The XX Factor

Girls on Girls:  Is it Cool to Snark on Your Best Friend’s Breasts?

Chris O’Dowd, Jemima Kirke, and Allison Williams on Girls (HBO)

Hanna Rosin: For this dialogue, and perhaps for the rest of my life, I am going to operate on the “just one yo” principle. Which I believe means one should be spare, minimalist and hew closely to the original material. So, yo, how about that Psycho shower scene? Pretty brilliant I thought. In that one second Lena Dunham captured perfectly what the Slate guys noted were the constantly shifting moods of the show, that is, how you could go from peacefully taking a shower, or watching a home video with your boyfriend in bed-bound harmony, to having him suddenly scare the shit out of you, by making a Norman Bates face or slamming a car hood and calling the driver a fucking cunt. Where are you guys on the Adam/Hannah romance this week?

L.V. Anderson: It was indeed quite a rollercoaster. However, despite the ups and downs, I believe Adam and Hannah gave us our first female orgasm of the series in this episode (overheard by poor Marnie through the wall, despite her blasting of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper”). Progress!

June Thomas: I’m still fascinated—more mesmerized than ever, in fact. In some ways it feels like Adam is becoming both a fantasy boyfriend and Hannah’s fantasy of herself. They do all the things couples do in rom-com montages—running in the streets, coaching each other to get to the next level, offering to exchange a flash of tits for an ice cream—and then he undermines it with his freak-out at the encroaching car and his diatribe against the ultimate rom-com food, ice cream, which he likens to “sweet mucus.”And as an artist—Hannah’s ultimate fantasy for herself—he effectively taps into quite poignant memories of childhood in his monologue—and then undercuts it ever so slightly by shifting from needy elementary-schooler to hate-banging 14-year-old. I could spend hours with this guy. In fact, I don’t ever want to leave his apartment.

Rosin: June, is tits for ice cream really a rom-com cliche? You think Jennifer Aniston would do it?

Thomas: Aniston? No. Heigl? Maybe. Wiig? For sure.

Dana Stevens: Wasn’t the precise term Adam used to verbally abuse that careless driver “cunt-satchel”? I had to rewind a few times to make sure I’d correctly heard it—along with the casually crass phone conversation with his sister (“Where are you, skank? Gettin’ that pussy pounded?”), maybe the funniest line in a very funny episode. 

This was the most Adam-centric episode so far, so as a Driver fangirl (but not a stalker, I swear!), you know I was into it. Isn’t this the first time we’ve learned of his ambition to write and perform in plays, as opposed to expressing himself through carpentry?  

Rosin: What did you guys think of his one-man show? 

Anderson: I thought it was an incredible scene: Hannah smiles with such pride and admiration as Adam pantomimes pounding a teenage girl’s vagina while saying, “That’ll teach you,” over and over again. Which is patently ridiculous and degrading—but who among us hasn’t had our artistic judgment eroded by love? Who among us has never had a shit-eating grin on our faces while watching a partner perform or talk about his or her passion, and then realize only several weeks or months later (after the inevitably painful breakup) that it was awful and idiotic? Dunham invites us to mock and perhaps pity Hannah, but we can’t do that without mocking and pitying ourselves. And that is the genius of Dunham’s comedy. 

Stevens: I think I disagree with Laura that Adam’s monologue was supposed to be embarrassing and Hannah’s enthusiasm for it pitiful. Adam is aiming something not unlike Lena Dunham’s own project: an autobiographical exploration of his own deepest, lamest, pettiest desires and fantasies. His recollection of a sixth-grade spurning and his subsequent sexual revenge “on the patch of grass between the liquor store and the dog salon” may not get him an HBO series, but it was honest and darkly funny and riveting to watch. Though the response of his fellow thespian, Gavin to Adam’s harsh dressing-down after the botched canoe improv (“Thanks man. You keep me honest.”) seemed like a comical overestimation of Adam’s gifts as a dramatist.

Anderson: Dana, you’re probably right. It’s just that I find hate-fucking to be such a distasteful phenomenon that I couldn’t find anything admirable in that part of Adam’s monologue. (I didn’t mind the part about jerking off in the hammock, though. We should all be so lucky.)

Thomas: The monologue was great—rejection and date rape have always been my favorite topics—but what really blew me away was his skill as an editor. When Gavin went off on his “wigger” rant—and let’s face it, the problem wasn’t the white guy doing a black voice, it was the fact that the material sucked—Adam offered immediate, honest feedback that really got to the heart of the problem. Someone hire that man to handle the back of the book!

And his insight about integrity—Hannah encourages him to stick with his piece just to get a writing credit, but Adam insisted that “I would rather do nothing for the rest of my life than have my name attached to something mediocre”—was fucking heroic.

