Four Atlantic staffers sound off on whether the portrayals of their generation's quirks in the sixth episode of Season Two of Lena Dunham's HBO show ring true.
The men of Girls stole the show this week, as Ray valiantly forayed into the weird world of Adam's apartment to retrieve a book, and became his surprise companion on a dog-returning mission to Staten Island in the process. Booth Jonathan asked Marnie to host a party with him—not as a girlfriend, but as an employee—which abruptly led to an unpleasant conversation about the nature of their relationship. Hannah, meanwhile, got offered a book deal (well, an ebook deal), but her end of the agreement requires her to write it in one month.
Below, a panel of millennials from the Atlantic staff—Lindsay Abrams (editorial fellow for the Health channel), James Hamblin (editor of the Health channel), Chris Heller (social media editor), and Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for the Entertainment and Sexes channels)—discuss grown-up love, the boys on Girls, and whether one month is an acceptable window of time to complete the Great American Ebook.
The other half: So, this Adam-, Ray-, and Booth-heavy episode of Girls is called "Boys." What'd we learn about boys?
ASHLEY: What a question. Well, let's first put it out there, just for fireproofing purposes, that we'll learn about as much about boys as a gender from watching an episode about three boys called "Boys" as we we'll learn about girls as a gender from watching a show about four girls called Girls—which is to say, nothing conclusive, really.
We did certainly learn that these boys in particular have more feelings than they usually let on. Booth's meltdown in his wine cellar, Ray and Adam's man-to-man heart-to-heart—both of those happenings revealed some inner monologues we haven't had access to before, since we've always seen the story unfold from the girls' point of view. The reveal that surprised me was Booth Jonathan's rant about how he knows none of his friends like him; I think I underestimated his self-awareness. Jim, you're our resident Booth Jonathan apologist. What did you make of his wine-cellar implosion?
JAMES: I'm only a Booth Jonathan apologist in that I found him especially compelling ever since we met him in Season One and he, with one sentence, compelled Marnie to run to a public bathroom and masturbate.
But his Wine Cellar Confession was kind of heartbreaking. In this crazy fantasy world, I wanted him to stay terrible and invincible, and see what happens.
Usually you have a sense that people who act as brazenly as he does are actually depressed and empty and alone in their deep dark center, but there are people out there who are genuine psychopaths, through and through. No appreciable self-doubt or loathing. They're fascinating. Frank Underwood is the reason I watched House of Cards. I thought Booth might be one. But he's just a manipulative narcissist, like so many common manipulative narcissists.
ASHLEY: I agree on the "heartbreaking" part. First time I've felt sad for him. It sucks when your friends don't like you, even when it's your own fault. Poor ... Booth?!
LINDSAY: I'm not sure how sincere his meltdown was. It felt like he was putting it on a bit—"Oh, everyone just wants to use me because I'm sooo talented, I'm too good for all these boring people who flock to me." He saw right through Marnie, but was happy to use her as a living doll/personal assistant/adoring fan anyway. We did get what felt like real insight into the inner workings of Ray and Adam, though, which I definitely appreciated. And I loved that their version of Shoshanna's "Which Sex and the City character are you?" references Little Women instead.
CHRIS: Enough Booth Jonathan for a minute. Let's consider how "Boys" is a significant step for Girls—it's the first time, I think, that the show has developed the interests of its male characters against one another. (The whole episode, it seems to me, pokes fun at three very different, but all very foolish, ideas about masculinity.) For all of the things that Girls does well, I've been disappointed more often than not with how it depicts men. "Boys" changes that.
You're doing it wrong: Everyone in this episode seems to think everyone else is deluded about romance. Booth accuses Marnie of being attracted not to him but to the idea of him; Adam says Ray and Shoshanna aren't adults in love but rather babies holding hands; Ray's skeptical that Adam ever liked Hannah at all. Empty insults or actual insights?
JAMES: Insights. Babies holding hands seems appropriate for every relationship on the show. Everyone's a walking id. Which is of course wonderful to watch. Either because it makes their relationships childish and funny, or, in the case of observations like this, disconcerting. Kind of like if you saw real-life babies holding hands.
CHRIS: Babies holding hands. Isn't that a show on OWN?
LINDSAY: What would make for a mature relationship on this show? Jessa proved that even subverting her social world's mindset of putting off marriage until your 30s doesn't really work (though we can probably argue that she wasn't so dedicated to the whole endeavor), and the rest are trying to navigate a string of casual hookups, or casual relationships that have the potential to be become more serious—but become boring once they do.
ASHLEY: Booth's accusation—that Marnie likes Booth Jonathan: The Lifestyle more than Booth Jonathan, the guy—seemed particularly spot-on. Especially because we saw that one coming.
