These questions regard last night’s episodes of HBO’s GIRLS. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.
1. One of Marnie’s stated goals for the weekend is to “Prove to everyone we can still have fun as a group” — which seems an awful lot like she is talking directly to viewers of the show: “Look, we know the characters have been interacting less and less with each other, on this show that is ostensibly about the relationship between four women, so we made a beach house episode for you! Now they’re all in one place, interacting!” Does it work as a narrative gambit? Does this episode make GIRLS feel more cohesive? Or does it feel more fragmented?
It’s both more fragmented and more cohesive! (Trick question!) “Beach House” is the equivalent of last season’s bottle episode with Patrick Wilson, where everything took place in one house. It was jarring and fragmented, or at least fragmented from the rest of the storyline of the season. But if that was a bottle, “Beach House” is a reunion episode. The ladies haven’t been together since Hannah’s birthday, and now Elijah is back in play with a fantastically bitchy new boyfriend, Pal (Danny Strong).
This episode was a reminder that GIRLS isn’t a sitcom, though its 30-minute weekly format might confuse you otherwise. This isn’t Friends or Seinfeld. As the characters have grown over the past two and a half seasons, some have all but stopped speaking to each other, let alone remain BFFs.
Does it make the show more cohesive to have them take a jaunt up to Montauk? Maybe superficially. (That’s why the image of them jumping in the pool is used in all the promo material: it’s the only time they share the same space.) But what this episode reveals is a lot nastier: Shosh is sick of the entire crew, and the fissures between Marnie and Hannah have, if anything, widened. It works as a narrative gambit, but only because GIRLS puts enough faith in its viewers to know when they are being subversive. This “reunion” is anything but a celebration of female friendship.
2. Much of this episode is about choreography. Not just the actual dance number the girls perform two and a half times, but in Marnie’s elaborate plans for the weekend and how they are derailed by the actual presence of her friends, who refuse to follow the steps she’s so clearly laid out. The fantasy of the opening sequence, with its beautiful music, gorgeous light and (very uncharacteristic of GIRLS) panning shot of Marnie standing on the balcony is immediately undercut by Hannah saying she has to “pee so badly she could shit herself,” Jessa inviting “bus people” to the house, and so on. Since Marnie is now, at Ray’s urging, exploring her creative side, what would a dance number choregraphed by Marnie look like? Would the dancers be replaced by robots? Would she have to dance all the parts herself? Would her amazing “surprised face” make an appearance?
You know, I don’t actually see Marnie focusing much on the dancing. Given her history with musical theater, it’d probably look more like this:
With Hannah as a misshapen Glinda, of course.
3. It is odd that Elijah and Pal get their own subplot in this episode, complete with a little scene just for the two of them, considering that the show has given us little reason to care about Elijah and zero reason to care about this relationship. On the other hand, Elijah’s willingness to stay with the supercilious Pal even after he shoots down his own confession of love — Is GIRLS suggesting that to be happy in our relationships we should lower our expectations? Or does that just make us as pathetic as Elijah? Elijah’s capitulation is sad, but at the same time it is hard to fault Jessa for saying that “Happiness is about appreciating what you have.” Do the writers think lowered expectations are a good recipe for happiness in friendships?
Hannah and Pal’s demands for lowered expectations aren’t in any way similar. As much as this show emphasizes female friend bonding, it’s still a very different thing to hear from a lover that you should expect less from the relationship. And the condescending way Pal rejects Elijah shows just how simple it is for that tie to be severed. That’s the opposite of the Hannah/Marnie problem, which has so many strings attached it might as well be a cat’s cradle.
If this is a message from the writers, I don’t think it is that we should all appreciate what we have. Elijah shouldn’t be happy with Pal. Marnie shouldn’t be happy with friends that don’t appreciate her efforts. (Say what you want, but Hannah would have been scolded by Emily Post for her terrible manners, inviting a group of guys over to a house that didn’t belong to her). Hannah shouldn’t be happy with Marnie’s behavior last season. We could all do better. Let’s raise our expectations, guys.
