If there was a common theme to the first two episodes of Girls season three, it’s that there are a lot of characters here who have things wrong with them. And there are a lot of characters who have strong, often perceptive opinions about what’s wrong with other characters. But there are not so many characters who have much interest in listening to what’s wrong with themselves.
Take Jessa, who we meet in a stint in rehab, where she’s much more interested in diagnosing everyone else in her circle than in accepting that there’s anything that she needs to learn about herself. This one is a whiner. That one is a basket case. And that one–played by Danielle Brooks, Taystee from Orange Is the New Black–is a lesbian in the closet. (There’s a hilarious brutality to the way Jessa delivers the coup de grace to her assessment: “…and your vest.”)
That Jessa turns out to be right, on that last point at least, doesn’t exactly help with her stubborn belief that she has nothing to learn from rehab. (“I figured my shit out when I was five years old.”) But she’s not the only character in Girls pointing a finger at others while plugging up her own ears. The two new episodes are a litany of clearly damaged characters hyper-attuned to everyone’s faults but their own.
There’s Jessa’s roué of a rehab buddy (Richard E. Grant of Withnail and I): “Poor thing. You’re too young to understand which thoughts are useless to you.” There’s Adam’s ex and her pal (Amy Schumer), riotously teeing off on Adam and Hannah about their “urine-soaked lives.” There’s Marnie and her mother, each acutely dissecting the other’s faults, neither realizing she is arguing with a mirror. There’s Adam, whose attempts to lecture Hannah and Shoshanna on friendship turns into a Rolling Stones lyric. There’s Hannah’s therapist (Bob Balaban–hoo boy, there are a lot of guest stars here), turning a session into a personal overshare.
And, of course, there’s Hannah herself, at once highly perceptive and utterly lacking in self-awareness. “I’m not going to change into a different person just because you want me to,” Adam tells her during an argument. “You have to,” she says. “It’s called being in a relationship.” But not much after that, on the subject of her own friends: “I’m not interested in anything they have to say! That’s not the point of friendship!”
Unlike on Seinfeld, there is hugging on Girls–Hannah’s begging Jessa not to leave her again is sweet and moving–just not so much learning. Three seasons in, Girls has developed into an unsparing portrait of a social circle in which everyone sees themselves as the analyst, and no one wants to be the patient. It’s not necessarily admirable, but Girls and Lena Dunham have decided that there’s more fascination–and more comedy–in having its characters be messed up than in having them be “likeable.” It’s the right choice in these episodes at least, especially once the uncomfortable comedy gears up on the trip upstate.
It’s also the truer choice to the kind of show Girls is. Another show might, over time, have its characters grow, learn, mature, become wiser. But Girls is doing something more unusual–the characters are not learning about themselves so much as they’re learning about each other. It’s like a group therapy session, except your breakthroughs are all about everyone else’s issues.
Or maybe it’s like Truth or Dare, the game that gives its name to last night’s second episode–a game where you learn truths about other people more than about yourself, yet which, Hannah believes, is the game that teaches children to be adults.
Now for a quick hail of bullets:
* How far away could Jessa’s rehab have been from Brooklyn that it required an overnight in a hotel? Quebec? Does Adam drive that slowly?
* Some of the most rewarding setups on Girls are when it plays Adam off Hannah’s other friends, and his interactions with Shoshanna on the road are gold. (Speaking of which, can we agree that Shosh is pretty much the best-adjusted, most together character on the show at this point?)
* Yes, that was Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth–whom I have a hard time ever imagining in a scrunchie–mixing it up with Jessa in the rehab circle.
* “This chair is giving me no room to express myself.” Most Hannah quote ever?
* “It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate!” Agreed, Hannah! And in that spirit, I have absolutely nothing to add to the silly hand-wringing over Lena Dunham’s use of nudity in Girls. But here’s what I wrote about the same issue last year, and here’s what Dunham said herself about it in my interview with her before the first season debuted. Could we maybe not have to re-play this exact same controversy every time a new season airs, pretty please?