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‘Girls’ Review: “Boys”

Girls "Boys"
HBO

Hannah’s finally writing a book, while Marnie finds herself in a situation Hannah might be familiar with and Ray and Adam take off on a little adventure in this week’s ‘Girls.’

John Cameron Mitchell guest stars as a publisher who’s finally making Hannah’s dreams come true… sort of. He’s paying her to write an e-book, but she only has a month to do so. Like most of the people in this week’s episode — cheekily titled “Boys” — the publisher is such a frustrating person, but he also has honest moments, like referring to Hannah’s work (and by proxy, Hannah) as “naive and infuriating,” which are both accurate adjectives for just about every character at various points.

Hannah really wants to tell Marnie about her new book deal, but Marnie is busy fluttering around, pretending to be Booth Jonathan’s girlfriend. Like myself and many others guessed a couple of weeks back, Marnie is simply assuming she’s Booth’s girlfriend. He’s throwing a party and asks Marnie to host after he unceremoniously fires his assistant for taking a bite of his rosewater ice cream. Naively, Marnie believes she’ll be co-hosting the party with Booth, and so she sets about trying to find the perfect dress and bragging to Shoshanna about this fabulous event and how it’s this big deal in their relationship — and it is incredibly frustrating to watch. It all comes to a head later when Booth offers to pay Marnie $500 for her help, and she cries to him about how she really likes him, telling him that when she assumes someone is her boyfriend, they usually are. We’ve seen this sort of attitude of Marnie’s crumbling in slow motion over the course of the season — she’s a conventionally pretty girl who’s had a lot of things handed to her, and has never really had to struggle with her place in the world, or worry about whether or not a guy is her boyfriend because they’re always her boyfriends if she thinks they are.

Except Booth. He’s not her boyfriend and he’s more into the idea of turning her into his latest sex buddy/assistant — just another woman he can trap into this ideal box and keep around for pleasure without having to commit to her. It’s glorified prostitution. Booth isn’t the greatest guy, but as soon as Marnie lets slip that she’s loved his work for a long time and she thinks she was just in love with the idea of being with him, he loses it. We finally get front seat tickets to the Booth Jonathan emotional theater, and it’s very different than him standing in front of a projected image of himself crying at a Marina Abramovic display where he can tell his friends this fairytale about how he actually felt something. Everything Booth does is a carefully calculated and manufactured piece of art — he is a performance piece. But there’s some truth to how frustrated he is that once again, someone only wanted to be around him because he’s an artist they admire. He feels used, and underneath his exhausting, pretentious behavior is a real human being.

And doesn’t this all sound so familiar? Last season, Hannah had this idea of Adam she had created in her mind, and she was in love with this person. She never tried to really get to know him because she was approaching her interactions with him selfishly, always concerned about how he perceived her and making sure she could get what she wanted from him without pushing him away. She mythologized Adam and placed him on a pedestal above her, so that when he started to reveal himself to her, he became lesser in her eyes. As soon as Booth Jonathan cracks in front of Marnie and reveals that he doesn’t really like his sycophantic friends and feels lonely, she wipes her very exaggerated tears and walks out the door. She is the victim and this is her story; things happen to Marnie, but Marnie is never the perpetrator in her conflicts. What she doesn’t understand that she is an active participant in all of her relationships, platonic and otherwise.

Which brings us to the phone call at the end of the episode — Marnie and Hannah deliberately lie to each other, with Marnie saying she’s having this lovely time at Booth’s party looking at fireflies, while Hannah says she’s getting so much writing done (even though Marnie never gave Hannah a chance to tell her about the book deal). Both of them want so desperately to share their problems, but their pride gets in the way. Their friendship has become so nebulous and feels as though it’s on the edge of a precipice — just one sigh or eye roll could send it careening into oblivion, but it all it takes is one of them reaching out a hand to the other. They’re just too selfish and stuck in these comfy, self-constructed microcosms to care.

Of course I can’t spend the entire review writing about Hannah and Marnie when the episode is called “Boys.” Earlier I mentioned that everyone in this episode is frustrating with moments of disarming lucidity — Ray heads over to Adam’s to pick up a book he lent to Hannah, spurred on by Shoshanna, who tells him it’s his job as a man to go to the ex-boyfriend’s apartment. It’s almost a challenge, and one that Ray readily accepts, but when he gets there he finds an agitated Adam who’s stolen a dog and locked it in his bathroom. Once again, Ray feels challenged when Adam invites him along to Staten Island to return the dog because he may need some “muscle.” So Ray goes because it seems like the type of thing a real man would do. If you thought that Adam and Ray would get along swimmingly because they’re both similar in demeanor, you were wrong.

They get along for a while, but Ray is far more cynical than Adam could ever appear to be, and he misunderstands Adam when he explains Hannah as a carnival game — being with her seemed easy, but no matter how hard he tried, the whole thing was rigged, and he’s sort of glad it didn’t work out or he’d be stuck carrying around an obnoxious stuffed animal “prize” that he didn’t even really want. At no point does he say she’s a bad person or that their relationship was horrible, but he does indicate that they weren’t good for each other. Ray takes this opportunity to try and say that Hannah is difficult, and it’s then that Adam flips out and turns into the Adam we knew from the first few episodes of season one. It’s a completely jarring about-face. Over the course of the first season, the layers of Hannah’s point of view were pulled back so we could meet the real Adam and see that maybe he wasn’t so bad, and perhaps it was Hannah who was being unfair. But now we see this angry, confused Adam who lashes out and accuses Ray of having sex with Hannah, which is incredibly irrational and doesn’t even make sense.

But then Adam has this moment of honesty, when he tells Ray that Shoshanna is just a kid he feels safe with because he knows it won’t work out with her — they’re “just babies holding hands.” It’s an impeccable observation in the midst of what sounds like absurd, agitated babbling between the two of them. And he’s right. Ray feels safe with Shoshanna because, like his previous — and very short, he might add — relationships, it won’t work out. He doesn’t honestly believe in the relationship, just like he doesn’t believe in himself enough to try to do anything with his life. When Shosh kindly proffers a flyer for a business seminar, Ray scoffs at the idea, but she’s just trying to help. He can’t accept the help or the kindness under the guise that he believes her to be naive about the possibility that things don’t always go according to plan in your adult life, but the truth is that she can’t really help him because he won’t let her. He won’t tell her what he wants because he doesn’t even know, and he refuses to really examine these issues within himself because it’s too hard, and he feels as though it’s too late for him to do anything with his life.

At episode’s end we watch Ray sit with the stolen dog, turned away by its owners who called Ray a loser. Ray is that dog. He is lost, angry, and misunderstood — but unlike the dog, he’s only misunderstood because he refuses to open up to anyone. He has a choice.

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