“Staten Island is a big metaphor. You get that? All these people, they want to live in Manhattan. But they end up on this f***ed up, weird little island watching the city in a distance with this quiet rage just burning in their hearts.”
Everyone wants to be something they’re not, or be somewhere they simply aren’t. Delusions of grandeur get slapped down hard and fast in this week’s rather depressing, yet necessary installment of Girls. Reality checks can be incredibly humbling to the point of self-loathing, and there is no place like New York to get a grade-A dose of harsh reality. Hannah is on the road to possible success, yet does this success she’s been lurking after really matter to others around her? Meanwhile, Marnie fumbles on her own ideal delusion, all the while Ray and Adam share their concerns, while on a mission to return a rabid dog to its Staten Island owner. You see success right in front of you and yet you can’t reach it. Every person in their mid-twenties should be relate to that absolutely frustrating feeling. Something Lena Dunham does well with this entire series is show how perceptions of our society thinks things should be is not exactly how it is. Every characters gets that devastating revelation in this episode. And everyone has something to say or judge about it in one way or another…
Right from the opening, Hannah is seen teetering on the edge of possible success when she is called upon by one of her favorite childhood writers to write an e-book. The catch is that Hannah has to get this book completed within a quick month. This meeting does a lot to boost Hannah’s delusions of having found her writer’s voice. This oddball author insists that Hannah “knows what’s going on”, when in fact, Hannah is kind of just piecing it all together as it comes to her, like most twenty-somethings. Surely, Hannah has some skill if she’s being approached to write an e-book; however, I think this task that is set on Hannah’s lap will either make her or break her. Still, would it matter if it did either way? Hannah’s meeting ends, leaving her vomiting in front of a few disgusted brunchers, most of which have probably reached some semblance of success that Hannah is just now getting a chance at. One sentence into this e-book and Hannah is immediately stumped. That first sentence being “Her name was Murjashihaway.” (I can't even begin to explain how long I laughed at that).Not a great start, and given the fact that Hannah can’t get the ball rolling on anything without gloating about it to Marnie, things are certainly at a troubling stand still.
A depressed Jessa emerges from sleeping in the bathtub only to give Hannah some shaky advice, which is to not worry about it. It is sage advice, cloaked in a seemingly harsh jumble of words, yet as Jessa has inferred once before, Hannah thinks too much on certain things, which causes her to not act. If Hannah “let go and let flow“, then maybe she could get somewhere. But Jessa’s statement to Hannah can also be translated as a cruel truth that her version of success will not really matter to anyone else but herself, mostly because everyone else is out aching to find their own perceptive accounts of success, building their own false self-worth from something that might simply be critiqued as pretentious or trivial in the long run. Jessa knows this first hand. She tried to climb onto the shoulders of success by marrying Thomas John; however, that came crashing down rather quickly, because everyone was so tied up in their own versions of success and how Jessa didn’t seem to have any successes of her own. Jessa is quite done with fighting to reach something that she knows no one else will really care for unless they have it too. In reality, do most people really care for their friend’s success if they aren’t successful too? Or do they suffer from jealousy and envy, possibly starting to despise said friend for succeeding where they failed? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Another one of the girls attempting to gather as much success in her life is Marnie, and she’s doing so by continuing her rather one-sided relationship with sociopath artist, Booth Jonathan. Marnie’s always been about appearances and especially showing off how great her life is compared to her friends. Her self-centeredness is what usually leads her to fumble and in this case, she gets so wrapped up in her own selfish wants that she deludes herself into believing that she is sharing in someone else’s success. The thing is, Booth Jonathan is a celebrated pseudo-intellectual artist pig, who is quite self-entitled in his own right. His freak out over his assistant, Su Jin indulging in a small bite of his ice cream is totally irrational, but very in character, for Booth quite a nihilistic narcissist. Everything about him screams “I want attention!”. An artist already has that kind of complex, but Booth’s is multiplied ten fold. By that evidence, Marnie should have known a relationship with him would not work. Booth asks Marnie to host a part for him, which turns into a chance for her to show off her new life of faux-success to her best friend, Hannah.
