The first season of Girls helped me realize the futility of weekly TV recaps. Like many HBO shows, Girls isn’t about the individual episode. If I had written a single review after watching the entire series, I would’ve been far more positive about this show than I was on a weekly basis. Go back and read my earliest reviews, if you want. They’re pretty negative. By the end of the season, though, it had turned into one of the better shows on TV. Pretty much all of the show’s characters were thoroughly unlikable those first few episodes, and even though I acknowledged in those reviews that that was probably intentional, it didn’t make the show any more enjoyable on a week-to-week basis. The show continually improved throughout that first season, though, and that improvement was partially due to the same structure that made those earliest episodes hard to watch. The characters’ worst aspects were immediately revealed, and although they didn’t necessarily grow or change that much during the season, working up from the bottom helped flesh them out into complex and believable characters.
Part of what makes Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her friends believable is that they have no idea who they are or how to become the people they want to be. Put bluntly: They’re in their early twenties. Even Marnie (Allison Williams), the most composed of the bunch, is romantically and socially adrift after moving out of the apartment she shared with Hannah and breaking up with Charlie (Christopher Abbott), and losing her job at an art gallery definitely won’t help. Meanwhile Hannah has no idea what’s going on with Adam (Adam Driver), the possibly bipolar dude from the first season who’s holed up with a badly broken leg. She’s basically tending to Adam like a mother would as often as she can while sleeping with her new unofficial boyfriend Sandy (Donald Glover) and snuggling platonically with her ex-boyfriend turned gay roommate Elijah (Andrew Rannells). Confusion abounds, especially when a drunken Elijah and Marnie make a very short and cringe-worthy attempt at sex after a party.
That party is the centerpiece of the episode, with most of the major characters bouncing off one another for the first time since the last season wrapped. The party pulls one of the show’s regular themes, the gap between Hannah’s generation and their older Brooklyn forebears, in two different directions. Elijah’s boyfriend, a forty-something who basically funds Elijah’s entire life, gets blitzed and dismisses Elijah’s friends as a bunch of boring, spirit-less drones who never would’ve been cool back in the ‘80s. He’s disgusted that they’re wasting their youth by acting too cool for karaoke and not vacuuming up mountains of blow. And then Charlie shows up with his new girlfriend, a hipster headdress-sporting Urban Outfitters mannequin who’s only a few years younger than Hannah’s friends but completely bored and incapable of relating to them.
The party scenes reinforce the fact that Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is both the most annoying and most endearing character on the show. Her non-stop awkward chatter makes me want to pull my hair out, but then she’ll reveal glimpses of a strength and self-awareness beneath her insecurity that the other characters haven’t yet attained. She’s not as worldly or cynical as her friends, but in a weird way she might be the most confident of the bunch, and her sadly singing “Beautiful Girls” and acting like a DJ at the stove were two of the episode’s best moments.
This episode felt like a seamless continuation of last year. In fact it seems like only a week or so has passed since the end of season one. Adam’s still injured from last season’s final episode, and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and her almost stranger of a husband (Chris O’Dowd) are just getting back from the honeymoon they left for in that same episode. Hannah and Elijah’s renewed friendship moved fast—after arguing bitterly (and hilariously) last season, they’ve seemingly settled in as new roommates and best friends. But then it’s easy to fall back into old routines when reconnecting with old lovers, even if that lover’s now gay.
Hannah’s confusion remains the heart of the show, though, from her fuzzy friendship with Marnie to her romantic statuses with Glover (who’s given very little to do here) and Adam. Her relationship with the painfully honest Adam drove last season, and he gradually turned into one of the best comedic and dramatic characters on TV last year. He’s typically blunt in their scenes here, describing their sex life in eight words (“I came. You came hard. We both laughed.”) and unemotionally and unromantically telling her they’re basically a couple in his opinion. He doesn’t dress anything up, and neither does the show, which is as sure of itself as its characters are unsure.