Girl Enlightened. Part 2.Posted: May 6, 2013
In the post ‘Girl Enlightened’, I mentioned I was about to watch the second seasons of the HBO shows Girls and Enlightened (at one point they were paired on the HBO schedule, so fitting I should watch them together). Having since watched both those seasons, over two posts this week I will discuss them – starting with Girls (I’m writing relentlessly and dealing with an anxiety issue at the moment, so I find thinking about characters, stories, and story worlds rather helpful to the process).
Whilst I only liked the first season of this show, I loved the second season, impressed at how many issues and themes it manages to explore in 10 episodes – issues that resonated really strongly. Season 2 of Girls is generally darker, which is appropriate as these characters age. It is funnier, which is never a bad thing (often it’s tiny throwaway lines buried in monologues that crack me up – Adam in A.A., mentioning how he showed Hannah how to use soap, for example. I choked on my Milo whilst watching that).
And, as is the case with second seasons, we get to know all the characters more intimately. Their flaws are as terrible and real as ever (written by someone I think genuinely loves these characters, flaws and all) and I like that – season 2 depicts with clarity the difficulty of personal change and growth in individuals and relationships. We see characters repeating mistakes and regressing, which is true to life for most – if not all – of us. But I’m not going to recap everything that happened in the season.
Instead, below are some things that got under my skin, positively and negatively, that the writers deserve major props for – seriously inspiring. This season did what the first one didn’t – it both moved me and made me reflect on my history of relationships in a deep way. I connected to every single character. And I always appreciate when a story does more than just entertain or distract me from the business of living. The greatest stories always do.
MARNIE: IMAGE IS EVERYTHING.
There are things that I really like about Marnie – she won me over back in the season one finale, as she started to loosen up and took the high road with Elijah and Charlie (classy). But one thing that really gets under my skin negatively is Marnie’s attraction to glamour, glaringly apparent and desperate this season. Marnie lost interest in Charlie for a number of reasons, but a minor one was that he didn’t match the image of what a “Man” should be in her messed up mind (whereas Booth Jonathan, inexplicably, did). Season one introduced us to this particular flaw – remember when she told then boyfriend Charlie that he should be able to “go about his business, piss me off and not give a fuck! It’s what men do.”
In season 2, Marnie’s masturbation fantasy comes true when she starts having (spectacularly funny) sex with the “brilliant” artist Booth, assuming thereafter that she is his girlfriend. This is soon followed by crushing humiliation, when she discovers Booth does not consider her to be his girlfriend at all, merely an employee. The Booth storyline is seriously inspired – it tells us so much about both the characters in only a handful of interactions. And, as big an asshole as he was, Booth Jonathan was completely right about Marnie’s insincere attraction to him – she liked his image and lifestyle, not him as a person. Even she admitted that she fell in love with “the idea of you”.
Marnie’s re-attraction to Charlie only after her discovery of his winning success is thus all the more nauseating to me. I felt bad for her after she lost her job at the gallery (although Ray’s quip to her that “I think the world has the 3 curators it actually needs” made me chortle – and I’ve been a curator!). I loved her attempt to view her hostess job in the best possible light, and accept that humbling experience with as much grace and positivity as possible – Marnie’s best qualities, I think. If the singing thing doesn’t work out this girl should be working in public relations. But her re-emergence in Charlie’s world – setting aside their important history and his feelings for her – is just terrible.
It reminded me of the big fight Marnie had with Hannah at the end of the first season, when equally flawed Hannah said to her, “What do you want besides like a boyfriend with a luxury rental? Seriously, that’s where your priorities are. You have always been this way, and now it is worse”. Marnie may actually love Charlie – her realisation/confession after brunch was sincere, no doubt. But her motivation for reconnecting to begin with was tainted. I can’t imagine where their relationship is going to go in Season 3, but, given that Christopher Abbott (the actor who plays Charlie) has fled the show, it can’t be good (side note: Abbott guest starred in Season 2 of Enlightened. Playing a cocaine enthusiast! See my next ‘Girl Enlightened’ post for more on that).
SHOSHANNA AND RAY: THE ODD COUPLE.
Shoshanna’s relationship with Ray enabled me to empathise with her (and Ray) as a character a lot more, given the scenario of older partner/cynical partner is very familiar to a younger version of me (as familiar as the dynamic between Hannah and Adam in season 1). The words she used to break up with Ray would have hurt him tremendously, and that was horrible to watch. Yet those same words speak to a level of self-awareness on Shoshanna’s part that I wish I had had earlier: “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human.” Weird to hear a character articulate that, but she’s absolutely right. Shosh is the youngest, just as flawed as the other girls (see cheating with the sexy doorman incident). But her breaking up with Ray is more of an initiation into adulthood than the relatively insignificant act of losing her virginity.
Maybe some of her complaints about Ray are superficial (not wanting to spend $4 on a taco is not a deal-breaker, yo). However, feeling emotionally and mentally drained with someone certainly is. Shoshanna’s learning where her boundaries are. For that reason, I loved this storyline. I’ve read a couple of comments that praise Ray for being such a great boyfriend (written by 30-yr-old + men I noted, unsurprised), and she certainly brings out his often-suppressed better nature. But, he is not a good match for Shosh, and he really does have issues. Ray is negative about everything (often in a very funny way, but that energy would suck to live with 24/7). He is rude to everyone including his supposed best friend Charlie – because deep down he is insecure, hates himself, and feels like a loser (see end of great episode “Boys” – written by Murray Miller).
