Reminder: Adam in Girls Is a Sleaze

Our roundtable discusses "Role Play," the 10th episode of the HBO show's third season.

This week's panelists: Spencer KornhaberAshley Fetters, and James Hamblin

Kornhaber: “You have an old idea of who I am.”

That’s Adam in the final moments of tonight’s Girls’ episode, telling off Hannah for a roleplaying ploy predicated on the notion that—Adam’s words, again—he’s “some angry fucking sociopath who wants to meet older women and intimidate them into having sex.”

Hannah’s shocked: “I was just doing sex the way you want to.” Adam then shocks her again, revealing he’s planning on moving out from their apartment for a while to focus on his career.

That scene shocked me as a viewer, too. But in a good way. One popular knock on Girls is that it’s a show about characters who are fundamentally hopeless—in every single episode, they prove yet again that they’re terrible, narcissistic, immature people with no chance of growth. Looking back at the season that’s almost finished, though, we can see that Girls really does want to explore the question of whether people can change—and in Adam's case, has done it in smart, subtle ways.

Adam “old idea” comment shows that he clearly believes he has changed. But really listen to what he tells Hannah. It’s not that he’s no longer into unusual, demeaning sex, per se—it’s just that at one point, it was a way to cope with his alcoholism. Falling in love means he doesn’t need that kind of thing anymore. So it’s not that he’s been cured of his kink; it’s that his life situation has shifted.

Similarly, when it comes to career he tries to have it both ways: saying he has changed, but also that he hasn’t. “It feels amazing to finally care about something”—finally, a.k.a. for the first time. But he also says he always cared. I hear that as meaning he always wanted to care about something.

A few weeks ago, Chris wrote that Girls’ “real message about adulthood” was that “a single revelation cannot generate maturity.” That’s absolutely right—as portrayed on this show, developing as person is a start-stop, forward-then-backward process. But it’s a process towards what? Perhaps not towards becoming someone different, but becoming, accepting, and embracing the person you always were deep down—whatever that means.

Marnie still isn’t sure who she is. But she, to her credit, is trying to figure it out. Of course, that means debasing herself by hanging out with ever-more-ridiculous people who, if nothing else, project strong, concrete identities: Ray, profound man of books; Desi, profound man of guitars; Soojin, successful woman of galleries and electronic music and froyo.

Jessa, though, has spent all season—really, all show—trying to ignore the question of what she’s going to do with her life. Jasper provides a distraction; the way she disparages him the second he leaves the room shows he’s nothing more than that. But at dinner Jessa learns about, and Jasper’s reminded of, the person beneath his druggy affect: hound trainer, muffin buyer, etc. “Fuuuck,” Jessa sighs, and you can tell that we might at last be at a turning point for her. Rehab in the season premiere was a joke. But when Shoshanna tells Jessa she looks like a junkie, and she replies “I am a junkie,” that feels serious.

As for Hannah: She generally seems pretty self-aware these days, even if she’s puking on herself at bars with coworkers. What she has misjudged, though, is Adam. “He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known,” she says during her bedroom Chipotle chowdown with Elijah. Two episodes ago, when she told Adam she wants the best for him because she loves him, Adam replied “ditto.” But again and again in this episode, Adam placed his own concerns over Hannah’s—asking questions about his costume instead of the night she spent with Joe, pretending like he hadn’t really invited her to rehearsal, and, eventually, using Hannah’s well-intentioned (if bizarre and momentarily dangerous) seduction plan as a chance to tell her that her career and feelings are less important than his. Whether he’s changed or whether he’s always been that way, in that moment, Adam’s unmistakably a bad guy.

Or am I being too harsh on him? With Adam moving out, will he and Hannah continue to grow apart from each other—or have they, in fact, not been growing at all? And should we start shipping for Joe and Hannah to happen?

Fetters: I’ve been an Adam skeptic for a long time. An Adam hater, even. For example: After he reunited with Hannah in last season’s finale, I wrote, “Adam and Hannah are a happy ending in the schadenfreude-y way—the way you feel happy when two awful people who are awful enough to deserve each other finally get together and start ruining each other's lives rather than everyone else's.”

So maybe if anyone’s guilty of having been too harsh on Adam, it’s me. Because this season, I’ve found myself rooting for him more than I ever have before; weird as he still is, Adam started to behave like someone who had a sister he cared about, a girlfriend he cared about, and a job he cared about, all of which are huge developments from the last two seasons. Sometimes I think back to the moment when I arguably hated Adam the most—the disturbing scene in “On All Fours” with Natalia—and it’s startling every time to realize this is the same character.

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