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‘Girls’ Review: “On All Fours”

Girls, On All Fours
Jessica Miglio, HBO

Tonight’s episode of ‘Girls‘ finds its characters pushing themselves (and objects) uncomfortably far, even though they know better.

“On All Fours” is definitely the most uncomfortable episode of ‘Girls’ so far — and it’s not the funny uncomfortable, like Hannah getting coked out and having sex with her weird neighbor, or that time Adam and Ray went on a weird adventure to return a dog. Hell, even Jessa and Thomas John’s marital implosion was more comfortable than some of the stuff in tonight’s episode.

Hannah visits her publisher (a returning John Cameron Mitchell — can they make him return more often?), who isn’t pleased with the work she’s turned in. She isn’t writing in her own voice, which we can assume is due largely to the huge amount of pressure she’s under to perform, and that OCD problem hasn’t exactly disappeared. At some point, anxiety has to give way to release. An anxious person feels as though something horrible is about to happen, but they just don’t know what it is yet. Either something bad happens and they feel like they can finally breathe because it’s over, or nothing bad happens and the pressure keeps building in the boxes of their mind, where they’ve compartmentalized everything that’s worrying them. Eventually, that pressure runs out of room and a hole must be made — and I think Hannah pushing a Q-Tip too far into her ear canal is a great metaphor, not only for anxiety and its inevitable release, but for her obsessive compulsive disorder, as well.

Hannah is often willfully flawed for the pursuit of her writing, but that self-awareness and willfulness has given way to dangerous, zealous behavior. No longer is it about screwing up for the sake of a story because these patterned behaviors have become obsessive habit. If her current behaviors were really about having something to write, then the pages she turned in to her publisher would have been the sort of candid stuff he wanted, instead of the flowery BS about friendship she gave him. She’s usually so open and willing to over-share embarrassing anecdotes (all rehearsed in her mind because that’s what writers do), but as we discovered last week, her OCD is not something she likes to discuss or admit to having. It’s a problem that is too real and too shameful, and it lacks the provocative novelty of her other flaws.

Juxtaposed against Hannah’s loneliness this week are two parties in which our other characters are also pushing things too far, figuratively speaking. Marnie, Shoshanna, and Ray all drop in on Charlie’s company’s celebratory party, where Marnie decides it’s the perfect time to make her big singing debut, doing the sort of cover a girl like Marnie would do of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” It’s horrifically awkward (and she’s not that good of a singer), and made even more so when Charlie confronts her about it privately, trying to throw his pity at her. I’m growing weary of the Charlie and Marnie story because as a broken-up pair, they are far more compelling. Charlie is now more forceful, selfish, successful, confident, and kind of dick-ish — everything Marnie wanted him to be, but he’s only this way because she broke his heart. And Marnie is finally trying to figure her life out, and while faking it until you make it is a successful way of dealing with your own emotional baggage, I don’t buy her refusal of Charlie’s pity one bit, and neither does he because they end up having sex. Both of them know better than this — Marnie kept singing even though she knew it was uncomfortable for everyone involved, and Charlie pushes himself onto her even though he knows he shouldn’t.

Shoshanna finally (sort of) admits to Ray that she did something wrong, but she’ll only say she held the doorman’s hand, so she’s quickly forgiven — but that’s not what she wants. She’s too timid and guilt-ridden to break up with Ray, so she pushes them to stay together by not doing anything at all.

“On All Fours” refers to the humiliation of every character in ‘Girls’ this week, but it’s also a literal title: after his new girlfriend Nat takes him to her friend’s engagement party and he realizes he doesn’t fit in with her preppy crowd, Adam decides to break his sobriety and drink under the guise of making Nat feel more comfortable. But really it’s because he awkwardly ran into Hannah outside when he was contemplating ditching the party, and he chose the lesser of two awkward evils — he could open the Hannah wound that he’s been desperately nailing shut, or he could go back into the party with his straight-laced girlfriend and her post-sorority/post-frat crowd. Plus, there’s booze in that there party, so why not?

When the episode opens, we see that Nat is kind of demure (in a modern way), and a little high maintenance — she’s on the pill, but she doesn’t want him to ejaculate inside of her; she needs a lot of affection, but no light touching. Adam seems pleased with her direct, honest approach, but by the end of the party he knows he doesn’t belong with her, so he takes her home and gets dominant, instructing her to crawl to his bedroom on all fours before coldly taking her from behind and ejaculating on her chest. It’s a moment that’s born the second he meets her friends and is escalated by Nat complaining about his dirty, depressing apartment. Rather than break up with her, he pushes the boundaries of comfort by being as unsettling as he can be because he wants her to see him the way her friends see him — and really, deep down, that’s the way she was going to see him pretty soon anyway. Criticizing his apartment and encouraging him to drink was just the beginning, so rather than wait for Nat to eventually realize how little she likes these things about him, he skips the agony by pushing her out with an act of his own brand of kinky sexual aggression. And a girl like that, as indicated by her suggestion that she help him “organize” his place, was going to try and mold him into her ideal man.

The final shot we get is of Hannah, sitting in her bathroom with the bloody Q-Tip from before, uncomfortably shoving it in her undamaged ear. These people are young, they make mistakes, and they’ll make them over and over again even though they know better. Whether it’s Hannah’s OCD, or Adam’s need to push people away by testing them, or Marnie’s determination to impose her “path” on those around her — everyone has compulsive behaviors.

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