David Haglund: Bryan, the last time you and I discussed Girls, after this season’s coke-fueled third episode, you seemed to be coming around to the show—despite your problems with its principal protagonist, Hannah (Lena Dunham). You hoped that she would become more “self-aware” as the season progressed. Arguably, we saw that happen, at least a little bit, in “Video Games,” tonight’s episode, though it mostly focused on Jessa (Jemima Kirke). What did you think?
Bryan Lowder: I’ve really come around to the show this season—not necessarily as an avid fan, but as a regular viewer who appreciates the general thrust of the series. And you’re right: This episode absolutely brought a needed dose of reality to Hannah, and I enjoyed watching her deal with it—she even had to walk to the Metro North station all by herself. You forget how much a city like New York can provide the infrastructure necessary to support a whole class of helpless, un-self-aware narcissists. A trip upstate, to a place where there are no subways that will whisk you home at 5 a.m. can—like a strange, attractive man waiting on the next block to put you up for the weekend—inspire a little reflection on your circumstances.
Haglund: As can a strange, less attractive man—perhaps boy is a more accurate descriptor—whose mother is married to the English father of your eccentric friend. I thought of Hannah’s impulsive, assertive kiss of Joshua (Patrick Wilson) when Frank made a similarly optimistic pass at a more experienced and sophisticated visitor. I wonder if that was a deliberate echo. In any case, the consequences of Frank’s daring seemed much less pleasant (and far more brief) than what Hannah managed with an older paramour a couple episodes ago. Before we get to that eccentric friend, any ideas why Hannah’s urinary tract infection was so prominently featured in this episode? More wisdom through suffering? Or was the point that some pain comes with no reward? Or maybe there was nothing to be gleaned from that at all?
Lowder: Aww, you had to bring up to the UTI, didn’t you? I’ll get to that in a sec, but first, let me reply to your astute observation about Frank. On a basic level, that plot-line looked at what happens when a bunch of youngish people get together in a cabin-in-the-woods scenario—specifically, situational lust that may or may not be regrettable. More importantly, the encounter forced Hannah to recognize that her experience-seeking actually has consequences for other people. I’m thinking of the scene post-coitus, when Frank says Hannah used him and hints at some kind of sexual confusion with regard to his golden-boy friend, Tyler. Heretofore, Hannah’s sexcapades have been treated as occasionally grotesque and intermittently funny divertissements in which everyone goes back to their apartments in the morning. Here was a young man who really did feel used, and emotionally wounded, even if he initiated the encounter. Couldn’t she tell there was some energy between those two boys? I could.
As for the UTI, I think it was brought in mostly so we could see Hannah peeing by the tracks and making that weird cat sound. But maybe it, too, was meant to hint at the consequences of sex—with Sandy, with Joshua, with whoever punched her in the chest and then came in that spot?
Haglund: But I thought the Joshua interlude was a fantasy! Actually, I didn’t. And perhaps it was an imaginary sexcapade with real toads in it, so to speak. Or maybe the UTI was just there to highlight Jessa’s hippie inclinations and dubious worldiness—apparently that garlic-clove folk-remedy is really intended for yeast infections.
You know, I feel even more out of my depth discussing this show than usual. Anyway, you’re exactly right about Frank. For once, Hannah was unquestionably the one being careless about another person’s feelings vis à vis a sexual encounter. It definitely had a Cabin in the Woods feel: That cemetery setting was no accident, surely—and that “look ma, no eyes” driving sequence was precisely the sort of thing teenagers do in horror movies before one of them gets brutally murdered.
But let’s talk about Frank’s mom (Rosanna Arquette!)—and stepdad (Ben Mendelsohn). Is he the sort of father you imagined Jessa might have? Does this bit of backstory make her a more interesting, complicated character for you? And do you agree with me that Jemima Kirke pulled off crying on cue better than her castmates, Dunham (who had to do it two episodes ago) and Allison Williams (who did it last week)?
Lowder: You know, now that I think about it, I guess I imagined Jessa would have a colder father, a high-powered businessman or whatnot against whom she might be rebelling. Then again, I guess this dad is cold in his own, hippie-dippie and undependable way. I’m hesitant to let “daddy issues” explain all of Jessa’s problems, but maybe we’re not meant to take this episode so simply. Remember, dad did remind Jessa that she herself has not shown up for the past six “occasions”—clearly, both people have a problem with follow-through. As for whether it made her more interesting… I guess it made me sad for her more than anything. It made me pity her for how that lack of peace must feel. And I’m guessing that was the point, given Hannah’s call to her parents later. Hannah told them she felt like she had a safety net under her, even though they don’t get along and are all ridiculous in their own ways. Putting such drama aside, there is a core stability there that is a privilege indeed.
Haglund: Well put, Bryan. Hannah’s description of that feeling—that it’s like “there’s a hammock under the earth protecting me”—was similarly eloquent, and emphasized, consciously or no, the privilege of having such supportive (financially and otherwise) parents. All the dad stuff reminded me of last week, when Ray said he felt like Shoshanna’s father, and Adam called them “babies holding hands.” In “Video Games,” Jessa says, “I’m the child, I’m the child,” while sobbing on a swing—and this after telling Hannah to “grow up,” just as Marnie did earlier this season. Seems like maybe the show is trying to point out that we don’t ever totally grow up; we just get older, and while we may mature in some ways, our childishness doesn’t ever entirely go away. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself here.
Speaking of childish things, why do you think the title for this episode was taken from that bizarre “video games” rant that Petula went off on? That was another bit of thematic oddness I couldn’t quite square.
Lowder: Well, Petula may be the most childish of them all. Her mother-earth, rabbit-eating, “seminar”-going schtick was completely insufferable, and suggested a total disconnect from reality. Which is fine, I guess, since she lives in a video game. I’m not sure exactly why (or if) that rant was so thematically important—but I suppose the characters in this episode were in a strange place with unfamiliar challenges? (Like peeing outside, for instance.) And this might be a stretch, but perhaps the notion of a safety net also comes in here: Because of her parent’s stability and support, Hannah could fail and still have a second “life,” whereas Jessa might not.
Haglund: Interesting. That’s more than I came up with. (Also: Who would drive with their eyes covered except someone who thought they got an extra life?) Maybe our commenters will have some other suggestions. And perhaps our one-time conversation partner Bruce Eric Kaplan—the second man in a row to get sole writing credit for an episode of Girls—just liked the sound of the phrase. Or was thinking of the Lana Del Rey song?
Speaking of pop songs, I thought the music, one of the real strengths of this show, was particularly good tonight. I have a soft spot for Aimee Mann—whose husband, by the way, scores the series (more “nepotism”!)—and her “How Am I Different?” was perfect here, echoing Jessa’s dad’s comments that they’re “not like other people,” a claim that “Video Games” both proves and disproves: The Johansson clan is a little weird, to be sure, but deep down, most of our needs are pretty similar. Also, the lines “Because this show is/ Too well designed/ Too well to be held with only me in mind” are (coincidentally, I assume) a remarkably apt bit of commentary on Season 2 of Girls.
Anything else you particularly liked—or didn’t like—about this episode (besides, of course, Hannah’s comment that old computers “look like doghouses”)?
Lowder: I really liked how well the episode caught the experience of being a stranger in a family home. Petula called Hannah the “cushion,” and that immediately rang true, having gone home with friends and boyfriends to domestic spaces that were sometimes in need of them. And I didn’t really dislike anything this time around—other than the dangerous driving. Definitely hated that.