The article below contains spoilers for “Beach House,” the February 16th, 2014 episode of “Girls.”
Just because you’re friends with people doesn’t mean you can’t also hate them. “Beach House,” the seventh and strongest episode of the season, was written by the formative “Girls” executive producer team of Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, which explains why it has some of the sharpest exchanges in the history of the series. “Girls” has always been stacked with dialogue that’s double-edged and that often as not reflects worse on the one saying it, but this episode, helmed by Jesse Peretz, the show’s most reliable go-to director, finally saw some open aggression when Hannah (Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) went out to North Fork (“for people who thinks the Hamptons are tacky”) for a weekend of sun, beach time and “healing,” reuniting with Elijah (Andrew Rannells) in the process.
“Beach House” recalls the underlying, distressed shrillness that can mark Apatow’s films, particularly “This is 40,” except here there’s no presumption of universality or forced warmth. The fight that takes place at the end of the starvation dinner party is very specific to the resentments these characters have been harboring for years now, and because of that actually comes across as more relatable.
This isn’t “These Are Your Twenties” — it’s about a very distinctive quartet of young women who are growing in different ways, and aren’t going to fit together as easily as they might have even two years ago (when the show began), if that time was ever as good as Marnie believes. Marnie is even more controlling than she was when the series started, and Hannah even more resentful of being asked or depended on for anything. Jessa is attempting to speak from an unearned place of wisdom after being sent to rehab less for abuse than for pathologic everything, while Shoshanna is poised to undergo many of the same crises her friends have already been through and hates that she’s apparently unable to do better. They may still be friends, but they’re also massively frustrated with the people they are at the moment.
And the issues that were untabled weren’t incorrect. We finally learned about how Charlie broke up with Marnie, and it’s legitimately, headfuck terrible enough that Hannah’s complete neglecting of her supposed bestie for her boyfriend and writing seems pretty callous. But Marnie’s need for everyone and everything around her to match the catalog-perfect ideas in her head is also insufferable and guaranteed to lead to disappointment, which she then passive aggressively takes out on those around her.
Drunk Shoshanna, who turned out to be harboring beef with everyone, spoke as much out of self-loathing as of the outwardly directed sort (“Sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me instead of a bunch of fucking whiny nothings as friends”) and skewered Hannah’s narcissism, Jessa’s “AA bullshit” and Marnie’s “self doubt and fear” while getting accused of being dumb in the process.
The sequence served as another meta critique of the series itself and its generous helping of characters who are often written off as awful people — they can be plenty terrible, in a way particular to being their age, generation and class. The question, for the audience and for the group, is whether they’re still characters you want to spend time with and see humanity in, and this episode made a great, piercing and funny case for that, between the skinnydipping, the dance sequence, the booze-fueled fight and the wonderfully wordless reconciliation in the morning.
Even before the knives come out, “Beach House” was entertainingly filled with lines that exemplified the simmering tensions between the foursome — from Marnie’s need to “prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group” rather than prove such a thing to those in attendance, to Jessa’s using her recent sobriety to force Hannah into drinking more, to Hannah telling Marnie how much she’d been dreading the trip (“That is so nice, seriously!”). The episode makes the case that, as harsh as the words exchanged at the end of the night were, clearing the air is better than tamping down anger, as seen with the resurfaced Elijah and his new relationship with the terrible Pal (played by “Buffy” alum and “The Butler” writer Danny Strong). For everything that was said over the weekend, it was Elijah’s confessing to loving his undermining boyfriend and then immediately apologizing for it that took the prize for saddest scene and one most promising future disaster. The ladies, at least, can only go up from here.