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‘Girls’ Review: “Vagina Panic”

Girls
HBO

In this week’s episode of ‘Girls,’ a gynecologist asks Lena Dunham‘s Hannah, “Is that painful?” and Hannah responds, “Yeah, but only in the way it’s supposed to be.” It’s a humorous line that sums up a lot about Hannah, but it’s also an attitude she should be applying more to her own life.

Last week’s pilot episode gave us a lot of set up, but this week really solidifies these characters and their “types.” It’s hard to use a word like “type” when you talk about the characters on ‘Girls’ because the beauty of the show is how complex these women are. Where ‘Sex and the City’ clearly defined each character with marked traits — Samantha was the brazenly sexual one, Charlotte was the mousy one, etc. — ‘Girls’ provides us with something more real to identify with.

Allison Williams’ Marnie is a little easier to understand in “Vagina Panic,” an episode by and large about sex and the effects thereof. She’s still resentful of her “too nice” boyfriend, and Hannah suggests that it’s okay if Marnie’s just bored — they’ve been together for four years, after all. Marnie refuses to simplify her relationship issues, though, indicative of not just the way young people process the problems they’re having, but the way a lot of us process our problems as well. People are inherently self-involved; we love to dissect and over-analyze everything, especially when it comes to dating.

In this way, this week’s episode of ‘Girls’ is also sort of a commentary on the lady mag, self-help obsessed female culture, where that self help is more harmful than conducive to understanding and growth. The self help book in question is produced by Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet in a thankfully larger role this week) after Hannah discusses her confusing feelings about Adam.

Adam (Adam Driver) continues to keep Hannah in an ill-defined sphere, having sex with her and sort of acting like a boyfriend, but then disappearing and ignoring her for days or weeks at a time. During a deliriously awkward sex scene in the opening, Adam comes up with a scenario involving Hannah being a filthy whore whom he sends home to her parents. Afterwards, he offers her some Gatorade. Later, when Hannah talks to Marnie about this evening, Marnie tells her, “He can’t talk to you that way. He’s not your boyfriend,” and Hannah pauses, suddenly hit with a too-obvious realization. But inevitably, she’ll continue to see him.

Shoshanna’s self help book — which Hannah admits to having “hate read” — is filled with the kind of self-loathing, faux feminist garbage one finds in magazines and books of this ilk. It proclaims that having sex with a woman from behind is degrading, that a man who takes you out with his friends is only doing so to make sure you’re good enough to actually take on a date. And it’s this sort of thinking that causes the self-destructive cycles women engage in, fostering poor self images and esteem and encouraging neurotic, irrational behaviors that send them out for more magazines and more books for more answers.

Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is preparing for her abortion, which has put her in a foul mood, so she’s the first to call BS on Shoshanna’s book. In a fit of frustration, she tells Hannah that she’ll have sex when she wants and how she wants, and she won’t have another woman telling her when and how sex is okay when it’s her choice. It’s a brief moment that sums up so much about this particular culture and the way we’re taught to blindly follow other women for the sake of sisterhood and feminism. It calls to mind one of the core values of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s, which sought to foster an environment of support and constructive criticism, an atmosphere that would be positive for women because we could have honest discussions with each other and not blindly support someone just because she’s a she.

In the back half of the episode, Hannah is concerned about “the stuff that gets up around the sides of the condom,” so she decides she should get tested while they’re at the clinic for Jessa’s abortion. Shoshanna hilariously shows up with a bag of snacks, considering the possibility that they could be there for a while, like when someone has a baby. Zosia Mamet plays Shoshanna as wonderfully endearing and naive; she’s that well-meaning girl we all know and love who’s read way more than she’s actually experienced.

Jessa is late for her own abortion, bringing out some rich character from Marnie, who throws a selfish little fit about how Jessa is too self-involved to show up for her own abortion, effectively oblivious or dismissive of the fact that it’s Jessa’s choice. This scene marries well with Jessa’s earlier assertions about women who tell other women what to do, but it also lets us see how Marnie perhaps envisions herself as more mature than she actually is, and how she’s kind of a know-it-all. This facade crumbles a bit when Shoshanna admits that she’s a virgin and her only sex experience involved a “few strokes” with some guy in the woods at a summer camp. We see something empathetic click in Marnie, and she quickly works to reassure Shoshanna that sex is overrated.

Jessa’s detour from her route to the abortion clinic takes her to a bar where she sips on a White Russian and hooks up with a patron. As they fool around her new companion informs her that she’s bleeding, so she’s not so pregnant after all. Meanwhile, Hannah neurotically converses with her gynecologist about the pros and cons of AIDS, and how it would mean she could be mad at her boyfriend for something legitimate, as opposed to not responding to her texts. The girls on ‘Girls’ all have such limited world views, but Dunham does a great job of indicting their entitled small-mindedness as well as embracing each character and their flaws.

There’s nothing wrong with being flawed. Our flaws are what cause us to examine ourselves extensively, but they also aid us in making mistakes, which can only help us grow and learn. Flaws are beautiful. When you’re young, it takes you a little longer to learn from your mistakes, and you often have to repeat them to get anywhere. “Vagina Panic” oddly pairs well with last week’s episode of ‘Community,’ in which Annie realizes that she and Abed are just running the same scenarios over and over, hoping for different results. When you’re young, that’s most of your life. You do the same things over and over — like Hannah, sleeping with Adam — hoping for a different result. You over-analyze every aspect of the situation, hoping you can deconstruct it enough to find a solution instead of cutting your losses and learning from it.

Quotable:

“That was so good. I almost came.”

“You have total freak-out face.”

Hannah’s Google search: “Diseases that come from no condom for one second.”

“I like a bar where the average patron would be described as ‘crotchety.’”

“You’re a really good friend, and you threw a really good ¬†abortion.”

“Hey, you’re pregnant when you don’t wanna be, so you might wanna show up to your own abortion.”

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