Five Essay Prompts for <em>Girls</em> 2×10: ‘Together’

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Girls. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE,

Illustration by Alex Bedder
Illustration by Alex Bedder

These questions regard last night’s episode 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.

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1. When Googling “Normal Tongue,” what is your favorite hit? Please quote from the source text, and if there are images, definitely include them, because this is something I am actually wondering about now.

First off, can we talk about the other things that Hannah Googles? Why on earth would anyone who grew up using Google type questions that are complete sentences into the search box? Not a very efficient way of searching; this isn’t Ask Jeeves. Sure, Hannah has some weird technological weirdnesses, but this seemed way off. It was the first of many scenes in this episode that rang completely false in that “this is something that is happening because it looks good on television but is actually stupid” kind of way, which is particularly dispiriting for a show that is often touted for how it reflects real life. Despite its impressionistic quality, then, “Normal Tongue” actually makes much more sense than her other queries.

From the first page of hits (results may vary): “Training in Beckman Oral Motor Protocol.” Almost every other hit was about what a normal tongue color/size/coating is, which is likely what Hannah was searching for, but what self-respecting hypochondriac could resist the lure of “abnormal tongue patterns” like “Exaggerated tongue protrusion: The tongue shows extension (forward movement) beyond the border of the lips which is non-forceful. The movement is a rhythmical extension-retraction pattern. It is similar to a suckle pattern, but is mildly abnormal.”

2. There are a lot of symptoms that are co-morbid with OCD, though being self-centered isn’t one of them. This show did a great job tackling the frustration of people who find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of being manipulated by someone who might actually be ill, or might be playing up their illness to garner sympathy. If looked at on a spectrum (you tell me what kind), where do Laird, Hannah’s father, Marnie and Adam lie in their sympathy to Hannah’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies?

There seems to be an inverse relation between how much each character knows about what Hannah is going through and how much sympathy they have for her. It is not clear that Marnie has any idea how bad it is getting, but she appears in her doorway seemingly eager not to boast about her own newfound happiness but simply to pay it forward. Hannah’s dad, on the other hand, has heard her cry poor wolf too many times; now that she is actually suffering a mental breakdown that money could alleviate, he is having none of it. Hannah may not actually be manipulating him now, but being that she is a manipulative person, it almost doesn’t matter.

Yet again the massive gulf between Hannah’s self-image and her actual self makes itself known: she manipulates Laird without even thinking, and even when he calls her on it, she continues (successfully) to do so. And perhaps the rousing music cue in the final scene wants us to believe that Adam is being heroic, but isn’t Hannah just playing damsel in distress to a man who has clearly and repeatedly made his desire to be a hero known? “Accidentally” FaceTiming Adam and then openly displaying your tics is like waving catnip in front of a sabertooth tiger.

In the end, of course, this actually is about OCD, but in a very insidious way. OCD is all about control, and Hannah has lost hers. Her self-centeredness may not be an aspect of her illness, but her manipulation certainly is. She can’t accept Marnie’s help–she literally hides from it–because is was freely given, and thus not under her control: she didn’t expect Marnie to show up, because she hadn’t manipulated her into coming. But she can assume a position of surrender with both Laird and Adam, because they are acting out the roles she lays out for them. In the end, Adam is just an enabler to a very very sick person.

3. Second Louisa May Alcott reference this season. It’s finally time to ask: Are we watching Little Women or Little Men, and why?

I have to go with Little Men. Both novels are about how individuals find their identity, through work and through others, which is what I think this season is getting at with these references. But Little Women concentrates on family, while Little Men is about the families we build for ourselves. The best moment of this episode is Hannah’s phone message for Jessa, which really brings home just how important the social unit she has built for herself is to Hannah, even if she can’t find a way to admit it and does her best to drive everyone else away.

Louisa’s father Bronson was an advocate of teaching students to write from their own experience, and to learn about themselves through such literary self-analysis. And of course her close relationships with her friends from college is what Hannah’s book is about, we see in the one line she has written. The suggestion is that she is beginning to understand her writer’s block has everything to do with the disappearance of one best friend and near-estrangement from the other, which is certainly more compelling than procrastination and sloth, at least.

