It’s difficult to return to Girls knowing that last week was probably a high point. I’m aware at the start of “Boys” that I will have to deal with the entire cast to make up for the spare group of actors that were in “One Man’s Trash.” But at least we begin this week with John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Itch, Shortbus) offering Hannah an e-book deal. Mitchell is the publisher of Hannah’s very favorite Pumped Mag, and is into the high/low division that you might find in Toni Morrison for Target or Tom Wolfe writing about his colostomy bag. Of course, this means that Hannah, as the unknown, is tasked with representing her entire generation. While being super-meta, considering Dunham’s recent $3.7 million deal with Random House, this is also a nearly impossible task to complete in under a month. Hannah seems confident until Mitchell walks away, and then she promptly barfs on her matronly clogs in front of a few unsuspecting diners. Welcome back to Girls.
Dealing with the entire ensemble this week means that we are operating under an overarching theme, which seems to be something about how we never end up in the places we’ve reached toward. If the first episode this season was about change and agency, then the sixth episode is about the ways that change can get out from under our thumbs. I guess this is a way of saying, “The best laid plans,” but I don’t want to resort to platitudes so early on in a television review.
So let’s just run through the high lights: Marnie is trapped in a fantasy world (nightmare, if you’re me) where she is Mrs. Booth Jonathan and they yell at assistants together and throw art parties for guys named Stryder. When Booth asks Marnie if she’ll host his party, she assumes the job is as Mrs. Booth Jonathan, so she promptly accepts. Since all of her clothes are too “basic,” Marnie shows up in a fairly avant garde gold cocktail shift under a transparent PVC jumper. It’s actually really cute, but as her and Booth are arguing about the fact that they are, in fact, not in a relationship, and Marnie tries to sneak gracefully out of the wine closet in tears, the PVC squeaks uncomfortably between her and the cabinets. It’s both a great sight gag and another reason to feel bad for Marnie, who entered the series with not a trouble in the world and now can’t seem to do anything right. PVC was a bad choice.
Meanwhile, Ray is off on a journey to reclaim his copy of Little Women from Adam after Hannah refuses to pick it up. He’s having a shitty day because Shoshanna tried to get him to go see Donald Trump speak about entrepreneurship, so going to see Adam is probably the best way to get over that trauma. I forgot that Adam and Ray were never friends, but was quickly reminded by Adam’s prickly greeting. The scenes between these two boys are pretty good, revolving around returning the bad dog Adam stole from someone outside a restaurant. They bond at first (over Normandy jokes), but when Ray says he doesn’t find Hannah attractive, Adam leaves him in Staten Island with the dog. Adam can insult Hannah (she’s a carnival game, “It all seems so simple, but you can’t get the ring on the bottle because it’s fucking rigged, so you try and try and try ‘till you drive yourself crazy until, finally, when you walk away, you realize you didn’t want the crappy prize anyway. That’s what Hannah is, a giant fucking Tweety doll I’d be stuck carrying around at the carnival all night.”), but when Ray says something mean, it’s totally out of bounds. We can complain about our siblings and our partners as much as we want, but when somebody else does it, it’s offensive. Ray just thought he’d have a normal day, a normal relationship, a normal life; but, here he is: he’s alone at 33 in Staten Island with a dog nobody wants (in a sock muzzle, no less) mourning his squandered potential.
So where is Hannah in all of this? Her e-book, “Room for Cream?”, isn’t moving along at the speedy pace she’d planned for; instead, she can’t even start the thing. Hannah picks a fight with Jessa (they are both depressed, but Jessa can stay as long as she’d like) and spends a few minutes feeling sorry for herself and her denim dress at Booth’s party. A guy tells her to talk to Sketch, because he’s writing an e-book, which is a book, right? The wise man in the overalls in the bathroom line is articulating one of Hannah’s fears about her new life, because she wanted to be a writer (Ray thinks that means just wanting to eat and masturbate in peace) and now she has a book deal, except it’s an e-book and she can’t help but feel that there’s a difference between publishing for the web and writing the material works she’s always dreamed of producing. That an e-book is incorporeal and somehow less-than keeps Hannah trapped in a circle of self-doubt, and when she calls Marnie during the closing scene and lies about how much she’s written, Marnie can only lie in return—the party was great, it was perfect, and now they are in the garden watching fireflies like any other happy ruling creative class couple. Their tentative goodbye, as Hannah sulks in her kid’s pajamas and Marnie tries to manage an unruly PVC frock, says a lot more than “Talk soon?” It says, “How in the world did we get here?”