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Monday, February 4, 2013

Girls Captures the Best and Worst Extremes of Female Friendship in 30 Minutes

Posted By on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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Capturing the intimacy, the trust, and the unconditional love that exists between female best friends is something that television and film has always struggled to do effectively. There is an entire channel, in fact, almost solely dedicated to doing it poorly (*cough* -- Lifetime -- *cough*). So, the final scene of the fourth episode of Girls' second season wasn't just a tear-jerker, it was a breath of fresh air. 

The scene in question starts with Hannah, naked as usual, in the bath, wistfully but intently singing Oasis' "Wonderwall." Jessa, having just come from a blazing -- and bitchy -- row with her new husband, appears in the bathroom doorway, tearful and bedraggled. Seeing Hannah having such a sweet moment alone momentarily brings a tiny smile to Jessa's face. Hannah finally notices Jessa, screams, and goes to get out of the tub to comfort her clearly upset friend.

Jessa, bohemian as always mumbles: "No, don't get up," before undressing and quietly joining Hannah in the bath. Hannah watches her friend closely, confused, concerned, but unquestioning. Hannah's eyes grow sadder the longer she watches the pain on her best friend's face. Jessa, slowly breaks down into (extraordinarily realistic) sobs. As she tries to contain herself, shaking and covering her face with one hand, Hannah reaches out and holds the other one.

The only other time we've seen this kind of unerring female friend support portrayed so realistically was in the first Sex and the City movie (when Samantha gently spoon-feeds the morbidly depressed Carrie, after the latter was ditched at the altar of her high-profile wedding). Scenes done this well, and with this much understanding and experience, don't really require dialogue -- in fact, they benefit from keeping it at a minimum.

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Of course, this being Girls, right in the midst of Jessa's pain and Hannah's sympathy, Jessa, without thinking, blows her nose into her hand and washes it off in the tub. Hannah's puppy dog eyes immediately widen: "Jessa! You just snot-rocketed into the tub!" Jessa looks up, confused: "That was gross?" Of course it is, but so is climbing into your friend's dirty bath water, so we can see where she's coming from.

"I am sorry you're upset, but that is so gross," Hannah protests, half-smiling. "Not even I would do that. I pee into every bathtub I ever get into, but even I wouldn't do that. Honestly ... " The two collapse into giggles and suddenly there's a silver lining -- because men may come and go, but real best friends are forever.

The particularly interesting thing about Saturday's Girls episode (it aired a day early -- we assume to avoid Super Bowl madness) is that it also examined female friendship at its very worst. Sure, the love of a best friend might be ultimately enduring, but the rough patches can be bitchy, cruel, and completely isolating. For all the love she shows Jessa in this week's episode, Hannah treats Marnie worse than an outright enemy.

The root of this, of course, is the fact that Hannah found out last week that her gay ex-boyfriend, Elijah, and Marnie recently indulged in an odd sexual encounter. Hannah was so upset, she immediately charged over to the home of an (annoying) artist Marnie was sleeping with at the time, to yell at her that she was a bad friend. Then she threw Elijah out of the apartment they had been sharing.

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But Elijah gets off easy, compared with what Marnie deals with this week. Hannah decides to have a dinner party to celebrate her new writing position at JazzHate.com, so invites over Shoshanna and Ray, as well as Marnie's ex-boyfriend, Charlie and his current girlfriend Audrey. Oh, and Marnie as well, who goes over there with flowers and wine, probably thinking it's a way to let bygones be bygones after last week's fight. 

When Marnie arrives and sees Charlie and Audrey, she immediately goes to the bathroom. Hannah announces "I just invited her as a gesture. I did not think she would come. It is frankly psychotic of her to show up." Then, when Marnie emerges from the bathroom and suggests she leave to avoid an awkward situation, Hannah insists that she stay anyway. Any female that has ever been in High School recognizes acutely this abhorrent two-faced behavior. And, like the bath scene with Jessa, its low-key nature makes it startlingly realistic.

Things go from bad to worse when Audrey starts attacking Marnie about everything from her hosting job and her hatred of the word "butt-hole," to the fact that she's a "Stepford psycho" who has a tendency to show up in places where Charlie and Audrey are. Marnie, quite rightly, points out that she was invited to the dinner by Hannah. And Hannah immediately stabs Marnie in the back, in front of an entire table of people, by saying "I didn't think you'd show up when you'd so recently double-crossed me." It's agonizing to watch because Marnie is incredibly alone in the room and caught off guard. 

Hannah further puts in the book in when Audrey tells Marnie to leave and Marnie turns to her friend, in the apartment they used to share, and asks "Hannah, who would you like to leave?" obviously looking for a life-line. Instead of giving her one, Hannah says "Charlie can pick who leaves." Marnie tells Hannah to grow up and storms out. Understandably. This is what bullying really looks like.

So this week, Girls totally nailed the two extreme ends of the female friend spectrum -- both of which will be painfully familiar to any female over the age of 18 who happens to watch this show. Lena Dunham's writing this week was done with wisdom, subtlety, and insight. And after three weeks of amusing, but somewhat scattered, episodes, Girls once again hit its stride. We can only hope the rest of this season is shaped by observations that are this spectacularly on point.

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Rae Alexandra

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