When critics talk about TV antiheroes, they tend to rattle off the same dull list of names: The Sopranos' Tony Soprano, Mad Men's Don Draper, Breaking Bad's Walter White — men with dark secrets and problematically flexible moral codes. But if it wasn't clear before "Bad Friend," tonight's episode of Girls, it's plenty clear now: Hannah Horvath is one of the first great antiheroines on television.
The idea of TV antiheroes is pretty new, but audiences have quickly grown accustomed to protagonists who aren't particularly likable. Still, Girls is pushing that standard to an uncomfortable and alienating new extreme. When people describe Girls as a "brave" show, they're almost always talking about its nudity. But the really remarkable thing about Girls isn't its (admittedly copious) amount of naked flesh; it's the show's narrative bravery. Shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad convinced us to root for their antiheroes because those antiheroes are very, very good at what they do — even if what they do tends to be bad. But Hannah is the least competent antihero on television: Lazy, self-absorbed, and riddled with anxieties that would make her sympathetic if she didn't go out of her way to tear down others.
Hannah barrels through tonight's episode, "Bad Friend," like a wrecking ball, leaving nothing but carnage in her wake. Following the advice of an editor at a blog called JazzHate, Hannah decides to kick off a new freelance gig by writing an article about a cocaine-fueled evening (maybe we'll get to see her "Craigslist threesome" next week). The assignment is the exact kind of "shocking," navel-gazing idea that appeals to our perennially self-absorbed protagonist, who quickly proves that she's no Hunter S. Thompson; in fact, the only thing we see Hannah "write" on her cocaine binge is a sentence describing her desire to raise show dogs, which she stole from Elijah anyway.
"We're all just living in Hannah's world, and it's all Hannah, Hannah, Hannah all the time," complains Elijah, and I couldn't help but nod in agreement. Girls has been laser-focused on Hannah this season, at the expense of characters like Jessa, Shoshanna, and even Adam, whose failure to show up in "Bad Friend" is particularly conspicuous after his arrest in last week's episode. Hannah is a legitimately fascinating character — and certainly the most groundbreaking to emerge from Girls — but the show can sometimes feel as obsessed with Hannah as Hannah is obsessed with Hannah — and that's not a good thing.
But as frustrating as watching Girls can be — and at times, I found tonight's episode to be quite frustrating — "Bad Friend" also played a clever trick: Though Hannah, as usual, found a way to make it all about her, tonight's episode was a lot more pivotal for the rest of the show's characters. Let's review what happened to everybody else in this episode.
Jessa is selling her belongings as she prepares to move in with Thomas-John. Shoshanna is having the first twinges of doubt about Ray. Laird comes dangerously close to having a relapse. Marnie's newly acquired ennui takes her first into Booth's creepy art piece/overstimulation prison, and later into his similarly creepy bed.
But these genuinely dramatic developments are shunted off to the side in favor of Hannah's self-perpetuated problems, and I think highly enough of Girls to think that's by design. The climax of the episode is a callback to the ugly fight that led Marnie to move out in season one's "Leave Me Alone," as Hannah shows up at Booth's loft to pick up where that fight left off. The spark that sets off Hannah's coke-induced rage fire is Elijah's admission that he had sex with Marnie, which bothers Hannah because she wanted to be the last woman Elijah had sex with. Once Hannah explains to Marnie that being a good friend means "not doing something that will real intentionally hurt another person" — like, say, showing up on drugs to a stranger's loft in order to yell at them — she turns her wrath to Elijah, tearing into him for ruining her night, her article, her relationship with Marnie, and her relationship with cocaine.
The irony, of course, is that this holier-than-thou Hannah is the one responsible for ruining all of those things. Hannah's "unique" experience on cocaine, which consists of dancing, getting sick, and having wild mood swings, is basically the same experience everyone has on cocaine, and it keeps her from realizing the actual problems the people around her are having. Despite her ridiculous, emphatic speech at the end of the episode, Hannah is the "bad friend" of "Bad Friend." She just doesn't know it.
Read more Girls recaps:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- The best books we read in 2014
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
Subscribe to the Week