Last night's episode of Girls was yet another round in what has become a competition to see who can be the show's most sociopathically unlikable character, as the girls in Lena Dunham's HBO dramedy grappled with the untimely passing of Hannah's editor.
Hannah, in predictable fashion, uses the death as an opportunity to get attention, while admitting the only real remorse she feels is for the unclear future of her e-book. Jessa and Shoshana share stories about their own experiences with death, with Shosh conceding that it was ultimately a good thing for her high school clique, and Jessa getting so involved in her own story that she forgot Shoshana's altogether. Marnie continues in her tireless efforts to become the kind of girl "fancy people want to work with," and then Hannah, Laird, and Caroline cart-wheel through a cemetery.
In other words, it was the usual display of self-involved delusion and tragically poor communication that has become a hallmark of the series. After each episode since the conclusion of the brilliant first season, I've asked myself: Why do I continue watching this show? Is it because the whole series has become such a spectacle? Am I challenging myself to white-knuckle through one uncomfortable scene after the next? Is it because as a twenty-something writer living in New York I'd feel totally irrelevant not watching it?
No, I realized, it's because of the boys.
Last night's episode was a perfect example of what I've been saying (to no one in particular) since season one — Lena Dunham's male characters are a far more accurate depiction of what young urbanites in 2014 are like.
In "Deep Inside," Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Adam (Adam Driver) are both outraged at Hannah's callous response to David's death.
Adam immediately tries to comfort Hannah, before realizing his efforts are for naught. He's hurt by her reaction, fearing that the woman he loves is so self-involved she wouldn't even mourn his death appropriately. In a massively ineffective gesture of comfort, she tells him she has already planned what she'd say at his funeral.
I am by no means condoning everything he's done, but Adam is unequivocally my favorite character on the show. His arc has been the most realistic, surprising, complex, and at times touching of any of the characters. He makes mistakes, but he tries to do what's right in his view of the world. He also manages to look outside himself and show real compassion and concern for others — which would come as a novel concept for the show's female characters.
Dunham and Driver also did the near-impossible with his character: They created a scene that touches on issues of non-consent and sexual accountability, without completely vilifying a character.
Ray, for his part, shows surprising tenderness and concern for Hannah in "Deep Inside," offering her the day off before she admits she really doesn't care about her dead mentor (she takes the day off anyway). As Ray points out, it's grim that he feels more remorse over this death than Hannah, when the only interaction he had with David was a violent altercation. It's a pretty complex response from a man who last referred to the deceased as "the poor man's Anderson Cooper."
Over the past two seasons Ray has evolved from a sad sack secondary character to one of the most empathetic members of the ensemble. Alex Karpovsky's touching and brilliantly rendered performance in last week's "She said OK" showed a man who, despite a pessimistic façade, is desperately looking for friendship and evidence that there's order in the world.
"Why don't you place just one crumb of basic human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic detachment?" Ray asks Hannah in the latest episode. If only.
During her cemetery romp, Hannah concludes that Adam will like her less when he realizes she doesn't have as much emotional depth. But rather than explore compassion beyond herself, Hannah decides to fake it for him, as she's done so many times before. She tearfully recites a fictional story about a dead family member and the credits roll.
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