Is “Girls” getting a little sick of its own natural habitat?
Two episodes removed from a bottle episode that saw Hannah fleetingly shack up with a dashing 42-year-old named Joshua before returning to our regularly scheduled action, this week saw another sojourn, this time in upstate New York for a family reunion between Jessa and her estranged father. Oh, and Hannah’s along for the ride, too. Despite the fact that she has an e-book to bang out in a month, as well as a possible urinary tract infection, our heroine will delightfully serve as the “cushion” of the gathering, in case things get a little awkward.
Marnie and Shoshanna are nowhere to be seen once again, and while it’s nice to give Jemima Kirke some extra screen time and develop her mysterious character in ways heretofore unseen, “Girls” always hums along when its four leads are working in tandem (with Hannah at the forefront, of course). “Video Games” was an episode that felt slightly unbalanced, just like Jessa herself. And now, “Girls” fans are faced with the prospect of not seeing the four main ladies together for a while; Kirke’s real-life pregnancy and her character’s hasty exit from this episode makes it conceivable that Season 2 has, in fact, seen the last of Jessa.
But before she’s whisked away by the blue corn moon, Jessa is given a capital-E Eccentric for a father: actor Ben Mendelsohn immediately gives the shaggy dad the same penchant for hair-brained zaniness as his daughter. Minutes after Jessa suggests that Hannah stick cloves of garlic up his lady parts to cure her UTI, her father quickly explains the mountain of first-generation computers piling up in the back of his car with the line, “I don’t want people reading my old ideas.”
The apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the Camry-hating tree in this instance, and Jessa, coming off an abrupt end to a foolish marriage, looks giddy for the first time in weeks when she enters her father’s home with a perpetually confused Hannah. But then her father’s girlfriend Petula (Rosanna Arquette) sashays into view and Jessa’s smile literally fades away. Arquette’s character doesn’t really possess much consequence after her first scene, since the episode is anchored by Jessa’s complex relationship with her father, but Arquette manages to squeeze in a few laughs, including a speech on how life may very well be a video game.
After discussing the nobility of pubic hair while thumbing through an age-old “Penthouse,” Jessa, Hannah and Jessa’s cracked family eat fresh-made rabbit outside, in one of the weaker jokes of the night, simply for being another “Oh, look how CRAZY Jessa’s family is!” joke. Petula’s son Frank invites the girls out for the evening, and Jessa declines in order to spend time with her father, but her father has other plans with Petula… and Jessa looks crushed. Despite the fact that she had cancelled on her father the six previous times they had made plans, Jessa expected him to drop everything when she did actually arrive; it’s a great bit of self-involvement from the show’s flightiest character, and yet, we can’t help but understand her twinge of sorrow as she munches on her delicious rabbit.
Cut to: teen sex comedy! There’s nothing like whip-its, blindfolded driving and awkward sex to remind us of an “American Pie” movie, and Jessa and Hannah’s adventure with Tyler and Frank was a masterful display of teenaged hijinks. For some reason, Frank kisses Hannah in the dark of the night, and they immediately have eight-second relations in the woods — all in the name of a misperceived “sexcapade.” Just like two weeks ago, when Hannah saddled into Joshua’s brownstone and kissed a man she had known for roughly seven minutes, we have to ask: what is Hannah doing here?
We’re all for the show’s depiction of liberated female sexuality and for Lena Dunham’s character to find her share of physical wonders, but at some point the line between “sensibly free-wheeling sex” and “unappealing, anonymous sex” is drawn. It’s not like Hannah is in a particularly vulnerable position, so why is she taking on this runt of a lover? At least the plot development leads to a comical exchange between Hannah and Frank the next morning, where the 19-year-old gathers up his courage and tells Hannah that she didn’t take his virginity, but a local girl named Rhianna did. Yes, it seems that even Frank can kind love in a hopeless place.
The main attraction of the evening, however, is Jessa’s confrontation with her dad, taking place on a swing set and serving as a logical progression from her dinner-table disappointment. “Why didn’t you stand up for me?” a teary Jessa asks. “You don’t know how to have a conversation with me!” “Girls” rarely features conversations this emotionally raw, especially with the girls’ parents — compare this exchange to the icy self-preservation of Marnie’s mom talks.
As much as Jessa is lashing out at her father for his lack of regard throughout her entire life, she is also upset with herself for turning out exactly like her old man. And just like her dad takes off from his current life with nary a goodbye, Jessa peaces out with a note that reads “See you around my love,” leaving our heroine to mosey back to the train station by her lonesome. When all was said and done on the “Jessa’s dad” plotline, everything seemed a little too easy in terms of plot development. Jessa’s relationship with her father is now the primary reason for her outlandishness and fiercely independent lifestyle, and after a season and a half, “daddy issues” seems a little too simplistic for such a vibrant character. Jessa is a living, breathing Bohemian with remarkable stories to tell, but after this episode, she looks a little too much like the 2010s version of Phoebe from “Friends” for our liking.
One final note: did anyone else get a strict Wes Anderson vibe from “Video Games”? From the sad-sack father figure straight out of “The Royal Tenenbaums” to the ornately framed shot of Frank looking puny at his own kitchen table, director Richard Shepard captured Anderson’s whimsical style and confined it to a quick-moving half hour. But make no mistake: the final scene, of Hannah calling her parents to tell them she loved them while painfully peeing in public, was Dunham — and “Girls” — and its most original, and best.