Intergender Wrestling

On hearing that this week’s episode was titled “Together”, I assumed a Hannah-Marnie reunion was in order. Hannah’s MSWord declaration that “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance…” is as close as we got, and perhaps I would have more enjoyed last night’s hit-and-miss season two finale if we’d seen a little more of this drama, and a little more of this sentiment carried into action. We saw virtually none of the four leads interacting in “Together”, a conclusion that felt in that way apt for a season largely about these characters being released into the wild on their own.  How satisfying last night’s show would be for a viewer will truly vary.  But fundamentally, my apathy to “Together” comes from what seemed well-worn solutions to stark new problems.  While it was often a good time, it did not pack the wallop I’d hoped for from an up-and-down season that sought to shake things up.

The first act of “Together” seemed a hodgepodge.  Hannah’s new blend of germ-o-phobia, paranoia, and glassy glandular film are added to her typical delusions of grandeur. John Cameron Mitchell gets his first truly good, Mitchell-ish line of the season while Wiki-ing Ms. Sevigny: “Chloe, Chloe… only the rain has such soft hands.”  Jessa was mercifully absent, the fourth wheel in a show that by design should be a bit wobbly.  And the Adam-Natalia sex was interesting: on paper she’s as dominating as Hannah, which it seems he should be into. Yet her command is to go slow and cage his feral moves and foul mouth, which results in him slowing rocking his head back and forth into a very IKEA looking headboard.  It continues to disappoint that Natalia seems doomed on arrival: having her serve as a worthy, compelling challenger for Adam’s affections seems the most dynamic drama, yet so far we have seen her mainly as a wet blanket.  Among many hopes for season three, I would add that Nat get more credit than she’s been given thus far, and that she not fall into Girls’ growing abyss of supporting characters who show a contrived Sex and the City style “Fatal Flaw Dealbreaker of the Week” that eliminates them from contention.

Later, I loved Peter Scolari in that hardware store, and thought he showed a lot of poise in that scene by finally standing up to his daughter while expressing love and concern.  It was such a tender moment that it starkly contrasted the weakness in Marnie sealing up a surprisingly strong season for her with her speech about wanting to spend the rest of her days with Charlie (delivered at Roberta’s no less).  Her will to birth brown babies felt a bit too much like the caustic resin of This is 40-era Judd Apatow, co-writer on “Together”.  But an underlying problem for Season 3 is her insistence that she doesn’t love him for his money, of which he has a ton. It’s a bit convenient that Charlie becomes appealing again the moment he gets rich. I know, I know: it’s his self-confidence, his ambition, his joie de vivre and newfound biceps. But what happens if (nay, when) his one-note smart phone app dries up?

This season has been a fairly strong one for New Yorkish guest stars, and I loved seeing mid-renaissance Colin Quinn back on TV. Being the only Twitter that Louis C.K. follows grants you the anti-gravitas needed to play Ray’s boss. But this was merely the first half of a one-two punch that preceded Jon Glaser cutting Hannah’s hair.  “I think I nailed this,” he says, standing over a choppy, angular bird’s nest style last worn by the most special needs member of Jackie O’s extended family. Equally visionary was Dunham’s impression of Carey Mulligan, having stuck a Vanity Fair picture the pixie-cut beauty to the bathroom mirror: “It’s not that bad…” delivered in a voice of mod chicks in Michael Caine’s Cockney gangsters. From his depiction of her “vol-umtion-ous” curves to his intent listening — smiley yet crossing his arms – we see why Glaser is a special actor: he has a faucet of sincerity that he can leave on both while play a rogue’s gallery of creeps in Delocated and Parks and Recreation, or in this case while serving as the simple-but-kindly oaf.

One touchstone that I’ve really enjoyed throughout this season is that an Andy Kaufman cardboard cut-out has been seen throughout Shoshanna’s apartment.  Whether it was there last season, even a seasoned Girls observer like myself (shudder) cannot recall. Andy’s presence either very sweetly suggested that there’s more to Shosh than meets the eye (a silly side, a kind of sense of irony) or that Ray has brought it there as some way of leaving his mark, the way lovers often introduce each other to fun new things. Perhaps she simply digs pale, vaguely Mediterranean Jews. Whatever the reason, it made their breakup pow-wow a bit more heartbreaking to see triumphant Andy, in Intergender Wrestling Champion attire, proud and triumphant behind the defeated Ray, who leaves in a huff and takes Andy with him, confirming their shared penchant for fighting women.

It was a knockout scene, by far the best the show has done in ages, and probably the most moving of the season, largely because it was so simple, and Zosia Mamet so purposefully left it all on the court. I was surprised by how true to life their respective reasoning seemed, in Ray’s attempts to resist and lash out and her attempts to calmly explain that burst at the seams and flow out with all the real reasons mired in tears, because when you love to go out to dinner and your partner hates the sound of children playing, you can only be expected to bottle it up for so long.

Life is intense, so you have to ride it like a pony, or so says Hannah while dangling from the end of her proverbial rope. Yet akin to Hannah guiltily facing her deadline, I’m still weighing my final opinion of this season’s climax. A highly suspect montage sequence spills forth: Marnie and Charlie are all grins on a Meatpacking District night in thousand dollar eveningwear, Shosh is making out with the man she promised Ray she wasn’t leaving him for (or at least a guy who fits the profile), and Adam is running down the street shirtless to reach the despairing Hannah.  While it feels a bit curious that her salvation (if only for now) comes in the form of a big strong man willing to kick her door in to pick her up out of a bedridden depression, the Facetime sequence that brings Adam and Hannah together did have fun visuals and a kinetic energy that the rest of “Together” sorely lacked.  Call it exuberance by default.  (Incidentally, Apple should be cutting Dunham royalty checks for being the director on TV best incorporating the iPhone into plot and style.)

In her New Yorker review of the divisive “One Man’s Trash” (and by divisive I mean I didn’t like it), Emily Nussbaum suggests that a formative moment in the show comes in Ray telling Hannah that intimacy isn’t a legitimate subject for art.  At its worst, Girls settles for cheap pantomimes of intimacy, by swinging for the emotional fences through cultural referencing and easy answers.  At its best, it is a very funny comedy that serves as a platform for some astute branding of human behavior, and a forum for Dunham’s physical comedy (with the understanding that verbiage spewed from one’s mouth kinda counts as physical).  I am still wrestling like Andy to assess which side weighed heavier in “Together”.  For while it felt a bit too mid-season to serve as a satisfying finale, am I expecting too much after being conditioned by The Sopranos, Mad Men, and The Wire, in which people straight up die and most haircuts occur off-camera?  I truly love what our own Emily Goldsher-Diamond has to say about “Together”: the notion that it looks like a happy ending but isn’t one, given how much is unresolved.  Hannah’s life remains in dire straits, and Adam’s impact on her future is (likely) literally unwritten.  While I would have preferred something that inspired a gasp or a laugh – or a scene as spectacular as last season’s final shot on the shore of Coney Island – I appreciate Dunham’s willingness to risk a resulting groan.

Intimacy is of course a worthy topic for art: the very question is a straw man.  Season two of Girls has largely been predicated on upping the ante with regard to darkness, anxiety, and frustration.  At times (as in season highlights “Bad Friend” and “Boys”), those stakes were raised gloriously and with great wit.  The question for season three will be how real Dunham and co. can make the pendulum’s positive swing feel: how genuine new joys and rebuilding can look.  Anyone can holler on a roller coaster, but who among us is brave enough to hum in elevators traveling upward?

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