The problem with watching a series about characters that don't have it together is that it can start to feel like the show doesn't have it together. And in that regard, Girls' second season has been less of an ongoing, serialized narrative and more a series of interlinked vignettes. That hasn't always been to the show's advantage; the season's first four episodes have burned through several major plot lines that had potential, including Hannah's brief fling with Sandy (Donald Glover) and her time spent sharing an apartment with Elijah (Andrew Rannells). Of course, Girls has shown that it's a series that you need to be patient with — it certainly took time for the introduction of season one's "Ewok in fucking capri pants," Booth Jonathan, to pay off the way it has over the past two episodes — but the show can feel frustratingly directionless at times.
Fortunately, the all-over-the-place nature of Girls can also result in an episode as unexpected and heartbreaking as tonight's "It's a Shame About Ray," which put three of the show's couples under the microscope: Marnie and Charlie, Jessa and Thomas-John, and Shoshanna and Ray.
Marnie and Charlie's breakup was one of the major events of Girls' first season, and it's no surprise that even with his new, headband-sporting girlfriend Audrey in tow, Charlie is still pining for Marnie. Charlie is probably the most developed boy on Girls — a "nice guy" who abandons his current girlfriend at an awkward dinner party in an attempt to hook up with his old one, only to insult her when she rebuffs him. Both professionally and personally, Marnie has been put through the wringer this season, but it's clear by the end of "It's a Shame About Ray" that she's better off in the turmoil than she ever was when she was trapped in her stifling relationship with Charlie.
But Marnie isn't the only one going through growing pains. "It's a Shame About Ray" also offers our first real glimpse at the home life of Jessa and Thomas-John after their wedding in the first season's finale — and the results are anything but pretty. I'd been skeptical about whether or not Girls would be able to integrate Jessa's married life into a series that centers on a group of perpetually unattached twenty-somethings, but "It's a Shame About Ray" swivels by revealing that the show won't even have to try, as the two characters agree to split up after the ugliest argument in the series' history.
Girls is never better (or more painful to watch) than when its characters are fighting. This is a series where the characters use words like the characters on Game of Thrones use swords, and the fight between Jessa and Thomas-John is devastating. The surprise wedding always felt a little too heightened for Girls, but "It's a Shame About Ray" makes the plot twist pay off by showing how ill-conceived and flimsy their union really was.
After a disastrous dinner with Thomas-John's parents, he almost immediately reveals himself to be the petulant, vindictive man he seemed to be when he tried to get Jessa and Marnie to have a threesome with him in his first-season introduction. The two trade fiery attacks back and forth, as she calls him "a ridiculous person," and tells him she's embarrassed to be seen with him while he calls her his worst nightmare and "a whore with no money." When they finally agree to the terms of their split, it hinges — as it always has with Thomas-John — on money; for $11,500, she agrees to leave his lavish apartment for the infinitely more squalid (but infinitely safer) refuge of Hannah's dingy Brooklyn bathroom.
Given the misery exhibited by the other two couples, it's a relief that "It's a Shame About Ray" offers a silver lining in the show's most recent pairing: Shoshanna and Ray. Shoshanna has generally been relegated to comic relief on Girls — and her confusion about butt plugs provided a much-appreciated moment of levity in an extremely dark episode — but Girls is also getting better about taking her seriously as a character, and her relationship with Ray is given higher emotional stakes than any situation we've seen Shoshanna in. Indeed, she tells Ray she loves him.
Ray — who, at 33, is a decade older than the rest of the main characters — was originally introduced as Charlie's sarcastic asshole best friend. Shoshanna is the most guileless character on Girls, so her emotional openness isn't surprising, but it is surprising — and meaningful — that the jaded Ray has dropped his armor and opened himself to her. Ray doesn't just love her; he loves her "so fucking much," and their relationship has suddenly become the most clearly-defined relationship in the show.
It's also, given the show's history, a nerve-wracking development. If Girls had ended after its first season, Jessa would have had a happy ending, too. It's not clear where the Shoshanna and Ray's relationship will go — or for that matter, who any of these characters will end up connected to next — but as "It's a Shame About Ray" shows, the "happy couples" on Girls don't tend to stay happy for long.
Read more Girls recaps:
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