Marnie may be smart, but she is incredibly transparent. Marnie ignores Hannah’s big news concerning her e-book all so she can give Hannah a peek into how she’s slipped into the good life with an falsely acclaimed artist. Hannah arrives at the party, immediately as an outcast, looking into Marnie’s version of success. This is Marnie attempting to show that she can get along fine without Hannah by her side, something Hannah has been attempting to prove all season, and even tries to with the information about her e-book assignment. These two women are so stock in their pettiness after all of the hurt feelings they’ve shared and the actions which have tainted their friendship that the only thing they can do to communicate is try to one up one another, and it’s becoming a habit.
Hannah really gets hit with a reality check when one of the partygoers mistake her for someone she’s not. Hannah tries to insist that she is someone completely different--someone who is on a track to success, but the world is simply viewing her as some silly little girl--trivial. It doesn’t help that same partygoer belittles writing an e-book as something less than what Hannah thinks it is. The most frustrating thing in the world is being perceived as something else then what you perceive yourself to be. Ray says it in the beginning of the episode concerning people who perceive themselves as writers, highlighting them only as people who just want to eat and masturbate. It’s a belittling reality check that one’s success might not matter as much to the world as it does to them…
Marnie is on cloud nine hosting this party, but gets a quick reality check when Booth insists that her perception of what their relationship was is way off course. In fact, Marnie’s whole perception of who Booth Jonathan is as person, and not his status, is way off. Booth is a petty little child when it all comes down to it. The tantrum he throws after he realizes Marnie is dating him for his success and his status reminds me of one of those spoiled teenagers who do not get the right luxury car they wanted for their sweet sixteen party. It’s hard to watch really, as Marnie’s world comes crashing down around her yet again and she has to start all over. The phone call Marnie and Hannah share at the end of the episode is one that is rather familiar to any young adult; putting on a facade of happiness and success to insist on contentment when in all reality things couldn’t be worse than they are now. These two best friends are at an incredibly devastating impasse. Both Hannah and Marnie are too prideful and stubborn to let the other one know that they need each other right now. Both can judge each other all they want to about how they’re climbing to success and in what ways, but the world will continue to deliver the harsh truth even if they don’t admit it to each other.
Now to the meaty parts of the episode involving the title’s Boys! In a mission to retrieve his Little Women novel given to him by his grandmother, Ray has a one-on-one with Hannah’s tempered ex, Adam, who we haven’t seen since episode two when he was hauled off by police due to Hannah’s less than adult reaction to a compromising situation. Ray and Adam quickly become an interesting dynamic that I’m particularly glad the writers decided to finally pair together (this episode was written by Murray Miller). In reality, these two men are essentially two peas in a pod. Frustrated at what life has given them, except Ray isn’t as content with his life as he likes to portray he is. Shoshanna is pushing Ray to do better and be better, trying to mold him into the boyfriend she’s always dreamed of. Ray can continue putting on the facade of complacency, but he’s just as devastated about his less than successful life as Shoshanna is. Like other characters in the episode, Ray continues to insist that he’s successful where he is in life--completely fine with where he is, but his mission with Adam forces him to really look at himself and assess his failures.
Adam is a hot-head and he often speaks a quirky, twisted version of the truth. In fact, both Adam and Ray usually represent oddball voices of wisdom and reason in the series. Here, we are shown more vulnerable layers to each of them. Adam stole a dog (named Dog) from what he perceived to be a cruel owner and took him in to treat him with better care. Yet that brief perception ultimately tricked Adam into believing that Dog was more vulnerable than he really is. Dog turns out to be a rather violent pup. Perception isn’t everything. Harsh reality literally bit Adam and it sends him and Ray on a mission that is more of self-discovery than anything. The two men talk about normal guy stuff at first, such as women and sex (an interesting bit about in-betweens), but it soon veers into meaningful conversation about the people in their lives and their current life circumstances.
Adam is lonely without Hannah. He may say he’s done with her maddening BS and difficulties, but he still holds her to a high level of affection. Which is why he reacts to Ray’s criticisms of Hannah the way he does--violently so. One thing I’ve always loved about Adam is his surprising passion--a passion that can lead to impulsiveness and anger and even uncover uncomfortable truths. In this case, Adam sees right through Ray and his facade of contentment. Adam knows that Ray is only comfortable with Shoshanna because she is his safety net, too naive to notice that Ray isn‘t moving anywhere anytime soon in terms of perceived success. Ray is hiding in this relationship with Shoshanna because it is safe. Although, Shoshanna is starting to lose her patience with him and even making attempts to change him. She will soon have to find out if she truly loves Ray or just the idea of what she can make him into.
Ray’s critiques of those in Staten Island and Hannah are really critiques of himself. Ray insists that those on Staten Island are dregs of humanity who have lost their chance at success and to prove themselves as adults and people of significance. In Ray’s perspective, Staten Island is an extension of himself, which is why he looks down on it so much. Ray is so grumpy and mean to everyone all the time, especially Hannah because I think he sees a bit of himself in her. Struggling to reach adulthood in all the wrong ways, and it she keeps going that way, she’ll end up like him. Except now, Hannah is on the possible cusp of success with her e-book deal and Ray is quickly flip about it, when he sees that Hannah is reaching a step in life he never really has. Part of Ray might even really admire Hannah for getting the e-book deal, but he’d never say it because he’s too bitter. Shoshanna insists Hannah’s new assignment is “intriguing and adult.” Nothing like being a manager at a small cafe. Shoshanna is the whole reason Ray went to Adam’s in the first place, by pushing him to be an adult--telling him it is his “duty as a man.” The ensuing and crushing revelation that Ray comes to at the end of this failed mission to return Dog to his rightful owner is a direct consequence of Ray hiding behind his safety net, Shoshanna. The world slapped him down…hard! Ray ends up on this f***ed up, weird little island watching the city in a distance with this quiet rage just burning in his heart. In that moment, Ray is literally perceiving a stray dog’s life as being worth more than his own…
A lot of critics and regular television viewers who do not like Girls or Lena Dunham for that matter love to make distinctions between themselves and the characters on screen. They call Hannah and her friends self-entitled, stupid, spoiled, elitist, delusional, wannabes, crybabies and more. We love to say “Thank God, I'm not screwed up like that person”. Yet, in all reality, most of us aren’t too far away from being a Hannah or a Ray or in some cases a Booth Jonathan. They may be exaggerated versions of our sad selves, but they’re real, nonetheless. Some of you may hate me for saying this, but I can make judgments and assumptions about others like Ray or Marnie do in this installment (or even that incredibly foul-mouthed Staten Island teenager), and just the same, you can deny them and insist that you’re not. The world is full of people who take the time out of their day to project themselves as a certain person of a certain standard who has made a certain success, when all they’re doing is trying to convince themselves that they are in a better life position than the next person. (People do it all the time on Facebook.) And those in their mid-twenties--stuck in the time of getting it all figured out and finding success--certainly try to convince themselves that they are on the right paths, even as they fumble down some unknown dark alley full of the world’s harsh realities and unforgiving bite. It’s like a dog’s bite, but at least a dog bite can heal. These wounds stay with you for an incredibly elongated amount of time. The success you like to perceive you have attained by insisting that you are better than the foolish characters on screen that suck at growing up doesn’t change anything. It’s all just words--pretty little words (much like in Hannah’s e-book) that make you feel better in the moment, but will yet be crushed by the weight of the cruel conventions of our shared world. Oh, wow that is a depressing thought. Don’t linger on it for too long…
Again, it’s a sign of Lena Dunham (and her team’s) fearlessness, hitting not only her characters with some harsh reality checks, but its viewers and critics as well. The amount of self-awareness that it takes to present a crushing revelation of this magnitude to one’s self and to the world is staggering and worthy of concerning applause. This episode of Girls, does very well to subdue the wild assumptions of success, destroy facades and ease delusions of grandeur, almost dangerously so. While these reality checks may serve as depressing, they also serve as motivation when perceived through an optimistic filter. Can these boys do better? I thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with Ray and Adam this installment and hope to see a lot more of them soon (part of me would have liked to see Charlie somehow included in the “boys” episode, but whatever). It was also cool that Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koeing made a cameo too! As foolish as boys are, no matter their age, both Ray and Adam make the most sense in this week’s installment. “Boys” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment!
© Patrick Broadnax 2013