What a Bunch of Guys Think of the Latest Episode of Girls

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 27 2012 10:50 PM

Guys on Girls: Your Crack Spirit Guide

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Lena Dunham and Adam Driver on Girls (HBO)

David Haglund: I haven’t decided yet whether this episode—set pretty much entirely at a party in Bushwick, the hipster Brooklyn locale of the moment—is the best of the season so far, but it was easily, for me, the funniest. (It also had maybe the best title screen—or, rather, screens—ever.) It’s going to be difficult, in fact, not to simply list favorite one-liners. (“I can usually tell when someone thinks it’s with a ‘c.’” “Oh my God, don’t tell my mom. Don’t even tell me.”) But in between guffaws the show managed to complicate each of the principal characters.

Shoshanna, we discover, has deep wells of aggression, and may someday be a leader of men. Hopefully she can do this without the crack she smoked while in line for the bathroom, believing it to be marijuana. Her subsequent pants-less karate-chopping of Ray—who is chasing her down in a surprisingly sympathetic effort to serve as her substitute “crack spirit guide”—slayed me. And there were hints of a Ray/Shoshanna hook-up in future? Then again, this show likes to upend expectations.

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Which brings me to Jessa. When she first smoked pot with her boss, their sleeping together (and all the unpleasant, plot-driving fallout that would have ensued) seemed inevitable. But James LeGros takes his character to a very low place this episode—that bottle of white wine he brought to Bushwick was just about the saddest party offering ever—and Jessa is decidedly uncharmed. “I liked you better when you were being the good guy,” she says, after he finally, weeping pathetic tears, propositions her.

And speaking of low places, Marnie must be headed for redemption, given how clueless and self-involved she has become. (That dress!)

Finally, there’s Adam, who is maybe now Hannah’s boyfriend? I didn’t know how else to interpret that wonderful, slowly-building smile that Jody Lee Lipes—the show’s usual cinematographer, who directed this episode—captures on Hannah’s face in the cab at the end. His speech just prior is terrific and worth discussing, but for now I’ll just highlight Marnie’s retort when he tells her she “sounds like a schoolteacher.” “Yeah,” she replies, “well, enjoy going through life as yourself.” It recalled Hannah’s series-starting declaration that she was “busy becoming who I am.” Marnie inadvertently pointed out that Adam, for all his flaws, has what these girls are all still chasing. (Except for maybe Jessa.)

Dan Kois: That’s true: Adam is, indeed, self-actualized in a way that none of these girls are. (His dancing was almost unbelievably un-self-conscious!) Even Jessa reached a point in this episode of questioning whether she was who she wanted to be—though I didn’t necessarily buy her epiphany, given that just moments before she was abandoning Shoshanna and calling random street toughs “crusty sacks of shit.” (“Really?” they say. “You’re gonna reduce us to a subculture and then not accurately name that subculture? Nice.”) But oh how I loved Hannah’s slowly-blooming smile in the backseat of that cab, squished in between Adam, Marnie, and Adam’s bike. It was pure delight! And so unfamiliar. And so unexpected!

This episode drove home how surprising this show has become on a pure plot level. My onetime complaints that it felt too schematic now seem silly: Girls surprises me every week. The fact that Jessa and her boss haven’t slept together (and never will). Marnie’s bottomless self-regard, and Shoshanna’s bottoms-less self-defense. But the biggest surprise is that Adam is turning into an honest-to-God romantic lead.

The girls of Slate figured this out long before I did, of course. Even a few episodes ago I viewed Adam as a character the series—and Hannah—needed to dispense with in order to move forward. I remember my bitter response when I opened up the second set of screeners from HBO and saw on the accompanying press release that long, long into the season, Hannah was still going to be “evaluating her relationship with Adam.” What’s to evaluate? I thought. Dump the jerk! That the show has turned my thinking around on him, and him and Hannah—if not 180 degrees, than at least 90 degrees—is really gratifying as a viewer.

And yeah, loved those opening credits! Someone’s been watching Gaspar Noe!

Seth Stevenson: This episode had the most giggle lines of any so far. Sharp references to Waterworld, Age of Innocence, and getting “fingered by a beatboxer.” “Crack can be really fun under the right circumstances.”

