Hanna Rosin: As the boys of Slate pointed out, this episode was about metamorphoses, which in many cases took the form of playing out some fantasy. Hannah’s attempt fails, of course, as she puts on a goth/hooker outfit for Adam but then gets a call from her gynecologist before they get to act anything out. But mostly I want to talk about Marnie’s up on the High Line.
I don’t quite know what to make of Booth Jonathan’s come-on: “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.” Marnie was touched by it, obviously, but it was so much like something one of the macho morons that Jorma Taccone (the actor who plays Booth) and Andy Samberg play in their comedy group Lonely Island that I had a hard time taking it seriously. Booth is a character straight out of “Jizz in my Pants” or “I Just Had Sex.”
Also, as we digested last week with Katie Roiphe’s piece on working women’s fantasies and Fifty Shades of Grey, women’s fantasies are not meant to be taken this literally. I remember a scene in Tootsie when Dustin Hoffman (as a woman) learns from Jessica Lange that she wants a man to come on to her in that aggro, “I’m a man” sort of way. Having learned her secret he then tries it out, and she slaps him.
What do you all make of it? Are they belittling uptight Marnie here?
L.V. Anderson: I thought Booth’s (can I call him Booth?) attempts at seduction would be weak in real life but were strong in the context of the show. Look at the other men we have to compare to him: sad-sack Charlie, callous Adam, and now pothead Jeff and catty Elijah. By comparison, Booth is positively suave.
Meghan O’Rourke: Overall, one of the most fascinating things to me about the response to this show is how much time is dedicated to trying to suss out whether a certain moment is “believable” or not. See the Boys of Slate this week, who don’t “buy” this come-on. To me, the very fact that we’re stuck talking about whether we “buy” a line like Jorma Taccone’s (“I might scare you a little”) speaks to how unrepresented contemporary female sexual experience is. After all, if some people are turned on by having sex as stuffed animals, how hard is it to believe that a type-A character like Marnie would be turned on by a bossy dude—even if half of his bossiness is thin posturing?
Which is to say: It seems to me, from talking to women, that all this stuff happens, all the time, in all sorts of variations, and some women take it “seriously” and are seduced by it, and some aren’t. And it all depends on pheromones and the specific power dynamic and erotic charge and all that. Love and sex make no sense! Also, we have to remember that this is just the first three episodes, and so each scene here is being held up as “representative,” because the show is still so new.
Anderson: As that scene and others showed, this was the episode I thought Allison Williams’ acting chops proved really not up to the task of playing Marnie. She can do annoyed and bitchy just fine, and we’ve seen that (and almost only that) in the first and second episode. But between the crying scene (when Hannah tells her she has HPV) and the masturbation scene, Williams in this episode was in over her head. I have never seen such bad fake crying in my life, and the bathroom masturbation is the least realistic scene in this show so far. Could I imagine Marnie going home and masturbating later that night? Sure. Can I imagine her SO INFLAMED with lust that she had to alleviate her sexual urges as soon as possible? Not for a second. What did you guys make of that scene?
O’Rourke: I agree about Alison Williams’ acting chops. She’s the weakest link—but it’s maybe a hard character. Again, I find it fascinating that we are talking so much about what these characters wouldn’t do. It seems to me that there is a TREMENDOUS desire on the part of men and women alike to decide that it is “unrealistic” for real girls to behave this way. (It’s OK for a character like Samantha, but that’s because she’s a kind of caricature.) I totally buy that Marnie would masturbate in the bathroom (I have heard these kind of stories), but I’m also really interested in our moving the critical conversation away from what we “buy” or “don’t buy,” because to me this language is an expression of just how powerfully internalized our ideas about how women should behave are. We’re really uncomfortable with just observing these behaviors that don’t aren’t commonly represented—we rush to judge them.
June Thomas: I tend to think there isn’t a wrong way to get off when you’re on your own.
Anderson: I take your point about the rush to judge women’s behavior, Meghan, but the reason the scene in the bathroom bothered me is that it smacked a lot to me of a male fantasy of female sexuality. I don’t mean to dismiss anyone who has had a similar experience—as June says, there isn’t a wrong way to get off when you’re on your own. But whether because of an intentional choice on Dunham’s part or because of Williams’ acting range, that scene read as really porny to me. It seemed that Marnie was putting on a performance as though for an audience: note the gasping and groaning and the open-mouthed sexy-face. Was this meant to be an indication that Marnie is so used to performing the role of the hot girl that she never stops, even when she’s alone?
