Beginning a conversation on sexism, racism, classism, ageism—really, any -ism—is never an easy undertaking, especially from a standpoint that illuminates the invisible privileges that haunt and infect the discourse. If last week’s season premiere was the leadup to the inevitable conversation about race that Girls has needed, last night’s episode, “I Get Ideas,” finally delivered, with mixed results.
After Hannah and Elijah watch Adam’s deliver, via YouTube, a heartwrenching song he’s written for her, Hannah says that the end of her relationship with Adam will allow her to date the kind of “sexy, responsible boyfriend” that she’s always wanted. Apparently Sandy is both, but his political views—he’s a Republican—bother Elijah more than Hannah. Interrupting Sandy and Hannah’s adorable talking-while-toothbrushing exchange, Elijah makes it blatantly clear what he thinks about Sandy’s politics and what he assumes Sandy thinks of him. Hannah remains fairly neutral, mostly because she’s focused on making sure Sandy reads an essay of hers.
Hannah brings her concerns to Jessa’s sunny loft, where, after Jessa receives a box of puppies from her new husband, they talk it out. Hannah thinks that Sandy really likes her, and she really likes him—when they have sex, she reports, “there’s not part of me that wants to pretend I don’t exist, which is a rarity.” But there is the whole Republican thing, the discussion of which gives Jessa the unexpected opportunity to school Hannah in politics: In her opinion, Sandy’s politics don’t really matter since all politicians are dirtbags, and after all, it was Democratic fave Bill Clinton whose repeal of the Glass-Steagall act was the catalyst for our current economic climate. When Hannah doesn’t know what that means, a puppy-covered Jessa tells her “Just read the newspaper. Just read one newspaper.” Jessa’s more concerned that Sandy isn’t creatively supporting Hannah, given that he hasn’t yet read her essay.
Reviews and comments on last week’s episode considered whether the choice of Donald Glover to play Sandy was merely stuntcasting, or something that would pan out into a substantial character arc. Hannah’s naiveté in her discussion with Jessa serves as a red flag before the disaster of a conversation that she starts with Sandy later in the episode. Unsurprisingly, it’s Hannah’s essay that kicks things off: Sandy didn’t read it. Well, actually he did. He read it, and he didn’t like it: It was well-written, he says, but “nothing happened.” (Similar criticism was leveled at Dunham’s New Yorker essays; I’m expecting to read identical accusations about her upcoming book.) Though Hannah insists that she’s glad that Sandy didn’t like her essay, claiming that it has opened a dialogue between them, her defensive is palpable, and things get interesting.
In a series of rapidly escalating comments, Hannah first goes to asking Sandy if he has any feelings on whether or not Elijah should be able to have a wedding like the ones they’ve just watched on Say Yes To The Dress. When he doesn’t respond, Hannah pushes further, saying, “I’d also love to know how you feel about the fact that two out of three people on death row are black men.”
Sandy responds with the correct amount of bite, thanking Hannah for enlightening him on the plight of minorities. But before the discussion even begins to reach peak heat levels, Hannah tells Sandy that she can’t see him anymore because of their differing political beliefs. It’s an odd contradiction, given both her earlier comments to Jessa about the sex and the fact that, just that morning, she’d seemed at ease with their differing political beliefs—but given the self-sabotage we witnessed at the end of last season in Hannah’s relationship with Adam, it’s not totally unexpected. So much for the guy she claimed was the kind of boyfriend she’d always wanted.
Sandy isn’t taken aback so much as he is resigned to the fact that this was going to happen. Wearily and angrily, he says, “I knew this. This always happens. Oh, I’m a white girl and I moved to New York and I’m having a great time. I’ve got a fixed gear bike and I’m going to date a black guy and we’re going to go to a dangerous part of town. All that bullshit. I know this. I’ve seen it happen a million times. And then they can’t deal with who I am.”
Hannah’s extremely poor response comes in three parts. First, she claims to have never thought about Sandy being black; she goes on to protest, loftily, that she doesn’t live in a world that has those kinds of divisions; finally, she says that when she brought up the prison stat, is was in reference to “black men who aren’t like you.” Watching this conversation go down is equal parts exciting, since the show is—finally!—acknowledging race, and nauseating because, ugh, Hannah is so clueless. However, the episode approached race in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Like so many other situations in Girls, it’s hard to tell whether Hannah can even acknowledge the ways in which her conversation with Sandy was problematic. (Immediately after, she goes home and tells Marnie and Elijah that she broke up with him because he wasn’t an ally to gays and women.) However, it’s clear that Dunham and the other writers recognize the absurdity of Hannah’s responses to Sandy—especially since, after their argument, Hannah asks if he still wants to have sex. (That’d be a no.) While the conversation itself made me cringe and feel uncomfortable, it acknowledged the place of white privilege in discussion about race in a way that few TV shows have. It’s a recognition that whiteness allows people like Hannah—not to mention people who consider themselves far smarter and savvier than her—to skate along in life without thinking about how race functions in the world. In 2013, we need as many of those conversations as we can get.
One commenter on last week’s episode remarked that it was refreshing to see Elijah return to the show as more than a token gay friend, and hoped that his bisexuality would be explored more. In this episode, Elijah ends up telling George that he slept with Marnie, reminding his irate boyfriend that he was always open about his bisexuality. George breaks up with Elijah, stating that he doesn’t want to date anyone who is confused or bisexual. It’s a reaction that reinforces Elijah’s flip comment from last week about bisexuality being seen as an invisible or incorrect form of sexual preference. Indeed, there isn’t a lot of representation of bisexuality on television, particularly not male bisexuality. But Elijah’s main concern this episode is that he can’t be honest about the breakup because it would mean telling Hannah that he slept with Marnie.
And speaking of Marnie, it’s unclear whether her life is getting better or worse. After a job interview in which a gallery owner (played by Lena Dunham’s mother, photogrpaher Laurie Simmons) decides to not hire her because she simply “doesn’t see her” in the art world, Marnie, at Shoshanna’s suggestion, gets a “pretty person” job as a hostess at a club. Marnie’s new job, and new-job uniform, leads to an interesting exchange between her and Hannah. Minutes after delivering her pro-woman rationale for breaking up with Sandy, Hannah dishes out some major judgment of Marnie, saying that she would never cash in on her sexuality for a job. Marnie’s brief look more than does the job of responding. It’s a tiny moment that really illustrates the competitive and jealous nature that can infiltrate female friendships even with someone we really care about.
So far, so good: While this episode made me feel hugely uncomfortable at time, it was perhaps the most substantive of Girls yet, opening the door for imperfect discourse on things beyond awkward sex and relationships.
Shoshanna and Ray’s post-sex conversation about bathing a pig is ridiculously adorable. Clearly, from the expression on Ray’s face, he’s fine with getting those emoji texts now.
Hannah continues to stand her ground with Adam, who shows up uninvited in the middle of the night. She finally gets him to realize that their relationship is actually over. Yet, in true Hannah fashion, she also sort-of accidentally calls 911 to get Adam out of her apartment, and is genuinely surprised when the police show up and arrested because he has two unpaid parking tickets and a summons for public urination.
Thomas John is still the worst.
Got your own Girls-related thoughts, insights, and frustrations? Leave them in the comments…