The 'Girls' Gut Check: Was That Brownstone Sex Weekend All a Dream?

Four Atlantic staffers sound off on the fifth episode of Season Two

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


Well, we didn't see this one coming.

This week, Hannah met Joshua, a rich, married-but-separated 42-year-old doctor (played by Patrick Wilson) when he came into Grumpy's to complain about the coffee-shop trash continually showing up in his garbage can--and then she spent the next three days eating steak and playing naked ping-pong with him in his brownstone townhouse. It was all weirdly copacetic, even romantic, until Hannah got a little too comfortable and shared some Very Big Feelings, and this Hannah-only episode ended with her morning-after march back into the real world of Girls.

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)--respond to questions raised by the show's depiction of random hookups, New York City, and UrbanDictionary.

Shacking up: Hannah pseudo-moves in with handsome, wealthy Joshua in his beautiful house for a three-day fling. Total fantasy scenario, or the kind of thing that actually happens?

ELEANOR: Sure, there's a lot that seems implausible about this episode: that the house where Hannah has been dumping Grumpy's trash would just happen to be inhabited by a sizzling, available doctor; that she would kiss him before even learning his name; that he would kiss her back; that said sizzling doctor would have a ping-pong room in his otherwise tastefully decorated townhouse, etc.

Questionable details aside, the episode rang true for the way it highlighted the extreme loneliness of both the characters. Yeah, it seems weird that hot Patrick Wilson would go for a girl who's two decades younger and runs around Brooklyn in a romper... but his wife left him, and there's hardly anyone his age in his neighborhood, and it sounds like he may be a workaholic. The opening scene where he tells off Ray does a good job of establishing that he's not quite stable at the moment, that he could very well be craving an escape.

Similarly, Hannah's alone. Over the course of the weekend, we never see her text anyone to let them know where she is, which at first seems unrealistic--aren't her friends worried about her sudden disappearance? But then you realize Hannah doesn't really have friends right now. She called the cops on Adam, broke up with Marnie, and kicked Elijah out of her apartment. I suppose she and Jessa are still close, as displayed by last week's bathing-together scene...but Jessa's not the kind of friend who's going to worry you've been kidnapped. There isn't really anyone looking out for her.

JAMES: Two lonely people alone in a very nice house.

ASHLEY: On one level, I think it's totally possible for two strangers to have sex and discover in the process that they enjoy each other's company. And it isn't so implausible that those two people wouldn't mind just continuing to hang out together. But it is sort of hard to believe the sex between Hannah and Joshua would happen in the first place, with so little by way of prelude. They're two sober strangers awkwardly chatting in the middle of the afternoon; there's little to no sexual tension brewing when Hannah abruptly kisses Joshua. It's a random act, not something that's been building ever since they, I don't know, locked eyes furtively from across the bar at Grumpy's.

But, you know, hey. Maybe that's how it happens for some people.

CHRIS: I bet there was a deleted scene where Hannah messaged him on Blendr.

It's not TV. It's ... : This episode felt pretty different from the rest of Girls: None of the other main characters were involved, and at one point Hannah says she feels like she's in a Nancy Meyers movie. Did the episode remind you of anything else in pop culture? And did it work as quality TV?

CHRIS: Did any of you see this bottle episode coming? It was such a surprise to me--in tone, in concept, and in execution. The Nancy Meyers line was especially revealing about intent, I think, because it initially felt like a winking parody of a typical romantic comedy. I didn't like the early parts of the episode, though. The wheels were spinning, but we weren't going anywhere. What really caught my attention was Hannah's breakdown and how she acted the next morning. I can't remember another time that Girls lingered on a character in this way, and I'm so glad it finally happened.

This episode also got me thinking about Louie--you know, that other great show about somebody living in New York. If the roles were reversed, the encounter between Hannah and Joshua could've easily been on that show instead. (Tentative plot: Louie meets girl, girl follows Louie back to his apartment, surprising fun-time sexcapades ensue, girl terrifies Louie with emotion, Louie flees.) I don't know if that would make for better quality TV than what Lena Dunham did--or, more important, how strongly my prejudices toward male and female characters color my judgment--but I can't think of higher praise for this episode than "It kinda reminds me of Louie." This is new territory for Girls, and I hope it's explored more often.

ASHLEY: It did sort of feel like it was taking place in some other show's version of New York.

ELEANOR: I was getting Sex and the City flashbacks ... like the episode where Carrie dates the recovering alcoholic who becomes obsessed with her, which at first is awesome but then gets old. Or the dynamics between Carrie and Big with regard to money--she's alternately uncomfortable with and turned on by Big's wealth, a lot like Hannah and Joshua. The episode also looked like SATC--Joshua's block and Carrie's block could be twins.

"I want to be happy." What did we think of Hannah's emotional bedroom confession and Joshua's response?

JAMES: There's probably some language where there's a word for that distinct, tragic moment when you realize you're no longer romantically interested in someone. There's this screeching and you're suddenly alone and a minute ago you were optimistic but now you're thinking only about how you're going to hurt that person the least possible.

ASHLEY: Could not agree more. And that moment when a new friend's odd behavior goes from quirky and fun and endearing to actually intolerable--Patrick Wilson got it right.

CHRIS: Joshua responded the right way, but let's not forget that Hannah warned him about the dangers of sticking around his house for too long. He "begged" her to stay, and she used the opportunity to overwhelm him with her neurotic anxieties. I don't blame him--he was enjoying himself, after all--and the exchange just highlights Hannah's tendency for manipulating people to use them as emotional punching bags. (See: The "bad friend" rant she gave to poor Marnie at Booth Jonathan's house.)

The way I see it, this episode is the first time Girls stripped away Hannah's bullshit, even if only for a moment. It turns out that she wants the trappings of upper-class urban life and the "happiness" that comes with it. Think about the scene on the patio. Hannah was nearly beaming about the domesticity of that moment. Of course, that honesty almost immediately gets devoured by Hannah's ego. Baby steps, I guess.

ELEANOR: The confession also reminds us, yet again, just how self-absorbed Hannah is. "Don't tell anyone this" is a preposterous lead-in. Who would he tell? He doesn't know any of her friends!

Let's make a quick sexit: The episode opens with Hannah trying to coin the term "sexit," only to have Ray prove that it's already been coined on Urban Dictionary. Is it even worth trying to coin new phrases, or has the Internet invented them all?

CHRIS: The Urban Dictionary definition is way better than Hannah's lame one.

ASHLEY: Urban Dictionary is certainly a fearsome foe if you're in the business of inventing your own colloquialisms. That said, though, the "sexit"--Hannah's definition of it--does totally deserve its own slang word. Maybe her next slang word invention should be a term for that abrupt-end-of-attraction thing Jim mentioned, if she ever learns to recognize it.

ELEANOR: If there's one thing Hannah knows, it's words. She may have been late to think of mashing up "sex" and "exit," but note that her definition is different from the one on Urban Dictionary. UD defines it as departing abruptly after sex, while Hannah wants to define it as leaving a party quickly to go have sex. It's only a matter of time before she invents a brand new word.

CHRIS: Coining a word is like giving yourself a nickname. Unless you have a famous wit, don't do it.

JAMES: I'm honestly still trying to make fetch happen.