'Girls' Season Two: Different But the Same

On a night in which the HBO show won two Golden Globes — Best Television Series and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for Lena Dunham — Girls was back with a season premiere. What happened?

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On the same night in which the HBO show won two Golden Globes — best comedy TV series and best actress in a comedy TV series for the show's creator Lena Dunham — Girls was back, the shortest 30 minutes in Sunday night TV, because what's 30 minutes compared to a hours-long Golden Globe show? Whether you like Girls or not, it cannot be blamed for taking up too much time. Somehow it feels shorter, even, than an old episode of the oft-compared show, Sex and the City, which is both similar on some levels and also a completely different animal. Anyway, this show we're talking about, it's no Lincoln. Nor should it be.

But on to more ready topics of discussion: What happened in last night's show, the season premiere, and more importantly, what do we think happened?

Recall if you will, if you can, when we last left Hannah, after her friend breakup with Marnie and her maybe/probably/actually/kinda breakup with Adam, who also got hit by a truck in that last episode of Season One. Marnie was moving out, Hannah was moving on. So when things start up in Season Two, we find Hannah snuggling in bed with her old boyfriend Elijah, who's since come out and is her new roommate, much the way she used to snuggle in bed with Marnie. There's something disposable about the friendships and relationships portrayed in this show (and, in fact, this feels fairly true to life in one's twenties and thirties in "the big city"), and so friendship and relationship replacements are easy, slotted in to fit as needed. There are always more people who can be found to fill your void. Such is the relationship, it appears, with Elijah and Hannah, who glow with the promise of the newly roommated, decorating and planning parties and telling one another they are the best. "I love living with you!" comes out of their mouths simultaneously. It is new roommate love.

Hannah's new roommate is not the only new man (or old friend in a new role) in her life. She's also dating a new guy, Sandy, played by Donald Glover, who of course she met at Grumpy's and about whom she promises to "make logical, responsible decisions." She doesn't want to hear any love stuff (which he is willing to utter) but instead wants to do things differently, i.e. not like Adam.

Adam. Of course, the problems are cropping up already because Adam is still in the picture, homebound with his leg in a cast, and Hannah, the guilty party, whom he says he still loves, is taking care of him. It's complicated. Will Hannah tell Adam about Sandy? Will Sandy get sick of Hannah not telling Adam? Will Hannah just rotate from bed to bed, the arms of some man or another (platonic, lover, ex-lover, whatever) around her? Everyone's replaceable, including Elijah's boyfriend George, who gets too drunk at the party Hannah and Elijah throw and has to be escorted out, then ditched, by Hannah ... even if he does pay for everything, as Elijah tells Marnie later. (Subtext: Surely, another person who pays can be found. Surely, another person can always be found.) And Adam is becoming less and less appealing the more he loudly objects that Hannah can't leave him, that he loves her, while Sandy offers the promise of new love and a way to forget about the damages of the old; for how long, who cares. Hannah keeps telling Adam, throughout this episode, "We're not together anymore," and yet, she keeps going back. What's a guy to think? He says, "You’re here all the time, you’re my main hang," as well as the telling and rather brutal, "When you love someone, you don’t have to be nice all the time." Which is true, in some strange raw way, though maybe not in the way he means — and it certainly wasn't what Hannah intended him to respond to her statement that he's not even that nice to her, so why does he want her there at all? Feelings. They are complicated!

Meanwhile, Marnie has not filled her void, and the void appears to only be growing. Not only has she lost her roommate and, in so doing, made perceptible shifts in her closeness to her best friend, she's still single, having broken up with Charlie last season. In a lunch with her boss she finds out she's being fired — not fired, the boss explains, "downsized," which is way different, but of course, pretty much the same. Later she has another lunch, this one with her mother, played by the glorious Rita Wilson, who tells her she looks 30 years old (the ultimate insult for a twentysomething) and goes on to reveal TMI sex life tidbits about her romance with a cater-waiter, getting offended when judgmental Marnie doesn't want hear it, i.e., be "friends with her." Marnie says, "I talk to my friends like this." Ah, there's the rub.

We get only blips of Shoshanna and Jessa, but they're telling ones, or at least, as telling as they can be in the time allotted. With Shoshanna, the best character on the show, we get a bit more. She's weird, she's sage-ing her bedroom and wishing for Ray's demise — it seems in the interim, after she lost her virginity to him, he has in some way fallen short of the man she wanted. At the party, she arrives in a perky little hat and tells Hannah and Elijah, "I may be deflowered but i’m not devalued." Of course, Ray's eventually there, too, leading to a wonderfully awkward moment when she says, "Oh hello," quite formally to him, and then a vehement, "Goodbye!" turning her back on him and standing in exactly the same place. The two meet again in the bedroom, where Shosh is looking for something and Ray confronts her about her bad texting (just emojis, what's a panda/gun/wrapped gift supposed to mean?). He tells her, though, "When I'm around you, I remember your charm, sincerity, strength..." They kiss.

