A Girl on Girls: What Other Way is There? (S2/E9 “On All Fours”)

“On All Fours” is a great way to jump back into what has been a largely impressive season of Girls, save for the last two episodes.  It is a return to more genuinely affective plot lines without resorting to gimmicky shock plots or heavy editing.  I think the only time I noticed a distinctive editing “trick” was when Charlie and Marnie were talking in his office and right before she leaves, the camera frames her point of view and then switches to his.  Unlike the unnecessary scene with Jessa and Hannah in the convertible in “Video Games,” this was a brief and lovely addition to what feels like a successful and crucial episode.

“On All Fours” is also a testament to how well Adam Driver is growing into the role of leading man.  We see his relationship with Natalia, who is proving to be both modern and quite proper, framed by two of their dates: one, where they see a Sandra Bullock film and return to her place to have sex, and the other, where they get drunk at a friend’s engagement party and go back to Adam’s for sex.  It is a nice contrast that shows us just how different these characters are: Natalia likes romantic comedies, smart day-to-night mini-dresses and clear communication (“Is there any other way?”), but not getting bossed around in the bedroom; Adam likes building boats, milk, and kinky sex.  It was hard seeing him break his sobriety (more on that later), but it was even harder to see his face after he realized that Natalia couldn’t bottom to his top. In a lot of ways, this episode was about people not speaking the same languages—Ray and Charlie, Hannah and her publisher David—and this felt like Adam asserting a kind of dominance that Natalia just didn’t understand.  He is brave enough to ask not for her love, but for her submission; instead, she’s left speechless when he asks if she’s going to dump him.  I think it is wonderful that Natalia is a woman who knows what she does and doesn’t like, and I’m glad we see that Adam likes that about her, but I am sad to see his self-esteem take such a big hit after he puts himself out there, really for the first time in their relationship.

I know there are viewers that will interpret this scenario a lot differently—Adam gets shaken up when he sees Hannah (even if she does look terrible), so he has a drink to calm his nerves.  His aggressive and distasteful actions toward Natalia back at his apartment are a result of his bad decision—to have a drink—and Natalia will finally figure out he’s been an ugly failure all along, which isn’t necessarily the truth, but is certainly one of Adam’s fears and general thoughts about himself.  I am also sure some reviews will touch on questions of consent.  This is a much darker reading of the situation, but I’d like to think that my initial impression of Adam this week awards him a little bit more agency while remaining more sympathetic to a guy who is still putting his life back together after a horrible breakup.  You could also say that his actions were deliberately meant to alienate Natalia, because he doesn’t really think he’s good enough, or that he can ever have a “normal” relationship.  I do think his drinking and the aggressive sex is because of Hannah, mostly because we had that scene last week where he says as much at AA, but there is a lot more to the Adam plot line then just a bad guy making bad decisions.

Adam isn’t the only one this week who takes a big risk.  Marnie begs Ray to help her record a cover of “Stronger” by Kanye West, which she performs at a party for Charlie’s startup.  Everyone looks mortified by her efforts, but then Charlie pulls her into his office and fucks her on his desk.  It’s one of the only conventionally “sexy” sex scenes of the show thus far, but despite the fact that these two are so broken, there is a palpable feeling of relief coming from Marnie throughout. I guess her risk pays off. I find myself pulling for reconciliation between them, not because I really love either character, but because I am totally over their circle of pining.  I don’t think it is really working, besides as a barometer of Marnie’s emotional well being, but now she’s going for a career as a singer, which can communicate distress just as well.

So let’s talk about Hannah.  I wasn’t happy with the OCD plotline last week, and I’m not warming to it this week either.  I get it—she’s falling apart, she’s under a lot of stress, she’s completely and utterly alone, but it doesn’t excuse what feels like a synthetic problem.  The Hannah we know is boisterous and pushy to a fault, not the type to mope alone for days on end.  I like that her OCD tics are easy ways to distance her from the “normal,” external world, and that they do communicate an acute and paralyzing despair, but I still can’t get comfortable with the sudden introduction of mental illness into the Girls’ world.  When the episode ends with “Life in Vain” by Daniel Johnston and he sighs, “I’m living a life in vain / Where am I going to?” I get the sense that this song is saying something the show could have said without spinning their wheels in TV-trope figure eights.

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