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‘Girls’ Talk: “Leave Me Alone”

Girls
HBO

Welcome to our weekly installment of ‘Girls’ Talk! We’re joined by a special guest to discuss this week’s episode of the hit HBO series ‘Girls,’ created by and starring Lena Dunham.

ScreenCrush.com editor Britt Hayes is doing things a little different this week — she’s joined by her boyfriend Eric Lefenfeld, a fellow fan of film and television, and just a regular guy who likes ‘Girls’ to discuss this week’s episode, “Leave Me Alone.” Eric lives in Austin and doesn’t write for anyone because he’s a loose cannon. You can tweet him @EricLefenfeld. Send pictures of cats.

Britt: Okay, so I’m talking to you as a regular dude who watches ‘Girls’ and because you’re my boyfriend, and I think you’re super smart and funny and your insights are golden. I want everyone else to know this, so consider this a formal brag. How do you feel about me using you this week?

Eric: Honored to be invited to your elite roundtable. Two notes: I’d really appreciate it if I was referred to as your manfriend, and I’ll only be discussing how Lena Dunham is a force of pure evil slowly bringing the world to its knees.

Britt: I will not refer to you as my manfriend, and I know you don’t really believe Lena Dunham is ruining anything, except for maybe half the time we spend together because now that time is spent talking about ‘Girls.’ Also, I don’t take notes from you, you take notes from me. I am a fully deputized agent of the internet, journalism division, and I am here to exploit your opinions for personal gain.

Eric: Bring it.

Britt: In this week’s episode Hannah and Marnie attend the book release party for Hannah’s (sort of?) arch nemesis Tally Schifrin. Hannah expresses her jealousy, not only of Tally’s ability to write so easily, but that Tally’s boyfriend killed himself, giving her an inspiring experience. As has been noted before, Hannah loves doing things to have a story to tell, but it also seems like this is her way to validate her own procrastination — by waiting for something to happen to her. Do you think Hannah is looking for ways to validate her procrastination? Why do you think she’s procrastinating?

Eric: To say Hannah’s looking for validation implies that she has the self-awareness to recognize her procrastination in the first place, and I don’t think she can be given that much credit — not on a conscious level, at least. Hannah’s still very much of the mindset that a successful writing career will come together simply because she wants it so badly. Although this episode gives indications that this naivete is starting to calcify into something a little more jaded (i.e. adult), she’s still got a long way to go. This whole idea of waiting for something to happen to her has been a running bit with the character; the thing is, plenty HAS happened. Maybe nothing as dramatic as a suicide, but since when are mundane events not worth writing about? Or even the best thing to write about? Her head is just so far up her own ass that she filters her whole life through some literary prism that’s preventing her from actually getting anything done.

Britt: You don’t think Hannah has enough self-awareness? I think we’ve been seeing that awareness emerge since her visit back home, and at some point in this week’s episode she makes a point to say that she’s tired of making bad decisions and putting herself in these situations. She seems to be exhausted from a combination of things — her faults, her fears, her irresponsible behavior — and I feel like she is starting to understand how she’s getting in her own way. I completely agree with her posturing — that prism you mentioned — being the thing that’s keeping her from getting things done. At this point she seems to like to say she’s a writer more than she actually writes.

But I do believe that there’s something else going on there, and it’s fear. Fear of not being good enough, not being able to finish something she starts (which is some serious self-awareness that she hasn’t vocalized, but I think it’s there and she knows it), and fear that maybe because she loves something doesn’t mean she’s good at it. That fear and insecurity is her ultimate weakness, and time and again it drives her to take advice from her friends, like when she decides to write a story about an online boyfriend who died after a conversation with Ray, when her story about the hoarder guy from college was (supposedly) better. Ultimately I find all of this completely relatable. Is she really that insecure, or is she just pretentious? As a fellow procrastinator, any other thoughts on this?

Eric: I totally agree about her fear and insecurity holding her back, but any step forward is still being countered with this monolithic vision of being a NEW YORK WRITER. I’m not saying she hasn’t taken steps in the right direction, but when she realizes that she can just be a writer who happens to live in New York, that’s when the whole process will come a little bit more easily. That’s not to say she’ll find success, because we still have no idea if she has the chops to back up any of her claims…leading us to the hoarder story. Who knows if it’s actually any good? The only positive opinion we’ve heard was voiced by Michael Imperioli, and in what seems to be a continuing tradition with the boys of ‘Girls,’ his motivations initially are unclear, seen as they are through that pesky Hannah-vision. Is this all a long con to get into Hannah’s pants, or is he genuinely a fan of her work? I hope he shows up again, so some of the layers can be pulled back a bit, Adam style. Just keep him far, far away from heroin and small canines.

