Review: ‘Girls’ – ‘Only Child’

A review of tonight’s “Girls” coming up just as soon as I’ve locked eyes with Michiko Kakutani…

This has been a very funny season of “Girls” so far, but in some ways it’s actually been darker than the more dramatic second season. Though Hannah and Adam are doing well as a couple, for the most part the four title characters are in some lousy places. Jessa got kicked out of rehab, and the universe is consistently calling her on her crap. Marnie got dumped by Charlie, is publicly humiliated because of her YouTube video, and walked away from her job at Ray’s coffee shop. Shoshana has thrown herself so utterly into sexual adventure that her grades are suffering. And Hannah has to deal with both the stress of having both Sackler siblings under her roof, and of David’s death apparently killing her ebook.

“Only Child” finds the women – well, mainly Marnie and Hannah(*) – trying to break bad behavioral patterns, but inevitably they wind up making the same mistakes as always.

(*) Jessa and Shoshana essentially cameo here, though Jessa’s plan to work in a children‘s clothing boutique doesn’t seem likely to fix the many things wrong with her life at this point.

That Marnie falls into bed with Ray on one level feels like one of those things veteran TV shows do when they have two unattached characters without an obvious storyline for either. But it also fits a Marnie Michaels pattern of only wanting men who aren’t interested in her. She goes to Ray for a blunt assessment of what’s wrong with her, and is of course defensive and offended when he gives her exactly that. But the fact that he’s a guy not sucking up to her about her beauty or her singing voice winds up being a turn-on. I don’t know how long this fling is going to last, but I can predict one thing: Marnie will lose all interest the moment Ray actually seems to like her.

Even with that amusing diversion, this is mainly an episode about Hannah, Adam and Caroline, and it’s a doozy. At David’s memorial, Hannah’s surprised to discover he had a wife(**), then makes the wildly inappropriate but professionally expedient move of asking her to recommend another publisher who might be willing to publish her memoir. It’s a mortifying, hide under the couch kind of scene, but it also feels like exactly the sort of thing Hannah would try to do, and it pays off when the new publisher loves her enough to want to publish it as a physical book – or, at least, it does until Hannah finds out that her contract with David’s company prohibits that. And note that in the phone call with her dad, she completely ignores his reference to having “a small procedure.” At times, it’s an incredibly tunnel-visioned Hannah Horvath kind of episode. We see in the meeting with the new publisher how she can be charming and sociable, but mainly when she’s in her element and pursuing a goal she cares about. Often in work settings, we’ve seen her get into trouble by talking too much; here, she makes that part of her own marketing hook, and the enthusiastic editor laps it up.

(**) Played by Jennifer Westfeldt, who’s carved out her own career as writer, director and star of a series of small stories about life in New York. (I reviewed her last film, “Friends With Kids.”) Westfeldt’s appearance also increases the odds of her longtime boyfriend Jon Hamm appearing on “Girls” down the road, whether as a cruel media titan who makes Hannah feel bad about herself, or as the Patrick Wilson type in a quasi-sequel to “One Man’s Trash.” 

And for a while, Hannah has success stepping outside her comfort zone, too, as she tries to play family therapist for Adam and Caroline.  It’s a fun extended sequence, and a rarity in showing Hannah’s capacity for both empathizing with and fixing the emotional problems of others. She’s able to broker a temporary peace between the tempestuous siblings, even as Adam is raging at Caroline and Caroline is claiming that Adam is repressing a sexual attraction for her. The problem is that, as the title reminds us, Hannah is an only child, and doesn’t fully appreciate how deep the bond between Adam and Caroline goes, even as they complain constantly about each other. When Hannah comes home brooding over the lousy news about her book, Caroline tries to empathize, but Hannah’s need to be the most special only child there is – to not be able to see how anyone else’s misery could possibly compare to her own – turns the conversation hostile, until eventually Caroline is attacking Hannah and Hannah is kicking her out of the apartment.

After the relative lightness of the earlier counseling scenes, it’s a very downbeat ending – especially when we see just how unhappy Adam is to learn about what happened, despite his usual agitation with Caroline – but one that feels very apropos to the episode, and to the series.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at