What a Group of Women Thought About Last Night’s Episode of Girls

What Women Really Think
May 6 2012 10:45 PM

Girls on Girls: Did Adam Jerk Off to Her Picture or Didn’t He?

girlsshoshanna
A still from Girls.

(HBO)

Hanna Rosin: I had this crazy thought this morning that this episode is structured like a long and awkward session of sex. It starts with dick pix and fondling. It stumbles into a series of failures to complete (Hannah fails to end it with Adam, Jessa fails to lose her job, Shoshanna fails to have sex). And then it finally gets its release with that angry song, “Hannah’s Diary,” which culminates with Marnie throwing a drink (i.e., ejaculating) on Hannah’s face. I’m not really expecting any of you to address that. Just thought I’d throw it out there.

Why don’t we start with Hannah’s attempted breakup? I stopped the action several times to scrutinize her expression during that transformation in the doorway, when her quivering resolve disappears and she allows herself to get pulled inside. It’s a great moment, perfectly acted by both of them. They go from frozen to electric in seconds. But I wasn’t sure whether to groan or cheer. What did you all make of it?

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L.V. Anderson: I loved the attempted break-up scene. Hannah's speech—especially her half-tragic, half-comic inability to finish her damn sentence and walk back down the stairs—was the truest-feeling part of an episode that otherwise veered dangerously into sitcom territory. The content of the speech was one of those moments of triumph we talked about last week, but we could see her waiting for Adam to give her any excuse at all to stay—and finally, nonverbally, he gave her one. Adam began as a punchline—a Dan Savage nightmare, to paraphrase our male colleagues—but the development of the understanding and chemistry that connect Hannah and Adam is becoming the most compelling part of the show. I'm beginning to think of the Hannah/Adam relationship as an unconventional but not necessarily unhealthy bond that a conformist world can't understand. Like Romeo and Juliet, only kinkier.

June Thomas: In general I thought this episode verged closer to Portlandia-style satire than any of the earlier episodes (not necessarily a bad thing, but not, I think, what Lena Dunham is going for), but I loved the doorway scene with Adam. For someone whose expressions of what she wants from life have thus far been either unrealistic or completely deluded, her announcement that "I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, and thinks I'm the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with just me" seems utterly clear and reasonable. And it turns Adam on! And judging from her affect when she gets to the club (or whatever nightmare of a venue that is), things went better than they had in previous episodes.

Rosin: Also, like all great breakup speeches, she was effectively having this one with herself. Adam said about as much during that "conversation" as a Freudian psychoanalyst, a groan or two, a deflective, what do you want. But Hannah was having a robust debate with Hannah: "You're very, very charming, and I really care about you and I don't want to anymore because it feels too shitty for me so I'm going to leave." 

One last question before we move on: Did he jerk off to her picture or didn't he?

Thomas: In my version of Adam's life off-camera, I see him in an endless wankathon. Adam jerks off to any stimulus that's provided, including Hannah's self-portrait. (And confidential to HH: You gots to use the forward-facing camera when taking sexting snaps.) And then he refreshes himself with orange Gatorade.

Dana Stevens: I have no idea whether he jerked off to the picture or lied and said he did or lied about taking it back—that double-fakeout was part of the mysterious charm of Adam (who I feared for one terrible moment in that attempted-breakup scene was going to disappear from the show as a character.) But I loved her line, "I can't take a serious naked picture of myself, OK?" Seemed like a comment on Dunham's own casual, self-mocking exhibitionism (the way she casually yanked up her shirt to take that phone picture was a million miles away from HBO softcore nudity, and all the sexier for that).

Anderson: Right. I loved that part of the opening scene. Hannah's impulsive self-confidence in ripping off her shirt was delightfully out of sync with the "Oh my God, he sent me a cock pic, what do I do?!" conversation that preceded it.

Rosin: Also, a lot of her energy in the shirt rip-off seemed to come from the fuck-you to Marnie aspect of it. In fact, by the end of this episode I began to feel sorry for Marnie. Unlike Hannah, who finally articulated what she wanted, Marnie's reaction in the last scene proved her to be the most confused. She wasn't sad, or embarrassed, or even relieved. She was furious. At Hannah. 

Stevens: Except for Hannah stealing the hotel maid's tip at the end of the first episode, I don't know that anyone on the show has done anything worse than Charlie and Ray's turning Hannah's diary into an emo auto-da-fé, an act of public humiliation that may have destroyed their relationship and the girls' friendship in one fell swoop. When they first discover the diary and Ray, after reading some parts aloud, starts to run around the apartment hiding it from Charlie, I thought it was an act of kindness on his part, but as it turns out Ray is every bit the soulless hipster douchebag he appears to be (and Alex Karpovsky, who plays him, is a master at portraying soulless hipster douchebaggery—he played a similar character, the "Nietschean [sic] cowboy," in Dunham's film Tiny Furniture.)

Rosin: Dana, that's an excellent point about Ray. I was thinking he was put on the show to make Adam look authentic and deep. Although he did have that one moment of contrition, and in fact tenderness for Charlie. In fact wasn't it Charlie who ultimately stole the diary and blew it all up?

