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‘Girls’ Review: “It’s About Time”

Girls Season 2 Premiere Its About Time Clips
HBO

Girls‘ is back for season two with a premiere episode that tackles ideas of how power shifts between two people in any given relationship, or more accurately, how power becomes something nebulous that hangs over two people. Oh, and there’s some karaoke, too.

The opening scene of season one is repeated here in “It’s About Time,” as the show opens on Hannah and Elijah sharing the same bed, intimating that Elijah has — for the time being, at least — replaced Marnie. But the replacement feels superficial, like the living situation and the friendship between Hannah and Elijah. It’s all very surface-level and the pair act like teenagers planning parties and playing house. Yes, Marnie and Hannah had disagreements and called each other out on their nonsense, but their friendship was, and is, real, while Elijah and Hannah’s friendship is clearly one built on convenience and a need for something easy and hassle-free.

We’re treated to a peek at Elijah’s own relationship issues when his wealthy older boyfriend George comes by and gets a little too drunk and obnoxious — the fact that Elijah is with George for what George can provide and the convenience he affords is telling. And instead of kicking him out, Elijah sends Hannah to take care of it.

In the break between seasons one and two it appears that Hannah has become a more responsible adult — she’s held her job at the coffee shop, she is able (with the help of Elijah) to pay rent, she’s writing (or so she says), and she’s taking care of Adam and his broken leg. Well, she’s at least become Hannah’s approximation of responsible.

In a move that serves to respond to criticisms of the show’s first season and its lack of black characters, Hannah is now dating a black man, played by Donald Glover. The first episode does little to engage the obvious dialogue being created here, but I have seen the first three episodes, and Lena Dunham addresses this criticism and her inclusion of Donald Glover in meta fashion by episode three, and it’s something I can’t wait to discuss in a couple of weeks.

Marnie has the biggest shift of all of the characters, losing her job in this first episode and hooking up with Elijah when everyone’s left the party. We might as well change the title of this show to “What the F—, Marnie?!” But I think it’s smart to position Hannah as someone who has it together (in her own Hannah way), and place Marnie in a position where she’s jobless, lost, and needy. We also meet Marnie’s mother, who appears to be the sort of mom that goes through a divorce after living for years in repressed misery, only to emerge as the kind of mom that wants to be your friend and get on your level. Clearly Marnie’s mom is trying to live out the 20s she lost, but her superficiality and judgmental nature give us a better idea of why Marnie is the way she is.

After Elijah and Marnie’s failed hook-up, she tells him he doesn’t have to try to be something he’s not, to which he perfectly responds, “Neither do you.” I think we’re going to see Marnie experiment with being more of a spontaneous, loose cannon than the put-together straight girl we saw in season one. And this was sort of hinted at when she and Charlie broke up and she almost had the threesome with Jessa and Thomas John, but losing her job on top of a nasty break-up may push her over the edge, and I’m excited to see the way Lena Dunham and Allison Williams keep Marnie empathetic while also giving us a very flawed, messy human on a journey to figure her crap out.

There seems to have been some miscommunication between Shoshanna and Ray — at the end of last season Shosh made it very clear that she wasn’t interested in a boyfriend and she just wanted to lose her virginity, but we know her better than that, and even if Ray did what she asked by taking her virginity and backing off, it’s not what she truly wanted. This is resolved fairly quickly by the end of the episode, but I’m struck by the way Ray describes his attraction to her — when she’s not around, her behavior and attitude are easy to dismiss, but when Ray is around her he gets the full picture and remembers why he likes her so much; all the little annoying things she does are nothing in comparison to the reasons why she’s so great, and I think that’s, in a way, very sweet, but it’s also a very genuine assessment because real-life relationships are so often like that. It’s easier to be annoyed by someone’s flaws when you’re chatting via text, and you can summarily dismiss them and concern yourself with, well, yourself, but seeing and interacting with someone in person can be completely different.

At the beginning of this review I mentioned how power shifts between two people — Hannah has become more powerful in her relationship with Marnie because Hannah is now the one with a job and a boyfriend, the two things that Marnie considers hallmarks of having a life. And we see how Marnie believes Hannah has the upper-hand when she goes to her and asks if they’re okay, and tells her that she needs her friend now more than ever.

Shoshanna and Ray have a power balance that is more confused because both of them are entangled in a game, waiting to see who will break first. Elijah and Hannah’s relationship isn’t so much about power as it is comfort and reliability — things that have power all their own, making both of them powerless to co-dependency. Hannah is trying to maintain power in her new relationship by refusing to engage in the kinds of behaviors she did with Adam — no coming over in the middle of the night for some silly, made-up reason, no introducing her new boyfriend to her friends, etc. Hannah wants to take it slow and do things right, but that’s only an idea of wielding power, and when you start to think in terms of who has the power in a relationship, you are no longer in a relationship. By the end of tonight’s episode, I think Hannah gets that.

But she only gets that after she visits with Adam one last time. She’s been nursing him for weeks, hanging out in bed and watching television, bringing him a pot to piss in and picking up his groceries. The power shifted at the end of last season when Adam realized he was in love with her. It then became up to Hannah to make the next move, and she rejected his love, literally breaking him in the process. Her guilt over Adam’s accident has given him the power again because she will cater to his needs and stay up with him all night just to make it right by him, even though they aren’t together anymore. Adam says he’s not about labels, but implies that Hannah is trapped with him, thus creating this sort of nebulous idea of who has the power — Adam does, but only because Hannah allows him. He’s not being particularly nice to her and tells her, “When you love someone, you don’t have to be nice all the time.” This idea is true for everyone on the show, from Marnie’s insistence on brutal honesty with her friends to the point of near-cattiness, to Hannah’s need to find the courage within herself to leave a guy she probably does love in her own way, which means recognizing that this relationship, or whatever it is, is no good for either of them.

Last season Hannah’s diary contained a passage that said Marnie needed to break up with Charlie, saying it was better to end it quickly, cut off the limb and let the stump heal. It’s about time she took her own advice.

Like last year, I’m keeping a Spotify playlist of songs from this season in the order in which they appear on each episode. I’ll link to it every week, and if you notice something I missed, feel free to send me a note on Spotify.

The last track on tonight’s episode is Vampire Weekend covering Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” but it’s not available on Spotify. If/when that changes, I’ll add it immediately.

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