As for Ray and Shoshanna being "babies holding hands," I don't know about that. For much of the time, they do seem pretty immature when it comes to relationships in general, but a few weeks back, we saw a flash of something really nice happening between them in that train-station scene. It was messy, but only because both of them were honest. Isn't partner honesty kind of what separates grown-up relationships from babies holding hands? Maybe from what Adam sees, Ray and Shoshanna are just playing house and mindlessly making oogle-eyes at each other, but Adam wasn't there on the train-station platform.
CHRIS: I'm with Jim—they're all insightful criticisms that suggest the flaws of each relationship. Booth will never consider Marnie his equal. Ray is terrified that Shoshanna is too young for the intimacy he feels for her. Adam is ... Adam. I don't think that this means that all of their relationships are doomed, but I would be awfully surprised if we don't see these problems fester for a while.
LINDSAY: It's interesting how much clearer these insights became when we got so see more of the guys' perspective, isn't it?
CHRIS: Yes! Oh, and one more thing.
[flies over The Atlantic's offices]
[skywrites, with gusto]
Hannah as the Next Big Thing: Hannah's ebook deal is "the best thing that's ever happened" to her. Jessa says it'll amount to nothing. Let's predict: Where's her writing career going?
LINDSAY: The opening scene, with one of Hannah's professed idols praising her confessional essays, definitely had the feel of an aspiring writer's fever dream. Hannah's biggest problem is that she only has a month to write her book, so unless she's planning on slapping an introduction onto a collection of stuff she's already written, or decides to go the Twilight route (with some bondage scenes thrown in), something tells me there isn't going to be a book—in any format.
But I don't think there's anything inherently less valuable about going the ebook route as opposed to traditional print, especially since she's not making so brazen a move as to self-publish. With the right backing, it might not equate to Lena Dunham's $3.7 million book deal, but she could find her readers, and it could at least be a first step towards success.
CHRIS: Hannah's writing career is a decent barometer for Girls, right? If this ebook vaults her to the kind of acclaim she hopes it might, this suddenly becomes a very different show. (I don't think this is going to happen ... yet.) As long as she's on the hunt for cheap freelance gigs, the status quo won't be challenged. Sooner or later, that's going to change. I don't know if I want to watch that show. How is she making enough money to pay rent every month, anyway? Money was a central issue to Hannah last season, but now, it's barely an afterthought.
ASHLEY: Yeah, I predict no ebook. First, Hannah will do what writers always do: sit at her computer for three and a half weeks waiting for something to magically materialize before her eyes. Then she'll do what Hannah always does: find some cowardly way out and then rationalize to everyone why it was never going to work out anyway. (In the interest of full disclosure, this is precisely what I would do if I were given one month to write an ebook.)
JAMES: No book for now. But she does develop a quirky but smart blog/website. It becomes popular among New York media people, and soon everyone wants to write for it. She writes a couple abstract satirical posts that spread widely among writerly circles. She does occasional short story readings at bocce bars in Brooklyn, performing the same stories to increasingly adoring crowds. Before long the editor of JazzHate.com (Jame Schmatt?) is coming to Hannah for advice. The Times and major magazines want her to write for them. They hire her in place of veteran journalists because she's got media buzz. But she fails publically on the larger scale, and the hype around her fades. She continues to wallow around Brooklyn in a self-obsessed haze, in and out of dishonest relationships that all end badly, which she doesn't entirely mind, because it gives her something write about.
CHRIS: You need to stop watching House of Cards.
An unexpected journey: Girls has so far thrived on stereotyping Brooklyners and Manhattanites. What to make of its treatment of Staten Island?
CHRIS: Believe it or not, Staten Island is not the overgrown dystopic hellhole that Ray and Adam spend half a day trekking to reach. It's crowded, occasionally smelly, and a hassle to get to from almost every part of New York, but it's not that hellish. The difference between the depiction of this borough and the rest of New York bothers me—even when Girls is mocking stereotypical Brooklyn kids, there's a hint of depth or reason behind the winking criticism. The trashy Staten Island girl who told off Ray was only a prop. (A very funny prop, but still.)
Ray's disdain for Staten Island was funny to me, if only because he's so pathetic. There's some serious irony going on when a 32-year-old with no ambition and no home doesn't hesitate to rip on a place he deems beneath him. (Of course, once he's in Staten Island, his persona gets torn to shreds.) This trip was a means to an end—an opportunity to contrast Ray and Adam's perceptions of masculinity—and it accomplishes that end very well. It's just too bad this episode didn't do anything to counter Ray's opinion of the place.
LINDSAY: I've ridden the Staten Island ferry, but I've never actually gotten off at Staten Island. That's all I probably have to say about that.
ASHLEY: I've never been to Staten Island either. But somehow I feel like if I were from Staten Island, I'd be kind of pissed.
JAMES: Anyone caring that much in any way about Staten Island is great.