Girls, Season 2, Episode 3: “It’s a Shame about Ray”
Written by Lena Dunham
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Original Air Date: February 2, 2013
In Luis Bunuel’s 1962 film, The Exterminating Angel, some high society types have a party and inexplicably find they are incapable of leaving. As the days and weeks pass, their values, behavior and humanity degrades, until they are hardly better than the beast. Forty years later, the film still resonates as society becomes more enclosed by invisible conventions and structures. In this week’s Girls there is an unconscious evocation of this feeling, as the characters desperately cling to life and search for meaning in a world that is pre-destined to disappoint and repress them. Though Jessa has been relegated to a side character for the season so far, she is brought to the forefront as being especially representative of this struggle.
There is a sense going into this episode that the characters have no sense of autonomy and as their life gets away from them, they are thrust into chaos. As a means of celebrating her NEW independence (doesn’t this seem to happen every other week? Not that I am complaining) Hannah throws a dinner party where she invites the depressive Marnie, as well as Charlie and his new girlfriend Audrey. Shoshanna and Ray show up late, because they were having sex. Meanwhile, Jessa has a very awkward dinner with her parents in law and watches her marriage fall apart.
These two mirroring dinners evokes very basic conventions surrounding relationships, friendship and family within our society. The dinner table has become a measure of the health of the family unit and it is why it is so often subverted in popular culture. Movies like American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999) use the dinner table as a stage, where the conventions are meant to play out seamlessly but often go awfully wrong. Like American Beauty, Lena Dunham relies on these same conventions though they are transformed. In the world of Hannah and other twenty something year olds, it is not socially unacceptable to discuss butt plugs at the table, however getting into more emotionally charged discussions about relationships still stand outside of the realm of acceptability. The conflict here comes in part due to the ambiguity of modern relationships, at least the uncomfortable feelings they may evoke. These emotions seem to have been burgeoning under the surface all season now, as most characters have tread into uncomfortable, new or taboo territories when it comes to sex and but until now were able to keep their emotions in check.
The other dinner is one we are more able to relate to in the annals of popular culture as being supposedly representative of polite society. For all the changing values in sex, relationships and culture over the years, a character like Jessa still represents an outsider. Though values have changed, there is still a sense of structure and composure that most of the other characters obey (more or less). In the first season, we would never expect someone like Jessa to comply with the expectations of a dinner like this, but due to the commitment to her marriage, there is a feeling that she might play by the rules. The initial divide between her perceived liberation and her (albeit impulsive) marriage now put her whole character into a weird state of ambiguity and this episode finally lifts the veil on what most of us suspected: the marriage is not working. As unsurprising as it is, Jessa is forever put into a place of uncertainty as she grapples with the expectations and conventions of the society she is living in. As she is someone who has always stood outside of normal conventionality, to see Jessa struggling against it is intensely frustrating and even heartbreaking.
We return for a moment to the invisible force keeping people in the room in The Exterminating Angel, and realize that even once they leave, they are no more free than when they were trapped in that room. Jessa can be as liberated as she wants, but in reality, there is nowhere for her to go. It is an impossibility to escape society and culture in the modern world, no matter how different, or exciting you may be. Jessa’s whole existence is a summation of our desire for escape, and her boredom becomes representative of how hard we work to not have to face this reality.
Is all lost then? Thankfully not. Lena Dunham injects a perfect dose of humanity into this episode that suggests that that deep down what keeps us moving from one day to the next is our love for other people. The greatest loss of all major institutions throughout history is their inability to stop us from loving each other. They have been able to control and oppress our love for other people but they have never been able to do away with it completely. This gives us the ultimate power, and even though Hannah thinks boogies in a bathtub is gross, it is not enough to outweigh her affection for Jessa. When all is said and done, though we are hurt and entrapped by convention, we can rise above it as well.