Girls continues its march to syndication with two episodes that oppose each other in a myriad of interesting and confounding ways. Episodes 2 + 3 drastically shift from plot, tone, theme, and characters. The first half of Season 6 keeps one-through line: an ever-growing self-awareness. In particular, Hannah is able to reflect on her past-season selves with clarity.
Hannah has been a bad friend, wrapped up in her own drama and insecurity and cry-baby boyfriends. During a self-reflective surfing retreat, Hannah begins to see her flaws. She realizes she has a tendency to be narcissistic and closed-off. So, she lets a chill surf instructor woo her. She doesn’t over-think their attraction or their expiration date or what their connection means. After leaving the Hamptons, she takes small steps to become a better version of herself.
Hannah’s new-found self-acceptance and self-realization is refreshing. It’s good to watch a heroine who is dead-set on bettering herself and trying to practice grace through her friendships, especially when she’s spent five seasons as the protagonist we love-to-hate.
But, while the motivations of some of the girls are changing, it’s still GIRLS we’re watching. And, despite all of her growth and small changes, she’s still Hannah Horvath, eye-rolling and mismatching patterns and all. She’s still a bit annoying and bored with the goings-on of her friend-group. And that’s where we pick up with her in Episode 2. One of her first exercises to becoming a better Hannah Horvath: mending her relationship with Marnie. To do so, she agrees to accompany the pair to upstate New York.
“Hostage Situation” begins by Hannah taking a temporary (and literal) backseat to Marnie and her Desi vs. Ray drama. Marnie and Desi show up to Hannah’s walk-up like two kooks in a 60’s folk music video (their shared aesthetic). They dangle scarves and hands and sunglasses out of a restored oxblood convertible. Hannah appears begrudgingly as they roll into the scene to take her upstate. The trio all hope to re-charge and create together–unplugged–in the quiet, countryside darkness.
Where does this leave the other girls & guys?
Off-screen, getting played by his once girlfriend (still girlfriend?) Marnie. He doesn’t know she’s back with Desi. And he doesn’t know they’re canoodling in a convertible while Hannah watches on. I can only imagine the snarky yet heartbroken things he will say when Marnie returns to tell him of the trip and of her indiscretion.
On-screen, playing Shosh’s fake executive assistant in an ICONIC white turtle-neck, white double-breasted suit jacket combo. I asked for more Eliah and HBO delivers, even if they demote him to B-story plot in Hannah’s absence.
Shosh spends Episode 2 hoping to re-connect with her NYU, boss-ass bitch gal pals at a women-in-business mixer. Her two NYU besties have created a successful jeans company (Jamba Jeans.) Shosh is regretful of her time in college spent with Jessa, Marnie, and Hannah and hopes a networking event will get her back to her roots: spending time with passionate, rich people making passion-fueled, luxury jeans. The end up passing her up, telling her the way she ditched them hurt their feelings. Shosh leaves with Jessa and Elijah; looks like it will be harder to escape the pull of the girls (and their guy friends.) Sorry Shosh! (We still love you.)
Jessa longs to be one of the girls again and accompanies Shosh to the mixer, even though she was uninvited and is unwelcome (Elijah harbors bad feelings for Jessa since she got together with Adam.) Her sleek haircut, trendy, long trench coat, and celebratory spirit isn’t enough to get back into Shosh and Elijah’s good graces: she must prove she’s grown to get back into the group.
Shosh and Elijah argue that she still acts like a child and dating Hannah’s ex-boyfriend and not having the guts to talk with Hannah about it isn’t a mature step forward. She still has no job, no prospects, and no drive. Shosh and Elijah want Jessa to step up and make a good life for herself. Jessa probably thinks Adam is a good first step toward a full, well-rounded, adult life (they do make each other happy!) What will Jessa have to do to get move forward with her friends? Make an effort to be less selfish, make a decision to live life more authentically and with half the snark, and show everyone she and Adam make sense and there shouldn’t be any hard feelings about the coupling up.
Marnie has been a special type of Marnie-mess for seasons now. She rushes from relationship to relationship, never leaving enough time for reflection or healing. She cheats. Despite her small achievements in her career, Marnie has never felt fulfilled.
That’s where Episode 2 begins–in the center of one of Marnie’s messes. She’s not yet told Ray she’s back with ex-hubby, Desi. The pair are vacationing upstate together (+ Hannah) but when they arrive, they bicker at every corner.
