The 'Girls' Gut Check: So Your Ex Made Money Off Your Breakup—What Now?

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Four Atlantic staffers sound off on whether the portrayals of their generation's quirks in the eighth episode of Season Two of Lena Dunham's HBO show ring true.

girls ep 8.jpg
HBO

Surprises abounded this week on Girls. Adam had a refreshingly normal date with a refreshingly normal woman; Marnie found out Charlie started a trendy company by selling a smartphone app that their breakup inspired. Hannah's obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms surfaced during a visit from her parents, and Shoshanna had a mail-room hookup with a doorman at her friend Radhika's apartment building while Ray gave Marnie a pep talk that resulted in the startling revelation that Marnie's real dream in life is to be a singer.

Below, a panel of millennials from the Atlantic staff—Eleanor Barkhorn (editor of the Sexes 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 creepiness, irritatingly successful exes, and portrayals of mental illness on TV.


Hannah's OCD. How real did it, and her parents' reaction to it, feel?

ASHLEY: I feel a little funny discussing the "realness" of a portrayal of a condition I've never experienced. But there are a couple of very beloved people in my life who do have OCD, one of whom texted me just a few minutes into the show and said, "Are you watching Girls? Just saw the first 30 seconds and it hit home. I knew immediately."

She had a lot of good things, if not all good things, to say about Lena Dunham's portrayal of OCD when we talked afterward. She said Hannah's inability to pay attention to conversations because of the counting in her head felt especially real, but she added that it did seem odd for Hannah's symptoms to be just surfacing now on the show (in other words, that they would be this dormant for this long). If it is long-term stress that triggers Hannah's OCD symptoms, as the doctor suggests (and as is sometimes the case in real life), it's surprising that it hasn't come up on the show before.

JAMES: Agreed. It does seem in keeping with the show's style, though, that we only hear about a dramatic and important thing for one episode. Like it wouldn't be surprising if it doesn't come up again in any significant way until Season 3. Even though IRL it sounds debilitating.

ELEANOR: I was really struck by the way her parents reacted. They seemed concerned, of course, and they took action to get her treatment...but they also seemed kinda annoyed about the whole thing, especially Hannah's mom. The undertone of a lot of their comments and body language was, "Thanks for ruining our fun visit to New York, daughter who doesn't have her act together." I'm sure lots of parents feel frustrated if their adult kids aren't quite on their feet yet. But getting irritated because your daughter's debilitating illness is acting up again feels callous.

CHRIS: Not to rip off Todd VanDerWerff's excellent piece on this episode—just go read it now, it's very good—but the return of Hannah's OCD seemed awfully disorienting to me. The idea is worthy, but the execution of it was problematic.


Adam calls himself a creep in preparation for his blind date, but he certainly manages to charm Cloris and her daughter Natalia. After this episode, where are we on Hannah's question of whether Adam's the worst or greatest person ever?

ELEANOR: I have always found Adam really weird and creepy and unattractive and never understood the people who think he's endearing. This week, though, I saw some glimmers of greatness. His greatest strength is obviously his honesty—we saw that in his revealing monologue at the AA meeting, his "I'm a creep" voicemail, and his commentary on the date ("I thought this was gonna suck ass"). Still, one string of appealing behavior isn't enough to make up for all the bizarre, troubling stuff Adam's done: stealing a dog, sneaking into Hannah's apartment in the middle of the night, etc. He may not be the WORST person, but he's nowhere near the best.

ASHLEY: I'm 100 percent on board with this. I generally don't see what's so lovable about Adam—a lot of the time I find his antics more alarming than endearing. But this is the most I've liked him in quite a while. So, yeah, not the worst person ever. He's got a long, long way to go before he's the greatest person ever, though, or even the greatest person on the show.

CHRIS: Adam is a creep. Plenty of other characters on Girls are, too—he's just more aggressive about it. I'm glad we finally got to see him outside of Hannah's world, where he has no choice but to acknowledge and consider social norms. I don't care one way or another if he's the "best" or "worst" character on the show. He's simply fascinating.

JAMES: Yeah, the whole scene I was pitying that girl. Please don't fall for him.

CHRIS: I hope she sticks around, if only because it'd mean more screen time for Shiri Appleby.


What's the deal with Shosh hooking up with the doorman? Is she sowing her wild oats now that she's finally "sexually active"? Or is there something terminally wrong with her relationship with Ray?

CHRIS: It's broken, even if it isn't officially over yet. There are many reasons why Shoshanna hooked up with the doorman—1) she felt lonely after not enjoying her friend's party; 2) Ray was acting dismissive and controlling; 3) the guy was very, very good looking—but let's be honest. We all knew this was coming. Ray and Shoshanna had a brief window of time where they both fit each other's needs. The question is, how long will it take for their relationship to die?

JAMES: It's dead. It's walking dead. It's the Walking Dead roundtable.

ASHLEY: I'm sad about it, but I think they're done. Ray was out of his comfort zone to begin with; he seemed to really be making a lot of exceptions already for Shoshanna. If Shoshanna comes clean about it, Ray's probably out the door.

ELEANOR: Yeah, I think the message of this season of Girls is: Opposites attract, and then combust. For example: Hannah's relationship with Sandy the Republican, free-spirit Jessa and square-rich-dude Thomas John, and now sweet, earnest Shosh and dour, cynical Ray. I'd love to see Girls portray a long-term, functional relationship—maybe Adam and Natalia? Kidding, though I wish I weren't.

It's possible to be happy for an ex's success. I'm happy every day for Gwyneth, even if she was never officially my "girlfriend."

Is there a word to describe the awful feeling of seeing an ex succeed when you're in a bad place in life? Is it ever possible to be happy for an ex's success... especially when they end up running a startup app company that shoots lip-sync videos during business hours?

JAMES: Of course. Be happy to see them succeed. What else are you going to do? I'm happy every day for Gwyneth, even if she was never officially my "girlfriend." Because we didn't need a label, or whatever. It's interesting that in real life Allison Williams dates Ricky VanVeen, who started College Humor and runs a hip Manhattan office that was home to one of the original lip dubs.

But I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

ELEANOR: Jim is a better person than I am, apparently. I tend to identify with the attitude John Prine expresses in his devastating song "All the Best": "You don't know, you can only guess, how hard it is to wish you happiness." It's terribly, horribly petty, but I'd rather have an ex-boyfriend either drop off my radar entirely or be somewhat unhappy. But to find out that an old boyf is not only doing well, but doing well because of an app he created that YOU inspired? That's the worst. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Poor Marnie.

ASHLEY: You know how sometimes people talk about which party "won" a breakup? Charlie's winning this one—and for Marnie, who not only did the dumping but also generally seems to see herself as the most shit-together person in the room, that must feel like a bracket-busting upset loss. I really did feel for Marnie this time around. Losing your breakup sucks.

CHRIS: I was all ready to argue that Charlie's company is a great parody of goofy tech startups—and then I remembered that this happened.

Break-ups can be very painful, but Marnie's seems to be especially cruel. Her conversation with Ray reveals the profound way things have changed since then—when she suggests that Charlie's life is upside-down and hers is stable, she's clearly projecting complaints about herself onto him. More than anyone else on Girls, she's been cast adrift. She's single, unemployed, and nearly friendless. Two episodes remain this season. Will she get her life together? I wouldn't count on it.

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