The article below contains spoilers for “Bad Friend,” the Jan. 27 episode of “Girls.”
Jazzhate, the Vice/Thought Catalog-style website Hannah (Lena Dunham) gets an actual paid writing gig from in last night’s episode of “Girls,” “Bad Friend,” offers our protagonist the chance to do cocaine for the first time like it’s a homework assignment. (That $200 fee she’s offered is, sadly, pretty good in terms of Internet money these days, even if a good chunk of it will go to the drugs.) The conversation Hannah has with editor Jaime (one syllable) is both silly and sharp-edged (“You don’t seem that fancy,” Jaime observes), and descriptive of a type of writing that’s become common in this age of oversharing, somewhere between brutally honest and a gonzo stunt. There in the frame is your comfort zone, as the sign says, and far outside it is “where the magic happens,” but if this type of assignment has a whiff of exploitation to it, of making use of young writers who don’t know any better than to let it all hang out, well, there appear to be plenty of people lined up to take the gig.
Including Hannah, whose aspirational career as a personal essayist seems to involve a lot of navel-gazing and bold exposure. She doesn’t balk at the outrageous assignment suggestions that she either “have a threesome with some people you meet on Craigslist or do a whole bunch of coke and just write about it,” going with the latter because she has “enough trouble figuring out where to place my attention on just one person’s body.” From there, it’s as awkwardly easy as securing the cocaine from the former junkie downstairs, a man named Laird (Jon Glaser) who’s been fondly stalking Hannah, and who follows her and replacement roomie Elijah (Andrew Rannells) as they head out for a night of drug abuse, dancing and temporary emotional devastation.
Drug use in “Girls” has been sporadic and comic — when Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) inadvertently smoked crack in season one, it was a mostly harmless goof, while Hannah’s adventures in opium tea in the series pilot led to her tragic tantrum in front of her parents. The coke, despite Laird’s conflicted distress about enabling the buy, doesn’t end up being destructive either (between this and the near-medicinal use of the drug in “Flight,” cocaine’s having a positively benign media moment) — or at least not more so than what enables and results from any other big night out. Hannah and Marnie (Allison Williams) are fundamentally well-behaved suburban kids at heart, despite their frequently humiliating attempts at running wild, and Hannah’s far more in danger of developing a cupcake habit than a drug one. She and Andrew have a terrific, sloppy NYC night at Soho club Greenhouse listening to real DJ pair AndrewAndrew, getting high in the bathroom and dancing joyously to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” until their mutual appreciation fest ends when Elijah ill-advisedly confesses to his hook-up with Marnie.
Directed by Jesse Peretz (“Our Idiot Brother”) and written by Dunham and Sarah Heyward, “Bad Friend” pairs Hannah’s journey outside her comfort zone with Marnie’s — while the former dabbles in coke for the first time, the latter lets herself be seduced by Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone), the artist who once told her, “The first time that I fuck you? I might scare you a little. Because I’m a man, and I know how to do things.” The sex they eventually have is more confounding than frightening (“Look at the doll!” he demands while spread on top of her), but the fact that he’s successful and doesn’t treat her terribly well is irresistible to the girl after her longterm relationship with the adoring Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Booth may be an arrogant hack, but his force of personality is considerable, as represented by his locking Marnie into his Duncan Sheik-blasting TV chamber until she bends to his will, declaring him a genius.
Despite their fight at the end, neither Hannah nor Marnie is a particularly bad nor good friend — Hannah isn’t actually hurt by the idea that Marnie slept with her ex, she’s horrified by the prospect that her relationship with Elijah ended not because he’s gay but because he didn’t want her specifically. Meanwhile, Marnie’s enjoyed having her ragged bestie as a foil to her own perfection, a power balance that’s been upset in recent episodes as Marnie’s romantic and professional lives have fallen apart. That fight that arises as the ends of their respective evenings converge lays bare the unhealthy aspects of their friendship, even as Hannah admits they’ll still remain friends — that the narrative that’s been guiding their relationship is untrue, that they’re the nice one and the disastrous one after all. Fortunately, they’ve both got plenty of time to be the disastrous one and to figure things out — pretty good for a Wednesday night.