirke was just busy having a baby, she’s expressed some ambivalence about acting herself, so who knows—maybe she’ll take a hiatus as well. I, too, would like to know what Jessa’s been up to, and I’m definitely ready to see Shosh’s personal renaissance. I’d also like to know whether Adam’s relapse meant anything, or if it was just a handy plot point for a single episode.

Good thing that we’re getting 12 episodes of Girls next year, because some storylines in this 10-episode season felt a little rushed.

Stevenson: Agreed. Developments like Charlie’s corporate ascendance and Hannah’s OCD popped up rather suddenly. To me, they felt classically TV-show-ish, in the manner of network series that slalom off in a new direction when they fret that existing storylines are flagging.

But can we talk about that Fun song for a second? In case you hadn’t yet recognized how baller Lena Dunham is, be aware that she can slot in her boyfriend for some premium cable airplay whenever she wants.

Haglund: One last eff you for the “down with nepotism” crowd, I guess. Like many of the songs from this season, it felt lyrically apropos and appropriately pitched for its moment (bouncy, in this case, in keeping with the “it’s going to be OK after all” feel of this finale). The show has increasingly leaned on music, but in a way I like. (I’ve listened to Judy Collins’ “Song for Judith (Open the Door)” dozens of times since Episode 8.) And the OCD was less out of left field than it may have seemed: As one of our astute commenters pointed out after it first appeared, Marnie, in Season 1, said that teenaged Hannah used to “masturbate eight times a night to ‘stave off diseases of the mind and body.’ ”

And Hannah’s downward spiral was pretty easily the most affecting development in this up-and-down season. I hope the character recovers, of course, but I also hope that next season really shows her working to get better—and also, well, working. This finale was maybe the first episode since Season 1’s great tweet-composition scene that really used Hannah’s writing interestingly and well. When Marnie glanced at the open Word file on Hannah’s laptop, and saw the line, “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance,” the dramatic irony lent a poignancy to that sad game of hide-and-seek.

Stevenson: Yeah, even if it felt briskly introduced I have no problem with the OCD stuff. (David, someday you’ll appreciate the difference between negativity and critical thinking.) My favorite moments in Girls always involve Lena Dunham spelunking down into her deepest, most twisted neuroses/ear canals. I also like the way the show uses Hannah’s writing—though it’s hard for me to imagine an e-book publisher cracking the whip so hard on an author whose memoir has no timely newspeg. Deadlines were made to be broken, even when there’s an advance involved. Hannah could spend at least another six or seven weeks doing web searches for “Normal Tongue” before she’d need to start worrying about clawback.

Haglund: Right, publishers wait years to sue! If they even do. And I should hope that an editor with such a gorgeous office would be particularly forgiving. (Those hilariously terrified Google searches were another good callback to Season 1.) I also agree re: the show’s best moments, which generally get at the pretty dark scene inside Hannah’s head. Even though I hated it at first (and, frankly, just didn’t really get it), “One Man’s Trash,” a standalone episode that Dunham said she wrote “in a fever dream,” was probably the standout this year, along with “It’s a Shame About Ray” and “On All Fours,” the darkest of the ensemble episodes.

Altogether, though, this season actually exhibited more growing pains than the first, which seemed to emerge from Dunham’s head almost fully formed.

Stevenson: That Patrick Wilson episode was easily my favorite of the season. It was amazingly wise about the gulf between Wilson’s damaged, been-around-the-block adulthood and Hannah’s naive, searching youth. And just as the show is at its best when it springs from Dunham’s subconscious, it’s also strongest when it dives into one-act cul-de-sacs that develop the characters in a space apart from the group dynamic. I want more of Ray and Adam on Staten Island, or Hannah and Jessa voyaging upstate, and maybe less of the four girls sitting around in an apartment making jokes about buttplugs.

Haglund: That would also allow the characters to break off from each other, as people in their 20s are wont to do, while still spending time with each of them. Life is much intense, and you kind of have to just ride it like a pony or you’ll get a haircut, so.

Stevenson: Ride that pony, David. Meanwhile, I’ll be kicking some pieces of wood around my apartment. See you next season.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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