BARRING LOUIE, which often splits into flash fiction, this episode was the closest thing I’ve seen to a short story that wasn’t actually a short story. I could almost see the paragraphs. Mary Gaitskill hovers in the background; in the foreground are Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger circa Franny and Zooey or “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” The cinematography seemed particularly Salingeresque to me — there was that careful, quiet, sharp attention to what people do while talking and when silent. The attention the camera pays to Hannah peeling the orange while watching Joshua read the newspaper reminded me of Zooey in the bath, or Muriel Glass painting her nails. The dialogue is uncharacteristically spare, and each word carries much more than its usual weight. Hannah’s loquacity is tamped down here; that last shot of her, blank-faced, putting the trash into the right dumpster and walking away was intensely artifictional. (Hey, if Hannah can half-invent words, so can I.)
I’m relieved, because, unlike so many episodes of Girls, which sort of skate by on being neither fish nor fowl, this one felt, to me, hyperliterary. On that basis, I’m giving myself license to talk about the narrative practices I see this episode challenging and reproducing. They fall into roughly two groups: the first is a group of authors (usually male) who build stories around intensely aestheticized encounters with women; the second is a group of fictional subjects: the smart, broken, beautiful girls of fiction and nonfiction — the Zeldas and Esthers.
To the extent that a TV show can be said to have a generic mode, Girls usually borrows from the conventions of creative nonfiction, which more comfortably accommodate the show’s apparently “uncrafted” and sometimes provocatively grotesque aesthetic. But this episode takes its symbolism seriously; Richard Shepard’s cinematography registers an intense, almost aggressive obsession with aesthetics, with symmetry. The angle of the designer chairs in Joshua’s living room is almost-but-not-quite congruent with the angle of the piano lid. The pots. That incredible shot of Joshua and Hannah at the ping-pong table blocks the actual net from view, and hey, while we’re at it, there’s Patrick Wilson’s intensely perfect symmetry to consider. Ahoy there, female gaze!
The Nancy Meyers reference gets at the ways in which Hannah gets drunk on the delicious pornography of this normal version of extreme success. (She even passes out from it.) What does Joshua represent? A friend wrote this to me at 2 a.m. last night: “The shot of Lena Dunham whisping her hand along a row of the doctor's many dress shirts had the name 'Gatsby' at the tip ...read more