Feb 21, 2014

TV Recap: Girls - "Beach House"

Left to right: Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke,
Lena Dunham, and Allison Williams
Welcome back to the TV Recap column for the Golden Globe-winning HBO series Girls. Join me as I capture the exploits of the Lena Dunham-penned series as it ventures through another season of scandal, accidents, and life in general. Will it be another great season for the Tiny Furniture director and her growing cast of friends? Tune back every Friday to find out more.

If there is a sense of any change happening on Girls, it is that the incarnation from season one has changed vastly since this point at season three. Even when we met the characters, it seemed like there was a strange unity that didn't always make sense. They were together, but slowly fell apart, following their own lives and going into strange territories. In fact, season three has amplified this fact by having the main group be together in entirety once. That is, until "Beach House," in which a trip to a place near the Hamptons quickly turns sour as the pondering of what has happened since they last gathered as a group comes to surface and leaves with one of the most satisfying moments in the season so far.
The episode begins with Marnie (Allison Williams) prepping a beach house that she is borrowing from her relatives in order to rekindle the relationships she shares with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), and Jessa (Jemima Kirke). Marnie's goal is to hopefully patch up the fact that they haven't spent much time together by doing a methodically planned out weekend that involves sharing secrets and posting pictures on Instagram to demonstrate that they still are the fun loving people that they always have been.
Marnie meets everyone at the bus stop, where Jessa wants to invite over an orthodontist that she met on the bus. Marnie states plainly that she doesn't want any outsiders to interfere with their time in the area outside of the Hamptons. From the moment that they arrive at the beach house, things go awry as nobody wants to take the beds that are assigned to them. Even when they head down to the beach, things aren't entirely going to plan, as Hannah has forgotten her swimming sandals. Jessa suggests that they later play games that she learned in A.A., which Marnie agrees to as she wades through huge waves in the water.
Later on, they decide to stop by the store to pick up food for their dinner. Hannah decides to not change out of her bikini, as she believes that she is in a beach town. While waiting outside of a place that won't let her in barefoot, she runs into Elijah (Andrew Rannels), who is there with his gay friends Pal (Danny Strong), Gerald (T. Oliver Reid), and Paul (Chris Wood). After a quick discussion about Marnie's obsession with control, Hannah inadvertently invites them over to the beach house. Elijah apologizes for the tumultuous past that they had and is even regretful of the time he had sex with Marnie.
Lena Dunham
As expected, Marnie is not happy with this. While everyone parties in the outside patio, Marnie talks to Hannah about the guests and her displeased demeanor. Hannah claims that they overpowered her. One thing leads to another and soon Elijah is apologizing to Marnie about their past and later asking Hannah for advice on how to make a move on Pal, who is a little ornery. There's drinking and a lot of excitement to be had, especially with Gerald being the choreographer behind the "Kinky Boots" viral campaign. He teaches everyone the dance and it becomes the hit of the party.
During dinner, Marnie is disappointed to notice that she now has a table with four naked gay men partaking in a meal she had bought for four people. Everyone makes fun of her and Shoshanna claims that she doesn't like the duck that is being served. When Marnie tries to defend herself, she just gets laughed at and is soon repressing anger about her failed attempt at a chance to understand her friends a little better.
When everyone celebrates a post-dinner performance of the "Kinky Boots" dance number, Marnie's initial decision is to critique the failings of the execution. One thing leads to another and soon everyone is yelling at each other about different things. Shoshanna is exceptionally vocal in calling everyone out for ignoring her. Hannah undermines her by calling her not an intellectual. Shoshanna claims that Jessa's "wisdom" is overrated and a little grating. Hannah claims that Marnie is a little too controlling and has some unwarranted expectations. Shoshanna claims that Hannah is the most egocentric person that she has ever met. In a sense, Marnie admits that this is what she wanted to get out of the way at dinner, but ends up accepting it when it opens a lot of repressed feelings.
After the conversation, things mellow out. Elijah is having sex with Pal after coming to terms with Hannah's somewhat unlikable nature. When the girls wake up in the morning, they notice the wreck and get ready to leave. As they wait for the bus to arrive, they sit by the peer and practice the dance routine from "Kinky Boots" in silence, showing some strange connection that overpowers their recent kerfuffle.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

