Somewhere in the middle of her conversation with Jerry Seinfeld in the midst of last season’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (episode: I’m Going To Change Your Life Forever), Sarah Silverman explains that she’s started turning down roles based on the writing. “I’ve turned down things that I just go, ‘I’d rather do standup than say these exposition — shitty exposition for bad writing.’ It’s just not fun. It’s like, ‘But you’re a lawyer, and he loves you!’ Good writing doesn’t need like, some Greek chorus in the form of a sassy friend, y’know?”
With that in mind, let’s talk about Girls, episode 5 (“Only Child”).
What would Sarah Silverman say?
Marnie, fresh from quitting her job at the coffee shop, stops by Ray’s apartment (Adam’s former one). She finds Ray getting ready to go play basketball, and has an important question for him. “I wanted you to tell me what’s wrong with me,” she tells him, because “it feels like it’s time for me to take responsibility for what has happened in my life, and you are someone who likes to tell people what’s wrong with them anyway, so shoot.” If Ray had any sense, he would have stopped her right there. Or at least offered some advice to the effect that Step One in taking responsibility for yourself is not having to rely on someone else to create a list of what’s wrong with you. Probably you should be able to do that on your own – and then deal with it.
But Ray obliges. He begins by telling her she’s extremely judgmental, then describes how she acts like she’s better than everyone, but then gets very offended when everyone then excludes her from something. He says she’s “unbearably uptight.” Then he tells her she uses people – “a lot”. That, Marnie denies, but Ray persists. “Yeah, you do. So much so that even when you try to connect and be sincere, it comes across as phony. I think that actually more or less sums it up in a nutshell. You’re a huge, fat f–king phony.”
Marnie’s clearly hurt by the truth, so Ray offers a more positive note: that he likes her anyway. “Because behind it all I think you mean well,” Ray says. “And I’m old enough to know that all this bullshit comes from a deep, dank, dark toxic well of insecurity – probably created by your absent father. And that allows you to be a sympathetic character.”
Then he offers her a hug. Then it lasts a bit too long. Then they make out. Then they have sex for some reason.
Which was about the point I started to wonder whether Lena Dunham is even trying anymore.
Arguably, the point of any scene ought to be for it to reveal character and further the plot. Did this scene accomplish that? What did we learn about Marnie that we didn’t know already? That she’s insecure? That she’s a phony? We knew this – and we knew it because we watched her interact with the other characters around her for the last two years. And we also knew, on our own, that Marnie, while flawed, is deep down a good person. And we’ve hoped for two seasons that she’ll find her way and get past her worst qualities – or at the very least, deal with them enough to let her find the success she so desperately wants. In other words, we didn’t need to hear it from Ray. Speaking of which, what did we learn about Ray in this scene? That he tells it like it is? We knew that, too. So what happened here? Exposition. Or more specifically: nothing. This scene – that occupied a large part of what are precious 30 minutes in a script – was nothing.
Maybe it was all a setup for a gag. After Marnie and Ray have sex, he shows her to the door and tells her to “be safe and stay warm,” and then suggests they keep the whole sex thing on the down-low. “Go f–k yourself,” Marnie replies. “Like I’d advertise this.” Even here, though, after a quick laugh, we have to wonder what value there is in being left with the clear impression that, despite the preceding interaction, neither of these characters has changed. It only doubles down on the uselessness of their conversation.
Why are they doing this to me?
As for the rest of Episode 5?
Hannah goes to David’s funeral, where she runs into his wife. They discuss whether David was actually gay (yes? maybe?) and then his wife mentions that Millstreet Press is dumping all the projects he had under way when he died. There’s no explanation given for what seems like an odd business decision from a small independent publisher. Why would it walk away from what one can only assume was a raft of half-written books that, going by Hannah’s case, were already paid for in part? We don’t find out. But Hannah, thinking only of herself again, manages to get the name of another publisher that could be interested in her work (this comes from David’s wife, too).
Hannah’s meeting with her new publisher is wildly successful. They even want to make it a real book, rather than an e-book. But as quickly as she’s up, Hannah’s brought down again. Her dad calls to tell her two things. One, that he’s had an operation to have a mole removed. Two, her contract with Millstreet included a clause that specified the publisher owns her work for three years, whether they publish it or not. Guess which one Hannah’s more interested in? We don’t find out what’s wrong with her dad (though we likely will – tragically, probably, when it’s too late). But Hannah returns home to chug a beer and rant to Caroline.
“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Hannah tells her.
Caroline suggests Hannah can write a whole new bunch of wonderful stories, just as she did for her now dead e-book.
Hannah takes that suggestion badly.
“A whole new bunch of wonderful stories? My whole life was in that book. Everything that’s ever happened to me. All of it’s in there! And now, what am I going to do? Live another 25 years just to create a body of work that matches the one that they stole from me?” she frets. “What if nothing happens in the next 25 years? What if I’m still living in this apartment, wondering if there’s asbestos? What will I write about then?”
Then she and Caroline have an argument when the latter fails to empathize properly, and Hannah finally kicks Caroline out of the apartment. It’s noteworthy that when Adam suggested Caroline wasn’t a nice person, Hannah ignored him (or, as she did earlier in this episode, tried to play Dr. Phil to resolve the conflict). But as soon as Caroline is mean to Hannah, she’s out the door.
More importantly, however, is Hannah’s worrying. It’s almost laughably naive, and suggests that for all the writing she’s done, she’s failed to gain any actual insight on life. That is, that life from 25 onward only gets more complex and more worth talking about, usually. The plot only thickens, and the learning tends to increase exponentially, year on year.
“Why are they doing this to me?” Hannah asks the void that’s opened in front of her after she’s discovered the contractual clause. It’s a victim question, and though it’s a bit silly, it’s not far off the other kinds of existential questions we all tend to ask the void at one point or another (“Why is this happening?” “What do I do now?” “Am I going in the right direction?”). So, Hannah ought to probably get used to querying the heavens. But she might also find that, frustrating as it is to constantly ask these questions, it’s always better when there’s not somebody that steps in to provide all the answers. Even in life, exposition gets you nowhere.