The midsection of the second season of “Girls” was marked by an adventurous spirit that saw Lena Dunham breaking away from the standard format of the show. “One Man’s Trash,” which is still a series highlight, spent an entire episode focused on Hannah’s weekend affair with the well-off Joshua (Patrick Wilson). The following week, Adam (Adam Driver) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) headed to Staten Island for the one-off “Boys,” while after that, we were introduced to Jessa’s estranged father in “Video Games,” another episode that took a trip outside Manhattan. The results might have been mixed, but the experiments opened up the show in fascinating ways, giving new dimensions to the characters that threatened to be boxed in by their traits. And while “Beach House” isn’t perfect, it’s a refreshing shake-up for what has so far been a solid, if not particularly memorable, third season of “Girls.”
One of the keys to “Beach House” serving up a nice change of pace is that it’s the first time this season that we’re spending an entire episode with Hannah, Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) equally. It’s a reminder that these four share some great chemistry when they’re all together, so what unites them here? A weekend trip to North Fork, which the New York Times described as the “un-Hamptons” last summer—or, as Marnie says, “it’s for people who think the Hamptons are tacky and don’t want to be on a beach that’s near a J. Crew.” Indeed, she’s organized this get together at a house that belongs to her Mom’s friend in hopes of rekindling the friendships between the girls that she feels has evaporated. But of course, Marnie being Marnie, this means a weekend not born out of the genuine emotions that will arise naturally or spontaneously from being together, but a meticulously planned series of events.
“We’re so disconnected now, I thought this would be a nice opportunity for us to have fun together and prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group,” she says in total seriousness. “I just think we have a lot of healing to do and a lot of ways that we can do it. I was actually thinking the healing would take place at dinner, but after that we would do face-masks and watch ‘The Queens Of Comedy,’ and then we could maybe write our wishes down on pieces of paper and then throw them into a bonfire so they can come true.” But none of that comes to pass, or at least not in the way Marnie expects.
A trip into town for groceries sees Hannah bumping into her gay ex-boyfriend Elijah (the underrated Andrew Rannells), whom she hasn’t been in touch with since she found out he had (awkward) sex with Marnie. But they miss each other, and after some quick apologies and clearing of the emotional slate, Hannah invites Elijah and his pals to join the girls and “save the day” from Marnie’s overbearing need to connect. They accept and, naturally, Marnie is not pleased. She tolerates their presence through the afternoon, but when Elijah and the gang stay through dinner, forcing Marnie to divide the meal for four among eight people, and into the night she planned for “our time of honesty,” the inevitable fireworks erupt. And it’s Shoshanna, a cruel drunk if there ever was one, who gets things started by being blisteringly and hilariously honest.
She calls out Hannah for being a “fucking narcissist,” and tells Marnie that the duck breast at dinner “tasted like a used condom.” And that’s not all, Shoshanna points the finger at all of her friends, declaring, not without some kernel of truth, that “you guys never listen to me. You treat me like I’m a fucking cab driver. Seriously, you have entire conversations in front of me, like I’m invisible. And sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who are right for me, instead of a bunch of whiny nothings for friends.” Meanwhile, she also calls out Jessa’s post-rehab morsels of wisdom and Marnie’s personality that is “tortured by self-doubt and fear and it is not pleasant to be around.” Ouch. It’s all part of massive blowout—Hannah digs back by calling Shoshanna “not an intellectual” and “unstimulating,” she responds telling Hannah she’s “mentally ill”—and ultimately, it boils down to the expectations they all place on each other—some fairly, some not. And Hannah’s parting shot before leaving the room is telling, as she declares, “I miss by boyfriend, who expects nothing, so I give him everything.”
It’s the kind of fight that’s sometimes needed between friends, an unloading of the baggage that has to happen if there’s any hopes of the friendship lasting and not fading away under bitterness, resentment and disappointment. In another show, it’s the kind of dramatic moment that would lead to tearful apologies and reconciliations, but Dunham and co. are a bit smarter and more mature than that. The writers understand that these are friendships with history, that the expectations they have in each other is built out of genuine care and that sometimes the people closest to you are the ones that need to tell you to get your shit together. And so, the next morning, when waiting for the bus back the city, the girls sit silently and then slowly join together in a dance they learned from Elijah and his theatre pals the previous evening. It’s the kind of quiet acknowledgement that things will be okay that is only found between those whose bond doesn’t need to be defined by games and activities found in magazines.
Not much “happens” in “Beach House”—we’ve left out most of the stuff involving Elijah and his new relationship and the various hijinks through the night—but that’s also the strength of the episode. So far, this season of “Girls” has largely been plot-heavy, particularly when it comes to Hannah’s shifts in her writing career, but it says something that one of its most satisfying and interesting episodes thus far has been focused on character, and not on the next narrative turn. [B+]
Music in this week’s episode of “Girls”: The Go! Team “Feel Good By Numbers”: Indeep “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”; Andy Gibb “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”; Hurricane Chris ft. Superstarr “Halle Berry (She’s So Fine); The Smiths “I Don’t Owe You Anything”; Mas Ysa “Why”; Harry Nilsson “You’re Breaking My Heart”; The Living Sisters “How Are You Doing”