Apr 4, 2014

TV Retrospective: Girls - Season 3 (Part 2)

Left to right:  Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham, and Zosia Mamet
Continuing yesterday's in depth retrospective of Girls is the second part in which I rank the episodes from most favorite to least. What is more impressive is that unlike the past few seasons, I didn't come across an issue regarding necessity. Where I was in the minority and wasn't fond of "One Man's Trash" in season two, this season doesn't have any equivalent sore thumbs. That may be a great thing, and thusly it made for one of the strongest seasons of TV this year. The following is a ranking of the 12 episodes with brief thoughts on how I feel that they fit into the cannon.

Jon Glaser
"Dead Inside"

Quite possibly my favorite episode of the series to date. Maybe it didn't progress the story in the way that many wanted, but it threw a loophole to the series' overarching plot with the death of David (John Cameron Mitchell), causing Hannah's (Lena Dunham) career to be put into jeopardy. However, with everyone obsessed with David's death, Hannah is trying to understand what grief actually feels like. While it would be teased in "Flo," this episode manages to paint coping in fantastical new ways that are both inventive, funny, and add depth to a generation who analyze the facts before anything else. It is also a great centerpiece episode for Caroline (Gaby Hoffman), who earns her keep as the strangely adorable cemetery hoodlum. The episode is about a theme that is unfortunately close to the 20-somethings in the show: death. Not everyone reacts the same way, and this episode does its best to prove one of the most distinct ways this particular generation differs from every other one.

Left to right: Mamet, Andrew Rannels, Dunham, and Allison Williams
"Two Plane Rides"

The season finale that not only wrapped up a lot of loose ends, but raises the question on the essential nature of its supporting cast. From "Beach House" on, there has been a sense of this group starting to fray from each other. In this episode, we see the cracks as Adam (Adam Driver) succeeds on broadway, but hates himself because of Hannah. We see the unfortunate reality that even with success, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) aren't meant to be. It is a reflection that even if communication can bring them closer together, there is a specificity to how far one can go without breaking hearts. Everyone has changed, for better or worse, and Hannah somehow comes out on top, which is a nice change of pace from last season. At very least, it is a great episode for its ability to give everyone a compelling story and have them all interrelate, dovetailing in profoundly subtle ways.

Left to right: Dunham and Kirke
"Truth or Dare"

While I do believe that episode two is only an extension to "Females Only" and should thus be considered one episode, it ranks among the best for many reasons. The most notable is that after closing off loose ends in the premiere episode, this one dives into an exploration of the "girl code" that runs throughout the episode. Picking up Jessa (Jemima Kirke) from rehab, Adam, Shoshanna and Hannah drive up and spend some quality time getting to know each other. It is during this time that we learn about how delusional the laws of this show's universe can be and of the many small threads that appear randomly throughout the season. If anything, it proves just how tightly constructed this season was by proving that it had all of its elements in place since the beginning. Even if Jessa's character failed to have a great season, at least she got to have a few great moments here.

"She Said OK"

The first moment on the route to Marnie's (Allison Williams) "redemption" for the season came in planning Hannah's party. Everyone showed up from friends to family, and even Tako (Roberta Colindrez)! However, among these events was the introduction of Caroline, a brawl between Ray and David over rules regarding "the queue," and an embarrassing performance of songs from Rent. Most of all, it was that moment where the show admitted that it was still going to be chaotic, but not in the way that you are expecting. Hannah is going to continue improving her life as she turns 25. Everyone else however is going down. This episode was a changing of the guard and even if nobody has suffered as badly as Hannah from the end of season two, this was the last moment that could be argued that everyone was on equal footing.

Left to right: Gaby Hoffman, Adam Driver, and Dunham
"Only Child"

Following "Dead Inside," this episode deals with the aftermath with Hannah's book deal. She cannot get it published due to a contractual agreement, even if David had no immediate plans to release it upon his deathbed. I do feel like it also allowed Hannah to feel some insecurity and force herself to sink or swim. She decided to swim by trying to be the moderator to the Sackler siblings, which gets into some strange territory. Marnie gets some exponential growth by dating Ray after he breaks up in "She Said OK" with Shoshanna. The episode is more to establish the odd differences and mindset challenges that come with having someone to love and relate to, which it does quite effectively. On top of the Hannah/Sackler conversation, there is an exceptionally great moment that ends the episode in which Ray gives Marnie some harsh truths that only make their relationship all the more complicated. 

Left to right: Dunham and Driver

Wonder what the extended Horvath family is like? We have seen Hannah's mother (Becky Ann Baker) and father (Peter Scolari), but what about cousins (Sarah Steele)? What secrets do they have to share? They all come out in "Flo" in which they meet her dying grandmother (June Squibb) and try to give her the happiest farewell possible. During this time, we get a sense that Hannah's mother isn't wild about Adam and his neurotic ways. Besides introducing the adorable Flo, this episode feels like foreshadowing for how the Horvath family is likely to perceive Adam in the time going forward, provided that their relationship doesn't fall to shambles and they do get married. To say the least, it won't be pretty and with a reluctant mother, things may get a little bit hostile as a result.

