How quickly “Girls” went from vibrant to status quo. Last week, show creator Lena Dunham took a potentially isolating risk by focusing entirely on her character Hannah’s live-fast affair with a man almost twice her age, exposing her raw-nerve emotional infancy in response to another’s seeming acceptance. It was a shockwave that penetrated her shell – one that viewers had been anticipating—but something that failed to have a lasting effect. It’s a memory erased on this week’s “Boys,” which returns to the fragmented storytelling of episodes past.
Following her two-day love retreat, Hannah is refocused on her writing career, meeting with a publisher (played by John Cameron Mitchell) who compliments her essays as “infuriating” and offers her an e-book deal. Prone to hyperbole, she declares that it’s “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” only to later paint the sidewalk with cocktails after given a one-month deadline to turn in the work. It’s a sobering moment where she fails to understand the shortcomings and demands of adulthood—a struggle that perseveres, even when given the opportunity to embrace fate in lieu of feigning ignorance.
Hannah’s plotline is relegated to writer’s block: she names the title of her first chapter “Room For Cream?” and distracts herself with a web article about “Twelve Fruits That Will Make You Fat.” It’s typical. Jessa, whose cutting fallout with her husband was her character’s most charged scene, gives a simple cameo, emerging from the wings for a walk-on where her depression fuels a take-down of Hannah’s attempts at authorship. “This book doesn’t matter. That’s the first thing you need to know,” says Jessa, whose aggression is met with apathy. “It’s not going to matter to the people who read it, and it’s not going to matter to you.”
Instead, “Boys” centers more on the show’s XY sect and unpeels emotional layers previously unseen. The suggestively vulnerable Ray, who previously professed his love for Shoshanna while confessing his loserdom, shamelessly emasculates himself with a request to Hannah for his lent copy of Little Women, gifted by his grandmother. Informed that it’s in Adam’s apartment, he pays a visit to Hannah’s formerly incarcerated ex, only to be greeted with scornful confrontation. Ray goes to fetch his book from the bathroom, discovering a violent dog relegated to the space.
Adam explains that he stole the dog outside of a coffee shop out of pity, since its owner treated it with abuse. It’s standard Adam: he’s sure he can save someone else, but he’s incapable when that person fights back. Convinced to return it to its rightful owner, he invites Ray to take the Staten Island Ferry to NYC’s fifth borough where their bromance blossoms. Ray is self-doubting (“I know [Shoshanna] thinks I haven’t done enough with my life considering my age. … Maybe it’s weird that I’m dating someone who’s so young,” he says), while Adam reveals that his best relationships were with 17-year-old and 54-year-old women. “You and I, we’re actually not so different,” says Ray.
But it quickly disintegrates. Tempers flare after Adam compares Hannah to a “giant tweedy doll I would have been stuck carrying around the carnival all night.” He deems her “altruistic”—a severe misinterpretation that ignites a blowout after Ray calls him on it. Adam storms off, leaving Ray to his own devices to find the dog owner’s home. He’s greeted by a slummed-out girl rocking a “Webster Hall” fitted who verbally dismantles him, slinging a Jewish epithet and alleging that he lives with his mother. The attacks are potent. Ray later sits near the water and tells the dog, “You think I’m pathetic, don’t you? … I’m not even that. I’m nothing.” He weeps, giving way to his character’s deepest, most rock-bottom moment.
Next to his romantic confession, Ray unlocks a part of himself so affectingly virile and honest that it’s easily one of the realest moments of both his trajectory and the season. But it’s with the episode’s other prominent plotline—the self-delusion of Marnie—that it falls flat. In the midst of her tryst with artist Booth Jonathan, she agrees to host a party at his house prior to an art show. Picking out a dress to wear with Shoshanna, Marnie conveys an embarrassing misunderstanding of her relationship with Booth: “This is the first thing we’re hosting together as a couple,” she says. It’s naïve and mildly desperate. Her attraction is more about the idea of Booth than the artist himself, something he later points out.
It’s during a private moment at the party where tensions mount. Booth offers her $500 for her hosting services, to which she replies, “You don’t have to pay me. I’m your girlfriend.” He plays down their relationship and debases her to employee status, comparing her to his former assistant who quit earlier in the episode for taking a bite of his ice cream. “You’re a hostess for a living. I didn’t think it was that weird to ask you to host,” says Booth, who flies into a woe-is-me rage after she bursts into tears. Where Adam and Ray examined their romantic feelings earlier in the episode, Booth is remarkably self-indulgent, smashing bottles of wine at the mere idea that they’re more than fuck buddies.
But the spectrum of masculinity threaded through the episode is so uneven that it’s hard to grasp what substance the characters actually have. Ray is struggling with his shortcomings – something relatable yet underdeveloped in the scope of the series – while Adam and Booth devolve into characters so childish that they perpetuate their own immaturity. The discomfort is surely intended, as Dunham’s predisposition is to wallow in awkward. But it puts into question what the audience expects from Dunham, and what the audience deserves: an entertaining glimpse into human nature, or one that deeply explores it.
Photo Credit: HBO/Girls