I think most critics who watch television for a living decided that Lena Dunham's second season of Girls is better simply because season one was subjected to such ferocious scrutiny. The fairness of the criticism was irrelevant, but the intensity of it must still linger. That's why when the screeners were sent to critics' homes or offices a few weeks ago inside yellow padded mailers, the contents, to many of them, were fragile. Let's revisit some of season one's real or imagined controversies and aspersions: Racism. Nepotism. Elitism. Sophism. Anti-Nazism.
What the show's detractors found most detestable was the way it showcased this notion of Millenial entitlement, born from grouchy trend-starved newspaper editors who sent reporters across America to find over-educated, yet well-adjusted, 20-somethings who chose (or demanded) a non-linear path to success and refuse unpaid internships in favor of leaching off their parent's dwindling retirement funds. So the taxpaying core of responsible adults who watch and critique television shows scolded and eyerolled Girls for this trend: How could these adult-children bequeathed with so much opportunity be so ambivalent about the responsibilities and sacrifices required of human existence? Parents shouldn't pay for their adult-children's daydreams. That's what Sallie Mae is for.
Lena Dunham, crosshaired as the most spoiledest entitledest daughter of generation unlimited Emoji sexting, had embraced and encouraged this Very Bad Notion for her first fictional HBO series. Purposely or not, Dunham's characters—her character—annoyed viewers who found her art and life equally insufferable. That is why, even though she is a 26-year-old woman of prodigious creative talent, her harshest critics sometimes dismissed her as a 12-year-old art project contest winner. From some Lake George summer camp. The contest was probably judged by nannies. Yes, the show is really good sometimes (but not quite great sometimes) so therefore it is awful. Let's just admit that Lena Dunham's art project represents America's failure to be independently progressive because, just like that fancy Lake George art camp she probably went to, Girls was devoid of black people. The nannies don't count.
I think Lena Dunham is refreshing and talented. I like her fairytale tattoos. I applaud her willingness to go topless and muffin-topped. I like all of the characters she's created and the insincere, melodramatic, insipid, helplessly hopeful women of this certain age they represent, even if those women only exist in a snowglobe in Brooklyn. The show can only get better. Could be great, even.
It's an honor to keep this going in a new direction. It can only get better. Could be great, even.
Intro. Outro. Skrillex.
We are back in Brooklyn, borough of daydreams, and Hannah is full of sass and renewed independence because she's made it through the turbulence of her last year and now has a renewed focus in addition to a new roommate. We find her half-sleeping, half-cuddling in bed with her new roommate, Elijah, her ex-boyfriend from college who's now gay, but we can tell right away that she loves this newer, perfect, unconventional reality. She's smiling. So is he. He apologizes for his boner (he says boner) to put her at ease. No need, her eyes are still closed and she's still smiling. Hannah has changed. Hannah has figured out something. She is self-aware, and in control of this new reality where her gay ex-boyfriend is the perfect roommate. This is her bed, her gay ex-boyfriend, and she will half-sleep more content than girls in those more normal but unstable relationships. She's probably daydreaming while she half-sleeps about that one evening in the not-so-distant future when she can put on an expensive gown and uncomfortable shoes and accept an award for being true to herself. She's writing her thank you speech in her half-sleep at this time even though she knows the only one Hannah should thank is herself.
Then we're reintroduced to Shoshanna, deflowered last season by Ray, the grumpiest grump employee at Cafe Grumpy, who became enchanted by Shoshanna after she accidentally smoked crack at that infamous Bushwick loft party they both attended. She panicked and ran out of the party because hysteria had taken hold, and he chased her. He was smitten but he didn't know why. He was chasing her but she didn't know why. Then they fucked, virginity was lost, and, now, as we quickly learn from her opening scene, it didn't end up the way she wanted it to. She's chanting and burning incense things and gyrating around her room trying to curse Ray. Not for taking her virginity, mind you, but for not allowing her to feel good about losing her virginity to him because it appears, they did not become a happy couple even after initial coital engagement. Now Ray must die. There is a poster in full view in her room that says "Keep Calm and Carry On." She is not calm, though, and she carrys on in a hysterical girly way, and not in the resolute, 1939 British government way.