"Free Snacks"

Hannah seems to be on an upward trajectory this entire season, does she not? If there is one crime to the season, it is that we're not going to see a lot of the characters from this GQ Magazine office setting again. At least, not as a team. Where season one reflected Hannah's quest to avoid sexual harassment and strange jobs, this was essentially her most stable job in the series to date up until she blew it in "I Saw You." If anything, it paints the joys of having a job with perks and not that much creative output. It is an existential crisis of an episode that asks the question on if Hannah is a writer by profession or for money. As seen later, it is profession, but the potential void presented here of her career coming to a halt has rather fascinating results.

Allison Williams
"Beach House"

Theoretically, this is the only "stand alone" episode of the entire season. It doesn't really advances anyone's plot, yet it is the first time that the four main girls have gotten together since "It's About Time" in season two. The results aren't quite as great as Marnie planned them to be as they go to a play just outside of the Hamptons for a weekend of bonding. Add in Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and his band of gay friends and things quickly fall apart. The episode does feel oftentimes a little too meandering, but for the final act alone, this episode packs a punch in evaluating where the show stands with every character. It brings everyone closer together for the remaining episodes and asks the audience to determine if they have outgrown each other. "Beach House" has many other memorable moments, including a choreographed dance number, but it does wane a little bit compared to the rest of the season.

Left to right: Dunham and Driver
"Females Only"

It isn't that the premiere is necessarily weak. When paired with "Truth or Dare," it makes for a solid full hour of Girls. Separately, it feels like an introduction of ideas and concepts that weren't wrapped up last season. We get some commentary on the "rape" from last season and the realization that Adam and Hannah cannot be with anyone else, if just because they are too dysfunctional apart. This is the first step in a great season and serves more as build-up than anything else. Not a bad build-up, but with a lot of the heavier concepts and themes being introduced in "Truth or Dare," this particular episode alone is a little weak. However, it doesn't mean that it lacks any of the humor as we discover just where everyone is now.

"I Saw You"

The episodes leading up to the finale weren't necessarily bad, but there was a lull compared to the first half of the season. Where there felt like ambition in exploring the aimlessness of the supporting cast, we find everyone post-"Beach House" starting to settle in their ways (save for Jessa) and it isn't necessarily that interesting. True, Marnie and Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) becoming a musical duo is a strong point in the episode, but much like "Females Only," this mostly works as the first part to the finale. Ideas are introduced and even if everyone is settled, it does feel a little strange that Hannah quits her job at GQ Magazine in quite effective fashion. Also, the final scene in which she barges in on Marnie and Ray having sex does feel a little bit strange in the grand scheme of things. The episode works, but without "Two Plane Rides," it feels like it is fractured a little. 

Left to right: Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Driver

This is a triumphant episode for Adam, as he landed a part in a broadway production. We meet Desi for the first time and he is an easily appealing person. It isn't that the episode is by any means weak or filler for the story. In fact, it allows us to give Adam the last ounce of praise before Hannah begins to cling to him with desperation. It is an important episode. In terms of enjoyment quality however, it is once again a piece to a bigger puzzle. One that is necessary to understand where everything goes in the remainder of the season. However, it doesn't work as a stand alone episode, which may be its biggest weakness.

Left to right: Rannells and Dunham

I get the point of this episode, though I am not entirely amused by the execution. With Elijah, once again serving as a catalyst for Hannah's bad decisions, telling her to spice up their sex life, she decides to role play in order to appeal to Adam as he prepares for his role on broadway. Along with Patti LuPone's advice lingering in her head, this episode is meant to reflect how toxic Hannah is when she is desperate. It works, but the power that makes up "Two Plane Rides" sums up everything about this episode in far better manners. It has some funny moments, but it comes across as strange and uncomfortable for the most part. Maybe that was the point, but in terms of the season, this is the only one that feels redundant in a batch of great ones.

Verdict: Probably the best batch of episodes that any season of Girls has produced. However, it also reflects that the show is evolving beyond the control of its half hour structure. Many stories feel incomplete without the next episode. It may be effective story telling, but with this case being made multiple times in the season, there is argument that this show is quite effective. As a result, it may feel more hit-or-miss, but when laid out in one continuous piece, it actually looks rather profound. I cannot wait to see where the show goes next and see if it can actually maintain the momentum that was raised by this season.

I appreciate all of you for reading my recaps. I continue to enjoy doing them and I will hopefully be back around to cover season four in glorious detail. Until then, check out the rest of my work on this website and feel free to start a conversation on your thoughts on Girls and if the show has gotten better or worse.

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