Girls, Season 3: Episode 5 – “Only Child”
Written by Murray Miller
Directed by Tricia Brock
Airs Friday nights at 10 PM EST on HBO
In “Only Child”, Murray Miller moves the season’s overall plot along and creates a lot of tension between the characters of Girls. While trying to save her “dead” book, Hannah (Lena Dunham) must also play “Dr. Phil” to the bickering Adam (Adam Driver) and Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann). And Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Marnie (Allison Williams) share a huge scene which exposes all their character flaws and sets them up and the most and least sympathetic characters on the show respectively. Miller’s dialogue has an uncanny sense of dramatic irony as he puts words that could describe them as well as the character they are arguing with or talking down to. He also gives Girls some of its dark sense of humor back (especially during David’s funeral).
One of the best things about “Only Child” is how it shows that Hannah, despite being a good writer, doesn’t know how to choose her words carefully. For example, when talking with David’s wife, she uses the word “dead” multiple time to refer to her e-book which has been cancelled. His wife’s reaction to her inquiries is the first of many times Hannah will look ridiculous in this episode. The other is when she tries to use pop psychology to mediate between Adam and Caroline. Her tone of voice is calm and even at the beginning, but when Caroline brings up her book deal, she completely loses her temper. Each conversation reveals that Hannah only cares about one thing: herself. And this leads to a lot of personal and professional tension, and her storyline takes a turn for the darker.
“Only Child” turns the microscope on another character: Marnie. In his conversation with her, Ray analyzes her use of languages and describes her flaws with pinpoint accuracy. His observations might be a little too meta, but it is refreshing to have a character provide a glimpse of reason in a show of irrationality. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has started to play this role too and gets a great monologue where she talks about her “15 year plan” and how she doesn’t want to be like her friends, especially Jessa (Jemima Kirke). These isolated scenes show, in retrospect, why Ray and Shoshanna worked as a couple. However, Ray isn’t just the character weakness exposition man. Alex Karpovsky gets to show some real vulnerability in his interactions with Marnie, which from a certain perspective, seem quite sweet. This episode cements Karpovsky’s status as Girls Season 3’s breakout performer.
“Only Child” succeeds on both a plot and characterization level by combining them to create organic conflict between characters and progress the season’s story arc. Miller sets up character as dark mirrors of each other hinting at this through their dialogue. For example, Hannah tells Caroline that all she does is “talk and talk and talk”. This is an apt description of Hannah at David’s funeral where she exchanges polite nothings that slowly grow more offensive. Even Ray gets this kind of scene with Marnie when he describes her as “judgmental”. He has been a little less annoying this season, but he insulted all of Staten Island and Patrick Wilson’s kindly doctor character back in Season Two. Miller makes his exploration of various characters’ much stronger by placing the words that damn them as people in their own mouths. And his and director Tricia Brock’s sense of comic timing keep this episode from being a total downer.