Culture

HBO's Girls Get a Much-Needed Dose of Reality

hannahbreakdown

Hannah Horvath has a “What am I doing with my life?” moment common in corporate bathrooms the world-over.

It took 3.5 seasons, but finally I found something culturally relevant in Girls.

The latest episode, Free Snacks raised barely a blip in the world of Girls criticism, most likely because it played more like a Woody Allen movie than your typical Girls episode rife with awkward sex and lunatic meltdowns. In fact, for the first time ever the few sex scenes featured in this episode were actually relevant to character exposition and development. I’ve thoroughly criticized Dunham for being a sacrificial goddess on the altar of pop culture, but this episode has left me hoping that perhaps Lena Dunham isn’t that kind of girl after all.

The episode opens with Hannah quitting her job at Ray’s coffee shop to become an advertorial writer at GQ. Thrilled after her first day’s success, she arrives home to find that Adam walked out of another audition because he didn’t like the direction he was given. The moment foreshadows the following day, when Hannah is confronted by the fact that her co-workers, who are more accomplished writers than she, turned their backs on their “spiritually fulfilling” writing for corporate jobs with steady salaries, health benefits and perks. Hannah’s nervous breakdown moment is priceless: Dunking her head under the bathroom sink, she walks her wet head into her boss’s office, responding to the compliment “you remind me a lot of myself,” with “I quit.”

When her boss doesn’t fight for her to stay on, Hannah rethinks her decision and asks to stay on. By this point, her boss brushes her off: “Email me when you make a decision.” Later that evening Hannah arrives home to find out that Adam, who stuck to his guns, crushed an audition and is one step closer to fulfilling his career dreams. Now it’s Hannah who has compromised herself for her dreams. “I’m going to write for 3 hours every night, no matter what,” she explains to Adam before passing out on the couch, exhausted.

No meltdowns. No emotional crises. No meandering self-obsession. And Hannah managed to convey a range of emotion without once getting naked. She also confronted a totally relevant issue that every 20-something college graduate is forced to face: The earth-shattering compromise of career dreams with economic realities. This theme resonates with Hannah, who realizes that the joy in paying her bills may come at the price of her personal writing aspirations. Yet, it is also relevant to Shoshanna in an emotional sense when she begins to believe that her ideal mate is a whim to be sacrificed at the altar of “relationship”.

Shoshanna not-so-secretly stalks the now successful Ray.

Shoshanna not-so-secretly stalks the now-successful Ray.

Second-guessing her decision to dump Ray, Shosh puts her desire for a smart guy on the back burner, sacrificing herself to the dumbest kid in the class for the sake of having a boyfriend. The grotesque sex scene that follows involves her new guy stripping her down and bending her over a couch to have at her while she’s trying to have a serious discussion about their relationship. At one point he asks her to either stop talking or stop having sex, to which she replies: “There’s no reason to terminate sex just because we’re incompatible with one another.” It is a brilliant, if garish, revealing moment that illustrates the precarious position women put themselves in any time they sacrifice their values for the sake of having a mate. “Anyone can get married,” my mother once told me; I only hope Shoshana isn’t heading down this ugly road.

The episode was a tightly-written slap in the face of those who claim the show is unrealistic, upper-middle class white girl pap, illustrating the potential Dunham has to reach an audience with necessary and compelling questions about marrying your life’s purpose with your current reality. Oddly enough, the themes barely resonated with the critics. The female criticism of this episode raised more questions than it answered, while the male criticism was either fairly unintelligible (and disturbingly illustrated) or blatantly sexist:

“I still think a lot of those opening office scenes were super-cheesy. At least it balanced them some with a couple of those graphic, kind of hot, kind of cringey sex scenes that only this show knows how to do. You don’t get that on other sitcoms.”

It’s a comment that should anger Dunham, and rightly so: This episode has finally revealed a serious intent to develop Girls into more than a disjointed indie notion easily misinterpreted as the latest softcore premium cable porn. Dunham also managed to tap into an issue so socially relevant that it has become the topic of conversation at Rolling Stone magazine and ongoing discussion here at PJ Lifestyle. For the sake of our culture, let’s just hope the Girls transition into womanhood is for good.