In the year 2525, when they’re still running “TV’s 33 and ½ Craziest Moments, Part 2” on VH1 Jupiter, will the conclusion of last night’s Girls rank as The Ejaculation Heard Round the World? The Semen That Changed It All? Or will the legacy of this historic puddle end with a whimper, as Adam himself seemed to last night, faced with a partner who will either challenge his conventions or bore him to death?
The burgeoning relationship between Natalia and Adam seems dead on arrival after a very promising start last week. Nat’s candor in the bedroom at the start of “On All Fours” is in stark contrast to where the pair ends up by episode’s end. Both of them in their own ways tried to be forthright about what they like in bed: the complication is that she seems to enjoy an open line of dialogue predicated on love and mutual respect, while Adam can handle only the fun house mirror end of such personal bravery: he can talk dirty, but he can’t talk redecorating. His treatment of her was unsettling primarily because unlike the way it is in the glossy couples porn that the cold opening of “On All Fours” evoked, the girl didn’t seem to be enjoying herself.
In Nat, I was reminded of Megan Draper not letting Don get away with the same old alpha male gimmickry every time, right down to a nearly shot-for-shot similarity to a scene from Mad Men‘s fifth season in which Megan is cleaning their carpet in her underwear post-party. Megan’s mind games were more fun and empowered than what we see of Nat: she denies Don the easy escape into doggy-style abandonment of one’s anxieties, thereby turning him on all the more. In that spirit, there was infinitely more joy in seeing Hannah indulge domme habits last season than in the feeling-out process we’re seeing between Nat and Adam.
It’s painful to watch because we’ve been conditioned to want the best for this hound of a man, and this scene articulated with discomfort how what he wants is complex and often conflicted. Adam is at least tied with Hannah as the show’s most interesting and nuanced character, largely because he manages to be such an engaging presence even when hopelessly in his own way. Seeing Natalia bored by having to go through the motions of submission – complete with her understandably perturbed sigh at Adam’s premature and uninspired geyser – was rough enough, but have more squeamish words yet been uttered in Girls‘ second season than Nat’s dejected, disgusted pleading, “Not on my dress”?
For what we did see of Lena, I actually think she’s doing a fantastic job of portraying a very sudden and drastic shift in well-being. While I continue to loathe the simple caricature of a superficial editor that they’ve written for the incredibly nuanced and expressive John Cameron Mitchell, the tweaking and desperate, grubby movements that Hannah exhibited throughout her eBook pow-wow were a sight to behold. The episode’s final shot was one of those attempts to reach out and hammer home a season-long theme: the icky pain of making the same mistakes again and again: an inability to change that which is doing us wrong. It was laid on a bit thick, but Dunham is facially such a visual marvel that I could watch her poke her own eardrum out all day. And three cheers for her incredibly sharp, quick-witted, fantastically portrayed ER physician. Where’s that guy’s 10pm NBC dramedy?
The entire episode shared this pitch black tone: virtually every character’s actions were laced in dishonesty (Shoshanna), compulsion (Marnie), a frosty need for control (Charlie), and self-inflicted wounds (Hannah). After several Dunham-intensive episodes this season, I appreciated seeing her take a comparative backseat to Adam and Marnie’s spiraling descents. But while Adam seems to be floundering in the prospect of “straight no chaser” intimacy without The Mary Gaitskill Silver Linings Playbook to keep him warm at night, Marnie’s journey to freakdom comes in returning to the known unknown: Charlie, her ex-wimp of an ex-boyfriend – now a smart phone shilling power broker, and convert to the alpha life. Her willingness to hook up with him again, after shirking his attempts to reconcile many times before, came in the wake of being rejected and ignored by him. It’s only after he blows off their lunch date with and cites his busy schedule for an excuse that she is truly turned on by him for the first time in ages.
In her hijacking of a live mic to perform her slow jams take on Kanye West’s “Stronger” – a brazen, tactless approach in keeping with Kanye’s own history of inappropriate PA thievery – Marnie hit a kind of deluded rock bottom that is among the most uncomfortable things I’ve seen in two seasons of this show. Yet her rendition of “Stronger” was actually pretty entertaining and strangely triumphant in a vulnerable sort of way, the modified phrasing “you can be my white Kate Moss” notwithstanding. You have to be pretty cool to gracefully look that lame. In this roomful of ambivalent Web 2.0 jackals, Marnie – like the real Kanye – is an unexpectedly profound refraction of our collective narcissism.