Halfway through each of the first two seasons of Girls, we got a “special episode”. In both “The Return” and “One Man’s Trash” we say goodbye to Shosh, Marnie, and Jessa, and follow Hannah around for a special vignette. Both episodes feature Hannah outside of her normal Brooklyn twentysomething world. Whether she’s back home in Iowa or fucking Patrick Wilson in his beautiful Brown Stone, these adventures forced her to look at her life from an outside perspective, without the influence of the other girls.
“Beach House” is the inverse of those episodes. Hannah’s spent so much time dealing with her career and her new relationship with Adam that quality time with the girls has gone to the wayside. Other than at her twenty-fifth birthday party, this is the first time we’ve seen all four girls together this season. So stranding the four of them together in the Hamptons (sorry, not the Hamptons) and forcing them to deal with their feelings is season three’s equivalent of a special episode. Actually, Marnie is the one forcing everybody to deal with their feelings, having borrowed her mother’s friend’s beach house for the express purpose of this emotional rehab.
Marnie’s fall from grace has been one of my favorite character arcs on Girls. When we first met Marnie, she was the one who had everything going for her: she had a fancy job as a New York gallery assistant, she made rent on time, and the only problem with her incredibly kind boyfriend was that he was too incredibly kind. Compared to her roommate, Hannah, she was clearly the one coming out on top. Once she moved out of their apartment at the end of season one, the dominos began to fall quickly. She lost her job, had an affair with a deluded artist, and performed the most awkward rendition of a Kanye West song at an office party ever. Whether or not her attempts at reclaiming her former glory this season are working (I still don’t know what to think of her and Ray), it’s clear that this plot of forced female bonding was never going to materialize the way she had planned.
Being an avid Real Housewives viewer, Marnie should have known better. Relocating everybody to a more luxurious location and confronting old demons never works. Marnie and Hannah haven’t been alright with each other since they stopped living together and it’s possible that Marnie just wanted to rekindle those old days. After all, she was still at her best when she had Hannah to dance to Robyn and eat cupcakes in the shower with. All they have to do is sit around a table, eat duck, discuss their problems like true female friends, and prove to the world, via Instagram, that they’re all alright.
But then, thank God, Elijah shows up. I was all ready to watch Marnie’s healing session blow up in her face all on its own, but bringing in Elijah and three of his friends was a stroke of genius. All it takes is a sincere-ish apology to not only restore Elijah to friend level in Hannah’s eyes, but elevate him to Special Beach House Confidant. The two exes plunge right back into their friendly/bitchy repartee, mostly as a defense mechanism against Marnie’s control issues. The collision of the two groups result in a fun, chaotic party atmosphere fueled partly by alcohol but mostly by the mere presence of new people. Hannah, Jessa, and Shosh dive right into the more easy-going atmosphere and even Marnie seems to come around for a while, dancing along to Elijah’s friend’s choreography. When everybody’s together, everybody’s happy, but divide up the groups into smaller pairings and the truth comes out. We cut around the house to individual scenes of the girls and the gays interacting, often talking about one other with brutal honestly: Pal complains to Hannah about Elijah’s laziness; Marnie calls Hannah’s dancing “disgusting” in front of Elijah; Paul and Elijah roll their eyes at their friend’s repetitive dancing. It’s a really smart detail to have all these scenes taking place within the setting Marnie had established for healing. You could know somebody for eight years and never tell them what you truly think of them, but meet a new batch of fun people you might sorta like, and you’ll start using them as emotional proxies after a few drinks. Hannah and Marnie have a quick healing session before dinner but anyone who knows either of those girls should be able to tell that everything is not fixed.
On a purely visceral level, I loved the climactic confrontation. Zosia Mamet is the secret ingredient of Girls, able to be thrown into any scene, instantly making it better. I didn’t expect Shoshanna to be the catalyst for the fight for the exact reason she was so: she’s the fourth wheel. (I know that fourth wheel doesn’t sound as lonely as third wheel, but it works here.) Watching the other girls react to Shosh’s drunken ranting was delightful. Hannah expects Marnie to be uptight because she is. Marnie expects Hannah to be narcissistic and stubborn because she is. Everybody expects Jessa to be flighty and tirelessly contrary because…well, actually, Jessa is on pretty good behavior here. Maybe sobriety is actually working for her. But nobody expects Shosh to be anything. They expect her to tag along and throw in some comedic millennial bon mot to punctuate their “real conversations”.
The reason for her anger is also the reason it’s a bit weird that she’s there in the first place. Marnie desperately wants the four of them to heal so that they can go back to the care-free Girl Power days of a few years ago—but nobody knew Shoshanna a few years ago. She’s Jessa’s cousin and Jessa barely knew her. We’ve never really understood why Shosh kept hanging out with these people, but maybe now we have the answer. Originally, she was the younger virgin, the one who looked up to these girls with four to five years more experience than her. But now it’s season three and she’s sown her wild oats and decided that maybe she doesn’t want to become “plagued by self-doubt” like Marnie or “mentally ill” like Hannah. Marnie asked for honesty, and she got it in droves from Shoshanna. The problem is, it’s not the white washed honesty mixed with occasional compliments Marnie was expecting, especially from her. Hannah and Marnie are so thrown off that they start defending each other, but nothing’s left to salvage after Shosh lets her true feelings be known.
(I loved how after the blow up, we quickly cut to the other group’s problems. First, Elijah fails to communicate his dissatisfaction with Pal, and then Gerald tells Paul he’s not talented. “I spent $80,000 on a Theater BFA. Of course, I’m talented,” was my biggest laugh of the episode.)
I couldn’t decide if the final dance was optimistic or not, but I’ve learned to stop guessing with Girls. They’re going through the motions without much enthusiasm, but why even try if they think there’s nothing left between them. Maybe because they’ve been conditioned to believe that that’s what friends do. Maybe because they truly care about one another. Probably because they don’t have anybody else to dance with.