Rosin: Heroic! It was demented. That was the arrogant prick moment for me.  I liked the monologue itself. It was directed largely to us, so we could understand the roots of his sexual tastes. Shelby Cruthers as the original Hannah, and the fuzzy pink pen as the original Cabbage Patch Lunchbox. But his sudden, pretentious, I’m-an-artiste freak-out was meant to ward us off falling for Adam too hard, no? That’s something Lena Dunham does often, tempting us with one version of Adam—in this case, Adam the talented monologist—and then yanking it away. Which makes us experience the relationship much as she does. 

Stevens: June: don’t you think Adam’s “insight about integrity” in the union-suit scene was meant at least in part to show his rigidity and immaturity? Over the course of the episode, Hanna’s belief in his talent gradually convinces him not to abandon the play (and screw poor wigger-voiced Gavin out of the $2000 he’d invested.) 

Thomas: But Hanna, even if Adam’s response was arrogant prickitude (which is not at all how I experienced it), it feels like a reasonable response when faced with the Gavins of this world—the chubby ginger beardo was a stand-in, I suppose, for utter mediocrity and unearned experience. Adam was revealing something real from his past and Gavin was just doing a bit.

Of course, all that moral rectitude was undercut somewhat by Adam’s change of heart later on. He listens to Hannah’s encouragement to return to his show, and decides to use a pseudonym and take out some of his favorite lines (presumably for re-use later). That’s the no-integrity, no-quality solution.

Rosin: Well, in my experience of creatives, there is a subcategory who purposely and repeatedly join forces with the Gavins of the world so that they can then have an opportunity to rail against mediocrity. On the other hand, pissing on the money man and defending your own artistic purity is something you’re allowed to get out of your system in your 20s.  

Anderson: I was more interested in the Hannah/Adam relationship vis-à-vis Marnie and Chris O’Dowd’s unnamed character than on its own. Chris O’Dowd also had a batshit-insane tantrum in this episode, but unlike Hannah, who seemed upset (and reasonably so) by Adam’s outburst, Marnie appeared turned on by the venture capitalist’s misogynistic tirade. The tables have turned rather quickly; now it’s Hannah in the (relatively) stable and communicative relationship, and Marnie on the prowl, getting entangled with ill-advisable men. 

Thomas: I also found the reversal of Hannah’s and Marnie’s relationship fortunes fascinating. And it’s not just that Hannah’s getting the little death while Marnie dies of embarrassment (or envy), there’s also a turnaround in their willingness to experiment. Uptight Marnie downs a few ‘tinis, tells a few truths to frenemy Jessa, goes off with some strange dude that even Jessa can’t stand, and ends up getting into a girl-on-girl scene while this DJ wannabe watches. Meanwhile, Hannah freaks the fuck out just because Adam pees on her in the shower. I mean, it’s not like he’s urinating on her union suit.

Rosin: I had an amazing argument about shower peeing at a wedding of an unnamed Slate staffer with unnamed fellow Slate staffers. I honestly never knew that people considered shower peeing disgusting. But the people I was arguing with had broken up with a roommate upon learning that she regularly peed in the shower. I mean, in this episode it seemed as if he were peeing ON her, which is a little different. But still, the girl doesn’t generally seem squeamish. 

Anderson: Over on the guys’ chat, David Haglund posited that the Jessa-Marnie makeout sesh was an “obvious” ploy to titillate viewers. But it made sense to me: Marnie’s hurting and honestly desperate to feel free (to use her word), and Jessa possesses both a libertine streak and an apparent desire to do anything to spite Chris O’Dowd.

However, Marnie and Jessa’s mean-hearted discussion of Hannah’s breasts was the only false note of the episode for me. “They’re teensy,” says Marnie, after implying that they make Hannah’s sexuality creepy. Jessa and Marnie’s fondly exasperated agreement that Hannah should wash her forehead more often made sense to me—after all, washing her forehead is something Hannah has control over. But insulting her for something genetic and therefore entirely beyond her agency? That’s a seventh-grade mean-girl move, not something you do to a friend.

So to answer the guys’ question: I have never snarked on a friend’s breasts like that behind her back. I doubt I would ever talk about anyone’s breasts behind their back unless I were talking about how cute they were. (By the way: I have actually had conversations with friends about how aesthetically pleasing I find Lena Dunham’s breasts. They’re adorable! And so perky!) As for my friends, I have only ever discussed their breasts in their presence, and then only to assure them that their breasts are fantastic. Where do you ladies stand on the breast-gossip divide?

Thomas: I have, I admit, objectified women’s breasts, but I have never criticized—I’m strictly rave or silence. I also may have discussed friends’ and acquaintances’ bra choices, because good foundation garments make all the difference. (And as we know, Hannah often goes out without underwear of any kind.)

That was also a callback of sorts, because back in the first episode Hannah talked about never having seen Marnie’s breasts and really wanting to. You know Hannah would have had nothing but praise for Marnie’s cleavage.

