Four Atlantic staffers sound off on whether the portrayals of their generation's quirks in the fourth episode of Season Two of Lena Dunham's HBO show ring true.
If last week's episode of Girls felt like a field trip into uncharted territories of weirdness, this week's episode felt something like a mass airing of grievances. For once, though, Hannah wasn't at the epicenter of the pettiness: Jessa and Thomas-John declared their hate for each other, the awkward truth about Ray's living situation finally surfaced between Ray and Shoshanna, and Hannah's (mostly) civilized dinner party stayed polite until a girlfriend-vs.-ex-girlfriend showdown erupted. Unfortunately, until Hannah and Jessa's snot-fueled sisterly bathtub antics at the end of the episode, happy moments were scarce for the girls and guys of Girls.
Below, a panel of millennials from the Atlantic staff—The Sexes channel editor Eleanor Barkhorn, Health channel editor James Hamblin, social media editor Chris Heller, and Entertainment and Sexes editorial fellow Ashley Fetters—respond to questions raised by the show's depiction of insults, homemade pad thai, and accidental cohabitation.
Sticks and stones: This episode had the various Girls characters partaking in some ugly name calling—with "jerk," "Stepford psycho," "ridiculous person," "hipster munching my hay," "some scared guy who didn't get laid until they were 16," and two uses of "cunt" among the insults. Which one cut the deepest?
JAMES: Everything Jessa said to Thomas-John about him being average. ("No one liked you in highschool and no one likes you now. I'm embarrassed when we walk down the street because you're so fucking average.") She turns an argument into an attack. Especially because he's the type who's worked really hard not to be average. I mean, the guy won a Humie.
CHRIS: I think you're getting it backwards. Jessa's insults certainly cut deeper than Thomas-John's, but he's guilty of igniting the hatefest. (See: "You don't seem so fucking disgusted when you're spending my money" and "You're just some fucking dumb hipster who's munching my hay.") He's just a much more vulnerable character than she is.
ASHLEY: Everybody was so mean in this episode! And I agree with Jim on this one. The awful things Jessa and Thomas-John unleashed on each other are the high point for actual hurtfulness—the low point being Charlie calling Booth Jonathan an Ewok.
ELEANOR: Booth Jonathan deserves every conceivable insult that anyone could lob at him. He gets no sympathy from me. To me, the most cutting insults came from Thomas-John's WASPy, passive-aggressive mom, precisely because they were delivered in such a WASPy, passive-aggressive way.
JAMES: Eleanor's indictment of Booth Jonathan is now the deepest cut. He's just lost. I could fix him.
"Do you live with me?": How plausible did it seem for Shoshanna to accidentally end up living with Ray? And is Shoshanna right to get mad at him about it?
ASHLEY: Living together by accident is plausible, sure. If you have enough consecutive sleepovers and leave enough of your necessary, everyday belongings at your girlfriend's or boyfriend's place, it's totally possible to wake up one day and say, "Whoa, I think we're sort of living together." But that realization goes down easier when one person doesn't have to admit he or she doesn't have anywhere else to sleep. Something tells me Shoshanna wouldn't have objected to Ray staying with her, even if he'd admitted his homelessness, but she's justified in feeling a little bit used.
Also, if my count is correct, Ray is actually the third character on Girls to "end up" living with Shoshanna (Jessa crashed with her first, then Marnie did after her falling-out with Hannah). All that apparent extra space at Shoshanna's is like a black hole or something, sucking in all the tired/poor/"in-between-places" characters of Girls. Speaks to how much our generation really does move around, too.
ELEANOR: Agreed that it's totally plausible for people to accidentally start living with their significant others (and I don't think it's a millennial-specific thing, either—the original edition of The Rules, circa 1995, warns readers against the lure of accidentally moving in with a boyfriend). Shoshanna's reaction puzzled me, though, because she is someone who analyzes everything to death ... it surprised me that it didn't dawn on her that Ray was living with her until Hannah brought it up at dinner. The Shosh I know would have noticed—and started asking "What does it mean?!—after just a few days of him staying over.
CHRIS: Isn't it more likely to happen to young people, though? I suspect that's when crappy living conditions, unaffordable rent, and emotional neediness are most likely to cross paths. (Also, as we've seen with Hannah, roommate drama doesn't help.)
