The article below contains spoilers for “Boys,” the February 17th, 2013 episode of “Girls.”
“Girls” is, as advertised, a show about a group of young females, and the guys in its world tend to be shown only through the perspectives of the main characters, coming across because of this as half-understood creatures who’ve been slower to emerge as full-fledged figures in their own right. In the first season, a scene of Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Charlie (Christopher Abbott) poking around in Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) room was the only moment involving the boys on their own that I can remember, and even then they spent that time talking about the ladies in their lives. It’s a choice that’s made the show a sort of ideal fit for the Bechdel test, in that it’s actually the male characters who are portrayed only in fragments as they relate to the female leads, but the rare moments we do see the guys outside of their roles as prospective, current or past boyfriends provide interesting breaks from the show’s standard operating procedure.
Directed by Claudia Weill (“Girlfriends”) and written by Murray Miller, last night’s episode, “Boys,” offered us a chance to see Ray spending time with Adam (Adam Driver), whom he barely knows, the pair of semi-employed Brooklyn hipsters making a trip to Staten Island to return a dog that Adam impulsively liberated/stole. Despite having gone to Adam’s apartment with the less than butch goal of retrieving his copy of “Little Women,” Ray sees the excursion as an opportunity for male bonding after Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) unintentionally revives his sense of directionless worthlessness by trying to get him to attend an entrepreneurial class.
Adam, with his flat full of tools and a feral animal, may seem, as Ray puts it, “very masculine, very primal,” but doesn’t end up bolstering Ray’s sense of manhood in any way. The two are undergoing moments of quiet emotional crisis, as becomes clear as the venture falls apart — Adam is, despite his insistence, nowhere near over Hannah, while Ray’s distressed about being a 33-year-old self-described loser who secretly moved in with his college-age girlfriend without telling her because he was in between apartments. Though once again their conversation revolves around the absent women in their lives, both are fighting their way through personal issues that seem to go beyond their relationships.
Their existences are, particularly for Ray, not going the way they thought they would, and Ray ends up weeping by the water after he’s unsuccessful at returning the dog to his rightful owner, having been called a (inaccurate) slur and told to “go back to yoga town” by a tough-talking local, made to feel even less of a man than he did when the day began. The trip calls to mind the similar one made by the title character in the first season of “Louie,” though while that one started with a confrontation and sense of emasculation and ended with the discovery of commonality, this one leads only to isolation. Ray’s comfortable making snarky generalizations about Staten Island being “a weird metaphor” and about rage burning in the Manhattan-aspiring hearts of the locals, but when left alone he’s intimidated and ineffectual, drifting at loose ends.
While he doesn’t get a storyline to himself in the same way as Ray and Adam, even Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) gets to open up in “Boys.” When he makes it clear to Marnie (Allison Williams) that she’s not his girlfriend in a way that’s accidentally but breathtakingly cruel, he does get a moment to share his side of things, and while its sudden it’s not unfair. After having Marnie host his party in what he saw as an evening of employment and she saw as a step in their relationship, he calls her out on why she wants so badly to be with him, and after getting her to admit that she fell in love with the idea of him and with being the girlfriend of a famous artist, notes that nobody knows him and that everyone just uses him. It’s a reveal that comes a little easily, but it’s one that provides an entertaining turnaround — he’s just told her she’s the hired help he sleeps with, and yet she ends up comforting him.
If Ray’s miserably because he’s in his thirties and hasn’t done anything with his life, “Girls” doesn’t make being successful look like any more of a guarantee of happiness in this episode, with Booth’s not outrageous moment of self-pity matched up with the terribly pretentious party he throws in which a photo of him crying at the Marina Abramović exhibit is projected on the wall, and Hannah’s dream-fulfilling book deal from a publisher played by John Cameron Mitchell accompanied by panic and public vomiting. Everyone’s miserable in this one, though in the episode’s best moment both Marnie and Hannah pretend otherwise on the phone to one another, as a terrified Hannah lies about feeling inspired to write her book while Marnie limps home from the party while pretending she’s still there in the backyard. The only thing worst than being lonely and alone is pretending otherwise and upping that sense of isolation in those from whom you’d seek solace — and there’s no need to travel all the way out to Staten Island to manage that.