It’s the week of #SXSW. I frantically roam the streets of Austin, tweeting about many exciting new #innovations and wondering when I’ll finally get around to watching and reviewing the most recent Girls episode. “Don’t tell me anything about it,” I warn the innumerable strangers who come seeking my opinion of the episode. “I haven’t seen it yet.” I go home at night, lock the door, disconnect my phone, and avoid internet recaps. I attempt to sleep the week away. One night, though, impossibly, as I lie suspended between the waking world and the realm of dreams, a desperate, ruffled, magical blackbird flies in through an open window and wheezes a question in my ear:
And so it was that I came to watch “On All Fours” with the knowledge that I was going to have to make a determination about whether one of my favorite characters rapes someone in this episode. It was a strange way to view something for the first time, as my advance knowledge of the controversy made me tense up whenever Adam and Natalia appeared in the frame. What I didn’t expect—what I couldn’t have expected—was that every single storyline of this episode would be chock-full of squirm-inducing moments, even to the extent that Adam’s bizarre sexual encounter wasn’t even the most uncomfortable event in this half hour. “On All Fours” is the ballsiest cringe-humor effort yet by Girls, using a series of unwanted advances, interrogations, and intrusions—Marnie’s surprise “performance” at Charlie’s work “party,” Ray’s persistent needling of a guilt-ridden Shoshanna, Hannah’s OCD-fueled Q-tip lobotomy, and, yes, Adam’s unwelcome cumshot—as the glue that holds the episode’s many plots together.
First, because it has to happen at some point, let’s deal with the Marnie-Charlie thing. Marnie has obviously been bothered by the fact that Charlie is a hotshot #app dude for weeks now, so it isn’t surprising that she confronts him about—OMG—breaking a lunch date. When he pityingly invites her to a work party (celebrating 20,000 monthly average users, or MAUs, for the #app), he unwittingly sets the stage for phase two of Marnie’s four-thousand-phase plan to “win” their breakup. In phase two, she records a weird cover of Kanye West’s “Stronger,” brings it to the party, and performs it live, awkwardly, in front of a roomful of annoyed strangers. Does her transparent effort at impressing Charlie backfire, as it surely should? No. They fuck. I lose interest. Then it occurs to me that Ray helped Marnie record that track earlier with the knowledge that it would function as a super shitty party bomb, and the scene becomes much funnier and more interesting to me. Marnie, it might be said, rudely invades the ears of her fellow partygoers with her terrible taste in music.
As for Ray, he’s becoming increasingly concerned about Shoshanna’s weird behavior, and with good reason. I’ve never been too crazy about Zosia Mamet’s anxious jibber-jabber routine, but it functions perfectly in this episode as a series of mannerisms exhibited by a guilty person. She can’t look Ray in the eye or give him a straight answer. She constantly turns his questions back on him. And Ray can see her discomfort for what it is. Shoshanna is clearly worried about their relationship. It seems her little fit of “hand holding” with the doorman has prompted her to reevaluate whether she wants the limited range of benefits that a relationship with Ray can offer. Being the insecure mess that he is, Ray preempts any breakup Shoshanna might attempt by asking her point-blank whether she’s tired of him. Her halfway confession of her little dalliance is immediately forgiven by Ray, who, in my opinion, didn’t exactly read it for what it was. I mean, maybe he’s more perceptive (and eminently more forgiving) than I would ever be, but it seems perfectly likely that Shoshanna actually would get upset by having held hands with another man. Of course, Ray’s self-worth is kind of in the tank, so maybe he understands and is okay with Shoshanna’s infidelity. But enough about this. Ray, it might be said, aggressively probes Shoshanna’s mind until he provokes the intended reaction from her.
This episode’s most queasifying sequence, at least from my perspective, was the whole Hannah arc. It’s immediately clear that the show is running with the OCD development, which has led in a very short amount of time to many harrowing scenes of Hannah counting her tics in groups of eight as she moves sleepily from errand to errand. Unsurprisingly, her book isn’t in good shape. Her editor/mentor/publisher is very clear about how much he hates her new, serious, probably autobiographical angle, preferring instead the “adventures of a #Millenial in the dating world” vibe of her earlier work (hmm, I wonder if this could be a commentary on the criticisms leveled at Girls, but, you know, that’s just not worth our time when we could be getting angry about rape instead), telling her specifically that if she isn’t getting laid, she should start making it up. Later, Hannah is scooting around on the floor of her unlit, Jessa-free apartment when a splinter, it might be said, violently penetrates her ass cheek. She goes to the bathroom to remove it, and, while she has her extraction tools out, she decides to clean her ear with a Q-tip. In a painful moment for the viewer, her obsessive swabbing pushes deeper and deeper until—yicky—she seems to puncture her eardrum.
This OCD shit is getting real, folks, and it seems to be directly linked to Hannah’s new status as an Actual Writer. The heightened awareness of her own twitches, the incessant prodding of her own body, and the habit of closing herself off to the world within her apartment are all, arguably, the physical manifestations of a writer’s tortured mental state. But more important for the purposes of this episode is the following observation: Hannah, it might be said, forcibly pierces her own inner ear.
So here we are, with nothing left to talk about besides the Adam situation. The bare bones of the event: Adam resumes drinking in this episode in an effort to have a pleasant, “normal” night out with Natalia. By chance, he runs into Hannah outside the party, which throws him off his game. He recognizes that she’s not doing well without him, and it probably occurs to him that they make a good match specifically because their weaknesses and strengths as people align nicely (compare this to his relationship with Natalia, which is basically him acting normal in an attempt to appeal a normal person). Later, Natalia comes to his home and complains about how dirty his apartment is, and then he makes her crawl on all fours across the floor and into his bed. Then he has sex with her from behind before coming on her breasts, which she explicitly asks him not to do.
Adam, it might be said, debatably rapes Natalia. She didn’t really like what he was doing to her while he was doing it, and although she didn’t exactly tell him to stop, he still knew that he was at least pushing the limits of her comfort zone. It’s obviously intended to be a gray area. It puts an otherwise likeable character in a morally compromised position, and it makes us wonder how much we should identify with him. Cue thoughtful, civil discussion about what this means for the character’s development and the show’s tone.
Just kidding! Cue instead a bunch of think pieces that discuss the definition of rape. Look, I’m torn here. Lena Dunham knew what she was doing when she put alcohol into these two characters and refused to have one of them utter the word “no.” We’re supposed to wonder about whether or not what Adam did was acceptable. But we’re not supposed to obsess over it. On the other hand, there was just no avoiding the issue with this week’s episode. At least, there wasn’t after I waited a week to watch it. Although I feel this show would be better served by a clearer focus on its thematic elements, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the pervasive, incessant criticism of its characters’ actions. Especially when a mystical wild blackbird (or the pit of eternal shrieking that is television blogging) imperiously shoves it in your face all of the goddamn time.
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.