The Girls Gut Check: Is It Ever the Right Moment for a Rent Serenade?

Four Atlantic staffers sound off on the third episode of the third season of Lena Dunham's HBO show.
HBO

This week's episode of Girls took us to Hannah's 25th birthday party—where her friends and even her tank-top-clad editor gathered to party alongside Hannah and her parents (and others) at a bar. Ray and Shoshanna had an awkwardly polite conversation; Adam and Hannah gave us a glimpse of what happiness might look like on this show (hint: it involves molars worn as jewelry); and Adam's sister Caroline showed up and crashed on Adam and Hannah's couch. 

Below, The Atlantic's team of millennial Girls-watchers—Education editor Eleanor Barkhorn, Health editor James Hamblin, social media editor Chris Heller, and Entertainment editor Ashley Fetters—responds to questions raised by the show's depictions of disappeared boyfriends, needy siblings, and birthday serenades nobody asked for.


So we met Caroline. What effect did she have on the show this week? Did we learn anything from this piece of Adam’s personal life popping up unexpectedly? 

ASHLEY: Boy, she was a surprise. But what’s cool (and savvy on the writers’ part) about having Caroline show up is that she makes the rest of the characters’ “crazy” behaviors seem relatively mild by comparison. Caroline is like the anti-Natalia—everyone looked totally off-balance next to the clear-headed Natalia, but Caroline serves as a reminder that the four main characters are at least stable enough to not be a physical danger to themselves (and maybe others). Last week we went back and forth on whether Jessa does or doesn’t “function in normal society,” but now we have a character who seems like she may have legitimate difficulties functioning in normal society.

(Worth noting, however: Neither of these foils are nearly as effective as Blerta, Hannah’s new roommate from Albania that Saturday Night Live concocted in September.)

ELEANOR: If I were Freud, I’d probably say that Caroline helps explain Adam’s bizarre behavior toward women. That a.) her instability may make him distrustful of women in general and b.) her instability could very well be a symptom of broader instability in their family, which may make it hard for him to have stable relationships. Of course that doesn’t excuse his past grossnesses… but I am glad that Caroline sheds some light on the mystery of Why Is Adam Such a Weirdo?

CHRIS: Oh, Caroline. What a nightmare of a person. I had trouble getting past a queasy sense of discomfort whenever she was on screen—the hunch that at any second, she would just unravel in a fit—but her introduction did reveal a few things about Adam’s relationship with Hannah. Adam didn’t yell or scream when Hannah offered to let Caroline stay at their place, even though he wanted Caroline to “fucking get lost.” And later, after a pantsless Caroline breaks a glass in her fist, Hannah doesn’t freak out or express guilt about not listening to Adam’s warnings. They way they treat each other, the way they give and take between themselves, it’s almost as if—dare I say it?—they’re in a committed, mature relationship.

I’d be totally cool with replacing Caroline with Blerta, though. Blerta for life.

ASHLEY: Sometimes I think I’d be cool replacing everyone with Blerta.

CHRIS: I just feel for her. Why did you have to stare at the mayor, Milot? Why?

JIM: (That is a reference to the Tina Fey sketch—for the readers who, like me, don’t have a perfect memory for SNL lines.) All I’d say about this character is she seems consistent with the Girls universe in which everyone is, to their core, bad. And I don’t know what that’s meant to say, if not to be just funny. It can’t be how Lena Dunham feels. Or how lots of people feel, or that everyone actually is bad. It can’t be that.


Charlie in absentia: Marnie's been talking a lot about her suddenly estranged ex. But in reality, Christopher Abbott, who played Charlie, announced his departure from Girls after the last season aired. How has the show handled his abrupt absence?

ELEANOR: It feels really forced and unnatural to me, I have to say, especially since they’ve made it clear that Charlie is still in New York. If Ray and Shosh run into each other, and Adam and Natalia run into each other, why haven’t Charlie and Marnie? The show works so hard to make Brooklyn feel like a small village that it feels bizarre to have a character just disappear like Charlie has. They should have had him move to San Francisco to be around other hip, rich app developers.

ASHLEY: It feels awkward to me, too. Last year, their storyline was largely about Marnie learning to appreciate Charlie after the fact, learning that she liked his steadying presence in her life more she realized at the time. So for him to have suddenly vanished after they’ve finally gotten back together seems like not just a yanked-away happy ending, but also violation of character: It only makes sense that Charlie has a tumor that’s making him crazy, like Marnie says, or he’s way more cruel than we realized.

JIM: I think the Abbott news was a publicity stunt so that the joyous reunion of Charlie and Marnie as evidence that love does exist comes as an even more total surprise. TV conspiracy theories are all around you. If you look for them.

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