G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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“A bunch of the guys on this show are losers.” That from my girlfriend as we watched Girls last night. Some didn’t find it all that substantial, but I thought it contained some very interesting exchanges and was one of the most entertaining episodes of the season-and-a-half that have aired thus far.
This season spent a couple of episodes hooking us on the storyline involving Hannah and her black Republican boyfriend. But this episode was just straight interaction between real people. No politics or anything.
My favorite character, Ray, has been dating David Mamet’s daughter for a while and took her virginity. He’s 33 and she’s 21, and he seems to be the most directly intelligent and honest and self-aware character on the show. But he expresses his insecurities. After an awkward dinner party involving Hannah and Marnie and her ex-boyfriend Charlie and his new girlfriend, Ray and Mamet’s daughter (named Shoshana on the show) figure out that they’re basically living together. He stays at her place seven nights a week. She’s freaked out because she didn’t realize it and she’s never moved so fast.
On a subway bench Ray displays his vulnerability. He’s basically homeless, and he was merely biding time until his new girlfriend figured out that he was a loser. And then he tells her he loves her. It shouldn’t be hard to think of a guy in his life position being frightened of losing something as promising, to him, as Shoshana.
The most interesting scene of the episode involved Jessa, the British world-traveling Mary-Kate-Ashely Olsen doppelganger free-spirit who recently married Thomas-John, a hedge fundie who apparently is one of the only guys to have made money during the economic downfall. Both attend dinner with his parents, and she tells of her heroin addiction and for the first time informs Thomas-John that she only attended Oberlin for a few months. She also mentions that she’s an atheist, and that seems to be a sore subject. She makes it clear that she’s just an unserious hipster type who seems to somehow come up with the finances to travel the world. But all through dinner we observe the interplay between the foursome.
The dad, played by Griffin Dunne, at least plays at being interested in Jessa’s tales. Either that or he’s attracted to her, and his wife is jealous. But the wife is appalled by her daughter-in-law, and Thomas-John seems only to be trying to explain away his new wife’s flippancy and hedonism to his mother. The mother subtly chastizes the father for being too relaxed about it and for giving his daughter-and-law too much slack for her indiscretion.
The scene hits on an interesting interplay. It seemed in that scene that the father perhaps played at caring about whether Jessa fell into line, but it was clear that it didn’t really concern him. The mother was depicted as the moralistic center, and everything flowed towards her. She, the mother, was basically the judge of Jessa. The father would kind of act according to how he felt he was supposed to act in accordance with his wife. So she was this moralizer, and when it got down to it the father didn’t really care but he kind of had to act like he cared that his daughter-in-law was a mess.
The scene reminded me of the ultimate generic father-child exchange: “don’t do such-and-such because it’ll upset your mother.”
The break-up scene between Jessa and Thomas-John was well-scripted. The relationship was a mismatch from “Go”, and the family dinner was the catalyst towards fate. Thomas-John got a majority of the upper hand, but he still came out the loser in a way that is very substantial to what seemed to be the theme of this episode. Though he basically hammered home to Jessa that she’s a spoiled hipster brat who is “munching on [his] hay,” he is still depicted as the loser. Jessa tells him that she tells her friends that he was a test-tube baby in order to add edge to his otherwise vanilla persona. If the show were predictable, Thomas-John would have taken the bait and sulked (as he did in our first encounter with him in the last season when he was upset that Jessa and Marnie weren’t giving him enough attention) and then immediately lost not only the argument within the show but also the audience. We expect the sharp-tongued Jessa to put Thomas-John in his place, but she doesn’t. He absorbs the blow, not just the verbal jabs but also the direct right she lands on his nose. He makes her an offer to leave permanently and he gets some verbal stingers in as well.
That exchange is multi-layered too. The very successful Thomas-John who proves his point to Jessa is still a loser on one level. Jessa is wayward and lost and a bored person looking for meaning, but she’s not that one thing: a loser. What this one episode reminds us of – for those of us who might have forgot – is that there is a double-standard surrounding this very strong word. Women cannot be losers, but men can. Even successful men can be losers, and there is this constant anxiety felt by men of all economic persuasions that they either are losers or will become losers.
What you see in this episode is men who feel deep, existential loserdom and women who feel temporary, superficial setbacks. We don’t know what happens to Thomas-John, and he might not ever be back on the show. Jessa is upset and goes to Hannah’s apartment and hops into the bathtub with her. She’s sad and is crying and blows a snot rocket into the tub. The show ends with the two flicking the snot back and forth at each other. Jessa’s existential crisis is over, and she will probably now live with Hannah. Thomas-John will continue being rich, but he’ll probably still wear the scar of his fight – and not just the one on his nose.