The trio has barely unpacked their weekend bags before a huge, life-altering fight between Marnie and Desi breaks out. Desi breaks things. Hannah screams. Marnie sobs on the floor. Desi has revealed himself an addict and Marnie can’t understand why she didn’t notice before. She throws Desi’s pills on the floor and crushes them into oblivion, which sends him into a spiral of unraveling, furious withdrawal.
During his withdraw comes one of the most curious scenes from GIRLS’ 6 seasons. A loud, rushed, drum-heavy song plays while shots of Hannah and Marnie trying to escape Desi’s rage make up the scene. He punches through a glass window and they scream and run to another corner…only to be met with his red-rimmed, crazy-eyed face in the window.
It’s a quick, enjoyable way for the audience to recognize and view Desi’s detox and coming down. And it provides a sharp contrast to the quiet moment Hannah and Marnie spend talking about Marnie’s selfishness and how it’s hard to notice someone else’s glaring faults when you’re so wrapped up in your own drama. Marnie leans on Hannah while Hannah offers that they’ve both been selfish. It’s like a pact is made between the two girls–to be better to each other and themselves. They practice this vow of kindness over self-involvement by allowing Desi to sleep in the convertible as they drive back to the city.
Episode 3 breaks from that good-friendship, selflessness juju to provide a one-off episode with a morality clause and stunning, self-awareness. The episode involves two villains from different sides, a surprise ending, a flute performance, and a Rihanna song.
Before we dive into that Rihanna song, a little background: Hannah’s been doing work, and her job is sending her in many directions to dig up stories and provide commentary. One of her earlier articles surrounded the allegations of one of her favorite authors sexually assaulting college-aged women during his book tour. Some of his victims provided their stories via social media/personal blogs. Hannah unearthed these stories and gave them a bigger platform to speak truth to power. The author has invited her into his home to talk about said allegations and try to get her to see his side of things and how articles like hers have ruined his life (he can no longer sleep but still lives in multi-million dollar townhouse.)
Hannah walks in knowing her battle. She’s there to convince a famous, older author that having sex with younger, more naive women provides a power imbalance that almost forces the young women to submit willingly to the perpetrator.
The author invites her into his exquisite, unnerving home. (He hangs paintings of rooms in his own home hanging near the room it portrays.) Chuck explains to her that she, and the internet, should respect his privacy and prowess.
The episode is a back and forth between two unmovable parties. To each other, the other party is the villain. But, it’s clear to the audience that Chuck Palmer is in the wrong and he knows it. But, he’ll do anything in his power to make Hannah see her own faults, how her article impacts his life, and how she’s creating tension in the world by using her voice to write about rumors that don’t, in his idea of the long-run, matter to the literary or privileged world.
In thoughtful essay and review, Vulture explains the power dynamic and larger significance of the episode as it relates to Lena Dunham’s own life and struggles with assault and how she’s been both the Hannah Horvath character and the Chuck Palmer character throughout her gig as Girls writer, star, and creator. (Lena does not use her power to sexually assault those below her but she does use her platform to promote controversial topics that internet critics and writers often rebuff.)
By the end of the episode, Hannah is temporarily ensnared in Chuck Palmer’s trap. He offers her an autographed book. They drink tea together and he hears her side of the issue. He tells her he is worn-out and lonely. He makes himself vulnerable. He leads her into his bedroom. He lies down on the bed. He asks Hannah to lie down with him.
Hesitantly, she tip toes to the side of his bed and lies on her back. In a quiet moment, so slippery one could almost miss it if we weren’t paying attention to Hannah’s face, Chuck Palmer has unzipped his pants and presents his penis to Hannah Horvath. It’s a stark moment. One that takes Hannah by surprise. Here he is, the accused, using his station to trap Hannah in an illicit moment. The audience can see his snake-like grin extend from one side of his face to the other, hidden only by his duvet. The allegations of sexual assault are true but Hannah knows she can’t comment on them. And as she tries to leave the house, Chuck Palmer’s teenage daughter enters.
She plays the flute for her father and Hannah. After Hannah listens to the impromptu concert for a few minutes, enough to gather her things and thoughts, she takes her leave. The flute piece turns into a Rihanna anthem and, in a moment of surrealism, women stream into Chuck’s apartment while Hannah trods down the sidewalk. Hannah’s turned the other way, back toward the townhouse.