Birthday episodes are a good opportunity to showcase the extremes of your characters’ emotionality. Internal stakes are always higher on birthdays. For the central figure, there’s the unwitting assignment of importance to the date — the hope and expectation that the night in question will carry some symbol of new beginnings, or that it might quell long held insecurities. For the surrounding parties, there too is heightened sensitivity, be it due to the observation of a friend ascending in contrast to one’s own stagnancy or maybe just a little too much booze. Whatever the reason, birthdays are a miserable catastrophe, both on television and in real life. And this week on Girls, we endure Hannah’s. The big 25, no less.
Let’s begin with our new character: Caroline
Despite the fact that the episode takes place on Hannah’s birthday, Lena Dunham’s character is really secondary to her supporting players this week. Hannah meets Adam’s manic older sister Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann) when she shows up at their apartment after being fired and dumped, much to Mr. Sackler’s chagrin — he warns Hannah that his sister is a toxic presence and is altogether evil, but Hannah insists on inviting the ostensibly vulnerable young woman to her birthday party and winds up allowing her hospice in their apartment (though not without recognizing, at least just a bit, that the girl is trouble).
Caroline exhibits her dangers by kissing Hannah’s father, provoking (and biting) a downtrodden Ray, instigating a great deal of frustration from her brother Adam, and to top it all off, crushing a drinking glass in her hand in a shocking, frightening scene of mental vacancy. Although she easily warms her way back into Hannah’s heart with a sweet smile and some soft words, Caroline showcases all of the darkness inside of her in her brief time onscreen. (Her episodes to come should only up the ante.)
And on we go to Marnie
Ugh, poor Marnie. Hannah also plays a reactive party to Marnie’s slow decline into hopelessness as we watch the desperate Miss Michaels insist upon a nostalgic duet of Rent’s “Take Me or Leave Me” (the very idea of this horrifies and humiliates Hannah, but Marnie insists). Funnily enough, it all seems like a grab at some long dissipated self-worth, but winds up being anything but. We open Marnie’s story this week in the midst of a phone call with YouTube; she begs them to recall an embarrassing music video — starring Marnie — that Charlie posted while they were dating, to no avail.
Continuing with the elements planted in last week’s episode, all we see in Marnie’s future is more despair, but something about this week’s episode makes her story a bit more interesting. Maybe it is because we aren’t used to seeing television shows (comedies, especially) avail such rawness and humanity in actresses who look like the beautiful Allison Williams. Network television has long kept them from falling to personal “ugliness,” for fear of turning off viewers to the ultimate power of object attraction. And here Girls is, handling in the game of making viewers nauseatingly uncomfortable whenever Marnie is onscreen.
As much as we might like shows like New Girl, it’s easy to find truth in arguments that they propagates infantilization of women (a nasty, really troubling practice). While Marnie is hardly a character of strength, she is a step toward the idea that female characters aren’t here to abet an audience’s craving for something adorable. She might be one of the least enjoyed characters on Girls, but there’s a good reason for that — her presence is not meant to be comforting, and that’s a good thing.
Good ol’ Ray, who we missed out on last week, gets his moment to shine as he laments the fears of becoming a boss (Colin Quinn doles out some sage wisdom) and sobs over the idea of Shoshanna moving on from him. The two encounter one another at Hannah’s birthday, with Ray running into his ex’s date, attempting awkward conversation with the young lady, and then getting into a fight with Hannah’s lunatic editor. We also get a good taste of Ray’s ideology when he delves into his didactic devotion to song queues. Although his professionalism is on the rise, Ray is a wreck after losing his first love — as a staunch intellectual, he has no idea how to handle this ribald emotional chaos within him, which makes his upcoming story arc a terrifically exciting one for anybody who loves the character (like I do).
Not much in the way of Shoshanna or Jessa this week, but we’ll be seeing more from each in episodes to come. Chime in with your thoughts below!