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Girls: A Change of Scenery Makes a World of Difference

by Aly Semigran February 17, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Girls</i>: A Change of Scenery Makes a World of Difference

Vacation is good for everyone. It's good for me, it's good for you and it's definitely good for TV shows stuck in a rut that it desperately needs to get out of. A change of scenery doesn't just physically take you out of your elements, but it mentally does, too. Destination/getaway episodes are nothing new, but rarely are they used to re-set the course of a series. Typically it's just an excuse to have the characters get into whacky shenanigans in Hawaii or meet Mickey Mouse. But Girls went a different route with "Beach House" and didn't use their getaway as a break from the norm, but rather as a device to have a lot of underlying issues come to a head. Vacation episodes are usually a fun distraction, but this one felt like the first truly authentic, funny, interesting, and -- believe it or not -- emotional episode of this rocky, thus-far-unlikable third season. Girls has had success with getting the characters out of the city before. Case in point: "The Return" and "Video Games." Last night's "Beach House" makes them three for three. (Maybe they need to leave New York more often?)

The episode opens on Marnie organizing a picture-perfect weekend in a picture-perfect beach house in anticipation of the arrival of her friends who will, in no way, appreciate or want anything to be picture-perfect. Maybe she's the most naive of the bunch or just desperate to make things perfect (ding ding ding) but this was the first time I truly felt awful for Marnie, and that was before things even went downhill. This is someone desperate for love and approval and gratitude, and she is barking up the wrong trees with her friends.

It already gets off to a bad start when Marnie picks the girls up from the bus and Hannah is dressed like a maniac, Jess befriends an old couple she invites to the house and they all think they're in the Hamptons. (They're not; they're in North Fork, as Marnie snidely explains.) When they get to the house, there's a clamor to pick the best rooms, but Marnie has already assigned where everyone will sleep. Hannah is horrified to learn she'll be bunking right next to Marnie and they lie to each other and themselves when they say it will be fun and just like the old times.

The thing is, it actually is fun for a little while. At least, it was for us viewers. Rather than watching these girls behave like sociopathic alien creatures, we see them swimming and laughing and hitting each other with pool noodles like, you know, people. It was the most refreshing, authentic, relatable to see on this show in ages.

But after an ill-fated venture to the beach and to the grocery store (well for Hannah, anyway, who insisted on wearing a bikini and nothing else out in public), the dynamic changes when Hannah runs into Elijah and his boyfriend and two of their friends. Hannah and Elijah pretty quickly kiss and make up and she invites his gang over to their place so they can "save the day" and rescue her from the "psychopathic nightmare" that is Marnie. (Or, as Elijah hilariously described her, "A mean, skinny Miss Hannigan.")

Hannah's not exactly wrong that Marnie had been a lot to handle, but even more so at the beach. Rather than kick back and relax or go with the flow of having any other company (she only wanted people to admire them from afar on Instagram), Marnie had been insistent that the weekend be a time of healing for the four drifting pals. In fact, she had healing activities planned, including a dinner in which they would get all their feelings out on the table and bond. Sounds fun, right?

But rather than oblige Marnie, no matter how crazy it all sounded, Hannah went against her hostess' wishes and Elijah and Co. stormed the house. Marnie mostly stayed distant from the group as she prepared a dinner for four, but she and Elijah eventually made amends about their mistake. Elijah confides in Marnie that he is in love with his boyfriend, and poor Marnie recalls the whole tale of how Charlie dumped her. While we'd only heard bits and pieces before (so much emphasis on that damn grilled pizza), Marnie regaled the full horrible story about how Charlie told her he was going to propose, only to return hours later with a friend, packed all of his belongings and left her with these stinging words: "I don't love you and I've never loved you." Ouch. (Let this be a lesson to anyone who plans on leaving Girls like Christopher Abbott did: you will become a master-class villain.) But, even more telling than Elijah implying that Charlie was actually gay, was Marnie letting it slip that she's been hanging out with "old man" Ray. That has to come to a head soon.

