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How Season Two of HBO's "Girls" Sold Out to "The Mindy Project"

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | March 18, 2013 | Comments ()


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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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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Sam

    You're complaining that these characters aren't the best versions of themselves, but who in their 20s is? That's why the show is good.

  • Buck Forty

    "She fell back into old patterns" - yeah, like that ever happens in real life!

    You seem disappointed that a woman who has written, created, and stars in her own show hasn't done it the way you like it.

  • Jezzer

    Does this mean everyone will finally stop talking about how fucking brave Lena Dunham's boobs are for a while?

  • olivia bee

    I actually really liked how this season ended with something
    happy. I feel like these girls have been bombarded with nothing but bad things recently, so it was nice to see something good happen to them for a change! Although, I definitely agree that these neatly wrapped up storylines did come right out of left field! I would’ve never believed Hannah and Adam would reunite in the end! I’m just glad that I got a chance to watch this finale when it first aired,
    because I’m sure one of my friends from my office at DISH would’ve spoiled that
    ending for me the next day. I still can’t believe that I was really close to
    missing the whole finale, thanks to my bus ride home taking way longer than
    expected. Luckily, I was able to use this bus ride home to my advantage by
    watching the whole episode with DISH Anywhere. Since this lifesaver of an app
    connects my phone to my home DVR’s live and recorded TV content, it’s not a
    problem for me to watch even brand new episodes of my shows just like I was
    sitting at home!

  • kimk

    Didn't have much of an interest in seeing this show at the beginning but.... Is it weird that now that everyone has gone from "this is the best show ever, you have to watch it or you are a total loser" to a bit of a "jumped the shark" backlash I sort of want to watch it? Yeah, probably.

  • yocean

    Maybe it's about time you admit the show is everything haters hate it for, at the very core? You had a good fight but your champion and idol is showing her true colors. I would rather see you bash the show with all the righteous rage of ideal betrayed.

  • kling

    To say that Girls 'sold out' to romantic comedies like The Mindy Project is I think missing the point of the episode. Yes, these characters are together, but I think we're meant to see through that to the truth of it - even with their so-called romantic comedy endings, they're still deeply flawed, they're still headed for disaster. Charlie isn't the only one who's f**cked.

    To have the episode to follow the basic beats of a romantic comedy is just really allowing us to see the true, messed up emotions underneath, underneath the lies that we live out just to have a win for once, a chance to breathe, even if it's fake or fleeting - isn't that the point of having an episode like this, where the characters wind up 'together,' follow the darkest episode of the series yet?

    Or, to quote Jacob Clifton, who sums it up better and more succinctly - "Seriously, what's more likely -- that Girls randomly became a completely different show, or that the joke somehow went over your head?"

  • cj

    Totally agree here, Kling. I hope smarter viewers watch this and cringe, because none of these people are fine. Is it fun to see someone like Adam run across town to save someone like Hannah? Sure, but we've already seen what comes after for these characters. To a lesser extent it was like watching a friend reconcile with someone you know is horrible for them, but letting them get excited about the gesture of reconciliation anyway.

  • Each of the couples had their own music and ending that was straight out of a rom com. The run through the street, the heartfelt confession of love, the breakup, these are all standard tropes. Everyone this episode regressed to an almost childlike persona. Jessa has run away from home, Marnie pouted until she got what she wanted, Hannah and Adam both threw a tantrum, and Shoshana and Ray broke up in the most passive way possible, with Ray pausing long enough to take his Andy Kaufman poster (all but yelling "I'm taking my ball and going HOME!").

    Hell, Hannah actually HID from Marnie when she came over. Lena directed the episode and when Marnie marches out of the pizza restaurant she looks like a 6 year old with her arms crossed and pouting. It's ridiculous and it had to be very deliberate direction to Allison to "act like an angry child".

    Also, the more the show refuses to acknowledge it the less I think the Patrick Wilson episode actually happened. I still think it was one of Hannah's stories. Specifically, I think it was the story that got her the book deal. The same book deal she is throwing away because, like a child, at the first sign of responsibility or hardship she immediately hides under the covers.

  • Couldn't agree more. It was wholly disappointing, including Adam running back to Hannah. I yelled out "Noooo!" (It didn't work.) I especially dislike this idiotic obsessive compulsive crap. There was something admirable about strong, dislikable Hannah--even forever half-dressed or naked Hannah--but wimpy, twitchy Hannah inspires nothing but an immediate desire to get her offscreen.

  • leuce7

    As someone who has and is always dealing with a mental illness (either working on maintaining normalcy or managing up and down flares over time), I'm actually rather insulted by this take on Hannah's OCD. I'm not sure how you can dismiss an illness that can seriously f*ck up someone's life as "wimpy" and "twitchy," and, above in the review, psychosomatic. As Matt said, it was alluded to previously in other shows. Even though I didn't pick it up at the time, when the episode started off with some OCD behavior, SO much of Hannah's past and past behaviors clicked into place, and made sense in the context of who she is and what she deals with. It is neither wimpy nor psychosomatic for someone to be so held captive by one's own brian that the preferable course of action is to insert a Q-tip into the other ear after damaging the first ear, and to risk that kind of horrible pain again, instead of taking no action and leaving order unachieved, bringing anxiety and darkness that much closer. Can you imagine what kind of anxiety, or inability to properly deal with anxiety, would drive you to *choose* to possibly pierce both of your ear drums?

