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‘Girls’ Review: “Only Child”

Girls Only Child
HBO

Girls‘ airs a night early this week thanks to the Super Bowl, but we’re not complaining. In “Only Child,” Hannah attends the funeral of David Pressler-Goings, leading to some potentially exciting professional news that quickly takes a sharp turn for the worse. With Hannah intensely narrowing her focus on herself and Adam and Caroline’s fighting reaching a climax, it’s not long before things start to implode. Meanwhile, Jessa contemplates a new job and Marnie adopts a kitten!

‘Girls’ really takes cringe-comedy to another level — it’s not even comedy, really; it’s more like cringe-dramedy. Or even some sort of experimental human mortification play in which the audience is consistently pushed to its limits: how long can you watch these people embarrass themselves before you beg them to stop? If there were some sort of interactive element and we could keep Hannah from asking David’s widow (yes, widow — played beautifully by Jennifer Westfeldt) for publishing contacts at his funeral, would we? And by not pressing that button, would we become participants in her continued foibles? I think that’s where we can start to ask ourselves how much we empathize with Hannah Horvath (or any of these characters), who is understandably equating the death of her editor with the death of her book, which was as meaningful to her and close to her heart as David was to his own wife. Is a funeral the time or place to ask for a publishing contact? No, and it’s absolutely agonizing to watch Hannah — whose eyes have been lighting up at the sight of the famous writers in attendance — ask for such a thing from a grieving widow, but it’s not wholly unexpected, either.

The truth is that there would probably never be a “good time” to ask for that contact information (especially given what she feels is limited time, at her age and with her current coffee shop wages), and even Hannah resigns herself to how low she’s sunk in that moment, agreeing to “get the f— out” once she gets what she’s asked for. But Hannah’s troubles only start there.

The good news: another publisher wants to turn her stories into a book — a real, tangible book and not some stupid e-book. The bad news: Millstreet owns the rights to her stories for three years, and those rights are non-transferable. With David dead, his projects have died with him, leaving Hannah in limbo. Her vision, as always, is limited. She could write new stories, as Caroline suggests, but Hannah thinks she’s written all the stories she has to tell. Never mind that she’s been living an entire book’s worth of stories in just the last three seasons of this show. It’s painful to watch her tightly coil around and around herself, especially when her father calls and mentions a minor surgery he’s had and all Hannah cares about is her new book deal and the collapse of said deal, projecting her anger onto her poor dad for being the bearer of bad news. And just listen to the way she yells at him: he’s insane for telling her this information and has no idea what he’s talking about. If it’s not what Hannah wants to hear, then the person saying it must be wrong. When you’re that passionate about something and you lose it, you force and fuss and fight and stomp until you make it what you need it to be, even if it’s a lie. But not even Hannah’s youthful entitlement (or spoiled, bratty attitude — call it what you like) can make this what it isn’t.

And with Caroline and Adam fighting over Caroline’s aimlessness and her insistence on having a million opinions (and nothing to back them up with), Hannah takes the opportunity to kick Caroline to the curb. What she doesn’t understand is the strength of a sibling bond and the responsibility Adam feels to take care of his sister, no matter what. He may yell at her, resent her, call her names and say regrettable things — he may even express that he wants her out. But she’s his sister, and as a family member he feels obligated to take care of her because she’s clearly not taking care of herself. Whether she’s incapable or just willfully refusing, someone has to be there for her in some capacity. There’s a whole other conversation to be had over how much Adam is enabling his sister by allowing her to stay, and whether Hannah has ultimately done him a favor, and whether that was her call to make given that it’s her home. Caroline isn’t a drug addict and she’s not mentally ill — she’s just sort of a meandering, erratic mess of a woman, and one who’s had a harder time than most figuring out what she wants to do with her life. But as Hannah points out, Caroline and Adam aren’t all that dissimilar in that neither of them have much in the way of drive or goals, yet they both have a ton of opinions to offer others. Caroline’s just a little (or a lot) more emotionally unstable and impulsive.

As someone who has personally struggled with codependent and mentally unstable family members, I can tell you this much: you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. At the same time, by enabling someone like Caroline (giving her a place to stay without making her get a job or forcing her to take care of or face her own responsibilities), you teach her that her behavior is okay, and that doesn’t give her incentive to change anything.

Whew. Once again, a lot of focus on Hannah and Adam and Caroline this week. But Marnie also gets a bit of a plot in “Only Child,” and it’s something of familiar territory: she visits Ray to have him explicitly tell her what’s wrong with her, only to wind up sleeping with him. Marnie has a thing for guys who don’t put up with her phony baloney crap, and while it makes me cringe to watch her hook up with Ray (who deserves someone better than Marnie given where she’s at mentally), it’s not really surprising. It’s the same sort of thing that attracted her to Booth Jonathan, after all. And maybe it’s that she’s lonely, too. But Ray is spot-on in his assessment of her personality: she’s judgmental, she uses people, and she’s so self-involved that even when she tries to be genuine, it comes off as fake. Even still, when Ray asks her to keep their little tryst on the down low, Marnie has learned nothing and bids him adieu with a harsh diss, as if she’s better than him and wouldn’t be caught dead having people know she stooped so low as to hook up with Ray, of all people. We all know it should be the other way around by now.

And over in Jessa-land, our favorite Brit is driving Shosh up the wall by hanging out at home all day, so she decides to try and get a job at cute little store that sells baby stuff. Just another silly whim, I presume, but we saw how Jessa was as a nanny, so perhaps there’s some promise here.

More Thoughts:

  • Stephen Dorff invented space cigarettes.
  • Marnie really did adopt the cutest kitten ever. I hope she doesn’t give it a dumb name, but she probably will. I’m also really worried for the health of this kitten.
  • Adam Driver was exceptional this week during his big scene with Hannah and Caroline, especially when Hannah tried to mediate at the kitchen table.
  • It was very nice to see you, Peter Scolari.
  • I didn’t get to talk about Hannah’s meeting with the new publisher and her faux self-commercialization/deprecation bit. Her jokes about how overweight she is after being upset that David’s wife confused her for an obese girl were particularly interesting in the context of how a woman’s personal or poignant struggle is mutated into something marketable and humorous. The difference in the way David perceived Hannah versus her new, prospective publisher is striking — that girl will sell her soul if it means her book will hit a real shelf. I think she dodged a bullet — that Millstreet contract is a blessing in disguise.

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