“Close-Up” begins with a tender portrait of romantic devotion that the episode slowly, cunningly upends. Waking up next to Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs) in her exquisitely adorned loft apartment, Adam (Adam Driver) tucks in his still-slumbering lover and prepares for her a breakfast of Goop-level refinement: a rustic loaf of bread, an assortment of cheeses, matching mugs of coffee. As he arranges the plates for an al fresco meal on the terrace, the Zombies sing about romantic exceptionalism: “Can’t nobody love you like I’m loving you, baby/’Cause they don’t know how to love you like I do.” In addition to presenting Adam’s new relationship as more idyllic than anything he ever experienced with Hannah (Lena Dunham), the scene reasserts his role as caretaker; as in his previous relationship, he’s the patient nurturer, and his beloved is the beneficiary who receives his singular dedication with gratitude.
But as it turns out, Mimi-Rose isn’t as reliant on him as he thinks. Early in the episode, she matter-of-factly mentions that she had an abortion the day before, and Adam is horrified that she didn’t consult with him first. Her unilateral decision challenges his idea of romantic love as a partnership built on both agreement and dependence: “Don’t you need me at all?” he asks later. She candidly replies that she doesn’t, but that that doesn’t diminish her affection for him: “Wanting you like this, that’s better than needing you, because it’s pure.” For her, dependence implies necessity, and the strongest relationship is one rooted in deliberate choice. When she admits to Adam that she pretends to be asleep in the morning so he’ll tuck her in, the opening scene gains an entirely new resonance, toppling Adam from the pedestal on which he’d implicitly placed himself and endowing Mini-Rose with a greater agency than initially seemed apparent. No longer the gallant gentleman to a reverent damsel, Adam acquiesces to her notion of companionship, and he continues to tuck in his not-sleeping beauty during a closing montage appropriately set to El Perro del Mar’s “God Knows,” which rebuts the Zombies’ notion of devoted singularity in favor of a more symmetric (though no less self-sacrificing) version of romance: “You gotta give to get.”
“Close-Up” is largely about the gap that exists between our own perceptions and those of the people close to us. Though Adam and Mimi-Rose are able to tentatively bridge that gap, other characters have more difficulty. The episode’s title alludes to the focused portraits of intimacy it presents, but it’s also the name of the cloying ballad Marnie (Allison Williams) wrote and recorded with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and which becomes the source of their own perceptual impasse. Desi sees the song as a departure from their characteristic style (“modern American folk with an indie edge”), while Marnie maintains it’s a perfect embodiment of that style (“She and Him, but with actual romance”). Shocked that his partner could conceive of their output in such twee terms, Desi asks exasperatedly, “How can we have completely different takes on the same band that we are both in?”—a succinct encapsulation of the episode’s own interests.
Those interests find their most unexpected expression in Hannah’s storyline. Adrift now that she’s without a boyfriend or a life plan, she decides rather impulsively that her calling is to “help people,” the sort of vague ambition her friends greet with skepticism: “Hannah, you’re the most selfish person we know,” chirps Elijah (Andrew Rannells). “You won’t even share a Kit-Kat.” Despite that bemused hostility, Hannah perseveres with her newfound conception of herself as an altruist, and by the episode’s end, she’s interviewing for jobs as a teacher. It’s an abrupt decision that puts her life (and the season’s arc) on an entirely new path, but it mercifully spares us the sort of rote soul-searching that might have otherwise stalled her storyline. And in positioning her as a do-gooder, it challenges our own perceptions of Hannah as well. Elijah’s view may represent the majority opinion of our protagonist, but Girls excels at undermining the expectations we bring to its characters; what’s thrilling about Hannah’s epiphany is that it might prove true.
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