Tuned In

Girls Watch: You Gonna Put Up With That?

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HBO

Spoilers for Sunday night’s Girls follow:

Yesterday I solicited your thoughts on Veep, after it aired the third of three episodes I saw before reviewing it. Today we look at Girls‘ 4th episode, “Hannah’s Diary,” the first episode I did not see before writing my initial review.

I didn’t like it as well as the first three, which for all I know means the rest of you loved it. (The next two are much better; I’ve now seen all 10 episodes, which have their ups and downs but add up to a very strong first season.) Compared to the first three episodes, this one leaned much more on sitcom setups and contrivances: Hannah gets a bad makeover! Hannah gets a misdirected sext! Oh no, where are the kids I was watching? Hey, look, a diary!

That said, even operating at a different level of realism than the first three episodes, the way the stories played out still exemplified Girls’ commitment to exploring gray areas: to showing characters making questionable, maybe hypocritical choices without pushing the viewer to feel a certain way about them.

Several of the storylines were themed around the question of how much the characters were willing to put up with in order to get something they need. Is Hannah willing to put up with her boss’ inappropriate handsiness, and why are her coworkers willing to do the same? Is Hannah willing to put up with Adam’s callousness, and why? Is Charlie finally going to stop putting up with Marnie’s contempt for him? (Shoshanna’s virginophobe encounter stands separate from the theme, as does Jessa’s story, mostly.)

On the work front, Hannah has (rather suddenly) walked into a job in which compromise comes with the paycheck; “Did he touch you?” a coworker* volunteers when Hannah thinks she has a bombshell revelation to drop about her boss’ “reiki” therapy of her breasts. It’s an odd, and for me tough to believe situation, but the episode commits to showing how the setup has become normalized in the office. Her coworkers see it as a weird inconvenience you “get used to” in exchange for iPods and insurance; they don’t seem cowed or frightened so much as they’ve just made a reasoned decision to pick their battles. And Hannah’s boss has cannily–or maybe entirely without guile–encouraged that reaction by acknowledging his  “touchy”-ness, even volunteering, “Now you’ll tell me if the touching ever bothers you, right?”

*(About this: There’s been a lot of controversy over the relative lack of minority characters on Girls since it debuted, and I half expected viewers to conclude that the characters of color in this episode, at Hannah’s office and on the playground, were a response. They’re not–the season wrapped long ago. But it was interesting to see that this episode introduced them in a way that showed Lena Dunham is conscious of her character’s limited frame of experience. There’s a world of difference between the outlook of Hannah and the her Latina coworker, and for that matter, her outer-borough-accented white coworker. And I’m pretty sure Jessa’ declaration to the West Indian, Tibetan and Hispanic nannies that “I’m just like all of you” was meant to be as eye-rolling as it was.)

All of which leads Hannah to believe her new work buddies–who even give her an eyebrow makeover that makes her look like Kukla the puppet–will be sympathetic to her compromises with errant-dick-pic-sending Adam, whose behavior she excuses even though the photo of his fur-coated little friend was meant for another. They are not: “That is HELLA different.” Their thinking–and it’s up to you if you agree–is that they get something out of their decision to tolerate the boss, in a lousy time to look for a job. Hannah’s just failing to respect herself. What does she get out of her deal with Adam? A jerk not-boyfriend, and it’s always a buyers’ market for those. Hannah absorbs the lesson–for about 30 seconds, until Adam manages to be sweet enough for long enough to make it not matter.

On the subject of problematically sweet guys: Charlie is finally forced to face Marnie’s low opinion of him and registers his protest in true Williamsburg fsshion, by performing a low-fi kiss-off song with his indie-rock duo. As I said, I didn’t love the contrived, let’s snoop-around-the-girls’-place fashion the conflict came up, but I did like the dynamic with which it played out: you can sense that Charlie has a pretty good idea what might be in that diary about him even before he reads it, and he would just as soon stay willfully ignorant to stay in the relationship.

Again, the way the scene plays, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Stealing a diary is creepy, and I’m surprised none of the girls registered this, at least a little. But the way Marnie despises Charlie for his niceness (without actually, say, breaking up with him) is not exactly to her credit, nor is Hannah’s treating the whole situation as a writing exercise. (Though, frankly, I can’t say it’s an inaccurate portrayal of the cruelty of writing.) One last time, it’s up to us to figure out who’s more in the wrong, as Hannah stands there, soaking from Marnie’s drink, her eyebrows penciled into a state of perpetual surprise that is, this time, accurate.

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