The XX Factor

Girls on Girls: Is Jessa a Closet Lesbian?

Jemima Kirke as Jessa on Girls (HBO)

Hanna Rosin: I confess my bias here, I am a big fan of the long and loose extended party scene. Dazed and Confused is one of my top ten and I really loved the rave interludes in the first seasons of Skins (the British version). I like to be pulled into an artificial atmosphere where crazy things can just happen; somehow it helps me relax around all kinds of narrative inconsistencies and improbable coincidences.

I especially loved this party scene episode because of the wicked homage to Sex and the City. The Slate boys agreed with Dana last week that Lena Dunham was killing Carrie in the previous episode. This time the references were more explicit. I am thinking especially of the scene shot from the back of the girls walking to the party holding hands. Only it was also kind of a Sex and the City mockumentary: Jessa’s weird Bjorkian overkill Carrie outfit. Hannah’s misplaced sweater set. And the crumbling outside of the Bushwick building, an angle you never got in Sex and the City. Also, was Shoshanna naked down there? Or were those tights?

Dana Stevens: They were like pantyhose, right? She definitely wasn’t naked, though the shot was constructed to make you think she was at first. Love that it was never explained how she lost the silver skirt.

L.V. Anderson: She was high on crack! And running as though competing in a 100-meter dash! I just assumed she decided at some point she could run faster if her skirt were off and discarded it.

Aisha Harris: I assumed that too. But how did Ray not even allude to this fact? That puzzled me. But I guess when you’ve been kicked in the groin, you aren’t in a state of mind to ask such questions.

June Thomas: The outfits were especially crazy-slash-on-point this week. I loved Jessa’s channeling of Downton Abbey’s dowager countess, perhaps a subtle reminder that unlike the other girls, Jessa could one day be a lady, or at least a dame. And then there was Marnie’s completely inappropriate dress and hair (though I kind of love her for going for it anyway and for worrying about being late for a rave) that made Audrey, Charlie’s new girlfriend, think she was one of the Real Housewives. And finally Shosh showed us what crackheads are wearing these days. Since my recurring nightmare recently shifted from “I’ve not prepared for an exam” to “I’m walking around Brooklyn without any pants on,” this felt particularly perfect to me. But the most amazing sartorial surprise was seeing Adam with a shirt on. How weird that our first time was Hannah’s first time, too!

Anderson: I just want to say I’m so happy to see you all I could murder you.

That’s because I was also so happy to see this episode I could murder it. I know I have a tendency to complain about aspects of the show that deviate from real life, and this episode chucked fidelity to reality out the window–and yet I loved it. This was easily my favorite episode yet, and the implausibility–nay, impossibility–of many of the plot points made it all the better. Hannah just spotting Shoshanna across the dance floor by chance? Would never happen in real life. Recognizing Adam and his posse of lesbian friends under a black light from ten yards away? Highly improbable. Shoshanna accidentally smoking crack? Literally incredible. Marnie happening upon Elijah and his new boyfriend? Well, by that point I was so awash in magical realism I had stopped noticing it. 

By the way, Audrey, Charlie’s tiny Navajo rebound, was played by an excellent actress named Audrey Gelman who’s appeared in a few past Dunham projects (Tight ShotsCreative Nonfiction, and Delusional Downtown Divas). I hope we see more of her, and not just because her politically incorrect headband portends a character who’s at least slightly out of touch, and Dunham’s best-written characters are always slightly out of touch.

Hanna, my favorite faux-Sex-and-the-City moment of this episode was when Marnie walked up to the three other girls and said, “Why are you all standing in a line?” It seems like the SATC ladies were always standing in a line, as though models on a fashion shoot, and I loved the way this episode poked fun at that visual trope.

By the way, at a party comprising “all of Brooklyn and two-thirds of Manhattan,” was anyone else expecting the return of Booth Jonathan? Did he not seem like the type to attend a party like this, where drugs, subcultures, and topless girls are a dime a dozen? Not to mention that poor Marnie was having such a terrible time at this party, she could have used a little pick-me-up from Booth.

Rosin: Exactly, Laura. They were a little too hard on Marnie. They wouldn’t even give her the relief of a little Booth action. I kept expecting it, and instead she was stuck on a couch talking to that human mannequin. 

Anderson: I actually found Marnie’s inability to deal with Charlie’s newfound girlfriend somewhat sympathetic. “I was ideal. I’m just saying, if I were a guy, like you would have trouble getting over me,” she tells the scruffy stranger on the couch. Coming to understand that no amount of ideal behavior can make a partner want to stay if s/he doesn’t want to is a painful lesson that everyone has to go through. (Of course, the fact that Marnie wasn’t ideal–that she browbeat and ignored Charlie for God knows how long at the end of their relationship–makes this testimony slightly less sympathetic).

