“We have a lot of healing to do…”
Inertia: A tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. It’s hard not to be disappointed in people in general, but when your friends disappoint you it’s almost heartbreaking. It’s frustrating, because you want to kick their asses and hug them at the same time. We have expectations for the people we choose to spend our time with. And doesn’t it royally suck when those people disappoint you? But things and people change. Or at least, they're supposed to. As we grow and come to have our own lives full of new people, new responsibilities and newly realized wants, we tend to slowly observe the various relationship dynamics that do not flex in the same ways they use to. We have friends of convenience, friends we’ve met through other friends, friends that are there for our mere entertainment, friends we use as a crutch, friends whose friendship hinges on the friendship we have with that person’s friend. It’s a complex and usually interrelated chain of relationships. The perception of a “real friendship” depends on many variables. But then there are the variables, time and life--they add complexity to the equation and the unfortunate reality is that most of these “friends” can’t solve the equation. Inertia happens to most friendships. This results in disparaging realizations that your good old friend since college isn’t compatible with you anymore. It’s a form of getting called out on your and your “friends’” BS. And a series as self-aware as Girls always has the balls to call its characters out on their BS. And quite frankly, those are some of the best episodes. “Beach House” is no exception…
Marnie has carefully prepared a weekend at her mom’s friend’s beach house for her closest three gal pals: Hannah, Jessa and Shoshanna. The very opening scene following Marnie preparing for this weekend of healing expresses Marnie’s high expectations in her friends as well as her need to have things execute perfectly to her satisfaction--expectations that will later be dashed. If nothing else, Marnie’s preparations set up the episode’s first plot bomb--the biggest of many to later explode as the episode reaches its awe-inspiring climax. Marnie’s efforts are always valiant, but her overbearing execution almost always kills her desired goal. The girls arrive at the beach house in the North Fork (very different from the Hamptons, mind you!) and right off the bat, Marnie’s plans are being met with passive pushback. Marnie insists on perfection, even when the reality presents something less than. Marnie has always operated on a semi-delusional contempt of undesirable reality and this is her at the height of it. Nor is Marnie living in a world of necessary compromise, like the rest of us, so things are bound to get shaken up. One could say this beach house weekend is a metaphor for Marnie’s sad and disheveled life. Her perfectly laid out plan unravels with a bit of compromise from the girls. All is peaceful, yet not quite as light as Marnie insists. There is of course the past tensions between all four of them, but mostly between Hannah and Marnie that has never been dealt with. This all comes to a head when Hannah runs into Elijah (Andrew Rannells)
The last time we saw Elijah, Hannah had kicked him out after discovering he had slept with Marnie. To say the two were on good terms would be willful ignorance. Yet Hannah’s desperation to lighten the mood and iron out Marnie’s controlling constitutions force her to overlook all of the crap between the two old college buddies and invite Elijah, his new boyfriend, Pal (Jonathan from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Danny Strong) and their two friends over. Of course all this does is put a dent in Marnie’s plans and makes her more desperate to oversee the “healing” of the group. Meanwhile, everyone else is there simply to have a good time, which totally negates Marnie’s purpose for having the trip. More tension between friends. Let’s not forget the crux of this whole picture; these are all “friends” with considerable problems with one another that are essentially being swept under the rug just to focus on the familiar fun. As the episode continues on, we enjoy some great relationship dynamics between the girls, Elijah and his friends. The gossip, the telling of old stories and breakups, wine-soaked faux apologies between best friends and even (my favorite) a choreographed dance number that comes around full circle.