Britt: You just had to mention Cosette. My heart has still not healed from what he did to that poor dog.

Everyone this week seems to be at peak self-involvement. It’s as if they’re all talking at each other about themselves rather than having actual conversations, which is par for the course with people in their early 20s who just want to be defined by something or someone meaningful, and they want to feel like they deserve that fulfillment, but they’re mostly just waiting around for things to happen to or for them — except for Shoshanna, the only person actively seeking what she wants. I’ve seen some reviews mention that these themes are reflective of the public’s view of Dunham as well as the problems some people have with the characters. How do you feel about the insane level of selfishness and entitlement on display this week?

Eric: Everyone is selfish at one point or another. Not exactly breaking news, so I’m not very taken aback. What I do find interesting is the occasional instance where it goes out of the way to say that yes, these characters are more selfish than they should be, falling in line with the criticism that the show is a useless depiction of well-monied snobs. Specifically, I’m thinking of the scene where Marnie throws away a bag of old clothes. Hannah suggests giving them away, but it falls on deaf ears. It’s a small moment in terms of THE BIG FIGHT SCENE, but it’s a nice reminder that Dunham is not afraid to highlight the qualms that people have with her and the show. The scene at the party a few weeks ago in which Jessa casually pegs the two “crusty punks” with a glass bottle and then proceeds to mock them seemed to be included for a similar purpose.

You mention Shoshanna being the only proactive one of the group, and I continue to like this aspect of her character. To cite another New York based show (not ‘Sex and The City,’ for a change) — Shoshanna is the Kramer of the ensemble. For now, at least, she’s used in smaller doses for the broader bits of comedy. At the same time, she’s the only one halfway close to getting herself together. I’m guessing she’ll finally have sex and everything will fall apart. That’s how the cookie usually crumbles, right?

Britt: I’m not sure Shosh having sex is going to be that monumental, especially considering her own perception of the act, and I appreciate the way the show has handled Shosh’s virginity issue, which I feel was very nicely encapsulated in Hannah’s conversation with her earlier in the season. I’m mostly just annoyed that we’ll never get to see her Old Navy Flagship Cafe day date. Also, I’m super grateful that you’ve never tried to take me to an Old Navy. Or a “flagship” anything. Please don’t do ever do something like that — you know that I prefer to be courted in a manner befitting my classy upbringing, and by that I mean taking me to poorly lit shanties where no one can see all the food I spill on myself.

Eric: Let’s just assume that Lena Dunham is saving all the juicy Old Navy Flagship stories for her eventual workplace sitcom. And I’ll just have to find someone else to take to the flagship Kitten Emporium.

Britt: Noooo! I will make an exception for the kittens! We’re going to have a serious talk about this Kitten Emporium later, mister, and it better be real, but for now let’s talk about that big fight/possible break-up between Marnie and Hannah. Clearly they are both equally wrong and right in this situation because they are both just as selfish as they’re accusing the other of being. Marnie does define herself through relationships, something she will eventually have to grow out of (or not, and I shudder at that future), and Hannah is plagued with living in her own creative-minded microcosm of ME ME ME, where everything she says and does and feels is more important than anyone else, and every conflict isn’t so much an opportunity for her to learn as it is something that validates her faults and fuels her selfishness. What do you think about the big fight? Did it ring genuine to you, and do you feel like either one of them is more at fault than the other?

Eric: It feels genuine to me. One can argue that some of their traded quips are a little too quick or on the nose, but that’s how these situations go. They’ve been building up to this fight for a few episodes now, and that’s given both of them enough time to mentally catalog a long litany of complaints against one another. Each barb has been mentally honed and sharpened for maximum impact. I can’t blame one over the other. They just need to learn how to make the transition into a real, adult friendship. Either they will, or they won’t. (They will, of course. This is an ongoing show, after all. I don’t foresee them rocking the boat too much.)

Britt: Boat? Like the garbage boat Adam is building?

Eric: Aren’t you the clever type. I do really hope we get to see the maiden/final voyage of the S.S. IRONIC HIPSTER STATEMENT.

Britt: Yes, I am very clever. This is why you’re taking me to the flagship Kitten Emporium. And don’t mock me, I have the power to edit you to make you sound stupid.

Eric: Impossible. Can’t be done.

Britt: Did I just edit that response, or are you just that much of a wise-ass? Our readers will never know. Speaking of Adam — first off, I’m glad I finally have someone for ‘Girls’ Talk this week who loves him as much as I do. Okay, maybe you don’t have a giant crush on him like I do, but we both agree that he’s kind of awesome. But even Adam gets a little selfish this week, refusing to go to Hannah’s reading even though she sat through that horrible play rehearsal/excuse for him to reach a wider audience regarding his penis. I do love his nicknames for her, like this week’s latest addition, “Little Face,” but it doesn’t make up for his inability to be supportive of Hannah. Not that she needs to be coddled, especially at this time in her life, but shouldn’t he be more supportive of her? Also, I demand an adorable nickname.

