Review: ‘Girls’ – ‘Leave Me Alone’

A review of tonight’s “Girls” coming up just as soon as I work at a consumptive women’s hospital…

“I’m done.” -Marnie

Okay, I have two complaints about “Leave Me Alone,” one from the episode’s beginning, and one from its end, so let’s get those out of the way so we can get to all the good stuff.

First, I really didn’t like the majority of the book release party scene, where Hannah’s jealousy of the Jenny Slate character was ratcheted up a few degrees too high. Both her complaints about Slate being lucky enough to have a self-destructive boyfriend who died on her to provide material, and the two women’s passive-aggressive banter felt not far removed from how that kind of scene would play out in a traditional multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track. And in that context, I might have enjoyed some of those jokes; in this one, it felt tonally off.

Second, the Marnie/Hannah exchange in the final scene about whether Hannah has any friends left from preschool sounded way too clever for its own good – a joke that Lena Dunham or someone else liked too much to cut out, even though it doesn’t sound remotely like what Marnie would say in that moment, and becomes a distraction from the emotions of the scene.

Everything else, though? Terrific.

It’s the penultimate episode of the season, and after moving about aimlessly and/or making the same mistakes over and over, all four girls decide – or in some instances are told – that it’s time to make some changes. Shoshanna moves more aggressively into online dating. It’s fairly brief, as Shoshanna stories tend to be (she was originally not going to be a regular character until Dunham and Jenni Konner fell in love with Zosia Mamet’s performance), but made me laugh very much at Shoshanna explaining that her next date is with a guy in product development, “Which is perfect for me, because I love products!” (Shoshanna has always been pitched on a more sitcom level than the other three, so she can more easily get away with that kind of joke.)

Jessa gets an unexpected visit from Kathryn, which doesn’t go at all the way either I or Jess was expecting. This isn’t Kathryn showing up to yell at Jessa for tempting her loser husband, or even genuinely trying to rehire her (possibly in concert with kicking Jeff to the curb), but rather her maternal instincts getting pinged by the wild child who briefly took care of her daughters. Jessa’s the free spirit of the group, and from what we’ve seen, she seems to enjoy her antics more than Kathryn thinks she does, but Kathryn’s line about how she causes all this trouble without understanding why she’s doing it very much hit home, especially after her line in the warehouse episode about how she needs to stop creating so much drama. That moment when a young person realizes they have to stop screwing around and start “becoming the person you’re meant to be,” as Kathryn puts it, isn’t dramatized all that often – or if it is, it’s usually about manchildren who learn to grow up. (And often in films from “Girls” producer Judd Apatow.)

Hannah finally gets another paying job, even if it’s just pulling a few shifts with Ray at the coffee shop, and tries to impress her old writing teacher Powell(*) by participating in one of his readings, even though she doesn’t think of it as as a “me thing to do.” (And note that when he presses her on what a Hannah thing is, we immediately cut to Hannah and Adam inadvertently recreating the famous John and Yoko cover of Rolling Stone, only with both of them naked.) That Hannah screws things up by writing a new story on the subway over could be blamed on Ray’s advice, but Hannah has such a tendency to self-destruct that if it hadn’t been him steering her wrong, it would have been someone else. Hannah pausing for a reaction from the audience that never came is among the more mortifying, funny moments the show has done so far, and her disaster in turn led to the episode’s brutal climax.

(*) Played by key HBO family member Michael Imperioli, who both acts and writes.

Though we were introduced to Hannah and Marnie as the best of friends, and though the moment that seemed to seal the deal with “Girls” for most critics was the two of them joyously dancing to Robyn at the end of episode 3, it’s been a while since we’ve seen them enjoying each other’s company in that way. First, there was the ugliness over the role Hannah’s diary played in the breakup with Charlie, and then Hannah got sucked into this new relationship with Adam (against Marnie’s advice) at the exact moment Marnie was going into a post-breakup spiral.

This show has dealt a lot with Hannah and Marnie’s love life, and a little with their professional ambitions, but among the things it’s been savviest about is how it’s depicted this friendship, which dates back years now, and which has established certain patterns and assumptions over the years – even if the assumptions aren’t the same on both sides. So when they finally go to emotional blows, it’s as much about the argument Marnie had with Elijah in the warehouse party episode – each of them is convinced that the other is the selfish one, that they do nothing but talk about the other’s problems, that they are the reasonable one who’s been emotionally carrying the other for years – as it is the specific complaints in the moment about Tally, Marnie’s clothes (including the cutting remark about whether the dress would fit Hannah), Marnie paying all the bills, Adam, Charlie, etc. Neither wants to accept the possibility that the other is right and that they’ve been looking at this friendship through a crooked lens all these years. Hannah can’t be the wound, because Marnie has to be the wound, and vice versa. (Also, “wound” said that many times in such a compressed period? Funny.) They’re fighting about 17 things at once, but all of them amount to the same thing: a desire to have the moral high ground, to feel like the injured party, the misunderstood one in the friendship, the one too often taken advantage of by the other.

It feels not quite like any argument I’ve seen on television before – especially not between two female characters. It’s almost like they wrote it to get a Bechdel Test lifetime pass, but it also very much plays into where these two have been and where they’ve gone over these nine episodes.

We began the series with them as the best of friends, the closest of roommates, even though Hannah couldn’t pay the rent, even though Hannah was sick of Marnie’s whining about Charlie and Marnie was sick of Jessa’s recurring presence in their life. We go into the finale with them barely on speaking terms, and Marnie announcing a plan to move out of that apartment.

Not really an improvement for anyone, but fertile ground to cover in the finale.

Some other thoughts:

* Because “Veep” (which made fewer episodes) wrapped up its season tonight, next week’s “Girls” season finale airs at 10 p.m. (but will be immediately rerun at 10:30 for those who don’t know that and don’t have a DVR season pass). I’ll have both a finale review and another Dunham/Konner interview to bookend the one from press tour.

* One early tidbit from the interview as relates to the fight scene here: Dunham wanted it filmed in chronological order so that she and Allison Williams wouldn’t have to constantly cycle back and forth between different emotional states. So even though it’s more efficient to, say, film all the living room scenes at the same time, they did it this way.

* This episode isn’t nearly as much about the Hannah/Adam relationship as last week’s, so he mostly gets to be in the background and be both awesome and hilarious. (“Don’t come in for, like, ten minutes” or Hannah sitting on his back at the exact wrong moment). I wouldn’t say this is a case of the show fixing a broken character, as I found Adam interesting back when I assumed he was just a creep, but it’s still remarkable how much of a transformation that character has been through.

* I had to go back and clock it, but Ray says “slim leg” four times in less than 8 seconds. Not quite all the uses of “wound” in the fight scene, but not too shabby.

What did everybody else think?