A review of tonight's “Girls” coming up just as soon as I prove via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group…
When the Hannah's birthday episode aired last month, I noted that “Girls” tends to take on an extra level of energy whenever it does an episode where all four of the eponymous ladies are in the same physical space for an extended period of time. But in hindsight, that wasn't really an episode about the four of them. I don't believe Jessa had a line of dialogue, Shoshana was largely relegated to dealing with the wreckage of her breakup with Ray, and though Marnie got on Hannah's nerves by insisting they do the duet from “Rent,” the episode focused much more on Hannah and Adam and what the intrusion of Caroline meant to their relationship.
“Beach House,” on the other hand? Even with the intrusion of Elijah and his pals (including Pal himself, played by the suddenly ubiquitous Danny Strong), it's an episode all about the relationships between the four of them, how strained they are and how, despite all the marketing each year focusing on this quartet, they're rarely together and even more rarely getting along.
Hannah and Marnie had that brutal fight near the end of season 1, then briefly reconciled until the Elijah incident created more friction, and most of their interaction since has felt forced. Jessa ran away from Hannah, and has treated Shoshana too badly for too long (and Marnie never liked her). And Shoshana has been hanging out with Marnie and Hannah mainly because they're friends with Jessa, and has been more and more judgmental of them as the show's gone along. So they're friends who exist mostly apart from one another, and who don't get along so well when they do hang out.
Marnie is acutely aware of this, and has decided that the Long Island beach house will be the perfect place to force some communal healing in her usual control freak way. (She's happiest in the opening scene, where she she's setting up the house and looks like she's starring in a yogurt commercial.) But the world Hannah and Marnie live in is a chaotic one, as evidenced by the arrival of the guy who forced their most recent schism. Hannah invites Elijah and his friends to the house not only because she misses him in their usual dysfunctional, co-dependent way, but because she will do anything she can to avoid doing face masks, watching “Queens of Comedy” and otherwise engaging in Marnie's extremely rigid plan for liking each other again.
Hannah spends most of the episode in a tiny bikini, and while a part of me thinks it's Lena Dunham straight trolling everyone who complains about her body and how frequently she displays it on the series, it also works for the character and the episode. Not only does Hannah always have bad, unflattering style (check out the ensemble she wears getting off the bus from the city, including the world's worst hat), but she rarely thinks things through (and thus falls victim to the general store's No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service policy) and also puts all of herself out there, even though the world (in this case, Elijah with his “Spring Breakers” joke) keeps slapping her down for it. She wants to have a fun, uninhibited weekend, not the cathartic-yet-structured affair Marnie has in mind.
And yet the funny thing – and this is one of the season's funnier episodes – is that both of them get what they want. It is a wild, memorable weekend, with naked swimming and body shots and an honest-to-goodness musical number.(*) But it's also a weekend where, fueled by both alcohol and the sparks that Elijah and friends add to their already combustible mix, the Girls are very open and blunt about their problems with one another with drunken, bitter Shoshana (“What are we, in a fucking Jane Austen novel?) being perhaps the greatest thing that has ever happened to this show and/or Zosia Mamet.
(*) I'm told the choreography for the routine was modeled on “Everything Old Is New Again” from “All That Jazz.”
The episode could have very easily ended on that scene, or on the four of them angrily departing each other's company the next morning. Instead, it does something more interesting and lovely and real: it shows us the Girls not speaking to each other, but in a way that's more embarrassed than upset, as they silently work to clean up the kitchen the next morning (in a sequence very much evoking the final scene of “Big Night”). Some things were said that needed to be said, some things were said that shouldn't have been, and most of what was said will be buried again until the next time they're all in the same place for too long, with too much liquor to loosen their tongues. But everyone knows where they stand with one another now, and sometimes acknowledging the problem can help alleviate it. I don't expect the four of them to become constant, chipper companions again, but at the very least they were able to take quiet, sheepish pleasure in trying to recreate the previous night's dance number (without having to worry about getting the choreography exactly perfect… Marnie) while waiting for the bus to take them home.
“Girls” is always going to be Hannah's story first and foremost, and that story will keep her away from her friends a good deal of the time. But the show is also very sharp and observant and poignant in the way it deals with friendships and how they can wax and wane at this time of life, and it's a pleasure to get an episode like “Beach House” every now and then.
Some other thoughts:
* We get significantly more detail on the end of Marnie and Charlie's relationship, including the news that his start-up has gone bust. (Allow me to play the role of the old man for a second and suggest that maybe the staff should have spent less time making lip dub videos and more time working, dadgummit!)
* Elijah's reintroduced as a source of tension between Hannah and Marnie, but he's also treated much more sympathetically than he was when last we saw him. Pal is awful, and the scene where he forced Elijah to beat a very hasty retreat from his declaration of love was mortifying. It's a bit unsettling how Strong has made this transition from nebbishy teenagers (Jonathan on “Buffy,” Doyle on “Gilmore Girls”) to all these unapologetic adult heels.
* Also? Pal's duck impression sounds only marginally more like Donald Duck than it does like Daffy. Feh.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org