4. After teasing us with it for half a season, Marnie finally comes right out and tells the infamous “grilled pizza” story. And it is…pretty much what we expected. Brutal, sure, but not particularly shocking or interesting. Nevertheless, the way Marnie tells her tale, especially after we have known for weeks that there is such a story, has a sort of rehearsed quality, as if she has been telling and retelling it, in order to put herself in the best, most sympathetic, most wounded light. If that is true, give us your version of how the breakup actually happened, if we rewind a year and remove all Marnie’s embellishments.
The first time I watched this episode, I was sure this was Marnie’s “dead cousin” moment: If not a total lie, then a story in which she’d taken great liberties with to turn herself into the injured party.
In reality, we KNOW how the last year went: Charlie, who had previously been Marnie’s whipping boy, had finally gotten over his obsession with her. It was a limp relationship that he only signed on for again because, Nathaniel P.-style, it was safe and comfortable and Marnie was willing to prostrate herself to get him back. It is doubtful he ever mentioned marriage over text message. It probably played out something like this:
Marnie and Charlie decide to make pizza, and while she’s hounding him about the ingredients over text, (Marnie 2:47 p.m. Babe! Do NOT forget the arugula. Marnie 2:48 p.m.: Did you get my message about the arugula??) he’s reminded of Audrey, his ex who was free-spirited, made her own mustard and never treated him like the help. (Okay, she kind of did, but that’s just the kind of dude Charlie was.)
Charlie never mentioned marriage that day, though he had probably mentioned it before, perhaps even fairly recently. Since he was kind of a wimp, Charlie probably did make some mention of their future together in order to have “the talk”–classic tech dude double-speak!– and then chickened out and said “I love you,” at the end of the phone call. Marnie’s reaction, which she carefully omitted from this story, was to harangue him with texts and voicemails for the next eight hours.
At some point, Charlie’s work friend (probably one of those pretty women who saw Marnie’s horrific karaoke performance of Kanye West’s “Stronger” at their office party), met up with Charlie and got sick of listening to him whine for the umpteenth time about his bitchy girlfriend. (Charlie was nothing if not passive-aggressively browbeaten.) This lady succeeded where Ray had always failed in his shit-talking of Marnie, and Charlie, bolstered by a fleeting set of balls, shows up drunk at his girlfriend’s to pick up his stuff and GTFO.
Marnie screams at Charlie and his “work friend” for two hours while he packs. He doesn’t engage. By the end, he’s so fed up with her attacks on his manhood that he blurts out that thing about never loving her. It was not the calm, calculated decision of a sociopath, the way Marnie described in her story, but the final, desperate act of a man who had finally reached his limits with such a shrill, judgmental woman. At least we know he won’t be texting her.
5. (I know you asked me this last week, but it bears re-asking:) What on earth is going on with Shoshanna Shapiro? Are we witnessing a very slow nervous breakdown? Is she just growing up and realizing that her sheltered life is no longer satisfying? And if so, what does it mean that many of the cruel comments she flings in this episode are things most viewers wish they could say to the characters themselves?
Shosh has been on this track for awhile, slowly waking up that her friends aren’t the glamorous Sex and the City characters she thought they were, Ray wasn’t the Mr. Big she wanted, and life doesn’t live up to the witty Manolo Blahnik-filled promise of Carrie Bradshaw and her merry cabal. (Sorry Shosh! At least your life is filled with HBO-level dialogue! Not all of us have that!)
In truth, these girls never made sense as Shosh’s inner circle, which in real life would be populated by other upwardly mobile NYU seniors as bubbly and ruthlessly efficient as herself. Her placement in this foursome was nepotistic. The fact that she so doesn’t want to be with these ladies anymore goes back to the first question: How realistic is it that these women would ever hang out anymore, when all they do is antagonize each other?
So no, Shoshanna isn’t having a nervous breakdown, but she’s not realizing that her formerly sheltered life isn’t satisfying, either. Instead, it’s a world into which she’d happily return. “You’re tortured by fear and self-doubt and it’s not pleasant to be around,” she lashed out at Hannah, and while that is totally a valid point, one wonders why a human Ritalin like Shosh would bother sticking around such depressing people in the first place.