Dana Stevens: Not to get too personal, but do any of you know any woman, however hot and bothered by the manly charms of Jorma Taccone, who would masturbate standing up in an art-gallery bathroom while wearing pantyhose?
Rosin: Can we talk about the scene with Hannah and her gay ex-boyfriend? I thought that was line by line one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen. I’ve been repeating that very last line—“It was nice to see you. Your dad is gay”—all week.
O’Rourke: I love that scene. To me, one of the strongest things about the show is its offbeat, neurotic humor, embodied in Dunham’s characterization of Hannah here (and her great physical humor—eye-rolling, looking faint). In this scene, she really does render as a kind a female Woody Allen—with her own contemporary quirks. I think that this quality in the show is still finding its footing, and I hope that as the show gets some of its set-up out of the way, that voice—quixotic, selfish, sad, poignant—will get larger and larger.
Stevens: After watching the Elijah/Hannah bar scene three or four times straight through, there are still a few spots where I laugh every time: the sendoff Hanna mentions, and Dunham’s impeccable comic timing as she slips from tearful sentimentality (“What I’m having right now is an inappropriate physical reaction to my total joy for you and your self-discovery”) to wounded spite (“that fruity little voice of yours … that’s a new thing”).
Thomas: My strongest response to the scene with Elijah was that Hannah’s taste in men is improving. Adam is selfish and thoughtless and is taking unacceptable liberties with her body, but the sex seems great. OK, it’s only great for him (and maybe for the viewer—I find it shockingly hot), but he’s modeling a really useful behavior if only Hannah could stop regurgitating self-help/romantic fantasies of the kinds of conversations you’re supposed to have when you’re having sex and just focus on having sex. Knowing what you want in bed and doing what you need to do to get off is a really useful thing to learn. Adam takes that selfishness way too far, but Hannah could learn from him.
Elijah, on the other hand, is a bullshit artist who quotes Maya Angelou and talks about his authentic self. He shifts from telling Hannah how great she looks to saying she looks like a dyke in a matter of minutes. I hate him more than I hate Adam.
Rosin: But why is Lena Dunham subjecting the character to so much humiliation? She hasn’t gotten enough from Adam, and her gynecologist? Now she has to travel back in time to seek out some more? It’s obviously integral to her humor but still curious. Woody Allen’s narcissism took a slightly different form. He never took the extra step of making himself so undesirable, even when he obviously was. But Hannah takes the punches again and again in that scene (“There’s a handsomeness to you,” “If you keep dressing like that” people will think you’re a dyke, etc.).
O’Rourke: Hanna, I think that’s an important point. It connects back to the fact that we never see her really enjoying the sex, either (even if the viewer finds it hot, June!). Unlike SATC, no one here seems to be really getting off on the sex. As Lena Dunham told Salon, “I realized we don’t have enough orgasms in our show. We’ll have to work on the second season.”
Anderson: Dunham’s continual abuse of the characters she plays is fascinating, but I think it will get boring if it never stops. But I think the trials Hannah is subjected to make her small triumphs that much more meaningful—and it seems to me that in every episode she’s had at least one small triumph. In this one, I think it was when Adam blithely mansplains to her how easy it is to lose four pounds and asks her if she’s tried to lose weight a lot. “No, I have not tried a lot to lose weight,” she replies. “Because I decided I was going to have some other concerns in my life.” Hannah has a self-confidence that I think and hope will continue to peek out despite her rough circumstances.
Stevens: OK, here’s where I’m going to make my case for the Hannah/Adam sex being at least somewhat hot for both partners.
Look at the little hop in Hannah’s step when Adam summons her upstairs, with the warning he might not let her leave for three days, after she shows up on his doorstep in that goth-witch getup. Or her barely concealed laughter—laughter not of mockery but of genuine amusement—as he launches into that “11-year-old-junkie-with-a-lunchbox” roleplay fantasy in the opening sex scene. Hannah hasn’t fully cracked the code of Adam yet—and he’s obviously even farther from cracking hers—but she’s fascinated by his untrammeled relationship to his own desire, and they do share a genuine, if uneasy, connection.
Rosin: Well the amazing thing about the Adam/Hannah sex scenes—and this is again another form of extreme humiliation—is that Lena Dunham strives to make Hannah come off worse than him in those scenes. She is the one who doesn’t know what she wants, who pretends she “almost came,” who won’t shut up during sex. If there’s any hotness, it’s all coming from him, and she’s getting in the way of it.
