I’d already watched this episode of Girls when I wrote last week’s review of the pilot. Much of what I wrote there applies to this episode, and to next week’s as well. “Vagina Panic” improves on the pilot, though, mostly because of a few scenes of black comedy, one of which is so dark that I don’t really want to think of it as comedy.
Tonight’s opening scene is not funny at all but it’s one of the few moments where I’ve actually been impressed by Girls. The pilot established that Hannah (creator/writer/director Lena Dunham) isn’t exactly satisfied by her embarrassing and humiliating hook-ups with sublime asshole Adam (Adam Driver). It looks like Adam isn’t, either, as he can’t reach the finish line without conjuring up a disgusting pedophiliac fantasy. He has to pathetically finish himself off with his hand while a visibly uncomfortable Hannah awkwardly plays along. The pilot touched on how the men of Hannah’s age group are incapable of pleasing women, and “Vagina Panic” expounds on that with this bleak portrayal of how the omnipresence of porn has warped an entire generation’s sexual attitudes and expectations. It’s legitimately shocking but also has something to say.
Between this encounter and her friend Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) upcoming abortion, Hannah starts to worry about what STDs she could potentially have caught from the small number of men she’s slept with. Her hyper-specific fear about “the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms” is the sort of low-key, realistic and observational humor that was either missing in the pilot or easy to overlook while cringing at how awful these people are.
The responsible Marnie (Allison Williams) set up Jessa’s abortion appointment, and Hannah schedules an STD test for the same time. Jessa’s immature cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) shows up and acts like the entire thing is one big party. This is the other bit of black comedy I alluded to. Shoshanna treating it like a Sex and the City-style bonding moment fits what we know about that character, which is that she’s a virgin with little sexual experience who is deeply embarrassed about that. Hannah complimenting Marnie on the “good abortion” she threw made my wife angry, but the glibness didn’t bother me, as it’s targeted more towards Marnie than any actual abortion procedure (as the self-destructive Jessa stood them up to get busy with a stranger in a bar bathroom). Sure, it’s horrible to make light of what can be an emotionally traumatic experience in a waiting room full of women about to undergo that procedure, but it makes sense for Hannah to comment on the absurdity of the situation her friends had created.
“Vagina Panic” also includes the funniest scene of the first three episodes. Hannah has a job interview and makes quick and easy friends with her interviewer (the great stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia). Their banter is smart and funny and he basically tells her she has the job until her immaturity kicks in and she makes a joke about rape that’s entirely inappropriate in the workplace. This scene gives me hope for the future of Girls as it clearly acknowledges that Hannah has to grow up. It presents Birbiglia and his “grown-up Brooklyn” in an attractive light and contrasts that with the irresponsible and immature lives that Hannah and her friends lead. It’s a sign that their unlikability is intentional, and hopefully Hannah’s march towards respectability will drive this season.