John Cameron Mitchell could perform Noh theater to Ke$ha on a loop and still be delightful to watch. He was great here doing his vamping about the East River having frozen over, and feeling so out of the loop that he didn’t even know what pistachios were. Even his “high/low” book division in which Toni Morrison writes about Target and Tom Wolfe muses on his colostomy bag felt strangely conceivable. But what in the world was that scene?I watched it three times in pursuit of rhyme or reason as to why Hannah suddenly has a book deal, because until she vomited up her pink cocktail, I presumed I was watching a fantasized dream sequence. I know of no reason as to why she suddenly has a mentor, let alone one who briskly says the words “You’re my new protege” OUT LOUD. Hannah Horvath went in one scene from being a dismally inept barista to a full-on literary darling. Or at least one of the thousands of people living in New York who’s told that they are one. And as Jason Diamond has taught us, we must respect the capacity of our baristas to enter the game. But damn that was one lazy unjustified zip-up of a scene. I say that of a scene in an episode which chose to personify Staten Island in a single resident: a teenage girl with missing teeth who called Ray a kike and a fag while wearing a hat with WEBSTER HALL emblazoned in enormous letters. Yet somewhere I feel like some hazy blue Star Wars ghost version of Julie Klausner is telling me to calm down and just go with it. And Mitchell yelling “More drinks: she’s writing an e-book!” at no one in particular is pretty funny.
Overnight success is never a good look, which is what this feels like given that we’ve never seen any of Hannah’s writing, or witnessed any dedication or investment of self into the process. Ray has an apt line here: “Usually when people say they want to be a writer, they really don’t want to do anything except, you know, eat and masturbate.” Hannah is becoming what people incorrectly label Dunham: a questionable talent for whom it all came too easy. Perhaps this is ultimately Dunham’s satirical response to that very false impression of her. But for now, like another cheap cutaway to Booth Jonathan’s butt, this sudden ease into Carrie Bradshaw’s world feels cheap and unwarranted. Like Johnny Cams, I don’t even know what’s happening anymore.
Elsewhere: Booth Jonathan is supposed to be infuriating, right? Or do other viewers fawn over his arrogance and admire his perpetually nude glutes? Are we to find him handsome, even begrudgingly so? His assistant quitting to go fulfill her destiny on Carly Rae Jepsen’s bus seems to suggest otherwise. And his monologue late in the show about hating his life and everyone in it was too predictable to be a “good guy” turn toward sympathy for the spoiled brat who got everything he wanted.
Then suddenly, the book deal and gallery goons cease to be big deals at all, because suddenly Ray and Adam are hanging out, which is intriguing even when they come off as primitive in their dudeness. That Ray reclaiming his copy of Little Women is their r’aison de chilling suggests a mutual desire in these boys to understand girls, equal parts appreciation and bewilderment. All of which somehow reminds me of the time my one friend told another that her VHS collection was “pretty heteronormative”. Still, the two of them together, returning Adam’s stolen dog to its owner on Staten Island, was delightful, and essentially an opportunity for Ray, in the company of two goofy hounds, to give a soliloquy about himself and his hilarious contempt for others. His was the kind of philosophizing often equated to Larry David or Woody Allen (warts and all, as when he mutters that he feels like Shoshanna’s father) and actor Alex Karpovsky nailed it. Adam Driver was also probably the best he’s ever been here, giving light and levity to saturnine Ray before freaking out at a miscommunication that suggests he’s in no way over Hannah. Best of all, their maiden-free voyage actually sounded like the speech of men alone together, which understandably has happened very little in the show to date.
Two very simple yet touching moments came at the end. First, Marnie’s restraint on the phone with Hannah, lying about where she is because she doesn’t want to give up the fantasy of cool: we see pride get in the way of a close friendship, and the fear of exposing one’s uncertainty to those who are supposed to be our most supportive allies. The second was Ray talking to this dog named Dog, who not coincidentally has calmed down considerably in his presence. His breakdown was surprising, as was how down he was on himself. Suddenly he was one of the poor bastards of SI whom he’d so easily dismissed, watching Manhattan from a distance. At this sunset he was, to paraphrase Annie Hall’s summation of Alvy Singer, an island onto himself.