Rosin: Post triple breastfeeding here. Not commenting.

Stevens: I definitely wouldn’t body-snark on a friend behind her back—that’s a glass house I’m not about to throw stones from. But I forgave that breast conversation because of Marnie’s tipsy, and genuine-sounding, final words on the matter: “But I love them.” Remember that the very first episode of Girls opened with Hannah and Marnie spooning together in Hannah’s bed—they’ve known each other a long time, and they share a non-sexual physical intimacy that makes Marnie’s affection for her friend’s body (and Hannah’s interest in checking out Marnie’s own rack) seem plausible.

Rosin: Can we go back to make-out session? Plausible or not? (And serious credit to us for picking up early on Jessa’s dyke vibe.)

Anderson: I’ve already asserted my faith in the verisimilitude of the make-out scene. But may I just add that I adored the soundtrack to that scene? Chris O’Dowd’s mash-up of Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love” with jungle-animal noises was just one of several hilarious juxtapositions of incompatible sounds during this episode. (Others included Adam and Hannah’s dirty coital talk coming through the wall over “Skyscraper”; Adam’s stoic canoeing dialogue followed by his writing partner’s “wigger” rap; and, of course, Chris O’Dowd’s epically bad first mash-up: Len’s “Steal My Sunshine”—a song I don’t believe I’ve heard in at least a decade—combined with the sound of children playing in a field.) The second mash-up was a little on the nose—the jungle noises clashing with the sexy pop ballad obviously echoed Chris O’Dowd’s clumsy, unwelcome attempts at getting in on the Sapphic action—but I laughed.

Thomas: Eh, the make-out came off as a bit of a straight fantasy to me—though I admit that interpretation is complicated by the fact that a) they seemed genuinely into it; b) neither of them would let Mr. DJ get a look in. I bought that they would spill on his rug, but I don’t think they’d munch each other’s.

I don’t think Jessa’s a dyke—I just think she’s got some baggage around that issue. (BTW, one of the most amazing things about Baggage, Shoshanna’s favorite show, was that the contestants regularly present themselves as being open to getting off with either sex. Man, the future is awesome.)

Stevens: This was an episode in which the A-plot was far more gratifying than the B-plot: agree or disagree? Watching Hannah and Adam enter the stage of coupledom that a college friend and I used to call “pigdom”—condoms and peanut butter jars on the floor, going jogging together in no underwear, taking it for granted that you’ll spend every minute of the day together—was moving and funny and fascinating. Watching Jessa and Marnie pick up Chris O’Dowd in a bar and awkwardly tease him into a state of childish, spluttering rage was … well, funny in parts (“No more excluding me, Mary Poppins!!”), but just regular funny, like something out of a less brilliant show.

Rosin: Agree, for sure Dana. But then, the Adam and Hannah chemistry almost always steals the show, whether it’s the A plot or B plot.

Anderson: Hmm, I disagree, Dana. I enjoyed the B-plot, both because Jessa got some amazing one-liners in (my favorite being “That’s inspiring” after Chris O’Dowd proclaimed himself jetlag-proof), and because Chris O’Dowd’s character felt terrifyingly plausible. He delivered some of the most banal lines in history: observing how lovely the Middle East is (!), mentioning the beautiful red wine he’s saving for a rainy day, asking Jessa if she’s ever heard of Oliver Twist. But his bland personality barely covered a seething misogyny: he believes that Jessa and Marnie literally owe him sex for ruining his ugly, expensive rug, and, more hilariously, assumes Jessa’s nose is surgically improved. (Beautiful women, according to his worldview, are a sham.) He may be Dunham’s most cutting male caricature yet. 

Thomas: Oh, come on, there’s no cartilage in the world that exquisite.

I know the world (other than Hilton Als) hates Jessa, but for whatever reason she’s the recipient of Dunham’s funniest lines, and I love her for that.

Stevens: The blocking of the Jessa/Marnie makeout was nicely done, with poor left-out O’Dowd poking his face into whatever space he could find between the girls, and being shunted away like an importuning pet. The boys’ convo this week seems to assume that we’ve all jumped on some “Jessa is secretly gay” bandwagon, but I think June’s right that at most, she’s polymorphously perverse—in the fabulous Euro-jetsetting past the show seems to invite us to imagine for her character, there had to have been a few trysts with women, maybe even a threesome here and there.

“No cartilage in the world that exquisite” had me on floor.

Anderson: Dana, have ever I mentioned how much I admire your work ethic and your commitment to hygiene?

Rosin: Agreed. Dana definitely washes her forehead.

Stevens:  If you guys only knew the depths of my secret slob-hood, you’d be meeting for martinis to snark about my shiny (or, in my case, flaky) forehead ….

Want to read the guys of Slate snark about this episode? Check them out over on Brow Beat