Episode 2.04- "It's a Shame About Ray"
Well, then. It took all of one week for my theory about Lena Dunham’s complicity in the obnoxiousness of her show to be tested in the most extreme fashion imaginable. Girls closed its episode on Saturday night with a scene in which Hannah, sitting in her Cronenbergian bathtub, serenades herself quietly with “Wonderwall.” Ever heard of “Wonderwall”? It’s only the most irritating song of the last twenty years, reduced to such a cultural joke that I almost feel hacky for even pointing out how lame it is. When I heard the instantly recognizable acoustic chord progression fading in over the credits of Saturday’s episode, I visibly recoiled in horror, shocked by the sheer gall of the most hateloved show on television deploying the most lovehated song in any given Millenial’s (still hate that term) iTunes library—especially after an episode so chock-full of fighting and whining and drrrrrr-ama! But there it was. They played “Wonderwall.” And it therefore seems I must go all-in on my claim about these showrunners. They can’t possibly be so tone-deaf as to nonironically use that song. They know how their viewers will react, and they’re just really comfortable with pushing our buttons.
And man did they push my buttons during this episode. On one level, I really love the way “It’s a Shame About Ray” breaks down into four discrete examinations of a single idea—untenable power imbalances in relationships—because it’s a formula that Girls does well. At its best, the show uses sharp writing and character work to prop up multiple interwoven considerations of a single complex idea. Observe Hannah and Elijah’s hilarious bickering to open the episode (pecans on a burrito? Seriously?), or the violent, totally predictable eruption between Jessa and Thomas-John, or the theatrical push and pull between Marnie and Charlie, or the devastating confessions exchanged between Ray and Shoshanna. At issue in these spates are, respectively, betrayal, money, lingering romantic attachment, and money again.
In some cases, the characters with the upper hands behave diplomatically (Hannah’s unwillingness to dismiss Marnie, Shoshanna’s efforts to comfort Ray), and in other cases the stronger parties administer utter beatdowns (Hannah’s cold-as-ice eviction of Elijah, Thomas-John’s unnecessarily harsh but partially accurate dismissal of Jessa as a “whore with no work ethic,” Marnie’s hot-then-cold rejection of Charlie’s advances on the roof), but each interaction is held up against its fellows for consideration in a way that is both subtle and illuminating. The characters all seem to simultaneously realize that the most frightening possibility in an imbalanced relationship isn’t being too powerful or too weak, but being unwilling to rectify the imbalance. It takes some grace to relinquish some control for the sake of the person you love, and it takes even more to admit that you need your partner’s help.
Unfortunately, these characters sometimes have an uncanny ability for converting scenes of crackling confrontation into groaners. I’m thinking of the cringe-worthy exchange between Charlie and Marnie on the roof, which I wanted to end as soon as it began. I don’t care about these two, and I’m not rooting for or against them, and the reason is simple: they’ve never actually been in a happy relationship together once on this show. They’ve been unhappy with each other since the first episode! Yes, there was a flashback in season one to their meet-cute, but even that was used to highlight how far they’d fallen. Charlie’s weird, parting nut-grab and insistence that Marnie will never get “any of this” again was Dry-Heave Theater at its finest, and it’s exactly the sort of embarrassingly childish behavior I’ve come to expect from these two characters.
I was also irritated by the dinner table provocations from Audrey, which do a great job of creating an awkward situation, but don’t really cover any new ground between the two characters. Yes, Marnie is irredeemably hung up on Charlie, but she’s been overtly rude to Audrey on multiple occasions without this thing ever blowing up, so why now? The primary thing that gave Audrey power over Marnie was her ability to brush the whole thing off and just live her happy new life with Charlie, but now that she’s lost her composure, Marnie rightly feels like she can fuck with the other two. I guess that’s necessary if the show wants us ’shipping Char&Mar4eva, but yuck. Save that shit for The Carrie Diaries.
I think what I really dislike, though, is having to touch upon the most recent fights every time I discuss the newest episode of Girls. I understand that these characters are emotionally stunted in many ways, but it can sometimes be exhausting to watch them stomp and yell at each other as their simmering resentments come to a head again and again. On occasion, it can begin to feel like a good friend yammering incessantly about their roommate or family issues, and I sometimes want to slap the characters in this show and tell them to get a life. But then again, I guess that’s the point of Girls. These people have no lives, not yet, and they’re not even all that desperate to get some. The lone exception in this episode is Ray, who seems to be utterly depressed about being 33 (!) and having nothing of value to his name (besides a signed picture of Andy Kaufman, which is of course priceless). As disarming as it was to see Ray break down and confess his love for Shoshanna, I couldn’t help but be a little wary of his sudden tenderness in the presence of his hesitant new domestic partner. My suspicion might be the product of some ambiguous deliveries by Alex Karpovsky, but I think it’s more that I’ve come to expect the worst from these characters. They’re manipulative little shits more often than not. Ray could be up to something. I don’t know.
Or maybe I’m just not sure what to do with an episode of television that takes its title from a Lemonheads album but plays “Wonderwall” over its closing credits.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon
minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.