The surreal stupor surrounding us after last week’s show quickly dissipated in the opening scene of this week’s episode, “Boys,” which places us firmly back in the real world of Brooklyn. In the opening scene we see Hannah having a business meeting with the editor of the now defunct magazine Pumped, played to my SQUEE-full delight by
This nameless editor may not know what a pistachio is (“What is this? It looks like a little penis”), but he certainly knows that Hannah is a writer, and a writer on the precipice of success—well, the success one can assume of a Brooklyn writer. He, too, (in one of the show’s signature meta-moments) sees her as a voice of a generation, indeed, a voice of her “lost generation,” and offers her a book contract—an e-book contract, on the condition that she can turn the manuscript around in one month.
Hannah is now a bona fide writer—not one of those dime a dozen cough-cough “online writers,” aka “bloggers.” Not one of those weirdo, creative types who claims to be a writer but is actually, according to Ray, just a compulsive eater and masturbator (“Usually when people say they want to be a writer, they really don’t want to do anything but eat and masturbate”). Nope. Contract. E-book. Cha-ching — and Hannah knows it, which is why she vomits in excitement immediately after the meeting.
“Boys” is all about boys, particularly the boys of the Girls’ world. But, like always, the episode is about interpersonal relations, which are more often than not affected (here I am tempted to say “marred”) by our psychological projections and emotional insecurities.
Gay, straight, lesbian, or queer, living in a world with people other than ourselves (a fact that even the most strident of narcissists and misanthropes can’t avoid), we all deal with other people. This recap, therefore, will take a closer look at the three primary relations at work in this episode—even though a part of me tickles with desire to write an entire recap about the “AMAZE” Shoshana…who needs an episode (or five) entirely dedicated to her greatness (“a little bit of Carrie…a little bit of Samantha”).
Relation 1: “Love-you-bye”: The Fade
We knew Hannah and Marnie were moving apart after their literal separation from each other when Marnie moved out of their Greenpoint apartment at the end of Season 1. In the first episode of Season 2 Marnie expresses concern about them growing apart, which Hannah quickly brushes off because she is more invested in finding a new dress to wear at her party. After the crack-induced argument that ends episode 3 (“we can still be friends as long as you know you’re the bad one”), we witness the increased, cool indifference between the two—a cool indifference that is portrayed in both of their refusals to tell each other how their day really went, instead opting for the less painful, less involved, “everything-was-great. Super. Ok-love-you-bye” sentiment. When one grows apart from someone she was previously close with one signifier of that distance is the silence of intimacies once expressed. Different levels of sharing denote different levels of friendship. We’re less inclined to emotionally vomit on someone who we are friendly with as opposed to someone we are friends with—a distinction still ever so crucial to our socially decorous, or indecorous, lives…regardless of how fucked up that difference has become with the invention of Facebook (where we’re ALL FRIENDS!).
Both Hannah and Marnie perceive the growing distance between them, and both react with sadness and frustration, which we witness as the back-to-back shots of Marnie’s pouty-face followed by Hannah repeatedly slamming her phone on her bed after the call ends. And, even though they are sad and perhaps even frustrated, a part of this feeling is produced by some intuitive knowledge that this growing apart cannot be stopped. That the fading of friendship is “natural.”
Yet, how “natural” is it? Marnie won’t respond to Hannah’s calls or text messages about the important news she wants to share with her, and Hannah senses Marnie’s embarrassment of her when she hides her raincoat under someone else’s coat at the party. Booth Jonathan even asks her why they are friends, to which she responds, “I dunno. It’s just really ingrained…. She’s Hannah.” In this statement there’s a sharp distinction between the old Hannah of Marnie’s memory and the new Hannah who Marnie has grown incompatible with. “She’s Hannah” is the memory, is the shell. And this shell—the old friends we “stay friends with” for no other reason then the fact that we have a common, shared past—signifies the cause of this growing apart. The shell is the emptiness, the lack of substance, that is ever-so-tenuously holding them together, such that their conversations are simply protocol, they consist of the shell-like structure of formulaic conversations: “Hi, how are you?,” “I’m great!,” “Ok-love-you-bye.”
