After three straight weeks of home runs, I really, really disliked the latest episode of "Girls."
Not that things have taken a dour 180. On the contrary, there's still plenty of hope nestled in the footnotes. It's a show with an impressive cast and characters with weight. I still cared about Marnie's happiness and Shoshanna's sexuality and even Charlie's bald head by the end. But the overwhelming excitement I got from the opening chapters fell quiet for this unimpressive half-hour, when broad commentary stood in for subtle discomfort.
As it goes, my favorite character in the first three episodes is suddenly my least favorite after a few brief scenes. Jessa started out as the adventurous, fleeting friend from afar, one unaccustomed to standards and labels. She brought a little levity to the table; in a group of girls too obsessed and tainted by the real world to break free, she was the one living on the edge. But this babysitting gig has saddled her down and made her semi-unbearable. Instead of a carefree sensibility, she's now just illustriously carefree in general. She loses her kids in the park when she starts talking to the other babysitters and seems wholly unapologetic for it. And when her bosses don't seem to mind her absentmindedness, we see how the freethinkers Jessa's surrounded by are the reason for her vicious selfish spiral. How will she ever learn to be an adult if she's left to the gallows like that? It's because of this that I find her increasingly unsatisfying to watch. What was once an interesting ticket into a willowy perspective is suddenly a nauseating gallivant into unattractive privilege.
I was also soured by Hannah's new boss and the reactions from the women in the office to his sexual advances. He's a touchy guy – butt-pats and back-rubs aren't uncommon when he enters a room – and everyone's pretty okay with it. When Hannah raises the question to her female co-workers, they admit that while it's kind of weird, they're fine as long as they're taken care of. They get free iPods and extra pay, and he's free to feel away. The way they, and in turn Hannah, shrug this off is not only irrational, but it's deeply disturbing. Are women these days so desperate for employment that they'll let themselves be harassed in the workplace? I'm not saying it's unheard of, but their blase approach to it was where things got weird. And when you dissect that scene in the bathroom, when Hannah shows her co-workers a picture her kind-of-boyfriend Adam sent her (of his penis covered in squirrel skin - a picture he apparently sent her by accident), you see once again just how untrue this whole thing feels: they're disgusted by his advances, and tell Hannah she's better than some guy who would play her like that. What?
My least favorite storyline was the one that revolved around the episode's namesake. Charlie, in a desperate attempt to reclaim Marnie's love, decides to build her a table that looks sort of like a Restoration Hardware piece she liked. He asks his friend Ray to help him out, which means things are about to get callous and obnoxious. Ray is the worst character on the show, one used to show just how gross men can be instead of providing any relevancy for any of the other characters (although that's probably the point). Ray decides to snoop around Marnie and Hannah's apartment, where he happens upon Hannah's diary. Later that night, as all the girls round up to watch Charlie and Ray perform a musical act at a club downtown, they're treated to an embarrassing spectacle: the duo sings along to a page of Hannah's diary, one she wrote about Marnie and Charlie's loveless relationship. Not only did the set-up feel far-fetched (Would two adults really steal a diary and read it out loud? That feels more like a scene from "My So-Called Life" than an HBO series about college graduates.), but Marnie's reaction was also strange. Instead of hating her boyfriend for stealing her friend's diary and inappropriately reading it to a room full of strangers like a 5-year-old, she pours her drink on Hannah and calls her a bitch. Cool friend, yo.
Weirdly enough, my favorite bit actually came from Shoshanna, a character that's quickly become my favorite just a few weeks after declaring her the most obnoxious element. Her cloying virginity felt like a gamble at first. The personification of virgins in media is usually way obtuse. They're either angelically chaste and gorgeously unattainable, or they're weird dorks with social disorders. Shoshanna fell firmly into the latter category until this week, when she runs into an old camp buddy in the street and two decide to hang out and watch a movie. The date quickly turns hot when her friend tells her she can touch his hard-on. They're just about to seal the deal on her bed (they get to third base, at the very least), when Shoshanna lets slip that she's a virgin. He stops his advances and lets her know he doesn't "do the virgin thing" because virgins get clingy. It's a sad – but gut-wrenchingly real – moment, and one that pushes Shoshanna from "weird virgin" to "sexually frustrated 20-something" in one fellow swoop.
I want to like the show's direction, but if it continues forcing the girls into tagline roles (Marnie: uptight girlfriend, Jessa: flighty jerk, Hannah: disillusioned wannabe writer, Shoshanna: weird virgin) instead of letting them exist as actual human beings, things are going to get old fast. There's proof in Shoshanna's story that the show might take unexpected turns here and there, and that's comforting. But after this episode, "Girls" is on my risk list.