When Girls twists the knife, it twists hard. “Painful Evacuation,” an episode ostensibly focused on Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her propensity for contracting urinary tract infection, pushes the pain everywhere—even on its viewers.
A cold open where Hannah interviews an obnoxious, braless author named Ode Montgomery (Tracey Ullman) somehow takes the most self-indulgent parts of Girls and Portlandia and sets a preamble for the episode’s most interesting plot development. Being a female author is hard, being a mother and an author is almost impossible. That is to say, it’s hard being different things to different people because our self-preservation instincts tell us to be a bit more selfish than that: Don’t give parts of ourselves up too freely.
Adam (Adam Driver), cast in some sort of Russian John Wick action movie, walks off set in a huff when he refuses to sacrifice his artistic integrity for the needs of his director, while Marnie (Allison Williams) can’t seem to give up anything but her body for Ray (Alex Karpovsky). Her fake orgasms are a little scarier after watching Williams’ performance in Get Out, those emotionless eyes belying not just narcissism, but murderous sociopathy.
Marnie’s no longer cheating on Ray, but she’s still meeting with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) for drug/marriage counseling sessions that are as irritating as the couple’s actual marriage. Are all of Desi’s clothes distressed by a three-year-old with scissors? It’s clear the writers enjoy driving Desi further and further into caricature—just watch the masturbatory non-joke shot of him slowly drinking a glass of water. I’m so tired of Desi and I’m equally tired of Marnie and Desi.
And yet, I can’t see her getting better with Ray, especially when you consider Marnie’s absurdly primal desire to join her mate in an insane metaphorical lion’s mouth. At least, I think it’s metaphorical. Meanwhile, poor Ray just wants someone to have dumplings with while he’s been treated like yesterday’s dildo. Get out, Ray. Get out.
That’s what Hannah, in the throes of her UTI, has been trying to achieve, only to be rebuffed by Elijah (Andrew Rannells)—“Hahaha you’re gross”—as he’s slowly but steadily become the series’ lone (and ironic) straight-shooter. She intentionally Facetimes her mom (Becky Ann Baker, making every brief appearance count) to show her bloody pee, which might be even more upsetting than a regular accidental Facetime. On counsel from her mother, she heads to the ER, only to find her doctor is Joshua (Patrick Wilson), whom she hasn’t seen since fleeing his home way back in Season Two’s “One Man’s Trash.” Oh, and also, she’s pregnant—thanks to Paul-Louis (Riz Ahmed), from “All I Ever Wanted.” Remember that mother/author dynamic being unnatural, if Ms. Montgomery’s to be believed? Looks like it’s one more complexity Hannah’s going to consider.
While she storms out of the hospital, resentful at Joshua’s suggestion of abortion options, Dunham’s hurt, wild eyes makes it clear she’s not going to have this kid out of spite. She may want you to think that, but there’s the possibility for a real, Earth-shattering shift in responsibility for her here; at minimum, the season’s been building a portrait of Hannah as a more considerate, self-aware adult. Maybe it’s for this. Maybe it’s a hiccup in her maturation journey. Either way, I’m much more interested in watching Hannah deal with it at this point in her life.
That revelation makes Adam and Jessa’s (Jemima Kirk) subplot hilariously trivial, as they decide to make a movie about their relationship bursting from their shared relationships with Hannah. (This after Jessa self-diagnoses as a child psychopath, fun as it is to see her actually pursuing her studies). There’s catharsis and there’s enabling each other’s craziest impulses, but as long as Adam’s wearing jeans that look like they’ve been pieced together from the scraps cut out of Desi’s clothing, he’ll entertain. When they approach Hannah for her blessing on the project, she’s just found out about her pregnancy. This is the joke situation Desi’s earlier, lingering drink could’ve been. It’s awkwardness grown from dramatic irony that unravels and festers with painful glee.
When that glee vanishes, you’re left with Girls attempting to shock its characters into action with pure pain. Ray’s sex-toy-like existence squanders his potential. We know; Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) knows; Hermie (Colin Quinn) knows. So, Girls, in all its infinite callousness, starts dropping hints. And by hints, I mean corpses. While a storytelling patron’s death gives Ray a minor shock, Hermie’s heavily telegraphed death cheapens not only Ray’s growth (which seemed to have arbitrarily gone in reverse since last season), but one of the only positive father figures on the show. Who else would tell Ray his priorities are “cuckoo bananas”?
The show can handle death well—and even make it bleakly hilarious, in the case of Hannah’s funeral networking in Season Three’s “Dead Inside”—but its use here (and I do mean use) does to Ray what that episode skewers so sharply: it makes death all about him. What’s been so nice about Hannah’s steady growth is that it’s seemed like a natural progression from a minor social trauma. By contrast, the death of Ray’s boss and his patron in the same episode adds injury to the insult of Marnie’s emotional infidelity, something that’s unnecessary for poor, put-upon Ray to improve his situation, which just four episodes ago wasn’t nearly this sad. “Painful Evacuation,” for Ray anyways, takes the pain and twists it clumsily, meanly, as if daring him to stay the same.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.