The XX Factor

Slate’s Guys Are So Wrong About Girls

Patrick Wilson.
Patrick Wilson. Photo by Jessica Miglio/HBO

I heartily object to the “Guys on Girls” reading of this week’s episode of Girls, and particularly to their very literal minded complaint that this episode was “unrealistic.” That was a fantasy, guys, and fantasies are often unrealistic. You could tell because it stood apart from the rest of the series, like a standalone play in three tiny succinct acts. In fact I thought it was a near perfect episode, an Alice Munro story in sitcom form.

The pin-up neighbor played by Patrick Wilson was intentionally too good-looking, and his apartment was intentionally ripped from a design magazine. You were meant to be thinking the whole time: This isn’t real, this can’t really be happening. Hannah’s line where she forces him to beg her to stay makes their sexual dynamic just about plausible, because it clearly turns him on to have to beg. But still, Hannah in silken sheets? That’s Carrie Bradshaw, not Hannah. She is practically dreaming. Turn on the shower fog machine and she faints—poof—like Sleeping Beauty.

Our guys got some of the details right—this is like a Sex and the City episode; she isn’t quite mature enough to handle it. But that was the whole point. Hannah has a very immature idea in her head of what it means to be a grown-up, what happens when you give up the boyfriends who live in 10th-story walkups and who seem to be always around during the day. A mature girl’s fantasy would involve a normal relationship with, say, a guy at work. Hannah’s fantasy would involve this ridiculous parody of a “grown-up” who works as a “doctor” and has a “wife” (intrigue!) but she lives 3,000 miles away.

Over at Paste, Garrett Martin also finds the episode annoying but at least for the right reasons. The episode picks up a common Louie theme of two people who should hate each other talking until they figure each other out. “It felt like another one of Louie’s frequent tricks, dropping moments of fantasy into the show’s ‘reality’ without announcing them as such,” Martin writes. But even he perked up at that key moment, “when the magic between them dies.”

This moment when Hannah turns psycho on him, and he has to set his face to pretend that he isn’t noticing or isn’t disappointed that she has turned psycho—was just perfect. That’s both a universal moment in many relationships and very particular to this one. The whole episode was in fact like the long arc of a relationship compressed into 24 hours. (Over at The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum agrees about the genius of the unraveling, and adds her admiration for one particular sex scene.) By the end of it, Hannah reverts easily back to her old narcissistic self, convinced that her childhood trauma rates higher than his, and that he is cold and shallow and unable to recognize her distinct pain. Hannah has successfully confirmed the self-justifying view she always had anyway, which is that the everygirl fantasy of being swathed in silken sheets and living with a Harlequin hero, or even the fantasy of just being happily married and having fresh fruit in the bowl on your marble kitchen island, is suffocating and forces a woman to deny who she really is—in her case someone who likes to experiment with being kicked in the face during sex and then write about it.

Fantasy over. She throws his trash out, and we are right back to the mess that is Hannah’s life. The trash, get it? Its not really a subtle metaphor.