Eric: There’s no doubt that he should be more approving. Adam has come a long way from how this show originally painted him, but there’s still some darkness in the guy. It was cute last week when he painted the wall with an apology, but that doesn’t change the fact that he screamed at a stranger on the street for a relatively small infraction. Dude clearly has some issues. It’ll be interesting to see how they continue to make waves…and I officially declare your nickname to be Miss Poopy Pants III.

Britt: The third sounds so distinguished. And I can’t help but notice that your nicknames for me always involve poo. What up with that?

Eric: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that poop never gets old.

Britt: I’m going to assume that’s a layered compliment. I can’t stop thinking about Adam and that jar of mayonnaise. Why on earth would he take a jar of mayo to the bedroom? You’re a weirdo too, and you and Adam have similarly goofy brains, so you should know the answer to this.

Eric: A few possibilities. 1. Self-pleasure. He may or may not be a sex addict. Mayo might be his last unexplored frontier. He’s clearly new at the game; everyone knows Miracle Whip is better. 2. A craft project. Just seemed like something he would incorporate into his art (or should I be saying “art”…) 3. Self pleasure and crafting AT THE SAME TIME. 4. The turkey’s a little dry.

Britt: I don’t even want to know what he uses for glue. Also Miracle Whip is disgusting. Also I now have several questions for you post-talk. This is all very disturbing.

We still need to talk about Jessa. This week she gets a visit from Mrs. Lavoyt, who describes bizarre dreams she’s been having where she kills and consumes Jessa and then poops her out. (There’s that poop you love so much again.) I love Jessa’s laid back response to the whole thing, and Jemima Kirke always has the most compelling facial expressions. I find it interesting that Mrs. Lavoyt effortlessly pegs how Jessa acts out and why — she’s afraid of taking anything seriously and she doesn’t seem to have any real goals, at least none to which we’ve been privy. Jessa clearly needs some sort of parental guidance, though she finds it so easy to be that figure to her friends and the children she cares for. Why is that? What do you think about Jessa’s big moment this week and do you think she’ll take this chance to grow?

Eric: Jessa’s storyline has been the most telegraphed of all the girls thus far. Nobody wants to get saddled with the ol’ babysitter storyline. Luckily, her arc never fell TOO far into caricature, and this unexpected scene certainly helped in that regard. The real Jessa is still mostly unknown, both to her friends and the audience. She puts on a show and carries herself well, but it’s all surface. If I remember correctly, hints have been dropped here and there about her issues with her parents. I assume that’ll be fleshed out at some point, but for now, she’s trying to compensate for something that she never had, or at least perceived she never had.  She’s not a bad person, and she’s already had the occasional glimmer of regret at the destruction she can leave in her wake. With the children, she’s finally started channeling that energy in a productive direction, and I think she’ll slowly continue to steer that course.

Britt: Something seemingly glossed over this week is Hannah’s new job, working alongside Ray at the coffee shop. This is the second time Hannah has taken a job offscreen, showing that Lena Dunham has little interest in showing us the banality of the job search, which makes me think that — to bring this full circle — maybe Hannah is writing, but as I assume, we’re not seeing this because there’s no way to show someone’s writing process without it feeling maudlin and overwrought with cliche. That sort of stuff is also just a chore for the viewer to watch. Do you think maybe she is writing, but we’re not seeing it?

Eric: I agree, for the most part, that showing writing (or most creative processes) is a difficult feat to pull off. There’s an episode in the fourth season of ‘The West Wing’ that proves this theory wrong, but that’s neither here nor there. BRITT, WATCH ‘THE WEST WING.’ It’s possible she’s writing. Only Lena Dunham can say for sure. but there’s a certain overreaching every time she brings up her supposed profession that suggests pen is not meeting paper all that often.

Britt: Last question, and then I have to go because I have to investigate the craft application techniques of mayonnaise instead of watching ‘The West Wing.’ (I’ll get to it, I promise!) My favorite moment this week was Ray explaining what Hannah should wear to work, and his multiple use of the line, “slim leg.” I am also quite fond of Tally’s line, “I just water-birthed my truth.” How about you? Favorite moment and/or line this week?

Eric: Christofuh as Hannah’s writing teacher: “I still remember that essay you wrote, the one you wrote about being grounded for wearing shorts.” This might not count because it would be hilarious coming out of Imperioli’s mouth in any context. Even in ‘The Basketball Diaries.’

 

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