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‘Girls’ Returns to the Sex Games of Season One, With Sadder Results

'Girls' Returns to the Sex Games of Season One, With Sadder Results

The article below contains spoilers for the March 9th, 2014 episode of “Girls.”

When “Girls” began in 2012, the sex scenes it featured between Hannah (Lena Dunham) and the at the time utterly opaque Adam (Adam Driver) were a justifiably hot topic. Hannah knew almost nothing about Adam, whom she’d met at a party and who she apparently saw only in the context of heading over to his apartment for the odd hookup — and they could be odd, involving humiliation and costumes and dominance games and elaborate dirty talk that Hannah was self-deprecatingly game for without ever seeming to particularly enjoy.

Like any sex positive liberal arts school grad with big ideas and little actual experience, Hannah was willing to do whatever was necessary to be a good partner without having any sense of how to go about broaching the idea of her own pleasure. Were the scenes problematic because Hannah was letting herself be degraded by a guy who seemed to care nothing for her, or refreshing because they were consensual and carried out in the process of exploring her sexuality and because women can have casual sex of all kinds too and shouldn’t be judged when they do? It’s the kind of conflicted post-feminist loop that’s provided rich thematic territory for the series over its three seasons, as Adam revealed that Hannah had never before expressed interest in getting to know him, and as the pair got involved in an idiosyncratic but sweet relationship.

It’s to those early, non-communicative days of semi-abusive couplings that Hannah tried to return in “Role-Play,” a not entirely successful episode that nevertheless reached a devastating emotional climax in which Adam moved out so that he could concentrate on the play and “not have to deal with all this drama.” That drama meaning Hannah, who, afraid of losing the possibly-soon-to-be-a-star Adam and sensing his attention on her slipping as he focuses on the play, set up a role play date night involving a blonde wig and a shaky southern…ish accent. Hannah’s never been good at being anything other than overwhelmingly herself, and that holds true in this sex game, the clumsiness of which the show found some humor in until the act fell apart when a previously charmed Adam realized she was doing this all for his benefit only.

The suggestion that Adam’s interest in rougher stuff went away when he fell in love is strange, as if kink and genuine affection are incompatible, but his frustration is justified — Hannah is romanticizing a far more dysfunctional time in their relationship, and in doing so disrespecting what they currently have. As a creative herself, she should be able to understand his need to concentrate on the play — it “feels amazing to finally care about something,” he admitted to her — but she’s also without an outlet herself, her book locked up, her day job enjoyable but not fulfilling. Right now, he’s the working artist and she’s the girlfriend, and she’s having trouble accepting that she may not be the most important thing in his life at the moment — though his inviting her to a rehearsal she wasn’t allowed to actually be at didn’t help things.

“From now on the rule is you can’t just have part. You have to take the whole thing or nothing,” Adam growled at Hannah after an order to eat a strawberry (which she couldn’t quite manage). But it works as summation of their or any relationship as well — you can’t just deal with the parts of someone that please you and leave the rest behind. Adam’s found his passion, and it has captivated him as nothing else in his life has before, which means that his personal life is taking a backseat to his work for a while. But this comes at a time when Hannah’s a little adrift again, writing sponsored copy and getting blitzed after work (Michael Zegen was particularly funny showering down his drunken coworker in the bathtub) — a perfectly acceptable life, just not the one she thought she’d be living. Her insecurity is bleeding through into her relationship and causing her to doubt right when Adam is trying to trust their connection.

Jessa (Jemima Kirke) faced her own breakup this week when Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) broke up her drug binge by taking her and pal in excess Jasper (Richard E. Grant) to see the latter’s estranged daughter. It was nice to see “Like Crazy” star Felicity Jones in such a darkly comic role, breaking out into stress hives as she confronted her coked-out father and the girl he’s latched onto, and while the sequence was a little cartoonish, it was sadly amusing to see Jessa once again cast as the bad influence. For all that Jessa has been ludicrously let off the hook in her life, there’s a real sense that she also gets blamed for the issues of others when they cut her out of their lives. First her friend faked her own death to get away from her, and now Jasper, the one who sought Jessa out and coaxed her out of sobriety, allowed his daughter to pin his recent relapse on her. “I hope she can find the help she needs,” the girl said, while dumping Jessa on the long-suffering Shoshanna.

And Marnie (Allison Williams) continued along her season-long path of humiliation and rejection with a needed lesson in self-esteem from Adam’s costar Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) that became another one in mixed messages when he freestyled a song of lust to her then noted it was about his paella-cooking girlfriend Clementine. At least she seems to have found a job, though even that’s another blow to her ego — offered a place as Soojin’s (Greta Lee) assistant at her parent-funded gallery space. When will the Marnie punishment stop? Surely not until after Shoshanna finds out that Marnie’s was sleeping with her ex.

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