Things are getting worse for Marnie, who finds her ex, Charlie, waiting outside the bathroom for his new girlfriend, who isn't very nice to him, kind of a Marnie 2.0. Marnie then confronts Hannah, asking if they're OK, if they're still as close, and saying, "I'm having a shitty time. I have no boyfriend. No job." Hannah deflects it saying she's right there, but of course she's not. And she isn't. Moments later Elijah demands she evict George (troubles in roommate fantasy land are brewing) and she does, then goes to Adam's to bring him supplies, but they fight when she leaves. He says he'll die if she goes away; Hannah responds she doesn't want to see him again, and that that's her choice. But if it is her choice, she doesn't appear to have made it yet.

And then there's the scene you can see coming, the one you know is going to go ... not well. Marnie and Elijah remain at the party, the roommates replaced with other roommates, the lovers replaced with other lovers, and they are flirting, talking about their own relationships, but suddenly talking about each other, maybe. They have sex; it doesn't quite work; he accuses her of rolling her eyes. Marnie's Marniness takes over, because what else is there to fall back on in such a time? She says, "You really don't have to try to be anything you're not," and he responds, "Neither do you." Sometimes all this replacing just ends in a feeling of emptiness, because you've never gotten to the heart of what you needed in the first place.

Elsewhere, Jessa (with cornrows) and her new husband Thomas-John, whom she barely knows, get into a cab and try to direct the driver ... somewhere. Jessa bursts into laughter, saying, "I don't know where we live," and Thomas-John laughs, too, and they start to make out. Romantic, maybe, but there's already a die cast. They're glorified roommates, play-acting until the next replacement comes in.

Marnie shows up at Charlie's house, asking if she can sleep next to him, promising not to mess stuff up with his girlfriend, and he says yes. Hannah shows up at Sandy's house, asks if she can borrow The Fountainhead, takes off her dress, and gets in his bed. Relationships. They are consistently messy.

As for the winners and losers of the show in the various battles (small and large) put forth:

Roomates vs. Mothers & Daughters: Roommates win, even if things turn bad, mostly because no one wants to really, truly hear her mom talk about sex. Even if they are "best friends." Plus you can always move out on your roommate. Moms you pretty much have to keep.

Williamsburg vs. Greenpoint. Williamsburg gets a better portrayal (Spoonbill and Sugartown, where Sandy and Hannah chase each other through the store, looks great!) but Elijah's dissection of Greenpoint: "I didn't even know there was a G train! On one hand, I love pierogies. On the other hand, I love pierogies," is kind of perfect, even if it's also awful. But they're both stereotypes, so: Tie.

Adam vs. Sandy. Whatever happened to the awful, ruined twentysomething guy, the one who treats women like crap and will never commit, who we're always hearing about? He is not on this show. Both of these guys tell Hannah they love her, both of them seem to want her, and she goes back and forth between them, unable to choose (she's not sleeping with Adam, not yet; she's just bringing him a bucket when he needs to pee). Adam appears to be the same guy he was at the end of last season, his emotions on the surface, caring deeply for all his roughness. Sandy is more mysterious for now. We know he reads The Fountainhead; we know he's played by Donald Glover. We'd suggest Hannah keep them both for the moment, until we learn more.

Hannah vs. Marnie. Marnie has reached an all-new low, but bitchy Marnie is better than sad Marnie. I think she'll find her way back, as long as she doesn't get back together with Charlie, the most faded flower of all of them at this point. Who is this guy, even? I worry. Hannah, on the other hand, is pretty much exactly the same Hannah, despite her promises of doing it differently this time. Maybe talking about wanting to is a kind of maturity, but her actions belie her words. At least, in this episode. Still, Hannah wins because sad Marnie is nearly intolerable, and there's a dash of something in Hannah's conversation with Sandy that bodes ... well ... I think, while Marnie's interchange with Elijah was prototypical Marnie.

Old relationships vs. new ones. The new ones might be bright and shiny, but the old ones are the ones our characters are going to come back to. Let's give the new ones a chance, though, because they might be fun to watch for a while. Donald Glover needs more air time. And I want to see more of Elijah and George.

Sex vs. love. Ray's confession to Shoshanna in the bedroom at Hannah and Elijah's party gets my vote for the most romantic moment of the show, and maybe the only truly romantic one in the episode (I definitely don't count the car scene with Jessa and Thomas-John). On the other hand, sex on Girls manages to remain the stuff you really don't want to watch with your mom and dad in the room. But there's something earnest and poignant and sad about Adam's continual protestations that he loves Hannah and that she can't leave him, and there's no sex between the two of them at all (yet; as Lena mentioned at the end of Season One, the relationship between the two will continue to evolve). But even if all the sex on Girls had changed from first-season cringeworthy to second-season I-don't-know-something-less-so? love would still win here. It's what they're all chasing, whether they admit it or not.

Season One vs. Season Two. It's starting out well, and if we're going to hang out for new relationships, we might as well give Season Two a fair chance.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.