Finally hearing the totality of Marnie and Charlie’s breakup is kind of heartbreaking, which is weird, partially because I don’t feel like Marnie’s entire perspective of the situation makes her a very reliable narrator. But I guess we’ll never know for sure. Still, going off the assumption that Marnie’s perspective is all truth, one can’t help but feel for her just a little bit. That’s a terrible situation no matter how you tell the story or who you tell it to. This is the point I guess I’m trying to get at: We all need people to talk with, gossip with, and to tell about things that have happened to us when we stepped outside during the day. How does one separate a genuine friend from a friend of social convenience? Those lines are blurred even more these days, in a technological sphere full of shared and often shallow experiences “felt” through social media. Is your best friend really your best friend just because you’ve known each other for years or is there just a mildly comfortable familiarity that helps us feel less alone in our day to day lives? Sure you have things in common, but as people actually grow and start to develop themselves, their values, morals, lifestyle and choices, it is more likely that that best friend is going to change and detach in many ways that will challenge the foundation of one’s shared relationship. There are always ways to patch holes in a crumbling foundation, but patches can only do so much. The girls’ friendships have more or less become convenient, but that doesn’t mean they started off that way. In all reality, each of these characters are narcissistic. Shoshanna may be the least narcissistic of the bunch, but that doesn’t make her any less of a conflicting character. Hannah and Elijah match one another so much because they feed off of their toxic narcissism. They can relate, because they are the same person really, which is also why they clash so much. Why do you think Hannah forgave Elijah so quickly? She fell back into the familiarity of their toxic friendship: inertia happened.
The episode progresses past some fun scenes in the pool to a very tense dinner in which Marnie is no longer able to roll with the punches. Everyone is taunting her, making a mockery out of what was supposed to be a perfect dinner just for the four girls. Everyone is drunk and annoying in Marnie’s perspective. That short dinner table scene is grossly cringe-worthy just because of how much tension is there, ready to burst at any moment. At one point I was waiting for Marnie to take her knife and stab Elijah‘s smug face. It felt like being injected with poison. Then move onto that great choreographed number that Marnie can’t let go without it being “perfect” and we’ve got a bomb explosion. And surprise, surprise! Shoshanna is the one who detonates it. In the wake of inertia, honesty is there to call everyone out on their crap. Sure, it’s really easy to use “honesty” as an excuse to hurl some crippling criticisms at your friends. Everything the girls express to one another in this chaotic explosion of angry honesty is…honest--just truth coated in hateful words, basically.
Shoshanna has never been shy about how she feels about the girls, but it’s all mostly been filtered through her fears about what her life could become. Here, she leans into all three of them, and while her candor is worthy of applause, it still applies some blows that are sure to leave marks--oh, but nope, they don’t, actually. None of the other girls take Shoshanna’s words seriously. They never have. Jessa usually does in a backhanded sort of way, but Shoshanna is ultimately just a friend of convenience. Obviously, they all are, but Shoshanna’s position in the group has always been different. Hannah and Marnie would have never known or cared to know Shoshanna if her and Jessa weren’t cousins. So, while everything Shoshanna says is deadly honest, the girls all react simply by calling her tirade “mean” and implying that she is no more than a “cruel drunk”. Instead of really examining themselves from Shoshanna’s perspective (she’s a lot more intelligent and diligent than her environment expects her to be) they are dismissive of everything she says. And what’s more is that all three gang up on her like she’s the ultimate bad guy that needs to be shut down. Another aspect of this climax that is interesting is how Jessa attempts to play mediator, all while Shoshanna willingly rubs salt in everyone’s wounds. It’s a passive-aggressive verbal wrestle between the cousins while Hannah and Marnie only scratch the surface of their toxic, dependent relationship--it’s a battleground for some cutting words and Shoshsanna walks away the victor, but in all reality no one wins here. They all lose and Shoshanna’s realization that she doesn’t want to continue being around these “whiny-nothings” is what cuts the deepest. Has Shoshanna broken their friendship inertia?
I’ve always been of Hannah’s perspective: Don’t have expectations, even with your friends. That said, I can see the motives of Marnie’s perspective as well. Her controlling nature coupled with her abandonment issues dictate that she operates on exactly what Shoshanna observes: “fear and self-doubt”. Marnie is pretty much afraid of being alone but at the same time, her idea of being alone is slightly different from what one might expect. Marnie is of the type that above all else wants the image of being with someone and having a lovely group of friends that are all whole and healed. Let’s all be real for a moment: Marnie planned this trip simply to capture some photos for Instagram--capturing the image of stability with friends--all so she can feel just a little bit better about the state of her failed friendships. Most of this season, she’s been alone which is how her odd latching onto old man Ray happened.
