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Review: ‘Girls’ Tackles Abortion, Sex & STDs Head On With Heart & Hilarity

Review: 'Girls' Tackles Abortion, Sex & STDs Head On With Heart & Hilarity

Season 1, Episode 2: “Vagina Panic”

Having already established in the premiere that the sex in “Girls” (at least for now) will often be uncomfortable and awkward, the second episode of the season turns up the cringe factor. As the show opens, Hannah and Adam are in the midst of some fairly routine missionary sex, with the latter spicing things up with a melange of dirty talk that probably isn’t fit to print here. Adam pulls out and ejaculates on Hannah’s arm, and in the somewhat unsatisfying post-coitus pause, she says unconvincingly, “That was really good. That was so good….I almost came.” To which Adam deadpans, “You want a Gatorade?” Welcome to “Girls.”

There is something to be said for the ballsiness of Lena Dunham to wade right into the thorny topic of abortion only the second episode in, but again, both the wit and the heart with which she does is immensely impressive. After revealing she was pregnant in the first episode, Jessa decides to get an abortion, with Marnie organizing the appointment and pulling in Hannah and Shoshanna in for support. The balance of casual and critical that Dunham brings to the writing is sharp. While Hannah is sympathetic and fully supports Jessa, she is also critical of women who don’t ensure their partners use condoms. Marnie as well is disappointed in Jessa’s lack of judgment that led to her getting knocked up. But it’s Jessa who delivers the ultimate word on the matter saying heatedly, “I don’t like women telling other women what to do or how to do it or when to do it. Every time I have sex, it’s my choice.” And to reinforce that point, she skips her appointment, heads to a bar, grabs a man, and takes him to the bathroom for a furious makeout session. And it’s when the pleasantly surprised young man reaches down into her pants and gets a red surprise, Jessa is both indicted and redeemed. Smartly and subtly played, Dunham navigates some immensely tricky waters and instead of a polemic delivers the kind of story thread that inspires reasoned discussion. That it’s immensely entertaining at the same time is a testament to her skill.

But if sex for Jessa is something she embraces with adventurous abandon, Marnie wishes her boyfriend Charlie would have some of that spirit. If Hannah and Adam’s encounter was routine, at least there was his foul mouth to keep things…interesting, at the very least. But when we cut to Marnie and Charlie in the bedroom, the look on her face as he gently and timidly takes care of business has her wishing she were anywhere else. She gamely suggests switching to doggystyle — a position she’s not a big fan of because it makes her feel like “a piggybank” — to try and get Charlie to stop making love to her and just fuck her, but things go from bad to worse. The sensation is too much for the sensitive young man, and he’s forced go even slower. Needless to say, the next morning Marnie is frustrated, while Charlie is baffled why his (overly) respectful approach in the bedroom is being met with criticism.

As for Hannah, her concerns in the bedroom go beyond technique, as she becomes paralyzed by the fear she might have an STD. When Adam reveals that his previous (and possibly concurrent?) girlfriends don’t ask him to use a condom, Hannah is petrified she might have contracted something from him even though they use protection (“What about all the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms?” she asks, thanks to a hilariously terrifying Google search). So she heads to a gynecologist for a checkup, and as she discusses her sexual history with the doctor, she uses a nervously glib running commentary to blurt out that maybe she wishes she had AIDS if only to guilt Adam and get out of her responsibilities of finding a job. But again, Dunham adds a counternote, this time through the doctor who quickly puts Hannah in her place with the actual stats on HIV among women, and sighing about her patient’s naiveté, “You couldn’t pay me enough to be twenty-four again.”

Meanwhile, out of her depth with all the sex talk surrounding her, Shoshanna reveals that at 22 years old she’s a total virgin (not by choice), and hasn’t even given a blowjob. Marnie tries convincingly to tell her it’s “overrated” but it’s not much help. And with sex clearly still on the brain, Hannah heads to a job interview and she is absolutely killing it until she steps right over the line with a rape joke, kiboshing any chances she has. To summarize, in “Vagina Panic,” Dunham explores the consequences of having (and not having) sex with a gentle nudge to women to get what they want, how they want it, in the bedroom. But she’s not above judging these characters for their choices, even if she supports their right to make them.

Though constantly funny — this episode has quotable quips running a mile-a-minute — there is a marked maturity here that even producer Judd Apatow didn’t match in his more conventional and conservative approach in “Knocked Up.” It looks like already, the student is surpassing the teacher. [A]

Songs featured in this episode: Blair “Wake Up Shake Up”; Kelly Clarkson “Mr. Know It All”; Nous Non Plus “Les Dammes”; The Troggs “With A Girl Like You”; The Pretenders “Message Of Love”; Generationals “Say For Certain”; White Sea “Overdrawn” (closing credits)

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