Brow Beat

Guys on Girls: Doing It for the Story

Lena Dunham on Girls (HBO)

David Haglund: One of the essential storylines—the essential storyline?—of Girls is Hannah’s effort to become a writer. This episode begins with the price of those efforts, as Charlie forces Hannah to read the passages in her “journal” about him and Marnie. “It’s actually not a journal,” Hannah explains, “it’s a notebook—it’s notes for a book.” Those notes prompt a loud, relationship-ending fight between Charlie and Marnie, and then Hannah turns to her best friend and asks, “If you had read the essay and it wasn’t about you, do you think you would have liked it? Just as, like, a piece of writing.”

I wish that moment had worked better than it did. I also wish Dunham had pulled off more convincingly one of the other things Hannah does “for the story”: attempt to sleep with her boss. This episode, like “Hannah’s Diary,” was not directed by Dunham, but by Jesse Peretz—who outdoes Richard Shephard’s work on “Hannah’s Diary,” but doesn’t quite equal Dunham’s directing on the first three episodes.*

This one is called “Hard Being Easy,” and focuses on the Girls’ (sans Shoshanna, for obvious reasons) efforts to use sex to retake control of their lives. Jessa, unsurprisingly, does this most explicitly, having sex with an old boyfriend to show that she “cannot be smoted.” Hannah likewise tries to turn an awful office situation to her advantage—or at least into good memoir material. And Marnie puts on her “party dress” and gets Charlie into bed, only so she can break up with him, rather than the other way around.

That tangle of sex and power is then dramatized most memorably by the last scene, when Adam asks Hannah if she wants to watch him masturbate, “you know, for the story.” What did you guys think of the stories in this episode?

Dan Kois: I thought they were a pretty damn hilarious! This is the first episode of Girls that has made me LLOL multiple times—from Charlie’s “I am an important part of this community!” to Hannah’s boss’s accurate observation that, since Hannah can’t even get to work at 10 a.m., how does she expect to sue anyone in a way they will “distinctly dis-enjoy”? It all came to a climax, so to speak, in that jaw-dropping final scene between Hannah and Adam, in which being made to apologize gets Adam hot—and Hannah’s disgusted cry of “Are you fucking kidding me?” sends him over the edge. (Compare that to Marnie, who is all-in with Charlie—“I’ll give you blowjobs, even!”—until his clutchy neediness in bed reminds her once again that she needs out.)

Bryan Lowder: I’m with David: Something about the rhythm of this episode was a little off, even though I liked a number of the individual elements. I’m thinking a lot about the idea of a notebook, though, and how in some ways this episode—especially in the way that Hanna overtly attempts to instigate story material—felt like leafing through a memoir-writer’s notes. (Which is all very meta considering the diary debacle we’re still processing in this episode). Maybe the lack of unity we’re experiencing is a somewhat purposeful?

Kois: I saw that too, Bryan. “Sometimes you say shit that sounds made-up,” Adam said to her, shortly after she (mostly) made up an explanation about the “sex scandal” that led her to quit. Maybe Hannah will find that her real writing talent lies in fiction.

Haglund: I loved that exchange about Hannah making things up. When she tells Adam she doesn’t, he says, “Well, then everything bad happens to you.” Which also seems like a meta-comment on the show. So maybe there’s something to that theory, Bryan.

Daniel Engber: What did you all think of Adam’s switch from top to bottom in that final scene? Youthful sexual experimentation, or narrative incoherence for the sake of bearing out the theme of the episode?

Kois: I saw it more as about Hannah than about Adam in the end. Seeing her take charge of a situation without completely fucking it up was pretty terrific. “You’re great!” her sexually-harassing sweetheart of a (former) boss says. “You don’t know how to do anything, but you have so much potential!” If you view Hannah’s arc through this first season as the process of her learning how to do … anything, then that final scene with Adam may turn out to be pretty crucial.

Lowder: Totally! If you juxtapose the moment where Hanna can’t even break down a box to the moment where she makes her (lightly) abusive fuck-buddy her sexual and financial slave, the evolution is breathtaking.

Kois: The sight of her pushing the box against a wall in the vain hope that it might spontaneously flatten was a pretty great visual metaphor.

Haglund: I’m with Bryan on the masturbation scene. I don’t think it was done just for the sake of this episode, or for Hannah’s character—and I don’t think it was merely “youthful experimentation,” either. It seems plausible to me that Adam could enjoy being aggressively dominant, but also need, for whatever reason, to be humiliated. Adam goes in his bedroom to masturbate, knowing Hannah is still there, just after she tells him that she almost had sex with someone else. For once, she asserted a kind of sexual independence—which seemed to upset him, and also turn him on. Adam’s kind of a messed-up (and fascinating) guy, as we’re beginning to learn.

