Girls 3.01 “Females Only” and 3.02 “Truth or Dare” Explores Characters’ Flaws Through Tragedy, Comedy

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Girls, Season 3, Episode 1, “Female Only”
Written by Lena Dunham
Directed by Lena Dunham

Girls, Season 3, Episode 2, “Truth or Dare”
Written by Jenni Konner
Directed by Lena Dunham
Airs Sundays at 10pm (EST) on HBO

A common complaint from Girls viewers is that the protagonists are quite unsympathetic, especially its main character Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham). This criticism seems to have made it into this episode.  The story picks up a few months after the traumatic events of Season Two, and Hannah’s life is actually pretty stable by her standards. She is living with Adam (Adam Driver) and is having her work regularly published online. Marnie (Allison Williams) is coming off a painful breakup, but is moving into a new apartment. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is getting the most out of her last year in college by alternating between “sexual adventures” and studying. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is in rehab. In “Female Only”, Dunham uses outside observers, like Adam’s ex-girlfriend Natalia (Shiri Appleby) and the residents of Jessa’s rehab, to reveal the ugliness at her characters’ cores. No one is safe from having his or her weak spots revealed. “Truth or Dare” subverts the road trip cliches of bonding and character revelations to show how self-centered Girls’ characters truly are. However, this episode didn’t explore Marnie’s feelings about being left out in enough detail. In a show with a plethora of three dimensional characters, Marnie was pretty one-note in both episodes.

“Females Only” did a great job establishing the show’s new status quo and checking in with the main characters as well as re-examining Girls’ major theme of female friendship. Dunham digs deep into this idea with a conversation between Adam and Hannah in which they realize they both don’t care about what her friends have to say. Hannah has been consumed with her writing and closer relationship with Adam and has become more distant from her best female friends. For example, Adam, not she, comforts a depressed post-breakup Marnie with an anecdote about how being in a relationships with someone doesn’t mean you actually know them. Adam might be the most likable character in this episode, and he even gets cuts down to size in a colorful diatribe from Natalia. Some of her remarks are impolite in a public setting, but they are all true. Dunham balances humor and tragedy deftly in “Females Only”, especially in the scenes in Jessa’s rehab. Her snarky comments in group therapy are hilarious, but earn her coffee in the face among other things. Dunham does an effective job showing her characters’ vulnerabilities and self-involvement despite their facades of outward success in life or love.

“Truth or Dare” plays up the character flaws by taking Hannah, Adam, and Shoshanna out of their familiar New York environment on a road trip to pick up Jessa from rehab. This episode is a bit more uneven than “Females Only”, but much funnier. Zosia Mamet excels at delivering Jenni Konner’s rapid fire dialogue about random subjects like favorite utensils and the rules of Truth or Dare, and works well as an audience surrogate in her subtle observations about Hannah’s selfishness. Shoshanna has a particularly haunting exchange with Hannah about life after college when she says that people with money problems are the ones who say college was the best time of their life. Even though this episode indulges in road trip film cliches (sing-a-long, random side trip, plot twist about the purpose of the trip), Konner provides insights into Girls’ characters through their words and actions. Jessa, who has been a horrible friend and person up to this point, could garner some pity in a story about her and Hannah’s college days. (Or it might have all been another scam.) This type of ambiguity is one of Girls’ biggest strengths as a show.

“Truth or Dare” excels on an entertainment level with a good dose of humor and a serialized format, but sometimes it decides to resolve its plot at the expense of individual arcs. Jessa and Hannah’s conflict might be tied up a little too neatly, but hopefully the Girls writers will explore the reasons why they are still friends in subsequent episodes. Acting as both a dangling plot thread and character arc, Marnie’s feeling of being left out of the road trip is barely touched on. She and her mother (a show stealing Rita Wilson) have a short phone conversation with Hannah about the trip, but there aren’t any other scenes which deal with Marnie’s feelings and reaction to Hannah’s lie. Even though she has screen time in both episodes, Marnie’s character languishes in contrast with the other main cast members and mostly revolves around her breakup with Charlie. She is the blandest member of the ensemble.

Girls’ biggest strength is its honest, unflinching portrayal of its main characters even if they continue to act like horrible people. It shows viewers painful scenes, like the Hannah’s Q-tip fiasco in “On All Fours”, and gives them the choice of loving or loathing the character. This tradition is continued in the dark comedy that is Jessa’s rehab experience. For the most part, “Female Only” and “Truth or Dare” organically flesh out Girls’ characters while looking at universal themes, like friendship and romantic relationships. And the show is also funny again, which will please viewers who watch the show for schadenfreude.

 

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