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‘The Elephant Man Got Laid… A Lot’: Will Success Spoil The Central Relationship in ‘Girls’?

'The Elephant Man Got Laid... A Lot': Will Success Spoil The Central Relationship in 'Girls'?

The article below contains spoilers for “Incidentals,” the February 23rd, 2014 episode of “Girls.”

Adam (Adam Driver) is headed to Broadway, and Hannah (Lena Dunham), who just a few weeks ago was gentle pointing out to her semi-feral boyfriend that his life was lacking professional direction, is thrown into a tailspin of self-doubt. Blame Patti LuPone. “Incidentals,” which is directed by Richard Shepard (“Dom Hemingway”) and written by Dunham and Sarah Heyward, highlights an underlying truth in the pair’s relationship and the nature of fame. It’s one thing for them to be unconventional and broke together, but artistic success is going to put him in a different light than it would her. “He is so funny-looking,” she said to LuPone after being told Adam was likely “going to start fucking everybody in the building,” and was in turn reassured that even the Elephant Man got laid thanks to his star status.

The slightest touch of celebrity, even of the stage sort, is going to transform Adam from the extremely acquired taste he was when the show began into a quirky sex symbol (as well as, per LuPone, an “asshole”), and suddenly Hannah’s begun to wonder if he’ll be elevated out of her league. She got a preview of this effect as she watched Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) swoon over Adam’s soon-to-be costar Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, of “Lola Versus” and “Damages”), whose guitar playing, stories about being in the wilderness and previous role as a disabled gay hockey player on “One Tree Hill” disproportionately entranced everyone else in the room. (Elijah’s “I hate myself for loving him” has my vote for the episode’s best line.)

Hannah’s achieved some commendable but more standard steps forward in earning a paycheck that astonishes her by being “a lot more than my rent!” — enough to impulse buy a snazzy new dress — but her achievements aren’t so flashy (the sponsored interview in which she and LuPone fabricate a history with osteoporosis is wonderfully terrible). Adam’s about to dive into a whole new world that comes with its own community, artistic process and groupies. He’s going to be the interviewee.

“Girls” handles a standard storyline with some impressive nuance and delicacy here. Hannah isn’t jealous of Adam or resentful of his success so much as she’s worried about him going where she can’t follow, and everyone seemed in agreement that she should be (“Are you afraid he’s going to leave you for Sutton Foster?” asked Shoshanna).

Hannah’s shown trying not to do him the disservice of doubting him, but also confessing indirectly that she feels he’s with her in part because he’s had no better options: “I don’t want you to get so happy doing the play that you don’t like our life together anymore.” The final scene of the two of them in the bath in their swank hotel room, with Adam running his lines (in accent!) from “Major Barbara,” managed to be sweet, to confirm he could actually have the talent to succeed on stage and to leave a shadow of uncertainty on Hannah’s side.

Here’s hoping this episode also saw the last of the Marnie and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) fuckbuddying, though his ending things with her was the latest blow to her already battered ego. “You can’t break up with me, Ray, I don’t care about this,” she said after pointing out, amusingly, that she would never eat pizza in front of someone she was actually invested in. And she doesn’t, but it’s more rejection coming after a day in which she was faced with the reality that getting a start in the arts often comes only when someone’s willing to bankroll you in a way out of reach for most mortals.

Ray was company and someone she could talk to, and as much as I think their hooking up was there entirely to create future drama for Shoshanna, the distress at yet another battering from a seemingly safe place that Marnie felt as she angrily congratulated Adam was one of the character’s most sympathetic moments in what’s not been a great season for her. For all that her relationship with Hannah can be dysfunctional and fraught, the scene in which Hannah hugged her in the bathroom without needing to hear what was wrong was a nice reminder of what a longterm friendship can provide.

And elsewhere, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), bored to tears by the children’s boutique job she seized on for no particular reason, blew up her life again with the help of Jasper (Richard E. Grant), her frenemy from rehab, who bounces into her life high as a kite and insisting her new, responsible self is “just pretend.” “We maybe shouldn’t have taken her out of rehab,” Hannah mused when Jessa and Jasper arrived at the hotel room babblingly blitzed on coke, but Jessa’s problems aren’t addiction in the traditional sense. She’s unhappy and drifting and has never given longterm thought to what’s next in her life, and as much of a walking disaster as Jasper is, his trouncing in promising the temporary escape of substance abuse is too much for her to resist.

Their binge also gave her an excuse to destroy her dalliance with stable employment, and the scene in which she and Jasper bunkered down in her bedroom to do lines had an air of weary, sad inevitability to it, especially given how easy it is to foresee her stealing from work as having solid legal consequences. Another strong episode on what’s turning out to be a very good season for “Girls.”

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