He said, she said: Why episode 5 is the best ’Girls’ yet

Talking points on season 2 of Girls

He said, she said is a discourse on the second season of Girls from two points of view. (Find previous conversations here.)

Episode summary:

Only two regular cast members, Hannah and Ray, appear in this episode.  A handsome man walks into the Grumpy Cafe and asks Ray if he knows anything about the cafe’s garbage being dumped in his trash bin. Ray denies it. Hannah quits after Ray is rude with the handsome neighbour and goes to his brownstone to confess that it was her throwing the store’s garbage into his trash bin.

He said, she said:

He said: Well, that was the best episode we’ve seen yet.

She said: How can you decide right off the bat, without taking time to digest? I can’t digest it that fast.

He said: I liked how singularly focused it was. I like the fact that this was the first time in this season–I can’t remember season 1 well enough–that there was a character in opposition to the sort of general thrust of the characters on the show, somebody who has what we would consider the trappings of a successful, sort of boring Western life, but he’s not made to look ridiculous.

She said: Not like Thomas-John.

He said: He seemed like a caricature in comparison. I mean, Joshua is just a reasonable guy; he’s nice; he’s interesting; he’s capable of profound moments of honesty–I mean, he confides that he had sexual relations with another boy when he was nine years old–and then later Hannah says, “You’ve shared nothing with me!”

She said: And she doesn’t even have the frame of mind to call him by his name. I mean, right away she’s calling him Josh when he asked to be called Joshua. It’s a simple request. You laughed more in this episode than any other I remember watching and this is the only episode where I teared up: when Hannah is sitting outside with him on his patio having breakfast, looking at him, and, I don’t know, she seemed more contemplative than usual–even vulnerable, in this moment of domesticity.

He said: Yeah, nice basic, domestic things, “where you don’t take all the experiences for everyone else and give them back to them through your essays.”

She said: [Laughing] Is that what Hannah said?

He said: I can’t remember her exact phrasing but pretty much.

She said: She felt like she really opened up to him, exposed herself, and he hadn’t done the same, like he hadn’t been honest. But he had really tried!

He said: And he tried in a really adult sort of way: they are obviously in a strange situation, but she’s asking him what are very naive questions. Obviously he’s confided in her; he’s let her know that he’s separated. And she says, “So, you’re married.” And he says, “No, I’m separated.” So immediately it’s like this childhood fantasy for Hannah about what the adult world is. And she wants to know why they separated, which is the last question you would ever ask someone who you’d just had weird, casual sex with in this nice moment but she keeps pushing it in this very childish way and he in a very diplomatic way says, “You know, real stuff that happens between a husband and a wife,” For me–that’s the moment–that’s the crux of it. This is a guy who has just lived a real life and the characters in the show are characters who are just resisting at any and all costs living a real life. And it’s funny because you have this dichotomy between characters who think they are soaking up experiences to give them back to people–this sort of martyr complex, whereas most normal, functioning people just live flawed lives and just try to get on with them as best they can.

She said: That was really nicely said. He’s been more honest than, well, any other “partner” she’s had.

He said: I thought it was just so nice to see this character be a real character. The other thing I liked about this episode, is that this is what we’ve been talking about from the beginning and what the thematic arc of the show is: it comes from this adult vs. youth, which we in the first episode with Rita Wilson and we talked about briefly. That sort of real world with consequences vs. one with no consequences. And that profound selfishness that leads you to believe you live in a world with no consequences outside of your own incredibly narrow sphere of self, which is what the show is slowly and inexorably driving towards. Just to watch her spoil that with her own despicably, maniacal insane selfishness.

She said: They’ve had this nice time! They played ping pong topless together and then all of a sudden she manages to talk herself into thinking he’s selfish and hasn’t been there for her for all these perverse stupid reasons that she has. Hannah just spoils the whole thing. [Pause] Hey, your friend Mike posted something funny on Facebook: “SPOILER ALERT: On next week’s episode of GIRLS, Hannah waterskis over a shark-infested stretch of the East River. Topless, obviously.” And then I was thinking about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler joking with Lena Dunham at the Golden Globes about them being there for her: “Is someone making you show your breasts in every episode sweetie? Because we are here for you.” Do you think she’s now using her breasts in a gratuitous way?

He said: Do you know what I think? I fundamentally think she’s using them as a comic prop. They are still capable of eliciting big laughs. And I had read on the internet–because we were so late to get to this episode this week–that “Lena Dunham plays ping pong topless” and then there was a thing on the Maclean’s site about tweets reacting to that. But if it continues to be funny, then why not? And I can not imagine a point–maybe by season 5–where you just think, okay, enough with the bare breasts.

She said: There were a few points in this episode where I felt like it was gratuitous, but I still get a thrill.

He said: It’s certainly real. And it adds an element of reality to the show in a strange way, which maybe says more about what we’re exposed to, in terms of seeing women’s bodies. I mean, there was rarely an episode of Sex and the City that went by where you didn’t see Samantha’s breasts. The nudity was part of what the show was about but there was no huge cultural discussion because–

She said: [laughing] YEAH!!!!

He said: Because Kim Cattrall has conventional breasts and is conventionally good-looking. Lena Dunham is very cute but her body type is in exact opposition to everything you would expect from seeing a naked women on the television. It does remind me of the HBO nudity thing: there’s a story, and I don’t know if it’s true or apocryphal, of an HBO producer saying to Louis CK: “You know this is HBO, you can put a little nudity into the show.” And they’d given him unlimited creative control in exchange for having a very limited budget for his show.

She said: He got to choose, right?

He said: I think so. Anyway, I haven’t seen it but apparently there is an episode where he is naked in every single shot, which is the same joke. You want nudity? Well, here’s a 45-year-old guy’s dick just on the screen.

She said: Frontal?

He said: I believe so.

She said: Do you think people were commenting on Louis CK’s penis with the same vigour as they did about Dunham’s breasts?

He said: Well, a penis is a totally different kettle of fish.

She said: In what way?

He said: Well, in a bunch of ways. Even though the best-looking, most conventional penis is still shocking.

She said: [Laughing]

He said: I don’t know how honest you want me to be but I think your average person probably sees more erect penises on a screen than they see flaccid penises.

She said: [Laughing]

He said: I think a flaccid penis is like the c-word–it still has the power to shock. And a flaccid penis, even the best-looking one, is never attractive.

She said: This might be a good spot to end.