“She Said OK” suggests that Girls may be undergoing a tricky transition that somewhat accounts for the growing pains exhibited by last week’s two-part season opener. The series almost appears to be mutating into a spin-off of itself, in which the supporting characters are emphasized in a fashion that was once reserved solely for its four leading ladies. The episode is a great improvement over last week’s premiere, which is telling as half the girls barely appear in it. Instead, the majority of the episode utilized a series specialty: a party narrative that allows creator Lena Dunham and her collaborators to alternately ping pong through a variety of vignettes that are accompanied by a carefully selected mixture of past and present pop songs.
This kind of narrative has often yielded the show’s best episodes, as the pathos often sneaks up on you on the rebound as the punchlines begin to fade from memory. Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who’s evolved into one of the show’s most reliable founts of curt, pomposity-deflating laughs, had two lovely moments this week, both duets. The first was with his boss, Hermie (Colin Quinn), who left Ray in charge of his most recently opened coffee shop. Ray and Hermie discuss the ins and outs of business, with Hermie advising his protégé that management simply boils down to not hitting or “shtupping” anyone. Ray addresses Hermie’s apparently grave illness, advising the man that he can’t really care about him until he knows the specifics of his malady—a deceptively throwaway line that testifies to Dunham’s evolving talent for sentiment that honors (and parodies) the defensive verbal affectations of her characters.
Ray’s second significant moment, which tellingly occurs after his sad brush with Adam’s (Adam Driver) unhinged sister, Caroline (Gaby Hoffman), is more consciously and grandly dramatic. In an outburst that clearly amounts to confessing his love for her all over again, Ray tells his ex, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), that he’s incapable of going through the pretenses of friendship. Shoshanna, as is her wont, doesn’t get what Ray’s telling her, or doesn’t want to get it, though her pregnant look of loss and hurt is affecting.
The rest of “She Said OK” was decidedly bigger and broader than the moments devoted to Ray’s quiet, tormented introspection. Though played with a commanding sense of weirdness by Hoffman, Caroline may prove to be one of those place-keeper digressions that doesn’t amount to much, but she does coax out some refreshingly human uncertainty in Adam, who resents her for her neediness and her role in a variety of past familial traumas. So far, though, she’s a stale creation: the “free spirit” run amok whose freedom of spirit is actually dependent on the stability of others. This paucity of imagination also extended to Hannah’s editor, David (John Cameron Mitchell), who appeared this week for a brief, violent exchange with Ray that played against the stereotype of gay white men as fey and passively uptempo. David’s still amusing, primarily due to Mitchell’s superb timing, but these scenes were disappointing in comparison to the character’s often reliably sharp professional banter with Hannah (Dunham).
It was, of course, Hannah’s 25th birthday party that sent the various supporting characters colliding into one another, but she was less the focus than the glue holding the other plot strands together. It’s a role that afforded the character a becoming shade of modesty and, dare I say it, humility that seems to be expanding into the show’s entire modus operandi. This could be over-reaching (though, considering the show’s self-consciousness, probably not), but Girls seems to be deliberately challenging the insularity that once defined it. More and more often, we’re afforded glimpses of events the girls themselves can’t see, such as the various anecdotes between Ray and Hermie and David and Caroline. Dunham and company are beginning to heighten a pared visual scheme that subtly contrasts what’s being said with what’s actually happened, spinning drama and comedy from the disparity between the two.
This evolving perspective was never more explicit than in the moment where Marnie (Allison Williams) forces Hannah to sing a song from Rent despite the latter’s objection on the grounds that it’s her birthday and, well, she didn’t want to. Marnie has often been the target of the audience’s most concentrated ire (a fact that’s amusingly parodied with her appearance in a video leaked on YouTube by her ex), and her absurd musical show-boating has become a series staple, but it’s never been allowed to be as expressively sad as it was this week. Marnie is intolerably self-absorbed, but that’s more a symptom than a cause of her unhappiness, which seems to be shielded from her friends by her general air of insufferability. This character has been due a day of dramatic reckoning for some time, and the surprising empathy on display in this sequence suggests that it may not be too far off.
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