After last week's brilliant, groundbreaking episode of Girls, which focused almost exclusively on Hannah, Girls has once again shifted its focus — this time emphasizing the brief and unexpected friendship of Ray and Adam. Indeed, the episode is so strong that I'm hoping it turns out to be a backdoor pilot for a parallel series about the boys of Girls.
Just as titling the show Girls — not Women — is a telling choice, it's significant that tonight's episode was called "Boys" and not "Men." As Girls continues to expand its narrative boundaries and the stories it's willing to tell, tonight's episode centered on the strange, fascinating interactions between two characters who had never even met: Ray and Adam.
But before we get to the episode's rich main course, let's tackle the side dish of Marnie's relationship with Booth, which came to an apparent (and merciful) end in "Boys." Booth was introduced early in Girls' first season as a smirky, sexually aggressive artist who represented everything that Marnie's then-boyfriend Charlie wasn't. But the confidence and virility he exuded on the night that he and Marnie met — which left her so turned on that she masturbated in the bathroom at a party — collapsed in a puddle of spilled red wine.
The "confident guy turns out to be a petulant asshole" story is a narrative that Girls has explored before — remember when Jessa and Marnie first met Thomas-John? — and I'm not convinced that it needed to be told again, even if it is nice that the first season's Booth loop has finally been closed. Booth whines that people just use him for his art, but what is he without his art? A condescending misanthrope who's too busy spewing bile at everyone else to work on being an even marginally better human being. To varying degrees, each of Girls' characters has proven to be both unlikable and pitiable, but I'm not sure I've ever been less sympathetic to one of its characters than Booth, whose final appearance in the episode — and, with any luck, in Marnie's life — comes during a tantrum while crouching in a bottle of wine he smashed on the floor.
Yes, Booth proved to be the most boyish of the boys in "Boys." And the episode's strongest moments were given to Adam and Ray. Hannah's relationship with Adam took place largely outside the confines of her normal friendship group, but it's still amazing that it took Girls this long to pair Adam and Ray, and the dynamic between the two characters — who are both incredibly similar and incredibly different — leads Ray to a moment of clarity.
What do we know about Ray? He's the grumpy 33-year-old manager of a coffee shop called Grumpy's. He plays in a band with Charlie with the (accurate) name "Questionable Goods." He'd rather binge-watch old episodes of Ally McBeal than go out for a night on the town. He thinks intimacy is "the most trivial thing to write about," and thinks death is the most. If he wasn't living with Shoshanna, he'd be homeless. And he's desperate to recover a copy of Little Women from Adam because it contains handwritten advice from his godmother.
There's a reason Ray jumps at the chance to go on an urban adventure with Adam to provide "extra muscle, in case shit gets real": Ray feels inadequate and emasculated, and Shoshanna has quietly increased the pressure on him to change. He doesn't even go to try to get his book from Adam until Shoshanna informs him that she thinks it's "his duty as a man to go."
The errand leads to a wonderfully surreal side quest with Adam, as the two venture to Staten Island to return a dog that Adam impulsively stole from outside a coffee shop. But in the end, it's all about Shoshanna, and based on Ray's emotional breakdown at the end of the episode, their relationship may already be reaching a breaking point. Confusion over emojis aside, this is the first time that genuine cracks in Ray and Shoshanna's relationship have begun to show, and it's difficult to imagine a way the two can move past them. Adam is right about his relationship with Hannah: He is a difficult person, and she was willing to accept his brand of difficult. But Shoshanna, unlike Hannah with Adam, wants Ray to be more: To spend $139 on a conference so Donald Trump can tell him how to be a millionaire, and to take her on a nicer date than $4 taco night.
In the end, the boys in tonight's installment of Girls live up to the episode's title: They're petulant, self-absorbed, and screwed up, and none of them have their lives in order. But it's hard not to contrast Ray — who refuses to abandon a dog he didn't steal, and has known for less than 24 hours — with Booth, who fires his assistant/sexual partner Sujin after she takes a bite of his rosewater ice cream. Ray insists, to deaf ears, that you can't just throw something away. But it's unclear whether Shoshanna will agree with him.
Read more Girls recaps:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 things you need to know today: December 19, 2014
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- Why torture doesn't work: A definitive guide
- 12 holiday gifts for the hardest-to-shop-for people on your list
Subscribe to the Week