Colin Horgan will be watching Season 2 of Girls and asking questions about it here each Monday. Elsewhere on the site, Jessica Allen will be writing about it, too. Click here for her take.
Here’s Horgan with three questions about the second episode of the second season:
What does it feel like for a girl?
Given the deliberate overlap between the real world of (Golden Globe-winning) Lena Dunham and the fake world of Hannah Horvath, the latter was liable to address the failings of the former at some point. Is it surprising it only took until the second episode of the second season for Hannah to start standing up for the criticism Lena took for the better part of last year about the world Hannah inhabits? Well, here we are. Girls wasn’t full of enough minorities, they said. Solved. Here’s Sandy, a hip black dude. Girls reflected too narrow a worldview. Solved. Sandy’s a Republican. Girls is about nothing at all, they said. Uh …
“I just don’t think anything happened in it, nothing was happening,” Sandy tells Hannah after finally revealing he did read the essay she penned on – apparently – a girl’s perspective on her sexuality and its changes (i.e. Girls). “Ultimately,” Sandy goes on, “it felt like just waiting in line and all the nonsense that goes through your brain when you’re trying to kill time … there wasn’t really anything going on. But it was really well-written.” One imagines this is the kind of thing Dunham heard for a while when trying to show people her work – but, like, look at her now, haters. See what she did there? Still, it’s not that we’re any clearer on why Hannah (or maybe even Dunham) thinks the essay is worthy in its own right. She offers that if a girl finding her way through her sexuality feels like nothing to Sandy, then … Here, she trails off. The explanation is left unsaid, and inherently assumed. We’re watching the show, aren’t we?
This was a frustrating scene. What is it about that “nonsense that goes through your brain” that Sandy can’t quite grasp? It’s true, there is an unquantifiable nothingness about both Hannah’s writing and Girls (and maybe about girl world, generally?) – a kind of Pinterest DIY whimsy where videos on how to cut your own bangs or work out in your apartment really matter to life. But Sandy seems to lack the depth or interest and curiosity to interpret that “nonsense” as anything else. That’s a shame, because there’s a place within Girls for some well-rounded criticism, and Sandy seems like as good as any place for it to originate. The problem is that criticism would have to at least be sympathetic. Instead, Sandy sits there like a rhetorical straw man for Hannah to push around with a you-just-don’t-get-it harumph that’s supposed to tell us everything we need to know about the situation.
“If he’s not reading your essay, he’s not reading you,” Jessa tells Hannah. Perhaps. But that’s assuming Sandy had been given the ability for deep thought in the first place.
Maybe Sandy would have had a certain level of empathy, rather than scorn, had he been reading Hannah’s essay more carefully, but it doesn’t feel like that was ever going to be an option. And maybe we can blame Dunham, as the author, here a bit. Did Dunham actually know what Sandy would have said even if he had read it properly? Or did it just never matter what Sandy thought, so long as it was negative? We never know whether Sandy actually wanted to understand the essay or not because Dunham decides not to tell us. That’s her choice, as a writer, but the thing is, if Sandy was capable of some kind of curiosity, some level of insight or argument, he might have started to feel more like a character and less just a caricature, which is what we’re left with here.
Can you date someone with different politics than you?
Things between Sandy and Hannah get even more convoluted when they take a conversational turn toward politics, and Hannah expresses her bafflement that Sandy feels people ought to own guns or that gay people like Elijah shouldn’t have beautiful Say Yes To The Dress weddings. The final straw comes when Hannah suggests she’d like to know Sandy’s thoughts on the prevalence of black men on death row. When Sandy turns on her, Hannah immediately says the political differences between them are too great and they should just be friends.
“This always happens,” Sandy says then. He gets the routine: “‘Oh, I’m a white girl and I moved to New York and I’m having a great time and oh, I have a fixed-gear bike and I’m going to date a black guy and we’re going to go to a dangerous part of town,’” he characterizes. “All that bullshit, I know that. I’ve seen it happen a million times.” It’s the Coles Notes shortlist of grievances directed to the young, hipster world of the 21st century – and it’s sometimes accurate – but again, it lacks depth. And, again, Dunham doesn’t give Sandy much firepower. Rather than combat Hannah’s political arguments with those of his own, Sandy gets personal. Why? In any case, Hannah defends herself by proposing Sandy is equally guilty of “fetishizing” and thinking of Caucasian girls “as one big, white blobby mass with stupid ideas.” Maybe that’s true, but knowing what we do about Hannah’s apparent tendency to get into things for the benefit of the story, we’re inclined to believe her defence is slightly hollow one.
Hannah’s relationship with Adam becomes even more complicated, too. Late at night, Adam lets himself into Hannah’s apartment and though impressed by her commitment to the separation she’d proposed, he says he’s still compelled by the fact that he is “a man living my man life” and his desire for her could not be repressed. To quit his pursuit of her, he says, “would be to shirk my self respect and abandon my own manhood.” Whatever any of that means. What he doesn’t know is after he came in, Hannah dialed 911 and hung up. The police show up anyway, and thanks to Adam’s outstanding parking tickets and summons for public urination, cart him off to a cell for the night. And once again Hannah watches Adam be carted away by emergency services.
How do you know when to stop looking?
Both of these nighttime relationship fractures are presented in contrast to the shining daylight of the sky-high apartment Thomas-John and Jessa now share. T-J is even more a buffoon than when we last saw him – another stupid man in Hannah’s Dumb Boy Universe. He calls her “Danna” and describes his surroundings as his “paradise with his little paradise wife.” Jessa agrees. “I’ve never been this well in my life,” she tells Hannah over a blanket of new dogs. Does she care about T-J’s political ideology, or anything else for that matter? Doesn’t seem like it. “This is what it’s like when the hunt is over,” Jessa says, dreamily.
Which takes us to Marnie, who seems destined to hunt forever. She’s left dejected after a Anna Wintour-like tea-sipper rejects her application for a new gallery job, saying she doesn’t see Marnie “in the art world.” Marnie begs to know where she might fit. (If only someone would just tell her.) “I don’t know,” the Wintour stand-in replies. Marnie retreats to her and Shoshanna’s apartment to find Shosh in bed with Ray, discussing what it might be like to bathe a pig and other topics that seem to only make sense when Shoshanna says them. They offer her little serious sympathy, and Ray sarcastically marvels at Marnie’s bachelor’s degree. Unsurprisingly, nobody questions his tone.
With Shosh’s help, Marnie ends up taking a position as a hostess, which she describes as the “perfect job.” As she lists the job’s attributes, things get depressing – and only partly because we pity her valiant (misguided, self-deluding?) attempts to put a bright spin on it. More so, it’s because she points out the job’s flexibility – which might allow her to pursue other things – and the fact she can practise her interpersonal skills. In tone and execution, it feels as if she’s reading from the job posting itself. This is Marnie’s main flaw: She wants the world to summarize itself like a curriculum vitae, as if it’s all just a bundle of active key phrases some teacher once recited to her from some tired workbook in high school. Hannah and Charlie are victims of this view of life. And Marnie will be, too, if she’s not careful.