Hannah went home to visit her parents in one of the best episodes of Girls’s first season. “Video Games” heads home with another girl to mixed results.
“Video Games” follows Jessa and Hannah as they visit Jessa’s dad (Ben Mendelsohn) out in the country. He lives in a big, crumbling old house in the woods with a girlfriend he met in rehab (Rosanna Arquette) and her teenage son. He’s selfish and unreliable and directly responsible for Jessa’s depression and fear of settling down. When Jessa confronts him about regularly running out on her he barely even offers a defense. He changes the subject, promises her a favorite meal, and then abandons her and Hannah at a grocery store. It’s no surprise Jessa has turned out the way she has.
Your opinion of “Video Games” probably depends greatly on how you feel about Jessa. She’s the most problematic character on a show that was once filled with them. Girls tends to introduce characters as total assholes before gradually fleshing them out into well-rounded characters. It’s a neat technique, almost challenging us to invest in characters after initially seeing them at their worst. Think Hannah, Adam, Ray. It hasn’t cracked that nut yet in regard to Jessa, though, at least not for me, and that makes this standalone Jessa-centric episode this season’s dullest so far.
It’s not just because Jessa is unlikable. Yes, she’s very mean, and irresponsible in ways that are realistic but also overused by bad, cliché-riddled movies made by, for and about men. She’s neck and neck with Marnie as the show’s least overtly comic character, and despite her façade of strength she’s also probably it’s most brittle. Like all people every character on Girls struggles with doubt, sadness and insecurity, but Jessa is the most thoroughly depressed, and that long, deep depression has informed everything we know about her backstory and almost everything she’s done across the show’s two seasons.
So yes, I feel bad for Jessa. That sympathy hasn’t turned into a genuine interest in her or her storylines, though. Perhaps it’s because she’s been invisible for much of this season (I don’t count the minutes, but I’m pretty sure she’s had less screen-time this year than any of the other major characters, save Charlie). Much of my disinterest has to do with Jemima Kirke, unfortunately. She’s fine playing mean and weary, but her emotional breakdown in “Video Games” rang false, somehow both flat but pitched too highly. She didn’t feel like a real person, or even like Jessa—she felt like an actress.
The worst thing about “Video Games”, though, is that it isn’t very funny. Hannah’s presence at this family reunion feels a little off at first, but she’s there solely as comic relief, which is sorely needed. Of course she has sex with Arquette’s son (who’s basically a Wes Anderson character without any money), but it’s a ridiculous sex scene that lasts about two pumps and takes place in a graveyard after doing whippets with a couple of high school kids. Hannah’s a fool who stumbled in and almost salvaged this serious family drama. And to hammer home the message about Jessa’s horrible parents, the episode ends with Hannah, now also abandoned by Jessa, waiting alone for the train back to the city while talking to her parents. The Horvaths might fight with and mistrust Hannah, but they clearly provided her with a good, stable upbringing and still love her as parents should.
“Video Games” is as much of a stand-alone episode as “One Man’s Trash”. Half of last week’s episode isolated two characters off on Staten Island and only marginally advanced a couple of the show’s storyline. Over the last few weeks Girls has strayed a bit from the serialization expected from most HBO shows, and until “Video Games” that helped make it into a stronger and more interesting show. Hopefully the show will get back on track for the last three episodes of the season.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Miglio / HBO.