The next few hours are spent practicing dance routines, skinny-dipping, drinking copiously and general bonding, but it's still not enough to soothe Marnie. When she asks Hannah to kick her friends out so they can have dinner, Hannah instead invites them all in. It goes as disastrously as imagined. They all relentlessly make fun of Marnie's small portions of duck, which really isn't fair considering she cooked dinner for a bunch of freeloaders and this is how they show their gratitude. Marnie might be annoying, sure, but at least she has manners.

"Dinner was supposed to be about honesty" Marnie complains, and with that, Shoshanna is set off. Shoshanna has become nothing short of a caricature this season -- a fast-talking cartoon of a Jewish cliché. But in one glorious, long-overdue moment, the show turned Shoshanna into a three-dimensional person who has way more to say than spouting pop culture references. Shoshanna is fun to laugh at and with, but rarely do you see her as a person with feelings or depth. (That's not the viewers' fault; that's how she's written.) But after being triggered, Shoshanna says what she -- and honestly, all of us -- have been thinking about her "friends."

"You're a fucking narcissist," she tells Hannah. "Seriously, I have never met anyone else who thinks their own life is so fucking fascinating." Hannah, of course, is unmoved by this, but it still needed to be said. With that, Shosh moved on to the new and "improved" Jessa ("You went to rehab for five seconds") and then dropped this hammer on Marnie: "You are tortured by self-doubt and fear and it's not pleasant to be around." Not only were her digs at her friends (she also described Hannah as "mentally ill and miserable") stunning, but when she stuck up for herself, she really packed a punch.

"You guys never listen to me, you treat me like I'm a fucking cab driver. You have entire conversations in front of me like I'm invisible. And sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me instead of having a bunch of whiny nothings as friends." Damn. If that's not the most compelling thing that's ever been said on this show, I don't know what is. Her friends call her "cruel" and "un-stimulating" after her explosion, but it's the most I've ever liked Shoshanna. When she said "I'm so fucking sick of all of you," she was speaking on behalf of herself and viewers sick to death of watching these smug, self-satisfied monsters.

All four go their separate ways after it all explodes into a conversation about their friendships as a whole. Hannah and Marnie fight that they never have any fun together and they both have no expectations of each other anymore. It's one of those fights that you can't turn back from, the kind that changes the course of a friendship.

But, for an episode that had a lot of scathing things to say, it was the silence that spoke the loudest. The next morning, after World War III, the girls all woke up, one by one, and without a word, began cleaning up the house. There was nothing left to say and the wounds were too fresh and feelings were too hurt. But it's also the surest sign of friendship -- that you can go through that, get up, and let the levity of it all sink in, rather than rub salt in the wound. The next scene finds the girls, still quiet, sitting and waiting for the bus to return them to their lives in the city. Hannah begins miming their dance routine from the weekend and each girl eventually joins in. Everything was going to be okay. It's the most I've liked these characters in a really long time. They seemed human and capable of feeling and, most of all, behaved exactly like someone their age would. It was a profound moment in how quiet and simple it was.

I certainly hope this is the direction the show is taking. Hannah declared in this episode that she's hell-bent on being herself and she's never going to change. But even she knew in those final few moments to stay quiet and reflective and let a moment in. I don't think these girls are going to become new people overnight, but maybe it will shift things a little. In addition to all that, I'm just glad Andrew Rannells and Elijah are back. After his doomed chat with his mean-spirited boyfriend (who didn't return "I love you"), it's a good bet Elijah will be hanging out with Hannah again soon, which is great because their banter is so funny ("I thought Spring Breakers was a beautiful blend of art and commerce") and their chemistry is so effortless. For a an episode that had a lot of heavy moments, Elijah and the beach were all reminders that, hey, these people are twenty-somethings and they can still be enjoyable, dammit.

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