In a lot of ways, this is kind of a Marnie episode. A lot of what transpires highlights every complex aspect of this character and puts her in a new light that is important to see realized. Marnie is a young woman who does everything right (in a societal perspective) but continues to get slapped down for her efforts because of her lack of personality. Marnie’s biggest flaw is that she forgot to develop a personality along with everything else she achieved: She’s very pretty, she has a nice singing voice, she has her education, she had a life plan with goals and a relationship--she just forgot to be an actual person outside of what society has told her to be, because she never really had to. And now she is living the backlash of that. Unlike Hannah and Jessa, who have had their own self-defining struggles to deal with, Marnie has had almost zero besides her now realized abandonment issues. The problem with that is that she doesn’t have an observable excuse to explain her miserable state. She’s just failing and there’s no reason for it. Marnie’s complexities make her the show’s second most tragic character in that she’s a victim of her own progress, so to speak. That’s why it’s easy for viewers to kick Marnie while she’s down; there’s no real reason why Marnie should be whining about her life struggles, because…what life struggles?!
The world sees a lovely young woman with her stuff together, but Marnie is anything but. There is pressure in being a beautiful young woman with an education. It’s a much different pressure than what Hannah and Jessa have dealt with for sure. Marnie’s had privilege in a way that the other girls haven’t, but that doesn’t make her perfect. And what’s sad is that she’s still aiming for “perfect” in a way that she’ll never achieve. Marnie’s need to have control--a character trait that is becoming more and more overbearing--comes from her desire to finally achieve what she thought she didn’t have to work at achieving: success. And that is success in various ways, but with this episode, it is success with her friends. Just like with everyone else in the series, Marnie finds it so hard to be genuine in her environment and with the friends she has acquired but doesn’t really know anymore. Marnie’s dreams never come true in the way she expects them to. This makes the character a ticking time bomb herself, and this is a perfect preamble to her explosion--one that might come later this season or some time later in the series. Either way, this season is personally making me appreciate the character of Marnie a lot more…
The boys’ relationships contrast the girls’ situation. Elijah tries to talk to Pal about the way he verbally disrespects him, but reverts from critique to expressing strong feelings of love. Elijah’s massive insecurity issues leave him and his relationship with Pal going nowhere significant. Whereas, the painful “healing” conversation the girls have at least opens up new places for their relationships to go--the end of their inertia maybe--the boys are stuck in their own fleeting inertia due to insecurities and complacency in what they have now, which is nothing but photos to share on Instagram. It’s nothing genuine. The relationships and friendships will fade, even if they’re still together in the end. And that’s the saddest observation. These people will still be friends even though they know they aren’t compatible anymore. There’s no shame in going separate ways, but there is fear in the thought of not finding a new friend once that familiar person is gone. This is why Elijah is willing to continue a relationship with a boyfriend that doesn’t even respect him. Fear and self-doubt.
The next morning the girls wake up and start cleaning up the kitchen. None of them say a word to each other. How can they fake the funk after a night of yelling about each other’s character flaws? The silence continues at the bus stop until Hannah spontaneously begins doing the hand movements from the aforementioned dance number they learned earlier and the three other girls join in one by one. This can be looked at in two ways: One, the girls are gonna be alright. Or two, their slowly decaying, toxic friendships are still there because really, it’s very hard to let go of familiar people, even if you don’t necessarily like them anymore. I mean, who wants to have no friends? That means no pictures of friends hanging out for Instagram or Facebook. That means being wholly self-dependent. That means being alone. That means observing one’s self through their own solitary. And that’s scary for a lot of people. But is that really more important than letting go of toxic relationships? More to the point, does the show have the balls to actually split all of these girls up and have them meet new friends and have their own personal universes to explore? Maybe. What’s obvious is that these young ladies don’t know who to be if they aren’t friends with each other and there is a pervasive sadness in that realization. As you can see, this episode posits many questions about the state of friendship dynamics.
Is this situation inescapable for young people growing into themselves--are we all doomed to friendship inertia? And if so, how does one truly grow into themselves with these faux friendships wearing them down? It’s a depressing thought. It may be one of the most depressing, yet most eye-opening observations Girls has ever pulled off. I’m not sure anyone has ever really put that kind of indescribable disconcerting, bittersweet feeling onto television before, and in such a sharply observed manner too. For that, the return of Elijah and a gloriously ridiculous dance number, “Beach House” inevitably gets 5 out of 5 stars! Certainly the best of the season thus far!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2014