Kois: By the way, I never dared to hope that we would get a Friends-style flashback scene, but there it was, complete with Marnie’s bangs and Hannah’s gay boyfriend. “Scissor Sisters!!!”

Haglund: So did you like that flashback scene, Dan? It felt like an unfortunate stylistic break to me, even though the scene itself was reasonably well done.

Kois: It’s too early in the show’s life to count as a stylistic break!

Lowder: I thought the flashback was the weakest part. Jello shots on top of brownies? Come on. And I’m not sure what it added to our understanding of Marnie/Charlie’s relationship.

Engber: I don’t know that the flashback added to our understanding of their relationship, but wasn’t the pole-hug a poignant summary of what it’s all about? Charlie reaching his arms around, and awkwardly pats concrete…

Haglund: Yeah, between that and the failed box-flattening, this scene had its fair share of good visual metaphors. There was also Marnie bumping her head on the ceiling on Charlie’s cramped apartment, before deciding that, actually, she wants to break up with him.

Engber: I think it’s worth returning to the subject of our first dialogue on the show: Why are all the men so awful? The boss is a creep; Jessa’s boyfriend is a philanderer; the dad is a loser; Charlie is Charlie; and Ray … at this point, Ray has become my own personal Adam. I want to love him but every time I think we’re getting close, he does something even more unbelievably assholic. Like in this episode, when we find him randomly and brutally assaulting a Williamsburg girl for her “awkward-marine”-colored sweatshirt.

Haglund: I don’t think the men were merely awful in this episode. Richard Masur, the boss, responds about as generously as one could to Hannah’s bizarre proposition, doesn’t he? (Apart from that “there’s no suing app on your iPhone” crack.) And Adam, we now know, is more wounded than we may have previously realized—as, of course, is Charlie, whose Marnie-dependency can apparently be traced back to his father abandoning his family in some way. And even Ray, hilarious asshole that he may be, shows a love and loyalty for Charlie that is endearing, in between aggressively mocking those who pay for his salary by buying coffee from him.

Kois: Yeah, Ray was right! Not about that girl’s shirt, but about how Marnie and Charlie need to stay away from each other. When Charlie gave in to Marnie’s pleas, I laughed that it was the blowjobs that turned the tide, but I despaired: Those two need some time apart, and I need some time apart from those two as a couple.

Lowder: I’m with Dan on Ray. I really can’t stand him, and don’t care at all about his bromance with Charlie. But like David, I actually harbored a kind of affection for Hannah’s boss. Sure, he’s totally creepy and inappropriate, but he also definitely had a generous side, and I did get the sense that he cared about Hannah’s development and success on some level—in addition to releasing her solar plexis or whatever.

Engber: Richard Masur’s sudden generosity—after molesting Hannah around the office all week—served to enable her wacky humiliation. I think it was another case of coherence falling prey the needs of the show’s writers, which may coincide with the theme of this episode (but only by accident?)

Kois: Whatever, you guys. Did you not laugh??? How about when Shoshanna got caught watching Jessa’s quickie with that dude in the barbershop-quartet hat? What about Marnie expressing her admiration for Charlie’s immaculate apartment in the pitch-perfect way: “It’s like a Target ad!” What about Elijah completely failing to sell the line “Can you hang out with this girl while I fuck my girlfriend?” This episode offered a lot of rich dramatic material but mostly I read it as a great, fucked-up comedy.

Haglund: Yeah, it was a very funny episode. I laughed at Jessa’s romance-novel take on sexual harassment (“Sir, I have half a mind to call the authorities, how dare you?”) followed by her directions to Hannah (“You should hump him”), and also at Hannah’s ridiculous response to her boss’s kind rejection of her sexual advances: “I’m so glad you’re not my dad or my boyfriend.”

But I still think this show aims to be more than funny, and was closer to its target this week than last.

Lowder: Agreed. I found myself laughing at a lot of one-liners and passing moments, but my interest is maintained by the richer character development that I think (hope) the show will continue to pursue.

Engber: Here’s where I’m approaching true Girls nerdery: Did any of you notice that Jessa’s quickie resulted in the disappearance of her makeup? It’s like that guy humped the lurid geisha right out of her.

Kois: I also noticed that! I was hoping for a reverse shot in which it was revealed that her lipstick—well, her boss’s lipstick—had smeared all over Porkpie’s face, further clowning him.

Haglund: I bet Lena Dunham’s mom noticed, too.

Lowder: I’ve got to sign off, but I just want you all to know you’re an important part of my community.

Kois: You don’t even pay rent.

Read a review of this episode by the women of Slate at the XX Factor.

* This post originally misidentified the episode’s director. It is Jesse Peretz, not Jody Lee Lipes.