Thomas: Absolutely. Adam’s the only one getting what he wants—though even he complains of it taking 25 years to get his nut off when he sleeps with her. I don’t quite buy—forgive me, Meghan—Charlie’s enjoyment. Dunham seems to be setting up a world where excessive analysis of things—in the bedroom that means too much talking during sex—is negatively correlated with enjoyment of them, and Charlie is a talker.
O’Rourke: Dana, I think that you’re right that there are clues that she is enjoying the sex, that it’s not merely exploitative. But the show is maybe a bit confused here in its dramatization of the very real complexity of their sexual bond: I just wish we saw that kick and hop a little more in the actual sex scenes. (Apparently Apatow did too: he told Dunham not to look like she was being murdered as they filmed it.) As for Adam, I also loved his curt announcement “I’m busy” while BICYCLE KICKING in bed! His character is wonderfully developed by Adam Driver.
One thing I like about this show is that it lets us see two sides to all of the characters. But the exception is Shoshanna, who just seems to provide comic relief. (Often excellent comic relief.) Is her character a liability or an asset? Won’t she have to deepen her role in some way for this show to continue to grow?
Anderson: I appear to be the only person in Slate’s New York office who finds Shoshanna both realistic and sympathetic. Obviously, she provides quite a bit of comic relief. But that moment on the couch after she revealed her “big baggage”—her virginity—and Hannah tried to comfort her, Shoshanna looked so sad, and my heart broke a little bit for her. I’ll try not to steer every single of these dialogues into a lovefest for Zosia Mamet, but I think she infuses this character with a humanity that a lesser actor wouldn’t be able to muster.
Stevens: I have a small thing to point out about Shoshanna: She’s meant to be a few years younger (21 to their 25) and a bit outside their inner circle—she’s basically part of their lives because she’s Jessa’s cousin and puts her up while she’s in town (she doesn’t get invited to Marnie’s dinner party welcoming Jessa, for example, which I’m sure she would have eagerly attended.) I find her please-love-me little-sister quality touching, and Zosia Mamet’s line readings incredibly funny.
Thomas: I love Shoshanna; she’s the Facebook chat of the group. That is, just as Episode 1 delineated the totem of chat, there’s also a totem of cool, and Shoshanna allows Hannah to not be the biggest loser in the group. Jessa’s the coolest, of course, and lives the kind of life Hannah aspires to (though I hope that at some point soon Hannah will realize that Jessa is just a mooching babysitter with a couple of different strains of HPV). Marnie is together and has a long-term boyfriend, so she makes Hannah feel a little inadequate. But Shoshanna allows Hannah to feel like an adventurous woman instead of a confused girl. Everyone needs a Shoshanna in their lives.
Rosin: Shoshanna is also fun for Lena Dunham, I think. She is the one character with which Dunham is not trying so hard to represent something or transgress in some way. She feels like Dunham’s unencumbered late night riffs while high on some stupid subject or another. What if you had some reality show where people, like, brought literal suitcases on the set and then confessed some super embarrassing baggage, like they poke holes in condoms or whatever. That is where Dunham gets to be the girl version of Taccone and Samberg, meaning she gets to be a little bit stupid.
O’Rourke: Sad to say, that riff is based on reality. I totally agree about the pleasures of Shoshanna; I just wondered where her character would possibly go. But maybe it’s OK to have a character who doesn’t have much of an arc—à la the bit players in a Will Ferrell comedy.
Anderson: I think there’s plenty of room for an arc for Shoshanna! After all, she’s desperate to lose her virginity, and I’m almost as nervous/excited about it as she is. I know I’m getting foolishly ahead of myself, but I’ve been writing some fan fiction in my head, because I’d love Shoshanna to lose her virginity to the equally-sweet Charlie.
Thomas: Do we think that Hannah identifies her baggage correctly? I think her littlest baggage is a tendency to romanticize everything. Her middle baggage is her inability to take care of herself. And her biggest baggage is what she thinks of as her littlest, her work life: She says that she’s “unfit for any and all paying jobs.” In fact, it’s just that she is living in a fantasy world, and she can’t get the jobs in that world. That doesn’t mean she couldn’t get a job job.
Last note: Are we sure that Adam’s deliberately lying about his STD test? Might it not be that, as Elijah suggests in the bar scene, he just doesn’t know thing one about human sexuality?
Rosin: I assume he is one of those charming narcissists who just invents his own truth on the fly, so at the moment he said that he believed it himself, which is a little different from lying.
June, what’s your baggage?
Thomas: My baggage is that I never want to end conversations like this!
Stevens: My baggage is that I’m enjoying this conversation so much that I don’t know when to play the quiet game!
If you’d like to read the baggage that the guys of Slate brought to this episode, pop on over to Brow Beat.