How Season Two of HBO's "Girls" Sold Out to "The Mindy Project"
For all the greatness in season two of “Girls,” — and there have been some great episodes, including the Patrick Wilson Weekend Fantasy Getaway, and last week’s super awkward rape-y encounter between Adam and his new girlfriend — last night’s season finale was something of a letdown. For a show that’s supposed to be all about the women (it is called “Girls,”), there was a conventional, though twisted, romantic-comedy vibe to the finale . It’s almost as though Lena Dunham had briefly gotten her show confused with “The Mindy Project,” as two of the women were ultimately rescued by their men; meanwhile, Shoshana’s break-up felt more focused on Ray than her own issues, which aren’t as clearly defined as Ray’s streaky lack of ambition (despite a vague sense of purpose, Ray is also the better drawn, more interesting character in that equation).
Honestly, Hannah and Marnie have learned very little over the course of the past two seasons, they’ve simply swapped the safety net of their parents for the safety net of their boyfriends. Hannah’s situation was the more unnerving. She had taken control. She’d kicked an abusive relationship to the curb. She’d taken power of, and explored her sexuality with Patrick Wilson’s character. She was finally living without a roommate. She had signed a book deal.
Indeed, she was on the brink of a breakthrough when the stress of writing a novel began to take its toll. Did she buckle down and seriously put her mind to the the task at hand? No. Of course not. She fell back into old patterns. Driven by a fear of rejection, her psychosomatic obsessive compulsive disorder returned, which gave her a convenient excuse to avoid work on her book, and when that didn’t give her the desired results, Hannah resorted to self-inflicted ear-drum puncturing. She sought to use those excuses to manipulate both her publisher and her father, neither of whom were willing to give in to her self-pity. She still refused to take responsibility for herself and her situation — flipping through a magazine as a deadline stared her in the face — and when she couldn’t get anywhere with her parents, she called her stalker ex-boyfriend because she knew that he’d come to her aid.
Adam has also had a relapse. He’s a tough guy to figure out, and often the most sympathetic, likable character on the show, but he has some twisted ideas about intimacy. He’s less interested in a loving, caring relationship than in a relationship he can control. He was refused that control by his new girlfriend, who would not agree to be his “dirty whore,” so naturally, he was quick to come to Hannah’s aid because that’s a relationship he can continue to dominate. I do think he’s in love with Hannah, but only a Hannah that will bend to his will.
Elsewhere, there was certainly a sweetness in the reconciliation of Charlie and Marnie, but that relationship is doomed to repeat itself over and over until one of those two finally gain the courage to break free. Many of us are intimately familiar with this kind of relationship. They both carry overly-romanticized idealizations of each other, but little in the last season has changed that much about them. Marnie’s infatuation with Charlie will be fleeting, and it’s less about Charlie than her own victory: She doesn’t need Charlie; she needs Charlie to love her. As soon as he conceded as much, and as soon as Marnie gets over that sense of victory, their relationship will fall back into familiar patterns. Yes, Charlie has more money, and yes, Charlie is apparently better in bed, but that only presents a more interesting challenge for Marnie to transform him into the needy boyfriend whose singularly devoted Marnie again. It’s a different brand of narcissism than Hannah’s, but it’s still narcissism. Like Hannah, Marnie has gained no sense of responsibility, either. She may ride out the perks of Charlie’s money, but the clinginess that drove her away twice before will invariably drive her away again.
Charlie is f**ked.
Only Shoshana demonstrated any backbone in the finale, kicking Ray to the curb because of his lack of ambition. But it wasn’t really Ray’s lack of ambition that drove Shoshana away. It was her own inexperience. Her fling with the door man a few episodes ago opened up a new world for her. It awakened her own sense of sexual power, and she needs to exercise it rather than let Ray hold it dormant. Still, I actually believed her — or at least, I believe she meant it when she said it — that she would circle back around to Ray once she developed her own sense of cynicism. Ironically, unlike Hannah’s feelings for Adam, and Marnie’s feelings for Charlie, Shoshana may actually love Ray in a truer sense. It may be romanticized because he was her first, but at least it’s not completely self-interested love. In either respect, the developments in last night’s episode are good for Ray, who has been provoked to better himself as a person.
I don’t know how long “Girls” will ultimately run, but season two feels like the middle chapter in a trilogy, the Empire Strikes Back, if you will. The gains by the women have been eroded. They suffered some casualties, but the boys won this battle in the overall saga, though not by virtue of being the better people — that would mean getting out of these unhealthy, cyclical relationships. Rather, they won by asserting control over narcissism, but that control is illusory. Hannah and Marnie are right where they want to be. They are using Adam and Charlie to regain their own sense of control, and with those safety nets in place, they can continue on their journeys toward independence. However, that won’t arrive until they drop their sense of entitlement and decide to become responsible for themselves, and as long as Adam and Charlie continue to placate them, that sense of responsibility may never arrive.
What’s more troubling about this season, and specifically last night’s episode, however, was the way in which it held up a mirror to our gender conventions. Of course there is something comforting and satisfying about Charlie confessing his love to Marnie, and about Adam running through New York City, busting down a door, and rescuing Hannah from, essentially, herself. But we have come to expect more from Girls than a really fucked up, awkward episode of The Bridget Jones Diary. Lena Dunham is meant to be the voice of a new generation, but if the series continues down this path, that voice will be the same voice as previous generations, only with more self-awareness, nudity, and awkward sexual encounters.
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