Okay, I’ve got problems. Not to discuss the quality of last night’s Girls issue here—it was a good one. But it was also one of those viewings that, unlike the occasional showings of support that Hannah’s friends can bring, kind of makes you want to scream “YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK. GO JOIN A MEETUP GROUP. MAKING NEW FRIENDS ISN’T HARD.”
Then again, sometimes we’re stuck with those friends we love.
It’s Hannah’s 25th birthday, and Marnie, this episode’s most cringe-worthy main character, throws her friend a party. Marnie is also on the verge of breakdown due to a “Friday” or “Thanksgiving”-viral-style YouTube video. Here, Marnie unconvincingly coos and plays seductress, Disney princess and auto-tuned pop royalty, all to horrific results. The clip kicks off with her begging and pleading for a YouTube employee to take down the clip based on the fact that she appears in the video, but she puts her foot down the whole time that she won’t contact Charlie—the man who both broke her heart and uploaded this monstrosity to the video-sharing network. For the character, who’s often poised herself at the front of an impromptu party stage, I’ve got to think that Marnie’s only true embarrassment is due to the fact that this thing was produced by Charlie—she’s really got no shame taking on the singing crown in cringe-worthy ways before, like when she sang Kanye’s “Stronger” at Charlie’s party. Or maybe she’s simply embarrassed now that she feels as awkward as her audience does.
But this episode is about Hannah’s birthday (someone please go back in time and remind Marnie of this point), and—eh, crap: Adam, who’s been relatively low-maintenance this season, has a sister who needs a place to crash. Her name is Caroline, and she’s crazy. Like, yelling-“BOMB!”-in-an-airport crazy or slapping-a-cop-in-the-face-and-running crazy. After Caroline (played by Gaby Hoffmann, who’s recently appeared in Louie and Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus with Michael Cera) calls up Adam mid-haircut to ask for a place to crash. (Hannah continues their surprisingly adorable relationship by trimming his locks, maybe presenting a counterbalance to when Hannah had to get some hair assistance herself late last season.) Adam is short, cold and fairly awful to his sister. For a guy that showed as much empathy as Adam in the last few episodes, he’s downright cruel to his sister. At first it feels harsh, and I caught glimpses of the Adam of Girls’ past—the detached, selfish, hurtful guy who could send Hannah into a month-long self-doubt spiral. But as it turns out, Caroline’s manipulative streak extends past even Hannah’s patience (and she deals with Marnie on a weekly basis), but more on that later.
Did I mention it’s Hannah’s 25th? I probably did, but I keep getting sidetracked from the drama that seems to flow around her. Thematically speaking, this could be a turning point for the character. She’s been allowed to drink in bars the same number of years it took her to get through college. She’s got some practical work experience. Her parents have quietly separated themselves from the nurturing role to the supportive, almost friend role. The episode hopefully represents a turning point for the talented-but-struggling Hannah, who—aside from a few things, truly does seem to have a nice life settled for her here in New York. As Shosh points out, it’s impressive how little the Girls crew has accomplished post-college. Maybe this year will change all of that?
She’s got a party planned, and her parents show up to New York from Michigan to foot the bill. (Her dad’s rocking a great hat and short-sleeved plaid shirt, by the way.) Marnie’s set it up (awesome of her) before suggesting they duet on a Rent song to a reluctant, cringing Hannah (not awesome of her). The party’s well-attended, everyone’s having a decent time with minor exceptions. Hannah’s boss, David, makes a surprise appearance, wearing a shirt that features two parts (a detached collar, and the rest of it) and quickly installing Grindr, a gay social media app, for the party’s duration.
Ray’s had a shit night. After trying to make his peace with Shosh, who he determines he doesn’t want to be friends with (fair enough Ray, sometimes we gotta do that to get through. Stay strong.), Ray turns to the bar to drown his sorrows. After a terrible pickup attempt by our craziest new addition, Ray heads inside for a beer or 12. For a dude, Ray’s hitting a few breakup staples here—flowing supplies of beer, LOUD hand-picked tunes—so the guy made quick enemies after David cuts off “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins at the DJ table, self-dubbing himself the “Mix Master General.” And Smashing Pumpkins get bonus points earlier in the episode when Ray’s boss wears a Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness-era t-shirt at the shop, which touts that famous “The World is a Vampire” line, which is fairly true for Hannah this episode as her friends are cleaning her out during her own birthday.
The most upsetting moment comes at the hands of Marnie, who calls Hannah to the stage to sing their old take on a Rent song. The difference here: Marnie sings the song with precision, flair and the crap-eating grin that’s plastered all over YouTube. Hannah takes on her lines with enough enthusiasm to fumble through, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. Hopefully for Marnie’s next birthday, Hannah plans a trip to a writing workshop. The saving grace here is actually Ray, who ends up drawing away attention. He starts a bar brawl with David over Billy Corgan’s early-‘90s classic. (I would fight for you too, Billy. I love you, and that song defined a generation of guitar rock. You are worth fighting for.) The fight leads to the night’s close, and Hannah and Adam head back home for some post-party birthday sex. Which, good—If anything, Hannah deserves to get laid on her birthday after that mortifying singing experience.
Little does Hannah know, we have entered the Caroline Era. It’s a time when not only are Hannah and Adam surrounded by crazy, but a dangerous sort of crazy.
After leaving the party, the two head back to their apartment where the night takes a turn for the sexy. They start making out on the kitchen table—as they should on Hannah’s birthday, enjoy yourself, we’re all adults here—when she decides to do a little freshening up. Once she walks into the bathroom and turns on the light, there’s Caroline, who all of a sudden reminds me of the last scene of Sleepaway Camp—you know the bit, with the pants-less antagonist doing that weird scream-sneer at the sky. But here, pants-less Gaby Hoffmann breaks a glass in her fucking bare HAND to take out her revenge on Adam for not looking out for her at the party. All of a sudden, Adam’s not so crazy for shunning her. They clean her up, put her on the couch, and have a sexless birthday night. Bummer.
I think what’s significant here, by looking at another blood relative of Adam in the flesh, is seeing what could have become of him. Yes, he’s had his truly awful moments throughout the series that shouldn’t be forgiven, but we can also see the destructive, genuinely awful person he could have become. Caroline is beyond-repair toxic, and her self-destructive and selfish tendencies show a person that Adam could have been. Instead, he’s searched out therapy in AA and worked on himself. And for as often as you want to slap Adam in the back of the head (at least in earlier seasons), you kind of want to give the dude a hug after all’s said and done with Caroline.
I didn’t like watching this episode. Like some of the best Girls moments, it thrived on sheer discomfort—and that’s not of the Office, funny, Michael Scott variety. At its worst, Girls can make your skin crawl, because maybe you’ve been there. You’ve been that person who dragged your friend up to karaoke, or you’ve been the moody dumpee at a party. (Hopefully you’ve never broken a glass in your fucking bare hand.) But just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t make it bad art—to the contrary, I think we’ve advanced a lot in developing both Adam and Hannah, and we’ve all decided that Marnie’s next storyline should involve a three-month internship overseas where her laptop breaks and she can’t work Skype and she just works stuff out for a while. (Right, guys?) At any rate, the third episode of the third season has done a wonderful job setting up what should be the beginning of Hannah’s (true) adult life.