The girls of Girls live in the biggest of big cities. They like to project the image of urbane creative types who write and work in galleries and think they’re above mundane day jobs. But they’re also only a few years removed from high school, and young enough where a five-year relationship spans the entirety of their adult lives. Marnie and Charlie have been together since 2007 and now have to end the most (and probably the only) serious relationship they’ve ever had. “Hard Being Easy” deals with that seriously without sacrificing humor and while reaffirming some of the show’s more notable themes. It’s not as funny as Girls can be (for that watch next week’s episode) but once again it’s a far more satisfying half-hour than the pilot that turned so many viewers off.
“Hard Being Easy” wastes no time picking up from last week’s awkward conclusion, where Charlie confronts Marnie about their relationship from the stage during a rock show he’s playing. In this week’s cold open Charlie angrily confronts Marnie about Hannah’s journal in the girls’ apartment. Hannah wrote that Marnie clearly doesn’t love Charlie anymore and should just end their relationship. Marnie is trying to salvage it while Hannah is just as concerned with what Marnie thinks about the quality of her writing as she is with what that writing has wrought. The self-involvement that made Hannah so unlikable in the pilot is now an effective (and somewhat understandable) bit of comedy, which shows how thoroughly Girls has turned that corner.
Even though Hannah’s observations were true, Marnie is determined to get Charlie back. She has no idea where he lives, though, which doesn’t seem like something that would happen in a balanced and healthy relationship. She has to get Charlie’s address from Ray, who’s just an absolutely colossal dick and one of the most odious characters currently on television. He’s such an equal opportunity asshole that it’s reductive to call him a misogynist, even though he abuses Marnie with thoroughly misogynistic language while giving her Charlie’s address. He’ll probably make a serious pass at her before the season is done.
Marnie’s chat with Charlie at his apartment reveals that Marnie probably was a bad girlfriend as she apparently had no idea how talented he was at woodwork. Charlie lives in one of those comically small New York apartments, but he’s maximized his space with some impressively handmade wooden furniture. Marnie says it looks like a Target ad, but it’s probably more like Ikea. Charlie tells Marnie there’s nothing to say because she’s not in love with him anymore, which leads directly to a flashback to Oberlin’s Galactic Safe Sex Ball in 2007. A young Marnie with bangs is frozen against a basement support pole after unwittingly eating pot brownies. Hannah promises to watch over her while Jessa heads off to eat whatever it is Marnie had. Hannah’s then-boyfriend Elijah (last seen in the third episode, and whose nascent homosexuality should be blatantly obvious to 2007-era Hannah due to his makeup advice and love of the Scissor Sisters) wants Hannah to come dance with him, and grabs a morose Charlie to watch over Marnie until Hannah returns. Marnie asks Charlie to hug her, Charlie invites her to his band’s show, and that’s how that started. While tenderly reminiscing over the past present-day Charlie confides to Marnie that when they met she looked exactly like a girl in a porno called Sophomore Sluts that he had just watched the night before that party.
Just as the show is getting too sentimental it undercuts it with the porno line. Girls regularly addresses the unrealistic sexual expectations of men raised in the internet porn era, but until now that’s been confined entirely to Hannah’s weird sex friend Adam. Even the annoyingly sensitive and intellectual boyfriend watches porn. And when Marnie asks why Charlie doesn’t just picture the two of them together, he confesses that that just makes him sadder.
Marnie’s still determined to keep the relationship going, and promises she’d do anything to keep Charlie from breaking up with her. During awkward and passionless makeup sex Charlie rattles off a long list of emotional demands, which makes Marnie realize that what Hannah wrote was true. She tells Charlie they need to break up while they’re still going at it. I don’t think Marnie was subconsciously repairing her relationship with Charlie just so she could be the one to end it, but I’m sure Charlie will probably think that.
Sex also dominated the episode’s other storylines. Jessa tells Hannah she should fuck the boss that good naturedly gropes her, as it would be valuable life experience for her book. That boss is played by veteran character actor Richard Masur, whose cheery outlook and thick, white beard makes him look like the platonic ideal of the grandfather. For some reason Hannah follows Jessa’s advice, only to quit in righteous indignation when her boss laughs off her offer. She heads straight to Adam’s apartment, where he also turns down her offer because she’s “secretly sad” and ready to outgrow him and thus not any fun (and oh by the way he’s done growing). He’ll still masturbate in front of her, though, preferably as she spouts verbal abuse at him. She won’t step on his balls, though, no matter how much he wants her to.
Adam might be a gross, immature man-child, but he makes peculiarly incisive comments about Hannah’s mental state, and the brief glimpses of his life outside of sex with Hannah (which sex is about 80 percent of his on-screen time so far) are fascinating. He’s weird and disgusting but also oddly likable and almost kind of sympathetic.
Finally Jessa frantically hooks up with an ex-boyfriend from San Francisco who apparently calls her solely to talk about how happy he is with his new girlfriend. The slow-burn flirtation between Jessa and the guy whose kids she babysits (played by James LeGros) flares up a bit until his wife (played by the great Kathryn Hahn) walks in mid-conversation. There’s nothing incriminating but the wife’s too smart to not at least worry that something might be going on there. Jessa might be an even more problematic character than the cartoonish Shoshanna (who appears briefly as an unwitting witness to Jessa’s humping). The worldly but flighty party girl is a common archetype, but the worldly but flighty party girl who’s more sensitive and self-aware than she seems and thus deeply depressed is just as common and obvious. Girls hasn’t devoted enough attention to Jessa to establish her beyond either of these roles, depriving her scenes of the impact and importance of Hannah’s and Marnie’s. Hopefully Girls can define her better as it proceeds.