David Haglund: This series has made me feel many things: elated, frustrated, agitated, elevated. But this episode, “On All Fours,” might have been the first that mostly made me feel really, really sad. How’d it make you feel, Jeff?
Jeffrey Bloomer: Super bummed. Hannah has never been entirely, 100 percent healthy, but this episode is the first time I thought there might be something deeply, pathologically wrong. Are we suddenly seeing a very raw depiction of a mental breakdown? It felt that way to me.
Haglund: God, the Q-tip scene, in which Hannah jammed something much smaller than her elbow into her ear and then “heard air hiss out the hole,” was excruciating. New York City’s most drily sarcastic doctor added some levity, but then that exchange with Adam, when she bumped into him on the return trip from the hospital, and he said, “Jesus fucking Christ, kid, be careful”? Heartbreaking. Hannah’s reply—”Kid. It’s very nice to hear that”—caught how I was feeling: nostalgic for their Season 1 ups and downs, which seem more than ever like kids playing at grown-up games. The episode became even more upsetting when Adam, after getting a glimpse of Hannah’s pantsless desperation, fell off the wagon.
Bloomer: This has been a season of digressions and false starts, and many of the early-season breakthroughs have unraveled further with each episode. Initially I had a less ominous thought about Adam’s Jack-and-ginger: funny that he still drinks like a teenager. I believed that it really was a gesture both to Natalia and to himself that he could have fun and not lose control with her. But of course that was an excuse, a rationalization, leading to those final minutes that gave the episode its title.
Putting aside, for a moment, my personal trauma at seeing a WB star of my youth topless, am I right that Adam’s running into Hannah prompted that sexual breakdown more than the alcohol? Or were they of a piece?
Haglund: I think they go hand in hand. Seeing Hannah forlorn and alone on a New York City sidewalk may have been the immediate trigger that sent him back to drinking—moments before, he’d dutifully asked Nat to get him a seltzer—but he’s been on that path for a while. Hence his return to A.A. in the first place, of course, and the serendipitous encounter with his now-girlfriend’s mom. I was surprised that Nat went along so quickly with his request for something stiffer than carbonated water—she even placed the order for him—given that she’s the daughter of an alcoholic herself. But then she really hasn’t known him long—and she did seem to hesitate for a moment.
But Jeff, “topless” is putting it mildly, to say the least. We saw her lying prostrate at the end of exceedingly uncomfortable sex, the evidence of her boyfriend’s self-pleasuring draped sadly and unpleasantly upon her, as he loomed above, his face looking more than ever like that of an old-timey criminal. Were you as surprised as I was at the way Dunham’s camera—she directed this episode—lingered on Appleby like that? And what did you make of that scene?
Bloomer: I think the lingering camera had to do with Natalia feeling debased, even borderline assaulted. It was about her disgust and, what may be worse, her crushing disappointment. “I don’t think I like that,” she says. “I, like, really didn’t like that.” The scene was arguably mild in comparison to some of the other stuff we’ve seen Adam do, so it’s pretty amazing how horrifying this scene was—his most awkward sex with Hannah still sometimes managed to be erotic. This was just devastating. Their cute exchange in the episode’s opening scene was funny—at the time. “I like how clear you are with me,” he said. “What other way is there?” she replied. But like everything else in this episode, it seems dark and cruel in retrospect.
There were a lot of lingering body horrors in this episode: the OCD wedgie, the ass splinter, the Q-tips, the pathetic result of Adam’s breakdown. What gives?
Haglund: Body horror has been with the show from the beginning—it just never approached this David Cronenberg-like level before. Remember the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms? Remember that stuff? The HPV gave way to the UTI and finally, this week, to a string of gruesome, graphic, bodily experiences.
I wonder if that shot of Natalia was on some level a rebuke to porn. Shiri Appleby is one of the most conventionally beautiful people who’s been cast on this show, and that was a money shot—a genuinely upsetting, not-at-all erotic money shot. And also a sad answer to that cruel editor’s careless question, “Where’s the pudgy face slick with semen and sadness?” Just you wait, John Cameron Mitchell.
I suppose we should also talk about the other storylines from this episode: Marnie’s comparatively mild meltdown, and the continued fraying of whatever Ray and Shoshanna have going on. Though in comparison all that seems fairly tame. Did you find those plot points more gripping than I did?
Bloomer: I’m happy to change the subject! Though I have to confess that I can’t stand Marnie. This is a relatively recent development, but when she showed up at Charlie’s new office, I lost all patience. She’s obviously talented—though not at covering Kanye—but lately I find myself rooting against her, because she so utterly lacks any sort of self-reflection. That she still cannot believe Charlie moved on after her is infuriating. Then again, as we saw in this episode, maybe he didn’t totally move on after all.
We need to talk about Shosh, though. What is going on with that girl? And do you think Ray knows what she meant by “holding hands” with that cute doorman?
Haglund: I assume Ray took her literally, and didn’t ask questions because she’s a “fucking weirdo” and surely “I held hands with a doorman” must lend itself to an entirely innocent interpretation. As for what’s going on with her: She wants a way out, don’t you think? And so she tells Charlie that she’d sleep with him—even while couching that declaration as an unimpeachable statement about his obvious attractiveness—and then she listens to Bazooka Joe go on about how “going out to things is just part of who I am” (an appealing alternative, she seems to think, to stay-at-home Ray). The future of the once promising Ray-Shoshanna partnership seems dim.
I liked the glimpse of Ray-Charlie tension we got, with the show’s elder statesman putting plainly his contempt for the handsome hot-shot’s bougie ways (though I am still holding an entirely unacknowledged candle for Questionable Goods). But I feel like Marnie’s story has gotten away from the writers a bit. Interrupting a party to sing awkwardly and be greeted by silence… haven’t we seen that gag before, on other shows? Also, she wasn’t bad. I would have applauded.
Bloomer: Perhaps my wrath is less for Marnie as a character than for the writers who have led her so far astray. And for as dark an episode as this was, I was pleased to return to the start-up space, site of some of this season’s most on-point satire. I just hope we’re not subjected to a hand-wringing season finale in which Charlie and Marnie once again ruminate about what they are and what they might have been. Spare. Me.
And David, the performance wasn’t terrible because of the singing, it was terrible because she tried to make that party about her! My hands stayed firmly in my pockets.
Haglund: Fair point. I do think some Charlie-Marnie ruminating is inevitable—and I’m not dreading it. Their relationship began with Marnie high, immobile, and afraid at a party—and while she was not, so far as I could tell, high this time, and Charlie has moved up in the world, that original dynamic was still present underneath it all.
What else are you dreading and hoping for from the season finale? It’s amazing to me that they went this dark right before they’re about to wrap things up until next season. Can they possibly brighten things a bit in the final 30 minutes?
Bloomer: I don’t want things to brighten up. After the brutality of this episode—and the generally ominous tidings that seem to be lurking over all the characters this season—I think the only honest place to go is even further down. Hannah’s first book is turning into My Life on My Back, Ray is one hot doorman away from being homeless, and Marnie and Jessa have never been more lost. We ended last season in an ambulance, and I have a feeling we’re going to be in an even starker place next week. I say bring it on.