Critics of Girls’ second season often name a series of unrealistic happenings as fuel for the Lena Dunham-facing fire. Marnie wouldn’t be with a psychotic, self-important artist who locked her in a closet of violent moving images, older crankster Ray would never actually date a manic young girl like Shoshanna, and Hannah certainly wouldn’t have a book deal (E or otherwise) without some sort of actual writing as a foundation for her sudden discovery (the girl doesn’t even have a blog, to our knowledge). “On All Fours” felt like a direct response to those critics, as literally every major character and their emotionally relevant partners come crashing down as a result of their own personal catastrophes. And despite the unrealistic sensation that comes with the farcical notion that all of these friends would be imploding simultaneously, the varying degrees of downward spiral are draped with such honesty that it’s hard not to find the realism in each isolated incident.
First, comes the dance between Hannah’s solitary journey and Adam’s with his new girlfriend Natalia. At the beginning of the episode, Natalia’s every word is clearly laid out as a means of drawing lines between her and Hannah. Natalia has Adam come to her at her impeccable (presumably Manhattan) apartment. She’s direct; she tells him that she’s ready to have sex and just how (not) kinky she’s willing to get. She won’t put cream in her coffee because she’s watching her petite figure. And most importantly, after just a week, she’s already bringing him to her friend’s engagement party and calling him her boyfriend.
This all comes in stark contrast to Hannah who let him control their sexual encounters in his cavelike apartment, who doesn’t meticulously cater her diet to maintaining a tight body, and who was closed off to a real relationship with him even after he gave her the girlfriend title she so craved in Season 1. Natalia is the anti-Hannah. But it’s clear, even early on, that everything Adam decides is wonderful about Natalia is still deemed wonderful through the Hannah filter he’s built up after she broke his heart.
It’s a filter that’s thrown out of whack when Hannah stumbles, without pants or bra, back into his life while he’s escaping the sheer boredom of Natalia’s shallow friends at the engagement party. Hannah, whose anxiety and OCD have continued to escalate thanks to her editor calling her stories of friendship “like Jane Austen.” She needs to up her game, perhaps by writing about deflowering Jessa’s (hopefully) 18-year-old step brother on her trip upstate, but it’s simply making matters worse. When she scrapes her behind on her crappy Greenpoint apartment floor and gets something lodged in her buttock, it starts a fit of extreme cleanliness that many an anxiety-ridden twenty-something can understand. She furiously cleans her rear-wound before moving onto her ears with Q tips, or the reason ear-candles (as weird as they may be) are a sound investment. Her anxiety overwhelms her and the need to get her ears as clean as they can possibly boils over until (even writing about this scene is making my stomach turn like I’m stuck on a skiff in stormy ocean waters) she ruptures her eardrum with the Q tip.
Cut to Hannah rolling around in pain on the floor, calling her parents, who clearly can’t come to her aid from Michigan. When her parents ask where her friends are, the replica of that twentysomething sensation of the downside of independence is overwhelming. Hannah has friends, but between her anxiety and her tension with Marnie, plus the work on her book, she’s in one of those frequent moments of unrelenting solitude. It’s one of those moments where you are unintentionally alone for a somewhat prolonged period of time. It’s something that happens to every young person, especially when life is at its most impossible, like adulthood’s way of forcing us to acknowledge our independence and learn to deal with these trials with our own personal strength.
But as Hannah writhes, and later as she cries while the urgent care doctor inspects her bleeding ear, she’s fully experiencing the weight of that loneliness. And this comes just weeks after her confession to Patrick Wilson’s Brooklyn prince. She just wants to be loved and cared for, and right now, lying in the emergency room with a doctor she doesn’t know staring into her ear canal with a sterilized instrument and no one’s hand to hold, the loneliness is all-consuming. The feeling, for Hannah, is exacerbated by her own anxieties and personal failures from earlier that day, but it’s a feeling that’s universal. And like most truly gut-wrenching moments on Girls, a feeling that most people dare not articulate.
It’s this loneliness that pervades her encounter with Adam as he’s standing outside Natalia’s friend’s engagement party. Hannah, in her unbearably solitary state is thrilled to see the man whose phone call triggered her anxiety just last week. She longs for that personal connection, at any costs. But when he tells her triumphantly that he’s got a girlfriend, Hannah’s thrown back until Adam once again uses his pet name for her (“Kid”) when the bloody Q tip riles up his concern for her. He catches her leaning into his concern and immediately shuts it down, returning quickly through the bar’s swinging door before she can even get out her sentence about how she’s got a book deal.
Hannah returns home, still without pants, to stare at her instrument of torture in the bathroom. And then, as some way of feeling something, anything, she shoves the other end of the bloody Q tip into her ear. The scene ends before we know just how far that Q tip went, but even the sheer act of sticking it her ear even part of the way is a method of her reliving this day, which made her feel extreme pain and a day that, on some level, reconnected her to Adam.
