On watching Girls: Lena Dunham, OCD and theories of success - Macleans.ca
 

On watching Girls: Lena Dunham, OCD and theories of success

Colin Horgan on the latest episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series


 

Colin Horgan is watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday. 

How do you know when you’ve got it together?

As Quiz Kid Donnie Smith told Thurston in P.T. Anderson’s 1999 Magnolia, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” Donnie’s past is full of memories from his days as the smartest winningest kid on Quiz Kid Challenge. But those days of success are long gone. He didn’t use the opportunity to his advantage, and instead finds himself a depressed grown up, just a bad electronics store employee and bumbling would-be robber. It’s a sad case. Hannah Horvath, this young potential voice of a generation, is perhaps fighting off the fear of a similar fate – one where all that potential goes nowhere because she can’t get it together – but in so doing welcomes back an old foe: her obsessive compulsive disorder.

Did we know Hannah was a recovering OCD sufferer? We know that Lena Dunham is. Unsurprisingly, the details of the obsessiveness are very similar. Dunham recently described her affliction to Rolling Stone magazine. Her OCD kicked in at around the age of nine, and she “was obsessed with the number eight. I’d count eight times… I’d look on both sides of me, I’d make sure nobody was following me down the streets, I touched different parts of my bed before I went to sleep, I’d imagine a murder, and I’d imagine that same murder eight times,” she told Rolling Stone. Poor Hannah, then, to have to not only deal with her own past, but Dunham’s, too.

We don’t know when the latest bout of Hannah’s OCD symptoms started (though the e-book deal is a likely spot), but they are apparently exacerbated by a phone call from Adam, whom she later describes as either the best person or the worst person in the world. In any case, by the time she meets her parents at the Cafe Carlyle for a Judy Collins show, she’s a mess – and her parents notice, recalling what was a tumultuous childhood filled with similar behaviour and, as Hannah later reveals, prescription drugs.

But, if we’re to take Marnie’s theory of success into account, Hannah’s situation only makes sense. After all, as she told Ray, the people who end up living their dreams are “sad messes.” And those who “end up flailing behind are people like me, who have their shit together,” she says, probably not really even convincing herself any of it is actually true. Marnie’s not talking about Hannah here, who she earlier explained was seemingly not interested in Jessa’s disappearance due to a buckling-down approach to the e-book (though we now know otherwise). She’s talking about Charlie.

Which brings us to another thing we, and Marnie, didn’t know: Charlie was, all this time, not only capable of developing a smartphone app that prevents the user from calling people they shouldn’t (ex lovers, ex bosses), and forces them to pay $10 to unblock the number, but found a buyer for it and was awarded a job for his work. “The app is free but breaking your word to yourself isn’t,” he explains to Marnie when she drops by his office unannounced to see how things are going. It’s a clever concept and a nice way of summarizing the app’s purpose, but this notion that without the app, breaking your word to yourself comes without a price, is flawed. As they both know, it does. Charlie’s only half-right about something else, too. The app isn’t just for stopping calls, it’s for answering one. That is, fulfilling everyone’s need for a saviour to help you keep things from falling apart.

Is it OK to waste your youth?

Ray, who’s stayed in that night rather than joining Shosh at a rich kid college party thrown by some girl who thought rollerblades were “vintage,” tries to straighten Marnie out after her rant. “Marie learned another life lesson. How adorable,” he derides, summarizing in two sentences about ten thousand words of criticism that have been leveled at the entire show since its inception. “You’re mad because you want what he has,” he says. He’s right. Even if Marnie maybe doesn’t want Charlie’s job or his money (though she likely does), it’s a good bet she at least wants his indifference and his apparent ability to address his past head on, and constructively, rather than to simply look back at it and wonder why it won’t go away. And, perhaps more simply, she also still wants Charlie.

But Ray had more to say about Marnie following through on whatever dream she has, instead of just sitting around. “You want to be a curator? Open up a small gallery… You want to be a mother? Get f–king pregnant,” he says. “Turn this potential energy into kinetic energy. Stop being a cartographer and become an explorer. What do you really want to do?” (It’s exactly the sort of conversation Ray ought to have with himself one of these days.) Marnie finally admits what she really wants to do is become a singer and, after some convincing, Ray asks her to sing something. She chooses Norah Jones and does an OK job of pulling off “Don’t Know Why.” Ray’s advice? Follow the dream, seize the day. “If you really want to sing, then you have to do it now. You’ll never look this good again,” he says.

Meanwhile, at the rich kid college party, Shosh is babbling about her life with Ray, the guy who has apparently caused her to disappear for the entire summer (a concept Shosh says she finds terrifying, as one of her worst nightmares is “that someone knows or thinks that I’ve died when I haven’t.”). But the party is a total drag – or, at least, Shosh is, what with all her depressing verbal diarrhea about how her relationship with Ray is really just good practice for when she’s grown up and has needy children to look after, whatever that means. (Does Ray know Shosh sees him only as a training apparatus?) Eventually, Shosh leaves, and on her way out runs into the cute doorman she’d quickly chatted to on the way in. After some awkward dialogue, she tells him that he’s really good looking “for a doorman.” He replies that she’s beautiful, and – just as she did when Ray paid her a direct compliment earlier this season – she seizes the moment and makes out with him. And why not? Maybe she’ll never look that good again.

How do you grow up (and when is it over)?

Not to be left out of the struggle with the battle scars of history, Adam turns to AA to vent about Hannah at a group therapy session. He describes his past relationship with Hannah. “She just hung around and hung around, and showed up at my place and gradually it started to feel better when she was there,” he says, adding he liked that she seemed to want to listen to him explain the world to her. It wasn’t quite how he’d imagined love being, he admits, like there are rules or something. His storytelling results in another group member setting him up with her daughter, Natalia, on a blind date. Adam calls her up (as he would) and after an awkward conversation (over a landline, no less), they agree to meet for a meal. She turns out to be gorgeous and they hit it off. “You’re very easy to talk to,” Adam tells her eventually. “I thought this was going to suck ass, but you’re easy to talk to.”

It’s somewhat of a contrast to Hannah’s experience with just about everyone she interacts with. Unlike the last time she spoke with them, when everything was warm and loving, Hannah’s conversations with her parents this time are dark and accusatory – on both sides. She blames them for having essentially given her OCD (“It’s genetic so it’s sort of the ultimate your-fault,” she tells them), and her mother immaturely blames Hannah for ruining their weekend in the city. Hannah’s conversation in her own therapy session is no better, as she retreats into deep brooding, speculating that her psychologist would be incapable of understanding her issues because, she says to him, it seems he has “a tremendous amount of willpower and general togetherness.”

Maybe she’s right. Maybe he is full of willpower and very together and never lost a fight to his own past and took advantage of the right opportunities when they came up. Or maybe it just looks that way.


 
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On watching Girls: Lena Dunham, OCD and theories of success

  1. For a true portrayal of OCD in a young woman, check out Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman.