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'Girls' 3x05, Only Child: Review

'Girls' 3x05, Only Child


“It’s just crazy that you don’t know the depth of someone’s power until their funeral.”

Hannah plays Dr. Phil for the Sackler siblings

This episode may mark the death of Hannah’s writing career and her patience. Girls brings its spectacular and dark cringe-comedy to a funeral and paddles on through to the end with one of the season’s strongest episodes yet, especially in the character development department. An only child can be a force to be reckoned with. Strong opinions, self-entitlement, perfectionists, idealistic, and often a little lonely. Hannah has the best and worst successive days of her life in one episode and she goes through all of the demanding motions, compelling her to turn into a twister of destruction. It’s true that the best times always accompany the worst of times--this is when they both overlap. Hannah sees her misfortune as a complete damnation, but there is plenty of opportunity here. Solipsism, rigid self-idealism and entitlement does not mesh well with this kind of momentary derailment. Being an only child may have Hannah acting out without considering other people’s situations and concerns, because she’s never really had to. And this is likely just the beginning. It’s hard not to see Hannah in a disastrously ugly light in this half-hour, but in some ways one can’t totally dismiss her candor. She’s stuck, but not immobilized. Hannah has plenty of room to wedge her way out of this situation. However, as with Girls, vapid idealism takes precedent over constructive action. If it’s not going Hannah’s way then no one will be happy. “Only Child” presents Hannah and company with some real, harsh and ugly obstacles for them to tussle with for the rest of the season.

Hannah takes David’s funeral and turns it into a networking event. And it may lead to her getting her up and comings. It’s no mistake that Hannah more than usually has good intentions and honestly believes herself to be appropriate in how she maneuvers the many complexities of adulthood. Still, one has to wonder where her sense of self-awareness has disappeared to in the opening scenes of the episode. Here, Hannah’s frivolities take off and rip up a funeral already soaked in potent ridiculousness. Hannah meets David’s wife/widow--a surprise to everyone--and in-between various embarrassments and being mistaken for someone of great importance, Hannah discovers that all of David’s projects are being cancelled, immediately sending our protagonist on a truly insensitive spiral to find a new publisher. I’m of the cynical sort, making a prediction that the editor Hannah received from David’s angered widow will actually end up destroying Hannah‘s reputation as a writer, but maybe I’m getting too ahead of myself. Mostly because Hannah is likely to do a good enough job at destroying her writing reputation on her own.

Hannah finds herself lucky enough to get a bit of an upgrade with her new publisher, in a meeting full of what seems like false promises that are too good to be true--and a lot of practiced laughter. Someone needs to inform Hannah, that they’re not laughing with you, honey; they’re laughing at you. You’re their entertainment…for now at least. There is a part of Hannah that is very much aware of this, but her desperation to get her work published trumps her own dignity at the moment. When this new publisher mentions turning Hannah’s e-book into a very real, physical book, she is almost instantly their puppet; Hannah’s laughing along with them just because. When you’re young and desperate to make your mark in the world, these things happen. And here Hannah is bombarded with hollow laughter and is reduced to a female writer stereotype rather than the strong writer she is (or thinks she is). It’s a ridiculous situation to be in…when you’re making progress, but not in the ideal way that you want. Sure, the perceived end result is ideal, but not the “struggle” of getting there. That alone is frustrating. Then later add on the double-whammy that Hannah is legally unable to use any of the work she’s produced in any way for at least three years and you’ve got one hell of a stressful situation. But does the only child, Hannah deal with it all in a mature, adult fashion? Of course not. This is the episode where Hannah, Adam and Caroline are at their most childish--reduced to toddlers in a weird, unstable way.

Speaking of the Sackler siblings, the two continue to falter into titanic arguments that stem from old childhood troubles that obviously were never dealt with. And leave it to Hannah to grossly emulate Dr. Phil and make some self-interested attempts in working things out between the two. It makes for one of the most equally compelling and comedic pieces of character development and story progression--it plants seeds for further possible storylines and developments--great set-up for the final scenes of the episode (and the rest of the season) that pack a surprising punch and leaves one questioning the state of some of Hannah’s relationships, especially her romantic relationship with Adam. What's great about these Dr. Phil Hannah scenes is that a lot of Adam and Caroline's issues with one another seem like a lot of projection and even Hannah is able to point that out when Adam critiques Caroline about her lack of ambition and cluelessness of her life direction. This is how we discover that Adam and Caroline are almost one in the same, the only difference is that Caroline's disposition is exaggerated due to her mental illness. Let's be honest, we've seen Adam zip in and out of things he was passionate about in one moment only to dismiss it and find something new. It's not that different from Caroline's rapid jumps in motivation to eventual stagnation. Since we’ve met Caroline a few episodes ago, her special brand of “crazy” has been compared to Hannah’s and appropriately so. They both kind of cancel each other out and give one another a weird balance--up until Hannah faces a crisis of her own.

Hannah has found Caroline’s crazy mildly charming and it has also given her much opportunity to play mediator and fixer--all things that allow her to be in some position of power, at least in the eyes of those close to her. Caroline has thrown Hannah and Adam’s dynamic up in the air and rearranged it like a disheveled apartment. Now the pair can’t walk amongst their environment without facing various bumps in their path. Caroline has outlined how different Hannah is from Adam and possibly how destructive Hannah might be to his personal growth. And that is what is most distressing to Hannah on top of everything else. It’s weird because both Hannah and Caroline have a way of utilizing their relationship with Adam as a crutch. Hannah and Caroline’s sister relationship explodes at the very end of this episode and proves that Hannah is unable to really handle having a sibling, even though she earlier insists she always wanted one. Here, Hannah dismisses Caroline in a harsh and flippant manner simply because she’s having a bad day--okay, one of her worst days, but Hannah lets her state of crushed idealism get the better of her. At this moment, she’ll be a self-destructive twister more than a respected creative writer in New York.

And that’s the thing: Hannah is a creator and a writer, but she’s not convinced that she can create something else beyond her much un-anticipated memoir. Does everything really have to be about her, specifically? I find it interesting that Hannah deems herself as such a master individual of creativity--someone so concerned about documenting emotion--but she was unable to process the death of her mentor and publisher, David. Also, Hannah is unable to see the opportunity laid out before her to prove herself as a real creative genius. So, while she is left complaining, raving and wanting respect as a writer, Hannah isn’t really being a writer. Nor is she taking this setback as a set-up. Hannah barely even makes the effort to speak to Adam about how she and Caroline ended things. Being the only child, Hannah apparently expects Adam to be at least moderately happy about Caroline’s departure; however, there is an inseparable bond between siblings that is inherent and doesn’t break just because someone says when. But would a only child stereotype understand that? Not this one. Not Hannah. Hannah wants to be the center of Adam’s attention. But with Caroline around, that can’t happen. So someone’s gotta go. It’s also interesting to note that Adam is more and more becoming a rescuer. It’s something he seems to take pride in, but this also means that Hannah may not be that special after all. What’s even weirder is that it seemed as though Hannah was sort of battling with Adam on being the acclaimed rescuer of the crazy sister. Caroline may be unhinged, but she may have spoken eccentric truth to stupid…

Elsewhere, Shoshanna finds herself in the weird position where she is partially rethinking her plans to be a young woman of sexual and academic success. There are flaws in her perceived system and she’s just now starting to feel the pressure. All the while, Jessa continues to be a stagnant figure in her life--a sort of fallow role model. Shoshanna is in the midst of her college career and has many vital pieces moving all at once. The struggle is real, apparently. What I and most people love about Shoshanna is that she tells the bitter truth in such a shallow valley girl manner that people don’t really take her words all that seriously. When Shoshanna insists that Jessa and the other girls around her are doing nothing with their lives in the way Shoshanna sees herself in her ambitious, but mostly unrealistic fifteen year plan, Jessa poses a very important question to quickly maneuvering youth: What happens after the fifteen year plan? Shoshanna is totally dismissive of the question, a trait that unfortunately sticks to a fast-paced, shallow youth like glitter glue. But at the same time, Jessa takes Shoshanna’s candor about her fifteen year plan and applies it to herself in her own eccentric way; she makes a quick decision to work at a baby boutique. It’s a new kind of fifteen year plan. Jessa continues down her twisted little road of self-discovery. I’ve missed seeing Jessa and Shoshanna feed off of each other’s backhanded wisdom. Glad to see it make a prominent return…

Can we all just sit around and talk about just how perfectly un-perfect and horrid Marnie and Ray are for each other? This is one hundred percent a-okay and more, finally putting these two characters on board to really do something significant this season. Not to mention the fact that these two have had some simmering sexual tension boiling since the show’s inception. Behind all the hate and disgust for one another’s personal dispositions--Marnie’s judgmental attitude and need for validation in lieu of personal growth and Ray’s searing pessimistic wisdom. One thing is certain, this pairing is going to be really fun to watch grow or self-destruct. Either way it will be quite a ride. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice--or injustice--that Marnie and Ray end up working out more than anyone else? It makes near perfect sense that Marnie and Ray would find each other after the respective breakups, both of which blindsided them and thrusted them into a world of self-dependence--only one of them are truly thriving at it, while the other flounders and insists that they are actually empowered being alone.

The whole romantic development (I doubt that’s the best way to describe it) comes about when Marnie rushes over to Ray’s renovated apartment to receive a brutal self-assessment from the wisest, oldest friend she has. None of this escalates in a way that is unrealistic, which is surprising, just considering how cartoonish this territory could have become. Ray’s observations, while harsh are spot-on, helping flesh out the character of Marnie, making sense of the current and previous situations she‘s been dealt. Marnie and Ray are playing a game of truth or dare with each other by falling into each other’s unstable arms for some sort of emotional support. They’re filling a hole that will likely lead to a mostly unhealthy journey of self-discovery for both. If this episode is any indication, this pairing should be thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly surprising, no matter what occurs next. Oh, and did anyone else laugh out loud at Marnie’s comment concerning Ray’s excessive use of underwear. Yep, these two might be the next best thing about this season, either that or Marnie's new kitten best friend!

This episode of Girls hits all the right marks comedic, dramatic and all the whatevers that are in between. The same can be said for Lena Dunham’s performance here, displaying all the ups and downs of her reeling new stressful situation. The fifth installment succeeds as the best installment of the season thus far. It’s thought-provoking in the comedic sequences and cringe-worthy in the real-life dramatics and many moving character dynamics. Everything is up in the air and it’s nerve-wracking and makes for surprising comedy bliss, no matter how many times one might wince while watching Hannah falter and fail with every other success she makes. One step forward and three steps back. This kind of occasional derailment should make a champion out of anyone. However, by examining Hannah’s tactics in dealing with her latest misfortunes, she’ll likely perish, while all of her personal relationships do the same. “Only Child” gets 5 out of 5 stars!

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© Patrick Broadnax 2014

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