Anderson: Everyone's anger seemed to be misplaced in that scene: Charlie was mad at Marnie (even though it was Hannah who maligned his masculinity); Marnie was mad at Hannah (even though Charlie had snooped and then publicly humiliated both of them). I rolled my eyes while watching it—is no one here capable of reasonable emotional reactions?—but perhaps the over-the-top nature of that scene was intended to show us how out of touch Marnie and Charlie are with themselves. (I must point out, though, that Ray's body percussion during "Hannah's Diary" made it all worthwhile.)

Thomas: My "in what world would that happen?" siren sounded at Charlie and Ray's gig. I admit "In your Keds" is on a loop inside my brain right now, but this is Brooklyn--those two losers couldn't take the stage of any venue hoping to stay in business until the end of the night in the smallest town in America. Even on open-mic night.

Rosin: So what was too sitcom-y for all of you? I definitely laughed out loud at some of Shoshanna's sex faces.

Anderson: Agreed: for me the highlight of the episode was Shoshanna's quickly stifled giggle while on the receiving end of Matt "I Freakin' Love It" Kornstein’s cunnilingus.

What made this episode too sitcom-y for me was that the stereotypes came out in full force: Women—especially working-class women (both Hannah's colleagues and Jessa's new friends at the playground) were stupid gold-diggers; men were hostage to their animalistic urges, from the awful groping Rich to the snooping, misogynistic Ray to the wounded-and-dangerous Charlie.

Stevens: I guess I just like sitcom-y? The Jessa story I agree is feeling a little familiar—between the almost-abortion (oh, those convenient TV miscarriages!) and the vague references to a tragic childhood, it's more like something from a network drama than a sitcom. Though I very much like how the mother character, played by Kathryn Hahn, isn't being made a target for broad "look at the frumpy sexless mom" satire—she actually wants to get it on with James Le Gros! (Gross.)

Shoshanna's fuchsia satin pushup bra and matching skimpy panties were a great touch in the almost-sex-scene with her cunnilingus-loving summer-camp buddy—of course an uptight virgin Sex and the City fan would wear exactly that underwear. (Compare with Ray's discovery of Hannah's undies as he's snooping in her room with Charlie--at first he's excited they're the sexy crotchless kind, till he realizes with dismay they're just ... old and full of holes.)

Thomas: I kind of loved the scene at the playground, where Jessa got all Norma Rae with the other nannies. Some parts of it were standard-issue—the platitudes about organizing, Jessa's blindness to her privilege ("I'm just like you," or whatever the line was), and the whole "the kids disappeared while we were complaining instead of taking care of business" plot—but I had an unexpected reaction when another nanny pointed out that Jessa's charges had disappeared. I thought that the nannies of color had scarpered because they didn't want to talk to the police because of immigration issues (not that Jessa's papers are in order, I'm sure), but no, they were leaping into action to find the girls. I felt like a heel for jumping to that conclusion, but I love that the show could pull off that bluff and provoke that emotion.

Rosin: June, I think you have immigration on the mind. To me that was the false note—that ethnic nanny knows best moment, the immigrant equivalent of what my husband has called the "magical negro moment." You white girls can talk all you want about your politics but we ethnics have our eye on the real truths.

Thomas: You're absolutely right—the resolution was much too on the nose, but I still award points for the misdirection.

Anderson: It was in this episode that Girls' race and class problems became more apparent than ever. From Hannah's black colleague (who doesn't care about showing up to work on time, puts up with sexual harassment for the financial benefits, and can't even draw on eyebrows correctly) to the apparently Southeast Asian nanny on the playground (who hates her boyfriend but stays with him because he works at the Verizon Store), the people of color depicted in this episode were really offensively drawn. The cherry on the top was Adam's comment on Hannah's ridiculous eyebrows: "You look like a Mexican teenager." This show might be able to get away with a line like that if it actually contained any Mexican teenagers—or any nonwhite characters who didn't conform to pernicious stereotypes—but in this episode, it was over the line.

Thomas: Or is it all a rumination on what people will put up with? Hannah and Marnie are each putting up with imperfect relationships. The working-class women also put up with things (sexual harassment for the office-workers, low wages and loser boyfriends for the nannies). Also I wondered if the bargain with Rich—let him rub your shoulders and touch your breasts through your shirt in exchange for putting up with your ineptitude with Windows; put up with it long enough and he might even cover your insurance or buy you an iPod Nano—was an oblique reference to Hannah's bargain with her parents. She's not mooching off mom and dad anymore, but the world of work that they so wanted her to enter doesn't seem all that different.

Anderson: But isn't there an implicit value judgment there? I think most people value human connection as a higher good than money (or iPods, or cellphone service).

Thomas: But you need money (and maybe a good phone plan though definitely not an iPod) to survive. You can live without human connection.

Rosin: I liked Shoshana’s version of what she could put up with. Blood, even without human connection: "It's amazing. I'm like totally not an attached bleeder."

Thomas: I just hope that someone somewhere is making a Tumblr of assholes wearing friendship bracelets. That was Hannah's line of the week.

Anderson: I hope someone somewhere is making a Tumblr of people with a leg in each kayak!

Are the guys of Slate wearing friendship bracelets ... anywhere? Find out by reading their take on this episode over on Brow Beat.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.