Stevens: After having tremulously confessed my allegiance to Girls last week, I find myself let down by an episode for the first time (not that that sours me on the the show–that kind of week-by-week temperature-taking is one of my least favorite parts of TV recap culture.) Unlike Hilton Als, who wrote a valentine to her in the New Yorker blog this week, I don’t find Jemima Kirke as Jessa to exercise some mysterious witch-like fascination (though I did have that feeling about her in Dunham’s movie Tiny Furniture). In this episode, in particular, Jessa was repellent without being winning, throwing that wine bottle at the crust-punk guys (and then insulting them about … their mother’s poverty?), and abandoning Shoshanna mid-crack trip. (Do crack users “trip”? Isn’t the high supposed to be over really fast?) Since this was the most Jessa-centered episode since the abortion storyline, I liked it a lot less than the exploration of Hannah’s family life last week. 

June Thomas: Can y’all help me figure out my feelings about Jessa? A few weeks ago she claimed that “dating is for lesbians” in a tone that was more dismissive of dating than dykes, but nevertheless made clear that she didn’t have much time for either. This week she made another lesbian joke–when she saw Adam dancing with his posse, she said, “I do love a man who only hangs out with dykes. … They’re fawning all over him like he owns a Home Depot.” Not a bad line, I admit, but why so sapphically obsessed, my English friend? In some ways it flatters my lesbian heart that a hip young woman not only knows we exist but also knows our culture–well, our cliches–well enough to joke about them. But I also wonder if I should be pissed that she’s always dissing my people.

Anderson: June, I took note of Jessa’s lesbian-insulting, too! Is this foreshadowing? Does Jessa harbor secret homoerotic urges that she’s ashamed of? Or is she just an equal-opportunity insulter of everyone who’s not as cool as she is (i.e., everyone)?

Thomas: I wondered if perhaps her mother is a lesbian. She has hinted at an unhappy childhood in the past–maybe she’s still working out her anger at the sisterhood.

See, I was more sympathetic to Jessa this week. She proved that she’s not a poser. She really doesn’t give a fuck–whether that means fighting with crusties or truth-telling to sad dads, she’s just going to say what the hell she wants. I kind of admired her wildness, which seemed crazy, but compelling.

And she’s funny! I loved her instructions to Ray when she asked him to be Shoshanna’s crack spirit guide: “Make sure she doesn’t jump off a roof or get fingered by a beatboxer.” I think she might be Rayanne 10 years on.

Stevens: I love a lost, bumbling bad-girl character, but Jessa is no Rayanne.

Rosin: I could have done without the weeping Grizzly man at the hospital interlude. But it wasn’t distracting for me. What kept me watching was the expectation of a breakthrough with Adam, and I really liked how it unfolded. That is, he shifted the frame on us, and now Hannah was the one who was selfish. The Slate guys thought Adam was showing his true authentic self in this episode, with that goofy endearing elbow dance.  Did you all think they pushed him too far out of character, especially at the end?

Stevens: I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE END. And it’s the only part of the episode that really matters to me, since I didn’t love this one in general but am now interested in Hannah and Adam to a near fanfic-writing degree. What does Hannah’s smile in the cab mean? What happened in between him screaming: “Do you want me to be your fucking boyfriend?” and the three of them sitting underneath his bike, Hannah smiling like the cat that ate the canary? Are we to imagine he embraced her and said “yes, I will be your boyfriend” in front of God, Marnie, the cabdriver and everyone? If so we really have entered the world of magical realism.

Harris: I feel like that would be the only reason she would ever be smiling after that night. Which means, yes, we may be in a world of magical realism.

Rosin: Disagree. I think he said nothing like that. He wasn’t smiling. She was just happy for the breakthrough, the possibility, the turn in the story. It did not require a literal affirmation from him. He moved into a graspable human realm by just uttering words like “boyfriend” and “AA.” Also, he was proving that he sees her. And even if what he is saying is unflattering the fact of him noticing what she is like, the proof that he spends time thinking about her, is thrilling. 

Anderson: But Hanna, why did he get in the cab with Hannah if something hadn’t shifted in their relationship? Why not just bike the rest of the way to the Navy Yards?

Thomas: I absolutely loved Adam’s confrontation with Hannah. He’s right, she has never asked him about his thoughts, feelings, or past. She’s too busy a) being narcissistic, and b) thinking about how she’ll transform what is happening into a story in her notebook. (And, yes, that whole “narrating my whole life” thing is very Carrie Bradshaw. No one ever called Carrie on it, though.)

