In their assessment of the latest episode of Girls, the boys of Slate are dissing Marnie. Forrest thinks her character is “still a little bit of a drag,” as in, “a necessary bummer.” He also calls actress Allison Williams the “weak link.” David parried with a single moment of Marnie hilarity—her exchange with Elijah over whether to tell Hannah they tried to have sex—but didn’t mount a broader defense.
Marnie didn’t get much love in the outpouring of Girls affection last season, either. I remember that because as a Marnie type, I’m sensitive to the slights. Marnie is essential to the show because, yes, someone in the quartet has to be uptight and traditionally careerist. But she’s also a mirror for people (people like me!) who are forever less fluttery and fun and carefree than their friends. We Marnies may make you Jessas roll your eyes, but we’re prized for being solid and reliable, too.
At the beginning of this season, Marnie tells Hannah, “I have no job, no boyfriend, and I’m starting to feel like I have no you.” So we know her narrative arc will be about being lost. For me, it was especially heartrending to hear her pine for Hannah, because I know exactly what that feels like: Your beloved and more ethereal best friend, in college or after, floating away from you on a tide of adventure that you somehow can’t catch. Maybe that friend will come back, but you can’t quite figure out how to swim after her, and you can’t be sure. It also made sense to me that Marnie crawled into bed with her old boyfriend because she just needed to sleep next to someone. She’s a serial monogamist who relies on devotion from a long-time boyfriend for some core sense of identity, even though she drove him away because he didn’t fulfill the excitement gap that will always exist in her life.
Marnie’s instability is also interesting exactly because she is the girl who most needs to have a plan, the one who can’t stand to make it up as she goes along. This week, when she lost out on the new art gallery job for wearing an Ann Taylor suit, and then was informed that there are too many art curators in the world already, she stomped back to her apartment and said, “This was my plan. I have to totally go back to the drawing board here.” And then her reinvention as a hostess is of course wrongheaded and misguided, as captured by the ridiculous outfit she has to wear. It is also a classic Marnie-ism that she pretends to herself and Hannah that the new job is perfect for her—“I get to work on my interpersonal skills”—and then protects herself by implying that Hannah wouldn’t be as suited for it. In low moments, Marnies have an unfortunate tendency to build themselves back up by making other people feel small, however inadvertently. It’s an Achilles heel, irritating in the extreme, but coming from a place of insecurity.
In our “Girls on Girls” chat last season, Hanna said that “Marnie is supposed to be the uptight Charlotte in this quartet of girlfriends.” Uptight, yes, but to me Marnie’s brand of uptightness doesn’t track with Charlotte’s, who I never identified with for one second. Instead she reminds me of Meg in Little Women—the less fun oldest sister—and even more of Kate in Wendy Wasserstein’s first play, Uncommon Women and Others, which is about the five-year reunion of a group of 1973 Mount Holyoke alumnae. Kate is the straight-laced one who is studying to be a lawyer. Her ambitions make her a thorn in the side of her friends, but in Wasserstein’s telling, Kate also represents the feminist aspirations of the time. Marnie’s hostess turn doesn’t fit that bill, of course. But I think she’ll snap back to her stronger, better self. And though I appreciate the comedy of errors in the meantime, I’m looking forward to the coffee date where she comes through for Hannah with a piece of indispensable wisdom, proving the worth of practical girlfriends everywhere.