4. Let’s get back to last week: Marnie’s singing of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” It’s been called “literally the worst thing that’s ever happened on TV ever,” and the idea of that she was spiraling down this year was confirmed by Marnie herself in this week’s episode. But getting back together with Charlie (especially with that gross-cute little smile after he said that he had a lot of money) seems like backsliding. I liked where Marnie was going with that more free, less in control version of herself. If we return to Marnie Prime, is that really an improvement over putting herself out there and singing “You should be honored by my lateness/That I would even show up to this fake shit?”

The scene itself (until the gross and completely narratively unnecessary money comment) was touching, but it was all just so unearned. I mostly came away thinking, “Well, guess the writers decided that they had to stop brutalizing Marnie.” If her spiral this season was some kind of punishment for her thoughtless behavior last season, or even if it was just a way to have her learn something about herself, this resolution was more than just backsliding, it was a complete about-face. I didn’t like singing Marnie, I found her embarrassing and off-putting, but she was worlds better than smug Marnie.

On the other hand, as mentioned previously, Marnie doesn’t seem to be calling on Hannah to be annoyingly happy all up in Hannah’s face, which is certainly what she would have done last season. She seems legitimately concerned, and maybe even realizes that her own depression/desperation/self-exploration has left her friend somewhat high and dry. And if that is the case, maybe this won’t be so bad.

Either way, though, it seemed like another example of the writers wanting to have things fall out a certain way, without much regard to character development, pacing, or a great deal of what went before. Why would Charlie take her back, especially now that she is making yet another public scene of idiocy? “Because he loves her” simply isn’t a compelling reason at this late stage of the game. Also, dude is going to owe like hundreds of thousands of dollars via Avoid. Though I guess that just goes right back in his pocket, so whatever.

5. Several people in my apartment decided that this episode was disappointing, because it was “tied up too neatly, unnecessarily so.” The one saving grace, said one participant, is that you know that their happiness can’t last: they’re too fickle and self-centered to actually have a happy ending. “They don’t know who they are and what they don’t want, and even if what they wanted was happening to them, they wouldn’t even notice until it was too late.”

So my question is: Should Girls ever be viewed through the beer goggles of St. Paddy’s Day? Does this message ring true, and we just don’t want to see these characters happy (except for Ray and Shoshanna, who end the season by breaking up)? Do we feel that they don’t deserve happiness, and thus Marnie and Charlie and Adam and Hannah are only temporarily fixed? Have the scales fallen from our eyes regarding Girls, or is the show just subverting our expectations with a faux-happy ending?

Being a crotchety Jewish misanthrope who would rather perform oral surgery on himself than drink in public on St. Paddy’s day, I am stone-cold sober at the moment. And I agree that the ending was disappointing and too neat. For me, in terms of character development, this had everything to do with these resolutions (as I noted about Marnie above) being unearned. This show has always centered on its characters’ search for themselves, their creation of an identity for themselves, and these resolutions offer them too-easy ways out. Adam is running headfirst from a relationship that could almost be functional back into the arms of a completely screwed up one. Hannah is grasping at whatever straw she can find and pulling out all the stops to get him to take care of her. Why is this rousing music playing while he runs down the street in a fairly unnecessary fashion? There is nothing inspiring going on here, is there? And even Shosh and Ray’s breakup seems unearned: she clearly has no idea why she doesn’t want to date him anymore, so she makes up a cute speech instead.

It’s not that I don’t want these characters to be happy. Even though I don’t particularly like them as people, I still want them to be happy. But as television characters, I want their arcs to be satisfying. I want them to earn their happiness, not have it imposed on them ham-handedly by writers trying to negotiate the fact that it is the end of a season and things need to come to some kind of a conclusion. I didn’t appreciate the end of last season when it aired, but right now I’d be stoked if someone was just eating cake on a beach, instead of declaring their love over brunch or running sweatily through Greenpoint to kick down a door.

Five Essay Prompts for <em>Girls</em> 2×10: ‘Together’