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‘Girls’ Review: “It’s a Shame About Ray”

Girls Preview Its A Shame About Ray
HBO

This week’s episode of ‘Girls‘ (airing tonight thanks to the Superbowl) is titled “It’s a Shame About Ray,” and while that’s certainly accurate, it’s also kind of a shame about Jessa, too.

Those who have been a little agitated (as I have) with the lack of Jessa in the first batch of ‘Girls’ episodes this season will feel vindicated with tonight’s episode, but perhaps guiltily so. We finally pay a lengthy visit to the home of Jessa and Thomas John, who are preparing for Jessa to meet his parents for the first time. You can see Jessa’s flighty nature re-emerging as Thomas John urges her to be on time for dinner — the first indicator of bad things to come. Things start crumbling at dinner early when Jessa passive-aggressively expresses to Thomas John’s mother that she hates the restaurant, but she’s glad to be there for the meeting, but the real escalation comes not when Mother John accuses Jessa of being a gold-digger, but when Thomas John tries to defend her art and says that she’s thinking of getting into graphic design. You can see Jessa cringe at this man speaking for her and deciding her life, and for what? A basket of puppies (which were returned to the shelter, by the way) and days spent alone in a cozy condo, painting by herself? It’s not worth it.

Yes, there’s some part of Jessa that’s with Thomas John for the financial security (it would be unrealistic to say that even in real life financial security between couples isn’t a concern), but she’s never been one to rely on others for what she can do for herself. Jessa is the most head-strong and confident of the four ‘Girls,’ and while she may be just as adrift in the sea of life as the other women, she’s always been so sure of what she wants, even if it is just in the moment.

Watching Jessa and Thomas John argue is the centerpiece of the episode, and I found myself thinking I could watch an entire hour of their marriage falling apart because this scene is just so well-executed on all fronts — the writing, the lingering, intimately voyeuristic direction, and the acting from Jemima Kirke and Chris O’Dowd are all sublime this week. We knew this was coming; Jessa is too free-spirited and flighty to sit in Thomas John’s condo as if she’s just another award. But the other thing that struck me about this scene is just how right the two of them are about each other. Thomas John is just another adventure taken on a whim in Jessa’s traveler’s scrapbook, and Thomas John is a miserable, lonely guy who was never liked very much and tries too hard. When he tells her to name a price, we want to believe she couldn’t possibly take the offer — the stubborn, self-reliant Jessa doesn’t need the money when she has her dignity. But this show has never been interested in taking the sympathetic route. These are complex people with realistic tendencies, and Jessa kind of needs the cash.

One of the things ‘Girls’ does best is deliver these characters who are exceedingly flawed but almost impossibly empathetic. I empathized with every single character this week, from Marnie (finally) pulling it together enough to admit, with her chin up, that she’s lost and wishes that someone could just tell her how her life is supposed to go, to Audrey acting catty toward Marnie because she’s intimidated by her. Sure, Audrey is probably the least empathetic, but I think of her as the personification of all the things you’re saying in your head that you would never say out loud. It’s so hard when you’re dating someone who is still friends with their ex from a long-term relationship; it’s easy to feel threatened because they shared something special, and you feel as though you might never measure up, so you constantly play the comparison game. Audrey just gives into those catty inclinations that so many of us hold back.

There’s not much to say for Hannah this week, who’s still posturing herself as the girl who has it all together. Elijah leaves (boo!), leaving Hannah with an apartment full of nice things, so she decides to throw a liberation dinner party. She invites Marnie, though she swears she didn’t think she’d show up after hurting Hannah so recently, and when things get awkwardly aggressive during talk of butt-sex (of course Marnie’s trigger word is “butthole”), Hannah leaves it up to Charlie to decide who should leave. Hannah hasn’t been a great friend to Marnie, but she proves that she is a great friend to Jessa this week in one of the most beautiful moments this show has delivered so far: Hannah singing Oasis’ “Wonderwall” alone in her bath, when a tearful Jessa walks in, takes her clothes off, and the two sit in the tub together like little girls.

It’s a callback to the first episode of season one, when Hannah and Marnie were in the shower together, and Marnie refused to get naked in front of Hannah, even though they’d been best friends since college. Here, Jessa isn’t afraid to be naked in front of Hannah, emotionally or literally — so maybe Hannah isn’t a bad friend; maybe her relationship with Marnie is just toxic.

Of course, I can’t ignore the episode’s title and corresponding plot — poor Ray has been practically living with Shoshanna, only she doesn’t realize it until they’re at dinner with their friends and everyone is asking where Ray’s been living. As it turns out, he’s been living in his car when he’s not living with Shosh, but she assumes that he’s been using her because why wouldn’t he? She’s generous and naive, and she was a virgin before she slept with him. She’s an easy mark for an older guy like Ray, who meanders through life with no real plans or ambition, and no real financial responsibility. But Shosh loves Ray and works up the courage to say it, and the truth is, he loves her back. I think these two are going to be okay.

My heart broke for everyone this week — Jessa, who is living proof that you can take an idea of what your life should be and really live it, but it’s still just an idea, and it will fall apart; Marnie, who is living in a black hole of doubt and insecurity (and apparently dating Booth Jonathan now); Shoshanna, who is in love for the first time in her life, and whose heart will undoubtedly be broken for the first time, too; and Hannah, whose confidence is just cockiness in disguise, the illusion of which will soon crumble like bundt cake crumbs at her feet.

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