Tonight's all-new episode of 'Girls' takes our girls for a trip to the beach, but the weekend isn't all fun and relaxation: with Marnie struggling to maintain control over a carefully organized "healing" vacation and the reappearance of an old friend, it's not long before tensions mount. "Beach House" is an exceptional episode that finds these four friends picking at wounds rather than healing them. 

What starts as a funny and cute episode set at a beach house that looks like it was lifted straight from a Sofia Coppola film quickly unravels in the best of ways, revealing what is easily this season's biggest highlight since Caroline and that whole Margaret story. Of course Marnie would use a vacation weekend in North Fork (she must specify it is not the Hamptons) to methodically organize and schedule their fun right down to the hour, trying to force magic moments instead of letting them happen. And that's telling enough as it is -- the fact that these four ladies haven't been together in one episode all season, that it's a major event requiring such effort is one thing; that Marnie feels she has to manipulate all of them into having a good time is another. It's heartbreaking.

A brief interlude, though, as Elijah is back! And he's brought a new boyfriend, played by Danny Strong (yay!), and a couple of their theater-y friends. It's an interesting coincidence, and I'll be honest that I'd forgotten what had driven Hannah and Marnie so far apart in the first place, but Elijah reminds us -- and Hannah convinces Marnie that if they're at the beach house for a healing weekend, then Elijah should be there too. It also allows us a moment (and one that feels very natural) to learn what exactly took place between Marnie and Charlie the day he walked out, which makes what she's been going through a bit sadder, though her behavior isn't that much more sympathetic.

But as the day wears on and drinks are imbibed, Hannah and Marnie attempt their own private healing process, which involves a bit of the ol' drunken honesty -- which isn't real honesty, but that intoxicated, dramatized, self-important and doctored version of it. Marnie goes on and on about her abandonment issues and her absent father, which is just echoes of something Ray said to her, but something I don't think she fully understands, while Hannah insists that she needed independence from her overbearing parents, and Marnie was simply a casualty of that desire. I don't buy any of it. It sounds nice, and part of them believes what they're saying -- but more importantly, each needs the other to believe what's being said. So of course they eagerly accept the gussied-up and more therapeutic versions of the truth because it's easier than being really honest with themselves and with one another, about each other and about everything.

And this (with the continued interruption and dismissal of Marnie's carefully planned-out and oh-so-perfect "healing weekend") leads to the best scene of "Beach House," a moment in which the girls shine mirrors at one another, analyzing and picking each other apart. It's all at once a rough therapy session and a valve releasing pressure that's been mounting for years (neglected but not unnoticed) and a moment that feels like a read-through of some of the criticisms found online of each one of their characters. Shoshanna is the meanest of all, and for once her character feels like a real person with valid insights and feelings, and the worst part is how right she is -- about Hannah's narcissism and Jessa's sudden post-rehab optimism, and Marnie's whiny insecurity driven by fear. Actually, they're all right about each other, though Jessa has the least to contribute, which makes sense, since she's hardly in a place to judge, and she doesn't seem like the type to hurl stones about. And while I think Hannah says the right thing in the end, that she expects nothing from her friends (and she shouldn't), I'm not sure she believes it or means it the way she should -- especially when we reflect back on the first episode of the season, when she talked about how she didn't particularly care about what her friends had to say and she didn't like them all that much.

Listening to them argue, you feel the exhausting toll of a long-term relationship, of that complacency and settling and acceptance, of that moment when you realize you're just with someone because you've been with them for so long. Shoshanna's cruel remarks speak to this the most, as she ponders why she doesn't try to find people more fitting for her instead of spending time with a bunch of "whiny losers" -- why are these girls even friends? Is friendship (or any relationship, for that matter) about commonality, or is it about something more intangible and implacable, something deeper? Are they just friends because they always have been? I mean, who breaks up with their friends?

But there they are the next morning, cleaning up the kitchen in a moment of silent communion. And there they are, waiting for the bus, and one by one they all start wordlessly doing that little dance Elijah's friend taught them the night before while they sit on the stoop. They're not going anywhere.

More Thoughts:

  • Jessa can't go in open water unless she's menstruating, FYI.
  • I love that Elijah calls him "Old Man Ray" like he's in a '50s play.
  • I really, really enjoyed the song and dance number set to Harry Nilsson's "You're Breaking My Heart."
  • I'm so glad Elijah's back! Yay!