Like a Jane Austen novel, Girls seems obsessed lately with pairing its main characters up with long-term mates, but the romance is mostly a smokescreen for the show’s—especially this season’s—main focus: the slow, often painful crawl toward emotional maturity. As in Austen’s work, making a good romantic match on Girls is just one of the more easily dramatized rewards of gaining enough self-knowledge to know what you want and enough self-discipline to make the sacrifices to get it. Several key characters make progress toward earning their relationship stripes in “Old Loves,” with Elijah (Andrew Rannells) leading the way with all the sparkly delight of a drum major.
Even Marnie (Allison Williams), that toughest of nuts, is starting to soften up, emerging as an empathetic voice of reason by the end of the episode. She starts off in her customary tight-jawed and gimlet-eyed mode, first indignant at being shunned by a series of pissed-off neighbors and then full of righteous anger as she dumps all over Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) for walling off part of her apartment to create a separate bedroom. To be fair, it does look like Desi’s construction job is creating some claustrophobically tight spaces, and it’s indeed boneheaded to do something that drastic to an apartment without consulting the owner. But Marnie’s reaction to her own initial reaction is a whole different order of magnitude: not just understandable, but understanding.
When she apologizes to Desi for yelling at him, we learn—as she may be learning too—just how insecure and self-loathing he is. That discovery throws his posturing and fear of commitment into a new light, but it could easily have inspired scorn and more vitriol from the old Marnie, who could never seem to forgive her ex beau, Charlie, for the sin of loving her. But new Marnie soothes Desi lovingly, assuring him that he only feels self-loathing because she made him feel bad about himself. “I pick at people, and I don’t know why,” she says, in a rare and welcome moment of self-awareness.
Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam (Adam Driver) make progress too. These two may be headed for trouble, but after resisting the urge to sleep with Adam because she’s sure Hannah would be hurt, Jessa’s decision to go for it leaves us to guess at her reasons. Maybe she decided her old friend doesn’t deserve her loyalty; after all, Adam claims Hannah would never have held back if their positions were reversed, and Hannah accuses her of being a “a total cunt.” And maybe she’s right, and Jessa’s version of self-knowledge is the realization she needs to break with Hannah and get together with Adam. Adam and Jessa certainly appear to be a good match, even shrugging off an awkward first love-making attempt by laughingly and trying new positions until they find out that works.
Hannah (Lena Dunham), however, still seems stubbornly resistant to such self-enlightenment. She continues to behave wildly inappropriately at work, interrupting Fran’s (Jake Lacy) class to insist he apologize to one of her students for marking up her poem in a way Hannah disapproved of. The awkward encounter leaves everyone involved—including the poor young poet—enraged or profoundly uncomfortable. As voice-of-reason Marnie warns her, “People who work it out stay together.”
Like Shosh (Zosia Mamet) and Yoshi in last week’s “Japan,” Elijah and the hunky Dill Harcourt (Corey Stoll) keep starry-eyed romance alive. Their first date is to a hot restaurant in the theater district, where Elijah gets to meet some of Dill’s famous friends before walking with him through the buzzy neon of Times Square, stopping for a long kiss while the camera circles slowly around them. It’s a cliché, but it works, giving Elijah and Dill’s relationship the patina of a classic Hollywood romance. Uncharacteristically for this usually acid-tinged series, the scene is cornily earnest, practically bursting with optimism, like a flare sent up by the show’s creators to light the way for their ever-evolving girls and boys.
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