And not just the girls but the guys got some unexpected layers this week. We learn that Adam’s been an alcoholic since 17, which explains a few things and makes him suddenly seem in some ways wiser than his years. And we learn that Ray—when he’s not dumping a girl because her father is a psychiatrist—actually does have shards of tender humanity lodged deep within his hipster douchebag heart. It seemed like a serious downgrade for Shoshanna when she switched crack spirit guides from Jessa to Ray. (Who could be a better crack spirit guide than Jessa? I’d smoke crack just to let her guide me.) But Ray hung in there like a mensch even as he took a panty-hosed knee to the groin. I’m getting started on my Ray/Shoshanna fanfic.

Forrest Wickman: Implausibilities aside—show me the way to this mythical 45 Bushwick Place—I also loved this crazy-ass episode. I wish Bushwick were that much fun. After wasting no time getting to the party, the episode kicks off with those Enter the Void opening titles, and the momentum builds just quickly enough that there’s little time for questions. Like: How did Questionable Goods get so much better in two weeks? And: Shoshanna smoked crack?! The episode threw so much out there so quickly that I related to Hannah when she yelled at Adam to slow things down. “Adam, please stop the bike!”

And then came another one of this show’s perfect endings. I, too, was a little unsure what to make of that last wild smile, which seemed lifted right from the final scene of Magnolia. But it must mean some level of increased commitment from Adam.

Just as important a moment is when Hannah seems to realize that Adam is right: She is self-centered. (She shows that she gets it by bringing him his backpack.) Like Dan, I’ve loved how unexpected Girls has been, pulling off those perfect developments that feel both surprising and inevitable. What makes this exchange between Adam and Hannah especially dizzying is that, before, Hannah seemed too self-effacing—and yet Adam is completely right. Our awareness of Hannah’s selflessness (especially in the sack) has distracted from all the ways that she has been utterly self-centered.

Of course, when it comes to that smile, it’s also possible she’s just remembering some of his hilarious dance moves.

Stevenson: Amazing how a little context can change your perception of a person. Previously, we’d never seen Adam outside his room or with a shirt on. But sometimes all it takes is to observe how someone acts around good friends—or around a troupe of frenetically dubstepping lesbians—to reveal hidden depths and admirable qualities.

Kois: Right! We’d never seen him outside his room or wearing a shirt—and neither, apparently, had Hannah. It’s nice discovering facets of his character along with her.

Wickman: The revelation that Adam is an alcoholic also feels surprising and just right. Even more surprising? His love of books. I can’t wait to get to Adam Sackler’s thoughts on literature in the episodes to come.

Haglund: I loved the witty way we learn of his love of books, too, through his friend Tako (who seems like his female equivalent). And yeah, the foregrounding of Hannah’s self-centeredness—as well as Marnie’s—is a big part of this episode. And it’s spoken to eloquently by Elijah, of all people, that half-villainous ex-boyfriend of Hannah’s last seen declaring that Hannah’s father is gay (a charge, for lack of a better word, seemingly proven wrong in episode six). Elijah describes Hannah and Marnie as peas in a selfish pod shortly before Adam calls Hannah out for never asking him about his life. “You never ask me anything,” Adam shouts, “besides ‘Does this feel OK,’ or ‘Do you like my skirt,’ ‘How much is your rent?’ You don’t want to know me. You want to come over in the night and have me fuck the dog shit out of you and then leave and write about it in your diary.” Righteous.

Kois: Also, that boat project of his—to sail a boat around Manhattan on July 4 that slowly falls apart in the water—is a fucking great idea.

Stevenson: Having just joined Hudson River Community Sailing, I’d like to have a few words with Adam before he attempts this self-deconstructing barge gambit. Perhaps I can loan him my floating VHF radio and my Eldridge 2012 Tide and Pilot Book.

The queasy-making part of this episode, for me, was watching Jessa’s boss turn into a simpering creep. I am no longer anywhere close to 24, and I have faced a few moments (often unfolding in deep Brooklyn) in which I feel like “that guy”—seized by the urge to shake to a slamming Mark Ronson beat, yet fundamentally NOT of the baby-faced world around me. I found myself IMDB’ing James LeGros and experiencing surprising relief when I learned he’s more than a decade older than me.