In response to Shoshanna’s break up speech, in which she says she can no longer handle his “black soul” (ouch), Ray attacks her back and exclaims there is a “difference between negativity and critical thinking!”. But I don’t think that Ray actually knows what that difference is. Despite being 33, and intellectually sophisticated (at least, by his own estimation), he is one of the least self-aware characters in the show. And Adam called him out correctly during their fight on Staten Island: “You don’t know shit about love!”, he tells Ray. And how could he? Ray doesn’t even love himself.
(Funny too how Adam also says to Ray, “You’re just babies holding hands!” – given that when Shoshanna partially confesses about the doorman incident, she says she held the doorman’s hand. Ray feels safe with her because he sees her as innocent and inexperienced. I wonder if he could actually handle being with a complicated, sophisticated woman of his own age. One as hypercritical as he is).
HANNAH: WRITER’S BLOCK, MENTAL ILLNESS, & THE NATURE OF LOVE.
Oh my gawd, Hannah. I grew to love her in season 2 – that is in stark contrast to season 1, in which I found her infuriating. I laughed a lot at her this time, but of course she has more seriously ugly moments – her treatment of recovering junkie Laird (probably the kindest soul in this particular TV universe) was grossly inconsiderate, and although it had to be done (given how toxic things had become between them) the way she ended things with Adam was a mess. She even managed to make me side 100% with a Republican (her short-lived boyfriend at the beginning of the season, Sandy). Hannah turned on Sandy because he disliked her writing, but cites his politics as the problem – even though she really didn’t give a shit until he criticised her essay!
That being said, Hannah is more vulnerable in season 2. This vulnerability is exposed after Jessa goes AWOL – Hannah’s mental illness issues and her unravelling fear made me go from infuriated to genuinely sad for her. Close to the bone. The way Lena Dunham portrayed the illness symptoms made me think she (the human behind the character) had actually experienced that dysfunction (which I see she has, according to Google). It is such an honest depiction that I couldn’t help but be moved, and whatever criticism she copped for that storyline (and how shitty Hannah is to her parents), it is truthful. I’m thoroughly impressed at Dunham for going there. She made me want to wrap Hannah in a blanket, give her a hug, and tell her (albeit hilarious) publisher/editor/boss to back the eff off.
As for the season’s finale: whether ironically romantic or not, what I did appreciate was how it completely subverted my expectations of a deeply disturbing ending – who could have seen that coming? I like the Natalia character, and Adam and Hannah should probably stay the hell away from each other and pair with people more stable than they are. That being said, it was still profoundly moving, for one important reason: when Hannah was at her lowest – chopped up hair, alone, ill and frightened, hiding under a bed cover – he didn’t turn away. He came through for her, and it is that realness and strength that I really get about this aloof, unconventional creature – as crazy as he can be, he truly loves her, flaws and all. That ending, OTT as it was, said more about his character than hers.
So why does he love her? On Staten Island, when Adam found himself in the odd position of defending the girl he understandably wanted to purge from his brain forever, he said of her, “Everyone’s a difficult person. She was accepting of my brand of difficult.” For all her flaws – and lord knows she has many – I think this accepting nature is one of Hannah’s genuine positive qualities, rather than the more often cited traits of “wit” and “quirkiness” attributed to her even by Ray (traits which, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with actual character, and more to do with personality. Of course, there is a difference).
But, do Adam and Hannah have a better grasp of love than the other characters in Girls? I don’t know. Unlike Natalia, Hannah didn’t care how dark his apartment was – being an oddball herself, she seemed to be able to embrace his dark side and kooky interests without asking for him to change at all. Her only requests were extremely basic and related to how he treated her. However, that may have been due to her own damage – in the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ (a confounding detour which may or may not have been a dream), she tells the handsome doctor of her perception that she needed to take in all experiences in order to learn from them, so that she could help others with her learned insights. But, that this perception had led her to both invite and put up with some pretty fucked up and painful things. “Something’s broken inside of me”, she tearfully admits.
Hannah’s acceptance and courting of all experiences can therefore be extremely harmful to herself. Some of the experiences she accepted with Adam, she may have accepted because of this same inner brokenness. If Hannah was a real-life person, it would be better for her to try and understand what that brokenness is, and how to take care of herself, either solo or with someone healthier for her than him. Natalia obviously doesn’t have Hannah’s wounds – she is very clear with Adam about what she does and does not want, in bed and beyond. She obviously wants a conventional relationship, and to help him fulfil that role for her (see her reaction to his apartment and her offer to help him get “organised”… right before the disturbing ‘on all fours’ encounter* – an encounter she hates, but evidently forgives, whilst making it clear to him she is not cool with his darker sexual proclivities).
Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t really know what she wants yet, or even who she is. She’s still just a girl (I say empathically, not condescendingly). I can’t imagine what will happen to her, or who she will become, in season 3.
Which is why I can’t wait to see it.
*Interesting to note that right before the “on all fours” incident, Natalia tells Adam that his apartment is “darker than you are”. My gosh, what a depressing end to an episode of television, but brilliantly directed and written by Dunham (with executive producer Jenni Konner). Dunham never wastes a sex scene – hers actually tell the audience a great deal about the characters and their relationships, which I appreciate.