    Sure, it can be funny, maybe even arguably cute at times. It's definitely not "normal" and quirk is endearing to many people. But it is also an illness, at times an all-consuming illness, and when it stops being funny to other people, when the sick person is no longer cute or quirky, they become weird, not normal, different, other, incapable, bad. This is how the stigma of mental illness persists. Please don't perpetuate it by blowing off what is designed to be (and has been acknowledged to be) a very truthful representation of a person's struggles with mental illness. You're not only demeaning her character; you're demeaning me and all the others like me whose brains aren't working like everyone else's and who struggle mightily to keep up with all of you anyway.

  • Three_nineteen

    The reviewer at The AV Club said he kind of doesn't like the portrayal of Hannah's illness because it is closer to how real mental issues manifest, rather than how TV usually portrays mental illness, so it doesn't "feel" real. Maybe TV has given people the wrong impression, so for a lot of us the more real portrayal seems wrong.

  • leuce7

    I completely understand this point, and perhaps this portrayal has the effect of jerking the viewer out of the story, so I could see why someone might complain. But, on the flip side, this smacks much too close to "the reality of your illness makes me uncomfortable, and I would rather continue believing the false idea that my character has a dash of mental quirkiness instead of the raw, ugly, and unpleasant manifestation I don't quite know how to handle."

    Now, I'm not accusing anyone of saying this, and it *is* extremely uncomfortable to handle (which is why I thought the lounge scene with her parents was brilliant--there were so many undercurrents at play there that accompany not only the mentally ill but those who love them). But instead of the character's problems forcing the viewer into confronting his own discomfort, I've found more of the language of stigma coming up than I'm comfortable leaving unaddressed. Not just the AV guy not wanting to confront it, but this gem from this review. I'm cutting up the sentences to highlight exactly what's bothering me:

    Did she buckle down and seriously put her mind to the the task at hand? No. Of course not. . . . psychosomatic obsessive compulsive disorder . . . gave her a convenient excuse to avoid work. . . . She sought to use those excuses to manipulate

    That is the language of stigma, and I can't not address it. I may come across as abrasive; it's not my intent. I am just very passionate about this subject, and as one who does live with the realities of this every day, I am offended as well, even though I know it's not personal.

  • Three_nineteen

    Oh, I agree with you. I was offering explanations, not excuses.

  • I wasn't commenting on the mental illness itself, rather how I perceived the idea of Hannah having it. I wanted us to have had more of an inkling that she had this problem before. And because this season seemed so disjointed to me, the OCD also felt like something just thrown into the mix, with no previous experiences for context.

  • Three_nineteen

    If Girls is portraying mental issues in a real fashion, as many people are saying, why do you have a problem with it? If Hannah's problems could have lain dormant for the less than two years Girls has been on, do we really need people to say "Hannah, you had mental issues in high school" three times in the first season before we accept it as plausible? Plus, as others have pointed out, it was talked about in the first season, we just didn't know to what they were alluding.

  • prairiegirl

    I agree - the OCD thing feels put-upon and wholly forced. Or maybe her acting makes it feel so. Either way, it is distracting and takes me out of being in the moment with her character and those around her.

  • Matt C.

    Seeing as they alluded to it as early as episode 6 of season 1, and that Lena Dunham actually has OCD problems of her own, I quite disagree with you.

  • Emma

    Indeed. I have struggled with anxiety and OCD issues, and I appreciate that Lena Dunham is exploring the subject matter, especially with her own personal experience. Her portrayal, in this case, is uncomfortably familiar, which speaks to its authenticity, at least to me.

  • "Lena Dunham is meant to be the voice of a new generation"

    .... NO. Stahp with this. Please?

  • jspeyton

    This was a beautiful piece of writing.

  • prairiegirl

    Great recap and analysis. Thanks for succinctly calling out what was bothering me so much about this episode. To me, it all felt very forced and hollow. As soon as the music in the last collection of scenes started I groaned as I knew what was coming. It didn't feel true to what has been built to date by the show. And I don't think it was so much what the characters were doing or saying, as it was how it was directed. It was disappointing on many levels.

    On the whole, I enjoy the show and the writing but Hannah's character is becoming increasingly less palatable. I like how she keeps getting called out on being so self-involved but unfortunately none of it is sinking in. I wonder if she'll ever get it. If she doesn't wake up in season three, I don't know how much longer I'll be able to stomach it.

  • Wednesday

    See, I liked the episode in all its fucked-up dysfunction. People are like that. They move forward and grow and then get scared by all the responsibility that entails and fall back on bad -- sometimes terrible -- habits. Self-sabotage is something we can all probably relate to. It's not what we aspire to, but it happens.

    It will be interesting to see how Hannah extricates herself from this. Marnie is the opposite side of the same coin. Every one of these characters is seeking security (even Jessa) and not one of them has realized there are big prices to pay for it. You can't have the excitement of living on the edge if you make others your safety net.

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