While I will admit that I enjoy that this episode is the closest that we've come to a tangent episode this whole season, it is also one that becomes immediately striking. Marnie wants to address issues that are similar to those that viewers have had all season. The most notable of which is that Marnie has been absent from everyone else's lives and that she wants to be the one to reunite the gang in a triumphant, fun weekend that reeks so much of OCD that nobody quite knows how to do it right. She wants answers to what everyone has been doing, and this is essentially the episode where she gets those answers on top of losing her control over the group. 
That is to argue that she ever had control over the group. Since Charlie dumped her the second time, she has felt like a nonexistent character. Besides the relationship with Ray, which seems adamantly hackneyed in some ways, she hasn't had a whole lot of anything to do this whole season. This episode was her moment to fix that, and clearly everyone else has spent so much time together that they just want to have fun and live it up. If there's a bunch of gay guys getting rowdy simultaneously, who cares? Marnie does, though it comes from the sense that she has felt excluded this whole time. Whether that is her fault or not is debatable. If the Marnie/Hannah dynamic could withstand the season one break-up that was their apartment, then anything is possible.
Then there is Elijah, who has been absent for an even longer amount of time. This is most notably referring to that time when Marnie had sex with him and caused Elijah to be kicked out of Hannah's apartment. Maybe the rescinding time had to do with Rannell's recent success outside of Girls with the temporary hit The New Normal (now cancelled) and the stage musical "The Book of Mormon." These are all legitimate reasons that lead to fear that he would never come back. In this episode, he seems to be just as clueless as Marnie, and that's what makes it delightful. While neither are attracted to each other, the tension between the two not only for their failed relationship but over their purpose for being there makes the sparks fly and Marnie a loose cannon.
As a whole however, the episode wasn't a particularly strong episode prior to the third act. While it allowed us to catch up with Elijah, it did feel like the episode was more set on having a good time. With everyone drinking and skinny dipping, it didn't seem like much of anything would happen but to have comedy rooted in Marnie's failure. Despite not having much issue with Hannah's body image for most of the series to date, the bikini did get tiresome, as almost everyone else had multiple wardrobe changes. It could add to the delightfully clueless ensembles that she always wears, but it also felt like an unintentionally aggressive way to suggest that fat girls wear bikinis, too and that we should all deal with it. It felt like a gag after awhile that unlike the sparing nudity, was lingered on for ridiculous amounts of time.
It is in the third act that the story actually picks up. The episode starts with Marnie's plea for everyone to ventilate and have a good time. She gets the latter immediately, but can't stand when her former doesn't show up. Of course, it doesn't come in the way that she wants. The truth telling is spread out in intimate moments, predominantly in the second half in which Elijah opens up about his feelings towards Hannah and Marnie. He is the most honest character up to that third act, despite essentially insulting Marnie's cooking for being a drunken and unwelcome house guest.
During that conversation, which elevates the rest of the episode, we get a strong sense of where these characters are at. It is true that most of them have been together in some capacity in the past, but not in the gang of four. The claws are out and everyone gets to have their moment in which nobody comes out looking saintly. It is a conversation that builds on top of itself and thanks to alcohol's gift of candid honesty, allows Shoshanna to steal the show by proving her intellect, which had been repressed prior. She has seemed like the dumb character by the standards of Hannah's perception, but let us not forget that she is the one struggling with school as of the last episode. She may be disorganized in some ways, but she has a lot of intelligent things to share.
The notable genius of this conversation is that it practically ends without a resolution. Everyone goes to bed without ever once considering their words as strict fact. Nobody is going to remove them from the friends circle. In fact, this whole season has felt like an extension of the "girl code" presented in the aptly titled "Truth or Dare" episode. In some ways, the connectivity is uncanny, as Shoshanna even does a callback to the episode with the quote "Telling the truth is fun." 
Even if the episodes don't always have groundbreaking truths, there's always a sense of honesty that is developing in these characters. Hannah's perception of death in "Dead Inside" comes from honesty provided by Caroline. Ray's honesty towards Marnie in "Free Snacks" allows Marnie to grow. This show has reached a new level of insight with this simple thread of connectivity that wasn't as present in former seasons. It is in fact one of the many reasons why this group of episodes is some of its strongest not only on a narrative level, but on a thematic level as well.
I can only hope that this honesty becomes applicant to the rest of the season. Maybe the honesty will force Hannah to find an alternative way to release her book. Maybe the honesty will force Marnie to be more social with her friends. Maybe Jessa will be forced to take her life more seriously, as she has been doing most of the season. And maybe Shoshanna will take this with some heeding advice and change the way that people perceive her. Who knows. This season continues to remain an unprecedented success, even with the occasional wanes. 


  1. Missed this one last week but just caught up and wow, this was definitely the best episode of the season- if for no other reason that this had the least amount of Hannah whining about her 'inauthentic' job and more insanity between the girls, and this was such a realistic portrayal of a girl's healing retreat gone wrong! This was the first episode of the season that was truly relatable to like the first seasons.

    The tensions between Marnie and Hannah in particular was great and totally like something ripped out of my own diaries. I also loved that they used "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" by The Weeknd in the background when Marnie calls over Hannah and asks her to ask the guys to leave instead Hannah invites them to dinner...and of course loved the awkward dinner that ensued.

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