Girls Review: "It's A Shame About Ray" (Episode 2.04)
Hannah’s already made a mess of pretty much all her relationships this season, so it makes sense that she’d move on to ruining her friends’ relationships as well. Almost everything comes to an end in this week’s episode of Girls except for the one couple worth rooting for, and even that feels threatened for a few minutes. Hannah can’t be blamed for all of this romantic turmoil (Jessa doesn’t need any help with that), but her disastrous (and hilarious) dinner party is the catalyst that almost breaks up Ray and Shoshanna and drives Charlie’s girlfriend Audrey to angrily walk out on him. Hopefully at least Hannah’s home-made pad Thai was good.
The couples that broke up should have broken up. Let’s look at Charlie and Audrey, who are impossible to feel sorry for. Audrey rightfully splits because Charlie can’t get over his ex Marnie, who has become a far more interesting character this season now that her career has stalled out and all doubt has been removed about her clearly questionable judgment on artistic and romantic matters (hint: it ain’t good). Whereas Marnie has grown by kind of falling apart a bit, Charlie has stagnated as the mopey ex-boyfriend who’s obviously using a new girlfriend to try and make Marnie jealous.
It doesn’t help that his new girlfriend feels like a decoy designed to draw much of the anti-hipster hate away from the regular characters. More than anybody else on the show, Audrey is less a character than a caricature of a young modern-day Brooklynite, from her Native American headdresses to her artisanal mustard business. She’s the kind of stereotype many people feared the show would focus on when it first debuted. It’s a lazy way to make the other characters less obnoxious by comparison, and her absolute lack of depth or definition undercuts the Charlie-Marnie drama. Unless the show stops treating her with open contempt, she’ll never be more than a disposable plot point that undermines whatever story she’s a part of.
We’ve barely seen Thomas-John and Jessa this season, but we knew they’d be breaking up since the second they got together. They were perfectly calibrated to combust, from Jessa’s inherent fear of settling down to Thomas-John’s inherent grossness. It’s normally hard to hate Chris O’Dowd, but until this episode there was never any reason to view Thomas-John with anything but disgust. Remember, this is the guy who essentially propositioned Jessa and Marnie for a threesome in his first appearance. He was clearly just another in a long line of bad decisions made by Jessa, who tries hard to mask her fear and weakness as strength and courage.
The only two scenes where Jessa and Thomas-John have ever felt like a real couple are in this episode, book-ending another awkward dinner scene with Thomas-John’s parents (played by Deborah Rush and the excellent Griffin Dunne). Before dinner they seem to legitimately care for one another as they flirt and eventually fool around. During dinner Jessa’s honesty about her heroin addiction and lack of a degree or a plan earns his mom’s disapproval (while simultaneously charming his dad), and Thomas-John realizes it was a mistake to get married. They wind up in a frank, believable and very dramatic marriage-destroying argument that ends with Thomas-John offering her $20000 to leave.
Thankfully Ray and Shoshanna don’t break up, despite a false start at Hannah’s party. Hannah, with the best of intentions, continues to nervously make small talk even as Charlie, Audrey and Marnie bicker openly and bitterly. Hannah asks Ray where he’s living, which makes Shoshanna realize he’s basically living rent-free with her. It’s a fairly low-stakes argument, at least compared to what’s going on elsewhere in the episode, but Ray’s lack of forthrightness is a major issue for Shoshanna.
Ray and Shoshanna are perhaps the best example of how Girls has improved since the first few episodes (or at least how those first few episodes have improved with hindsight.) These were perhaps the most annoying characters during the show’s early days, with Shoshanna coming off as a one-note joke and Ray as a relentless, unabashed asshole. The two characters have grown and developed alongside one another to the point where they might be the most likable in the cast. Shoshanna is still high-strung and naive but she’s also more stable and, in her own way, funnier than the other girls. Meanwhile Ray’s acerbic edge has been tempered without completely disappearing (he’s still a dick when warranted.) When he tells Shoshanna he loves her on a subway platform it doesn’t come off as a typical romantic comedy climax, with swelling music and teary eyes around—he just blurts it out suddenly, seeming as shocked as Shoshanna. It’s a naturalistic and thoroughly earned moment in a show that rarely shows the sweet side of romance.