Kois: What, in the end, do we think Hannah said to Adam? He asked, “Do you want me to be your fucking boyfriend?” Then we quick-cut to the three of them in the cab. Did Hannah offer a simple yes? Or was it something more digressive and Hannah-ish?

Wickman: I can imagine her just saying yes, with the word dawning on her as simply as that smile at the end. But it’s harder for me to imagine how Adam could possibly have reacted. I almost wonder if they cut away because it’s just too hard to imagine Adam Sackler committing so immediately to a relationship.

That said, everything we thought we knew about Adam has been turned on its head, so who knows. Perhaps we’ll understand after we learn more about the gentler, more book-loving and Hudson-sailing side of Sackler.

Stevenson: Were we all sated by Marnie’s long-overdue comeuppance? After Charlie says it’s nice to see her face she replies, “I thought it might be.” Right then you knew the boom—that’s a nautical term, Adam!—would swing across her nose. In this case it ultimately took the form of Elijah’s open palm.

Kois: There was a lot of violence in this episode! Elijah’s slap of Marnie (delivered after she tells him that his singing voice “sounds like a bag of dying babies”). Shoshanna’s dispatch of Ray. James LeGros’s first fight. Hannah’s scraped-up hands. For a show that often seems a little cerebral, this episode packed a wallop.

Haglund: Not to mention that Adam seems to make little distinction between dancing and wrestling. And that set of title screens was a visual assault.

Stevenson: I think we saw again what draws Hannah to Adam: He inhabits the moment. She is trapped in her head—assessing herself, contemplating how she’ll write about it later, imagining her future and what she is “becoming.” He is just being—jumping and shouting and throwing lesbians over his shoulder.

Wickman: Right, as Jessa observes, he’s the “original man.”

Stevenson: We might even infer that this vaguely relates to his recovery from alcoholism. “One day at a time.”

Wickman: We haven’t talked quite as much as others have about the idea that the show exists in a bubble, but I think we should detect some self-awareness about this on the part of the writers when Jessa proclaims, “All of Brooklyn and two-thirds of Manhattan will be here” (meaning at the party). There’s an annoying and regrettable tendency to use “Brooklyn” to mean just neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope, as if all of Brooklyn was hipsters and yuppies and the types that attend things like the Great GoogaMooga. I don’t know if that line is much of a howler, but I do think we’re supposed to get that that’s exactly what Jessa is doing here.

Haglund: I completely agree. Note, too, Ray’s remark about Jessa’s dress. “Does everyone in the Age of Innocence fan club get one of these, or just the Gold Club members?” Later, when Jessa spits at two “crusty” guys whose mothers, she says, “are poor,” I don’t think we’re supposed to simply admire her insouciance. What some critics of the show don’t seem to get is that almost no one is as hard on these characters as the writers themselves.

Stevenson: On a similar tip, I noted Shoshanna’s line about taking a sports therapy class to meet jocks but instead “it was all Indian girls.” Funny. Probably steeped in truth. But lines like this are a bit dicey on a show with precisely zero non-white featured characters. Wouldn’t our quartet be pretty likely to have a South Asian girl or two as, you know, friends? Not just people you meet in sports therapy class?

Haglund: I mostly wondered what stereotype that was supposed to be a joke about.

Kois: It’s the old stereotype about female South Asian kinesiologists, David.

Haglund: Oh, that one.

Wickman: I agree that lines like that are a bit dicey for the show to deliver, but not at all out of character for someone like Shoshanna. There’s a shortsighted sense shared by much of my Obama-voting generation that our society is post-racial, and thus it’s OK to deploy all sorts of ironic-but-not-really-that-ironic racism.

Kois: I’m holding all discussion of race on Girls until next season, when I see what they do with Donald Glover. But I am once again upset that no one at HBO as done anything with www.questionablegoods.tv.

Stevenson: Ray promised us it was “fully downloadable”!

Wickman: As Adam Driver might say, in one of his great, odd line readings from this episode: I’m FAHCKing out of here.

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

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

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

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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