There is a din around Marnie, boyfriend-less still since she broke up with Charlie for being clingy and underwhelming after he put in four years of dutiful service as a professional boyfriend too good to be true. Right move, I thought, when she made it. She seems torn, but carrying onward, even though she's down on love but hey, jump in sweetheart, the water is always tepid. Cut to her walking briskly, professionally on a sidewalk after lady-lunching with her boss from the art gallery. Things are going okayish, she thinks, until her boss nonchalantly informs her that she had forgotten the main purpose of their lady-lunch: They are downsizing at the company that owns the art gallery.
"You're firing me?" she asks as a giant shoe is dropped from somewhere high above a loft in Greenpoint and onto the sidewalk in front of her where she once walked briskly. The giant shoe now lands.
Gasp now you're fired. She's not only fired, but her boss chose to fire her instead of the less competent employee who spilled YooHoo on art, something she would never do. Yes, gasp still fired. The universe is a teacher so absorb this lesson because you must or else you will never grow but for now let's smash-cut to Hannah's bedroom as she rides her new boyfriend.
"You wanted this," he says in sex voice.
"I wanted this so bad" her sex voice says.
"And now you're finally getting it," he says.
"It's about fucking time," his sex voice says.
"It's about fucking time," her sex voice says.
Her new boyfriend is black. Hey girl.
So after Lena Dunham has inserted this winking Emoji into the script to tweak her critics we can move on with the story. We see her and her new boyfriend in a small bookstore and he's giving chase, the way mad schoolchildren give chase when they are tagged and are now It. Her new boyfriend is played by Donald Glover, who is also featured in Community, and swoon, goes the internet. He is wearing a wool hat indoors because that's what people who live in Brooklyn do. I am wearing a wool hat indoors as I write this (in Brooklyn) and I will probably be wearing a different one indoors by the time this is published (on the internet). No swoons.
The next part of this scene is where expositiory plotlines are built and to let the audience know that Hannah has grown. Donald Glover says he can't run that fast because he has a boner (he says boner, too) but he finally catches up to her and pins her against a bookshelf and they giggle and stare like two people with serious crushes. But Hannah is pushing him away, refusing his affection even though it's genuine. "I love how weird you are," he says.
Hannah replies that no love is welcome here, leaned up against the bookshelf, even in a non-committal, conversational way. Poor boner. This non-committed pact is supposed to be fun and, for Hannah, love still lives at the dirty apartment of Adam, who is recovering from that time they argued at the wedding and he got hit by a truck. His leg is broken. He still needs her help. She still goes over there and changes his bedpans and sits and watches movies (possibly ironically, maybe not) with him because she feels guilty for breaking his leg or his heart or both. As they sit on his bed, Adam is still shirtless and gruff and Hannah sits on the bed next to him but at a safe enough distance to not give the wrong impression. It doesn't work. Adam still loves her, but Hannah doesn't believe this because hes still not nice to her.
"When you love someone you don't have to be nice all the time," Adam says. Hannah lets it sink in. He is not wearing a wool hat when he says this. At one point later in the show he will make her confront what a good thing they had. "You said I made your body feel like a clit." She denies this at first, then sighs, she did say that. Adam still rules. Swoon.
Now back to Marnie, who's transitioning through life and is now lady-lunching with her mother, played by Rita Wilson. (Last year Wilson would probably be referred to as "Tom Hanks' wife" in this column but this year she is "Marnie's mother." Knives in.) This conversation is important because they are drinking wine during the day. Marnie's mother attempts to offer inspirational advice and covets her daughter's friendship. Marnie needs a mother right now, for once, and isn't in the mood for her mother's YOLO attitude. Her mom is sleeping with a "cater-waiter" (right?) and insists that her daughter lighten the fuck up without actually saying that. Marnie can't handle it. She huffs. Her mom realizes her daughter is not ready for YOLO just yet. They both take sips of wine and glance sideways to avoid confrontation.
