Brow Beat

Guys on Girls: Dancing on Our Own

A still of Lena Dunham on Girls (HBO)

David Haglund: Someday, the Sex and the City comparisons will cease (maybe), but I have to bring up that show at least one more time. At the end of the third episode of Girls, Hannah, the Lena Dunham character, having learned during the previous 24 hours that 1) she has an STD and 2) her old college boyfriend is gay, sits down on her bed and composes a tweet. This struck me as a brilliant update on the SATC convention of Carrie Bradshaw composing her columns in voiceover. (Other possible points of reference include Doogie Howser, M.D. and The X-Files.) Unlike those columns, which seemed to flow easily and were full of platitudes, Hannah’s tweet requires extensive revision, and she settles on something—“All adventurous women do”—that resonates with Girls as a whole, and not just with this one episode’s goings-on. (It’s borrowed, of course, from Jessa via Shoshanna.)

What’s more, this is the first time we see Hannah transforming, however humbly, the experience of her life into writing, which we already know is her chief ambition. And she’s good at it! (Previous tweets include: “just poured water on some perfectly good bread to stop myself from eating it. ate it anyway. BECAUSE I AM AN ANIMAL.”)

That conversion of experience into words is the last bit of transformation in an episode that’s all about metamorphoses. In the first scene, after Charlie unveils a newly shaven head and Hannah steps out her room looking, as Charlie says, like she’s “gonna put a hex on some popular girls,” Marnie, exasperated, asks, “What’s going on, is it some kind of solstice?”

What did you guys think was going on in this episode? And do you agree it is the best of the first three?

Dan Kois: I’m sad that Lena Dunham has not deputized some quirky HBO intern to run this feed, which should be updated contemporaneously with the series. My hunch is she’d want to OK every tweet, viewing them (correctly) as extensions of the character on whom she’s spent so much time and energy, and would eventually just take the feed over—which would be great for fans but not so great for her workload. (She’s already so busy solving crimes!)

And I was not as in love with this episode. It’s the first one that failed to surprise me. Of course Adam gave Hannah HPV, and of course her ex-boyfriend is gay. Of course Jessa is flirted with inappropriately by the father of her babysitting charges. Of course Hannah and Marnie dance together, and of course it’s to Robyn. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the episode, but it’s the one that felt most obviously crafted—and I don’t think crafting crackerjack plots is Lena Dunham’s strong suit.

Bryan Lowder: I’m with David: This was by far the best episode. And having gotten some of my privilege-related complaints about Girls out of my system, I’m ready to be (mostly) positive the show. Maybe the Robyn at the end has me feeling generous, but almost all of the humor worked—and the show seemed to find its stride: Hannah seems less of a caricature in the conversation with her now-gay ex-boyfriend; Jessa’s “adventurous” side is tantalizingly subdued in her sexually charged interaction with the daddy figure she’s babysitting for; Marnie gets her type-A shell cracked a little at the art party. One of my favorite lines: “Do you ever come here with a book and friends?” as she and Booth Jonathan—that name!—run up the High Line entrance.

Haglund: Oh man, that name. Of all the awful guys on Girls, Booth Jonathan is to me the most loathsome so far—though that sad dad that Jessa is clearly destined to sleep with has odious potential for sure.

Kois: That sad dad! James LeGros, what hath time wrought! Also, boy did I laugh when Jessa guessed he was 53. “No!” “54?”

Forrest Wickman: Even better than “Booth Jonathan” is that Lonely Island member’s actual name: Jorma Taccone.

I thought this episode was the most enjoyable of the first three—but that made it less memorable. Hear me out. While the first two episodes ended on a cluster of sour notes, “All Adventurous Women Do” ends with one of the show’s most touching (and I think soon-to-be-iconic) moments. As Hannah finishes meticulously composing that tweet, she begins to dance, and soon she and Marnie are getting down to “Dancing on My Own.” Just thinking about this scene is enough to make me emotional—who hasn’t danced alone in his/her bedroom to “Dancing on My Own”? But by ending on a feel-good note, the third episode became the first one I was able to immediately set aside and move on from when it was over.

Lowder: I agree that it was more predictable—that dancing ending felt so old-fashioned as to be almost Shakespearean—but I still heard a few sour notes that complicated things.

First, I was confused by Marnie’s response to Booth. He seemed like such a little tight-jacketed douche—his come-on, “I’m a man and I know how to do things” was beyond obnoxious. And yet it drove her to masturbation. If she’s that starved for “aggressive” male attention, her problems run deeper than an overly nice boyfriend.

