The title of the latest episode of Girls, “Incidentals,” refers to the fringe benefits that Hannah (Lena Dunham) enjoys in her advertising position with GQ Magazine, which pays her a surprisingly comfortable wage to write pieces that occasionally require her to enjoy the luxuries of hotels (and presumably other services) otherwise out of her financial league. Girls has already observed that there’s an element of pretense to this job, which allows Hannah to write pieces that somewhat align with her pop-cultural interests, but in the context of indirectly selling products. As an amusing cameo by Patti LuPone illustrates, Hannah often resembles a jingle salesman. The perks of her job encourage another pretense: Hannah can live her fantasy of the life of the celebrity-venerated writer, if for just a sporadic night or two. This discovery coincides with Adam’s (Adam Driver) own victory, which could lead to a professional flowering theoretically less cloaked in compromise: He’s landed a role in a Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.
Hannah and Adam might not have quite “landed” yet, but a landing strip is certainly in view, and the most interesting portions of “Incidentals” concern their behavior as a couple beginning to taste the fruits of conventional bread-winning adulthood. Dunham and her collaborators resist the traditional, and often too easy, youthful judgment of adults choosing to settle down. Yes, they’re conforming to middle-class society, but that’s what they probably wanted to do all along (there are very few true radicals), and Girls deftly captures the romance and the relief to be found in allowing one’s heart and mind contentment. Adam and Hannah’s scenes together have always had a compelling particularity that’s truthful to the private realms we share with serious partners, but these duets have gained a newfound stature. They’re making a real go of commitment, and this episode’s final moment with Adam and Hannah joking around in the bathtub together is surprisingly intimate.
The episode’s title also figuratively alludes to the confusions that arise as we grow into adulthood and grapple with the fact that we don’t “find” ourselves at the same pace as our friends, and the resulting lifestyle gulfs, particularly financially, can make for overwhelming awkwardness and resentment. Elijah (Andrew Rannells) has a telling moment trying to insert himself into his fantasy of what Adam’s Broadway life will be. The ever-insufferable Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is eager to shed her college persona with little idea of what should arise in its place. More poignantly, Marnie runs into a glib acquaintance at a frozen yogurt parlor who boasts of her new art gallery in the showily conceited manner of someone who has always been able to afford to take their good fortune for granted.
The latter encounter leads to a key scene in which Marnie arrives at Ray’s (Alex Karpovsky) place with a pizza, venting about the frozen yogurt encounter, only to have Ray break up with her in a manner customary to self-conscious dudes. Ray wants “something real,” which is to say that he’s probably wary of getting into something that doesn’t readily conform to his idea of what a relationship should resemble. Ray’s already compromised professionally, having accepted that a life as a writer or an artist isn’t likely to work out monetarily. But he’s not ready to compromise similar notions he probably has of an ideal romantic union that’s rife in intellectual flattery and has a more explicit veneer of “seriousness.” What Ray appears to take infuriatingly for granted is that he and Marnie have chemistry as well as correspondingly wounded egos in need of a bit of respective massage. But unlike Adam and Hannah, he can’t adjust himself for an attempt at happiness, or he can’t adjust any more than he’s already adjusted in other compartments of his life.
This moment displays the quiet confidence that now routinely pervades what’s shaping up to be the best Girls season so far: There are no self-conscious shock effects. Ray isn’t bluntly made out to be an easy scapegoat, as we see the panic and the sadness under the self-absorption. This confidence also informs the show’s disconcertingly matter-of-fact treatment of Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) relapse when former rehab buddy Jasper (Richard E. Grant) tempts her into a coke binge, which leads to a heartbreaking moment when the pair steal money for drugs from the store where Jessa works. Jasper has, at least temporarily, swayed Jessa away from a potentially healthy life by appealing to her sense of herself as the uncontainable rebel, which is an often default rationalization for someone looking to return to a life of feeding destructive hungers that will never be satiated. The girls (and their guys) are getting older, and they’re learning a difficult lesson of adulthood with varying degrees of success: that happiness isn’t a privilege or a right, but a complicated series of social and biological contracts that require constant and careful revision.
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