Hannah and Elijah are holding a karaoke party at their apartment that night and all the gang is coming. Hannah is thrilled with the idea. Elijah is, too, because planning theme parties is f-u-n and this is what life is supposed to be about, fuck yeah. Shoshanna arrives first and is dressed in her Audrey Hepburn hat, nervous about seeing Ray. Nobody seems to care. Elijah's boyfriend, the rich older guy who pays for everything is coming, too, and he's nervous. Nobody seems to care. The party skulks along as expected, songs are sung ironically, cool people mask insecurity by being safely aloof, potato skins and pretzels are served. Nothing moves unless it's forced or served. Marnie is there and so is ex-boyfriend Charlie and they exchange pleasantries in front of the bathroom door. Charlie blurts out that his new girlfriend is with him and Hannah said that'd be cool so I hope you don't...
"Are you waiting for her outside the bathroom?" Marnie asks Charlie, icy yet sympathetic that her ex-boyfriend's still being too good in that awful way again.
Charlie starts to stammer confidently that his new girlfriend doesn't know anyone at the party so he just didn't want her to be alone for too long....
Door flies open. Out she comes.
"I told you not to wait for me!" Of course she said that and of course Charlie didn't listen because he's just trying to be nice and girls like to be treated that way, he still thinks.
She emasculates Charlie in front of Marnie but doesn't care. Charlie reintroduces his new girlfriend to Marnie but pleasantries are not exchanged as they both are exasperated with Charlie for being so goddamn Charlie all the time.
The party carries on. Karaoke is sung. Elijah's old, rich boyfriend grabs the mic and is drunk and surly. He chastises the 20 or so people at the party for being so boring. Nobody moves. He's right about this fact, yet it still gets him thrown out of the party because his roll was in desperate need of being slowed. Later, old rich guy.
Post-party, Elijah and Marnie are chatting on Hannah's couch and trying to defuse the tension between the two of them. It's progressing nicely and then Elijah calls Marnie a bitch but not in a mean way. He also calls her pretty. New tension arises, but it's the good kind of tension, the kind that causes boners. Hard stares are exchanged and Elijah goes in for a kiss, because, you know, this tension won't break on its own. He's rebuffed at first. Then he's not. Then Marnie finds her YOLO and now she's about to fuck Hannah's ex-boyfriend who's gay but, obviously, still figuring things out and open to experimentation with girls who look like Marnie. So far on this show Marnie, even though she's the most conventionally pretty out of all the Girls, has had sex with Charlie (unsatisfactorily), her own hand in a public bathroom (passionately), the chubby guy from SNL (desperately) and now she's about to try it with a gay guy. At this rate, Marnie's next sexual encounter could be with a coatrack or a corpse. Whatever works. YOLO.
But back to gay Elijah sex. His shirt comes off. His pants come off. Marnie's top comes off and sideboob is shown because she's ready to make this shit hot. She tells Elijah to get a condom and they begin to have sex just cuz until it becomes very apparent that Elijah is still gay and Marnie is still insecure and both of their rolls need to be slowed. She puts her dress on and turns to Elijah and says, "You know, you really don't have to try to be anything that you're not," in that fucking cold-ass way that Marnie talks down to people sometimes.
A beat. He takes a sip of water still shirtless. He stares.
"Neither do you," he says. TWO-shay, bitch rag.
After all that, Marnie retreats to Charlie's because she just needs to sleep next to someone, even him, because life is hard and there safety in familiarity. They hate-cuddle.
Meanwhile, what's up with Jemima and her new banker husband, the one she married so impetuously last season? Not much. They appear to be honeymooning someplace where people don't speak English and having a fabulous time being assholes. That's it. Resolution TBD.
Meanwhile back at Donald Glover's apartment it's late at night. He's just pajama-relaxing and content, but still open to all possibilities. Later this season we will find out that Donald Glover's name in the show is Sandy and he is Republican, defying conventions, making things interesting, just cuz. There's a knock at the door. He knows who it is. It's Hannah, who doesn't want love, just fun, and he's okay with playing this game with her because he knows what she's doing better than she does.
He opens the door and she asks to borrow his copy of The Fountainhead, a handbook for young upstart Republicans, black, white, or Paul Ryan. He walks to the other end of the room to go find a copy as he's asked. He's got this all under control.
Hannah strips as he is off-camera and playing along with this silly Fountainhead game. Here is her body once again, defying convention. There are her breasts. There is her ass in a thong. Look at it for a while and then just carry on. Can you?
[Image by Jim Cooke]