It’s a connection that he attempts to escape by leaving Hannah on the street, but he walks straight up to the bar and orders a Jack and ginger, the first drink he’s had since he got sober at 17. (Keep in mind, he met Natalia’s meddling mother at an AA meeting.) Natalia, who doesn’t know the depth of issues, sees it as a trivial step and encourages his drinking and the two wind up smashed and writhing together on the dance floor before he takes her home to his Prospect Heights den. She’s taken aback, telling him his apartment is darker than he is, which is the last kind thing she’ll ever want to say to him, as well as a signal to the viewers that there’s no way she really knows Adam and no way she ever will.
And despite the graphic, borderline-non-consensual sexual encounter that follows, it feels as if the writers want us to see this as some sort of nod to Adam and Hannah as the more logical relationship. Aside from the look of sheer shame on Natalia’s face when Adam rolls away and a pool of his ejaculate can be seen on her chest, the encounter is not unlike the first few encounters between Hannah and Adam. Only now, he’s got the wrong partner. And he knows it, ending the three uncomfortable minutes by saying, “So that’s it. Are you done with me?” knowing full well that everything he did would drive her away. A simple “Hi there” on the street from Hannah unravels him to the core, and on some level it feels like we’re supposed to hope these two return to each other, though not in the same sense that any “ship-able” television relationship has ever played out.
With Hannah and Adam, I’m fearful of using terms like “right” or even “compatible,” because they imply bliss and good times – the sort of relationship that involves lazy Saturday brunches and strolling down city streets hand-in-hand in the afternoon sunshine. That’s not what Hannah and Adam have or could ever have, but what they do have is something far more true and real to their characters, as uncomfortable as it may be. And Adam’s sudden spiral is a clear expression of that.
In Marnie-land, which is what I’m going to use to refer to Marnie’s delusional state, she’s making headway as a “real musician.” She’s even got a “track” for Ray to help her “lay down” on her Mac. Unfortunately for her, Ray is too consumed with Shoshanna’s distant nature (more on that in a minute) to give her any valuable feedback; something like “you sound like Karen Carpenter was robbed of all her charisma” or “you can’t do an acoustic version of Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’ without incurring monumental embarrassment” would have sufficed, but his disinterested brand of help leaves Marnie with the delusional self-confidence that has plagued her all season. It’s what allows her to be okay with her sexy cocktail waitress job. It’s what allowed her to put up with Booth Jonathan’s degrading sexual tastes as long as she got to be his “girlfriend,” an unattainable title she placed all her hopes and dreams upon even pitting that success against Hannah’s book deal just a few episodes ago. Now, the delusion has reached balloon status, blowing up out of control after learning of Charlie’s sudden start-up success.
After Charlie blows her off for lunch, he invites her to his company’s celebration of reaching a user milestone and Marnie’s self-important enough to think that she can sing an acoustic version of “Stronger” and that it will somehow be received as an artistic revelation, as if there aren’t 25 teenagers doing the same thing on YouTube at this very moment. She’s also got her head so far wrapped up in Marnie-land that she can’t see that doing this at Charlie’s party isn’t a “treat,” as she calls it, but a giant embarrassment for her and for Charlie. Still, it gives her exactly what she wants and exactly what Charlie, whose empire is built on an app he made so he’d stop calling her, exactly the opposite of what he needs to do move on with his life. He pulls her aside after her shameful, white bread display and tells her she’s spiraling. Her confidence that it sometimes “feels bad to be good” and that it’s just her “journey” are only further indications of how lost she is, and this vulnerability gives Charlie a sense of power over her. It’s something he’s never had with her, and its drug-like presence draws him in. Marnie gets the attention she so desperately craves and Charlie finally has the satisfaction of being the one with the power, but like Adam and Hannah, neither one has made fruitful decisions.
Finally, we have Ray and Shoshanna, who’s still reeling with guilt over making out with the hot door man at her friend’s party. After she avoids Ray all night and drives him wild with jealousy, Ray finally confronts her and asks what her deal is. She cutely responds that she “held hands” with a door man, which is an explanation that only Shoshanna could get away with – and only with a man 10 years older than her who doesn’t understand the boundaries of her naivety. He finds it endearing, and Shoshanna feels like she’s off the hook momentarily, but the look of sheer terror on her face as he tells her he loves her “so much” is the kiss of death. She’s seen that the grass can be greener, or at least a different shade of green, on the other side and she’s curious about what other kinds of grass are out there. Where Ray, in his 30s, has had time to look for and find the woman he’s meant to be with, Shosh just got started. She’s sensing this and while she may also be fearful that Ray may find out the whole truth about her security closet playtime, I’d wager she’s more terrified that she’s stuck in a relationship with an adult before she’s had time to explore and develop for herself.
And despite the easy nature of the Shoshanna and Ray story line compared to the sheer horror of Adam’s and Hannah’s stories, the common thread here is that of making mistakes. Hannah made the mistake of feeding into her anxiety. Adam made the huge mistake of falling off the wagon. Marnie made so many mistakes I’m not even sure where to begin. And Shosh made a mistake when she tied herself so resolutely to a serious relationship before she understood what else was out there. Of course the question now is, will all these mistakes beget bigger ones? If Girls continues its relentless penchant for capturing the reality of submerged emotions and interpersonal relationships, then the answer is a resounding “yes.”
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[Photo Credit: HBO]