Ray and Shoshanna's "accident" seems plausible to me, if only because we've seen Ray change so dramatically since he's been with her. He was wrong to move in without talking to Shoshanna about it, but I think it ultimately reflects: 1) the shame he feels about his life, and 2) his love for Shoshanna. She's totally right to get upset about it, too. Their scene in the subway was my favorite from this episode because it captures the complexity of their relationship—from both perspectives.
JAMES: I once realized that I'd been living with a woman for seven years, and that we'd married and had four children. They all had the same name and underbites. Luckily, it was a dream.
The Thomas-John and Jessa meltdown: Who's at fault here?
ELEANOR: Where to begin? They were obviously a terrible match in the first place—cynical free spirit + cynical finance douchebag = recipe for combustion. So you could say that the fight itself was no one's fault. It was an inevitable result of two incompatible people trying to live life together. But this particular fight, the way it played out, seemed to be a teeny bit more Jessa's fault than TJ's. She was outright hostile with TJ's parents—criticizing the restaurant, chewing with her mouth open—even before the dad got lechy and the mom accused her of being a gold-digger. TJ, to his credit, defended Jessa to his parents and tried to keep things civil. Maybe if Jessa had put in a bit more effort at dinner, and things hadn't gone quite so poorly with his parents, the subsequent fight wouldn't have been so nasty. Still, as I said, a relationship-ending argument was going to happen no matter what.
"Jessa and Thomas-John were a terrible match in the first place. Cynical free spirit + cynical finance douchebag = recipe for combustion."
CHRIS: Jessa poured gasoline on their relationship and Thomas-John lit the match. Yes, she acted like a brat while meeting his parents, but he also accused her of only marrying him for his money. (Not to mention how he suggested that he likes prostitutes more than HIS WIFE.) Thomas-John grossly violated her faith in the relationship, and that's what ultimately sparked the meltdown. As Eleanor says, this was a terrible match from the very beginning, and it makes me think back to the speech Kathryn Hahn's character gave to Jessa last season. This was an impulsive marriage fueled by ulterior motives. Shacking up allowed Jessa and Thomas-John to temporarily set aside their hang-ups, but it's no accident that they fired off scathing insults at each other so quickly when things turned sour. This relationship was doomed.
ASHLEY: Can I go 60-40, Jessa being slightly more at fault? Thomas-John clearly lost his patience with Jessa in a huge, ugly way that revealed some huge, ugly problems, but Jessa doesn't seem to feel the need to make an effort to get along with other people ever. Her "can't-tell-me-nothing" attitude is refreshing and even charming sometimes on the show, but this is one moment where I, as a viewer, finally got exasperated with Jessa.
Remember last season when Marnie said she dreaded being around Jessa because Jessa made her turn into the uptight, cranky one? I felt like Marnie.
CHRIS: Even Marnie doesn't want to feel like Marnie. Poor Marnie.
ASHLEY: I feel like we should be keeping a running tally of how many times we use "Poor Marnie" in this series.
CHRIS: That's not the name of the show?
The dinner party: Hannah seems to think that cooking for friends proves you're an adult. A common attitude?
CHRIS: Definitely. I can't tell you how many dinner parties my friends and I have thrown since we've graduated from college, and I'm quite sure we do it to announce our maturity to ourselves. (Also, we do it to stuff our faces with food without spending money we don't have, but that's pretty much the point of everything you do when you're 23.) There's something deeply satisfying about cooking a meal for the people closest to you. When you're young and striking out on your own, even more so.
My unsolicited tip for Hannah? Don't invite your best friend, her ex, and her ex's new girlfriend to the same dinner party. Your table only seats, like, six people.
JAMES: No! Invite those people. The best dinner parties are totally powered by palpable tension.
ELEANOR: Yeah, I think crafting a good guest list is as much a sign of maturity as making pad thai without burning the noodles. There have to be more than three Oberlin grads in New York City—Hannah could have taken the opportunity to expand her social circle a bit.
CHRIS: Imagine if she invited the ladies who did her eyebrows in the first season. Now *that* would be a dinner party I'd go to. New 'brows for everyone!
ASHLEY: Well, that escalated quickly. I think the whole setup was pretty spot-on. Cooking a dinner for your closest friends (and closest friends' ex-boyfriends, if you want, and closest friends' ex-boyfriends' new girlfriends, if you're into that) is very satisfying, like Chris says. And even more than that—in my experience, at least—hosting a dinner party has kind of become a way to prove to your guests that you've managed to get some semblance of control over your life; something about being able to afford all the ingredients and not start a fire in your own kitchen translates to your friends being disallowed from judging you. Is that a girl thing? Maybe that's a girl thing.