And the gay ex thing: Having had exactly that meeting with a high school girlfriend of mine—though a far more pleasant version—I can attest that there is a lot of pathos and revisionist history that goes on behind a conversation that might seem on the surface like an “of course” set-piece. I think it really hurt Hanna to find out not only that she “has a handsomeness,” but that her taste in men is just generally fucked. With asshole Adam giving her HPV—and lying about getting tested—and sweet guy Elijah turning out to be gay, her curatorial skills guy-wise are obviously dismal. It’s yet another area of life on which she doesn’t have a grip. If that’s not “sour,” I don’t know what is.

Kois: Sure, things were sour. But they were schematically sour! How beat-by-beat perfect that Marnie, frustrated by her milquetoast boyfriend who shaves his head for some sad cancer victim, just happens to meet a big talker macho “take-a-nap” asshole. How perfect that he propositions her in just that way. How predictable that she heads straight back to the gallery for a self-quickie, visions of Jorma Taccone dancing in her head. Leaving aside that I thought Booth was gross, that didn’t strike anyone as way more constructed than the first episodes, in a conventional, slightly boring way?

Haglund: It was a bit schematic. But one of the things I like about Girls is how ably it uses fairly recognizable TV conventions for its own artistically superior ends. In our first chat, I suggested impulsively that this show had surpassed Louie as the best show on TV. Louie tosses those conventions aside, thrillingly—but it might also lose a little something in the process.

And while the plot developments in this episode are not surprising, some things are clichés for a reason. It may be predictable that Hannah’s ex-boyfriend is gay, but that scene they have together is one of my favorite from the first three episodes. The speed with which their banter descends from “so good to see you” to “you’re dad is gay” is sad and hilarious—and rang true. “I am my authentic self!”

Kois: Can we talk more about Marnie and Booth Jonathan up on the High Line entrance? Jonathan, the hotshot artist, tells Marnie, “I want you to know, the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little, because I’m a man, and I know how to do things.” This sends Marnie into her office for a quick wank, so exciting and un-Charlie-ish is his proposition.

Leaving aside that I can’t see Jorma Taccone without thinking of him jizzing in his pants, this still seemed pretty skeezy—indeed, it apparently was inspired by a skeezeball who got the line from a friend at Vice magazine. Did any of you buy this come-on? (I also really want to know what the Girls of Slate thought about it.)

Haglund: It did seem fairly preposterous and out of left-field. (At first I wondered if Marnie had told him, off screen, about her wimpy boyfriend. Why else would he say that?) But its effectiveness on Marnie made dramatic sense. In the last episode, she told Charlie he should be able “do what he wants and not give a fuck” what she thinks about it (an odd thing to tell your boyfriend). And don’t forget that Booth Jonathan (cringing every time I read that name) is a very successful artist, obviously a huge part of his appeal to Marnie.

Wickman: Taccone/Jonathan seemed too much a fantasy of Marnie’s to be a real character. I’m glad that the show finally moved beyond its own provocatively male version of the whore/virgin dichotomy (the oaf/Michael Cera dichotomy?), but he will have to prove less telepathically superhuman—He’s like Edward! He can read minds!—if the show wants to avoid jumping the shark in its first season. Of course, if the show plays out with an ounce of the intelligence it has thus far, we know he will.

Haglund: I loved the awful gallery owner, who was a bit of a cartoon and yet totally plausible. And that super-put-together mom (played by the excellent Kathryn Hahn) that Jessa goes to work for. It was interesting to see two New York women on the show—women, not girls, and of the sort the Girls presumably someday want to be (Hahn’s character is working on a documentary).

Lowder: Hahn’s documentarian mom and the totally accurate gallery lady (I’ve met a few of those in my years in New York) brought a kind of balance to the show. It removed us from the narcissistic doldrums of the Girls and brought us into the larger context of New York ambition and speed and ridiculousness. I definitely hope that future episodes further exploit that friction.

Haglund: Any last thoughts? Shoshanna got her best scene so far in this episode. Baggage with Jerry Springer! I had no idea such a thing existed.

Lowder: I just have one question for you guys: Do you eat for fun or for fuel? Because if it’s for fun, you need to gather your fat and get outta here.

Kois: Have fun, Bryan. Go tweet that.

Read what the women of Slate thought of the latest episode of Girls on the XX Factor.