Harris: I don’t know, I got the impression that she had tried to reach out to him. But after thinking about it for a second, I think they’re both awkward people who have a terrible difficulty with communicating. They are much sadder, darker versions of Liz Lemon and Buster Bluth, if the two ever went on a date.

Stevens: Aisha, the image of Liz Lemon and Buster Bluth on a date–I’m dying! There’s a project for Tina Fey after 30 Rock runs out

Anderson: I didn’t think they pushed Adam too far out of character in this episode. I didn’t foresee the revelation that he’s an alcoholic, but it didn’t strike me as unrealistic. (I did see some inconsistency regarding Hannah’s drinking, though–didn’t we see her drink a beer with the pharmacist just last episode?)

Maybe it’s just that I can never look away from Dunham and Driver’s fantastic chemistry. My favorite bit from this episode was when Hannah tried to pat Adam’s arm in a way that says, “I’m over you,” and Adam, not comprehending where she’s coming from, grabbed her arm and started dancing with her in the most delightfully awkward way imaginable. And the look of joy we see on Hannah’s face when she’s dancing with him is unprecedented. 

Hannah’s bicycle ride with Adam was clearly meant to remind us of their sex life: She’s uncomfortable, and he just thinks they’re having fun. I guess Hannah draws the line when her physical well-being is at stake: She says she’s really scared, Adam tells her just to hold on, and she finally puts her foot down and insists that Adam stop the bike. (Politely, though: She says “please.”) But she ultimately discovers that asking for what she wants–in this case, asking Adam to be her boyfriend (which is what I assumed happened between Adam’s yelling and the cab ride)–can, amazingly, lead to her getting what she wants.

Stevens: But isn’t Adam’s “you never asked” also kind of sophistic bullshit? His behavior toward Hannah, at least that we’ve seen, hardly suggests a person who’s open to being asked anything, and she has tried to get close to him by spending more time, which would open up the space for that intimacy between them.

Thomas: Well, given a choice between Adam and Hannah, I’m not sure I could identify the more unreliable narrator. It was just striking how unrecognizable Tako’s description of Adam was to Hannah (and to us). I guess they’re both responsible for their mutual incomprehension.

Harris: It definitely is—I honestly think it’s hard to argue against the fact that in this relationship, Hannah has been more forthcoming in her feelings than Adam ever has. They both suck at communicating, but I think this is decidedly more Adam’s fault than Hannah’s.

Stevens: Her smile at the end was probably my favorite moment of the episode, perhaps because I didn’t fully understand its motivation. The Mona Lisa of Greenpoint…

Harris: Ah yes, Mona Lisa encapsulates that perfectly!

Rosin: Do you guys send your friends drop pins? Just curious.

Anderson: I have never sent a pin drop and didn’t even know it was possible. Watching that scene made me feel like an old, out-of-touch Luddite. 

Harris: I didn’t know that was actually possible; but as soon as I heard her say it, I knew what it was. And now I want to use it all. the. time. I can’t tell you how many times I have no idea where I am when someone else is trying to find me.

Thomas: The drop pins incident felt like a really useful PSA. Shosh showed off her rape prevention training with her kicks to Ray’s groin. Hannah and Marnie gave us some other practical advice.

They should make that into an iPhone ad.

Thomas: As appalling as Ray has been in past episodes, I loved him in this, not only for the way he looked after Shosh, kind of, but because he seems perfect for Jessa. I loved it when he petted her feathered outfit and asked, “Does everyone in the Age of Innocence Fan Club get one of these, or just the gold members?”

Rosin: Ray’s “Jap day care” line was also pretty good. I intend to use that with my own children.

Stevens: Yes! I called Ray an irredeemable dick just two weeks ago, but watching him sprinting through the streets yelling “I’m your crack spirit guide!” won me back over again. I don’t think this show is going to have any real villains–everyone is both appalling and potentially redeemable.

Harris: On another note, watching hipsters dance from a distance without actually being there was quite hilarious. This was a Brooklyn rave or party or get-together if I’ve ever seen one. Hannah’s not-quite-robot-more-like-TinMan-without-oil dancing = priceless.

Stevens: Watching them dance you’re reminded you they do share a real connection–in bed, and in everyday life, they can’t quite make it work, but as defiantly uncool dancers they’re in perfect, goofy sync. 

Thomas: Hanna, I just want you to know that when I type your name, I do so in an Israeli accent. And when I type “Tako,” the way I hear it in my head it’s totally obvious that it should never be spelled with a C.

Rosin: That was a proud moment for me. I almost considered making you all call me by the name on my green card, Chana, with the guttural “ch.”

Thomas: After our last Girls on Girls discussion, let’s have a dance party!

Stevens: Bongos and body percussion!

Check out the guys of Slate beating their chests about this episode of Girls over on Brow Beat