Relation 2: “HA-HA, I didn’t realize I had a girlfriend”: The
We’ve all been on one side or the other of the relationship, you know, the one that simultaneously does and does not exist. It is the
Throughout this season we have seen how both Booth and Marnie have approached their relationship. For Booth, the self-involved, flagellatory dickwad (really, I mean, he even looks like a penis), the relation has been strictly sexual. He wants Marnie for sex, not for conversation, not for intellectual engagement—which is why after asking Marnie why she still is friends with Hannah (above) he says he doesn’t care to know the answer.
For Marnie, however, who is struggling to find herself both personally and professionally (losing both her home/roommate Hannah and her job), she latches on to Booth in a visibly disingenuous way…in a way that Hannah latches on to Joshua in the previous episode…. The way that is apparent to Booth Jonathan when he tells Marnie that she doesn’t really like him because she doesn’t know him—and she agrees: “Honestly…I probably fell in love with the idea of you.” It is an idea of Booth as an ideal. Booth as a successful, famous artist is the idea(l) that Marnie fell in love with.
In a technological age such as our own, it’s quite easy to fall in love with appearances because appearances are more often than not the substance of our relationships. This is doubly the case for those of us involved with public personas (yes, I’ll even include reality stars and Bravolebrities).
What’s absolutely painful of this type of relation is the misrecognition of what it actually is—bullshit. Marnie is having a relationship with an idea, while Booth is just having sex. And relationships, especially like this one, are determined by the law of least interest: the person with the least interest defines the parameters of the relationship. If the person who is more invested can’t handle it—can’t handle their lack of interest in making the relationship more than just sex—then she can leave.
And this is precisely what Marnie does…in all her plastic, trashy-dress glory, leaving behind a trail of tears that even Claire Danes would be jealous of.
Relation 3: “You and I are actually not so different”: The Illusion of Sameness
This type of relation rests on an illusion—just like the previous relations described above, just like the relation that unfolded in last week’s episode between Hannah and Joshua. But this particular relation consists of the illusion of sameness, what Ray tells Adam (yay Adam’s return!) on the ferry to Staten Island: “You and I are actually not so different. I may intellectualize everything and you may not, but at the end of the day we still get to the same meaty ideas. It’s because we’re both honest men.”
Adam, of course, who may be the most keenly perceptive character of the entire show, responds with a flat “maybe it’s because we’re both kind of weird-looking.”
Adam, however, is also the most crazy person of the show, and the friendly “fellow-feeling” established by the bros on the ferry soon dissolves when Adam accuses Ray of wanting to fuck Hannah. Here is the danger of the illusion of sameness: that sameness in the vein of “kindred spirits” becomes a literal sameness…or at least it morphs into imagined sameness in Adam’s mind. Ray is so keen to connect with somebody!, anybody!, not-Shoshana!, Adam! that his effort is too successful. In his effort to bond with Adam by describing his relationship with Shoshana, he unknowingly triggers some weird insecurity within Adam, which subsequently results in Adam’s accusations and then his leaving Ray with the stolen dog completely alone in Staten Island.
This relation, my favorite of the episode, reminds me of a comment about relationships by one of my mentors. She said that relationships, especially romantic relationships, are erroneously conceptualized in the equation “1 + 1 = 1.” Relationships, in short, are wrongly conceptualized in terms of sameness because it is assumed that the relation is stronger the more similar the two people (all the while the idea of “sameness” has been used to delegitimize homosexual relations). The idea of two people together, in other words, is conceived of as creating a “union,” and it is in this idea of “union” that the individual is lost.
The blooming bromance between Ray and Adam is nipped in the bud by the melding of psychological space, which is manifested by Adam’s random accusation against Ray. Adam experiences this weird freak-out moment when he cannot divorce Ray’s relationship with Shoshana from his relationship with Hannah. In this regard their bromance is very much established by the concept of “the third.” The third person, in this instance, is embodied by Hannah, but is more generally implied to be “woman” (as sexual counterpart).
In another sense the illusion of sameness that brings two people together is very much bridged by a third entity—such that for Ray and Adam the third entity could very much be “aloneness” as much as “woman.”
However you parse these relations, Dunham, with a newly acquired Writers Guild Award in hand, excels in giving us landscapes of relations that aren’t prescriptively moralistic or traditional. For me, this makes the show profoundly queer in its exploration of human relations.