Ok, I honestly thought that my post about the foreign press conspiracy was the last thing I would ever write about Lena Dunham, HBO's Girls, the unjustified and pervasive brouhaha surrounding them, etc. But I was never joking when I said that merit and objectivity were placed very high on my hierarchy of values. They are so important to me that I can even look at a pool of shit, notice a few specks of goodness there, and effortlessly say, "This is a pool of shit, but those couple of things are quite good."
No, I didn't change my mind about Dunham's creations so far, especially the ones she's done on her own, without any help from other writing and directing talents; nor did I recant my opinion about the hipsters of media who buzz her up to the sky. But that doesn't prevent me from objectively acknowledging that the 8th episode of the second season, It's Back, was a remarkable breakthrough.
For the very first time, the show elevated itself to the level of truly generational significance. Because, if anything unites people in their 20s across geographical borders, nationalities, social origins, monetary standings, physical appearances, intellectual abilities, and creative talents, it's the unprecedented levels of anxiety, uncertainty, disorientation, and doubt (whether deeply hidden or worn right there on their faces) we have instilled in them.
Yes, WE, most of all the parents, but also teachers, employers, mentors, and public figures - we fucked them young bitches up with our twisted, contradictory, egomaniacal, and unfounded "guidance!" We tell them to pursue their dreams, yet want them to be financially self-sufficient. We tell them that they can achieve whatever they want if they try their best, while knowing very well that no amount of hard work and talent can compete with inroads based on personal connections. We tell them that a higher education leads to better employment, while openly complaining about our own jobs. We convince them that they are talented, unique, smart, and beautiful, yet cannot summon enough decency to show them the respect they actually deserve.
And so, here, in episode 8, we have a gallery of ALL the lead characters presented in nearly equal measure (already an outstanding feat for "Girls"), with their various manifestations of the generational malady:
Absent is Jessa, the eternal quitter, once again wandering away in search of the false thrills of a "real life" (beautifully written out in the previous episode into her already-showing pregnancy by the Six Feet Under alumnus Bruce Eric Kaplan).
The dashing, gifted, interesting, and earnest Adam, who theoretically should not have any qualms about getting a girl, admitting to his blind date (set up by the girl's mother), that he is so nervous, he's "sweating bullets." And we just know that he will fuck it up eventually.
The heart-broken Charlie, who drops his guitar and channels his pain into creating an iPhone app inspired by the obsessive pain inside him. Yes, he cashes in on it and, by "society's standards," he seems to be on the top of the world, but his sad eyes say otherwise. Moreover, we know all about the longevity of these startups.
The awkward Shoshanna, torn between the die-hard concept that college is supposed to be "the best time of one's life" (never mind all those NYU suicides) and the reality that she lives with an adult man whom she actually supports; scared that, whether successful or not, she will be just as lost as her friends after graduation.
The "adult" Ray himself, a self-proclaimed "homeless loser," who is smart and possibly talented (in something), but is trapped in the reality that he cannot find a way into the world, in which he believes he belongs. Yet, he still feels that he has a right to give advice to his fellow struggler "to stop being a cartographer, and start being an explorer."
Here is Marnie, standing in front of Ray, crushed by disillusion and failing to be "the most likely to succeed." Pushed to the edge, she admits that all she wants to do is to sing... and turns out she has a beautiful instrument for it too. Who could possibly know? She was hiding it from everyone.
And there is Hannah... This is the first show on television that unflinchingly uncovered a true portrait of OCD, without providing any comically cutesy cushions for the audience - just a straight blow to the head in all its ugliness. This is what it's really like - exhausting and debilitating, leaving you feeling powerless, reduced to a fucking puppet. This is also the first time someone showed with an admirable subtlety what it does to a girl when her loving father tells her: "You can't be anorexic - I've seen you in a bathing suit."
Considering the track record up to this point, it's hard to believe that all of it was fitted into one episode. It was written by three people - Lena Dunham herself, Steven Rubinshteyn (who served as Ms. Dunham's assistant for the two seasons), and Deborah Schoeneman (who worked as the story editor on the show). The rich material gave Jesse Peretz an opportunity to use his directorial skills for real.
And they did all this without any cheap tricks: no false dramatics, no incoherent story turns, no random bare breasts and asses. Instead, the episode was finally able to achieve a high degree of emotional nakedness.
Is this the beginning of a transformation? I hope so. Episode 9, On All Fours, (written by Dunham and Jenni Konner, directed by Dunham) is definitely an excellent follow up. I always said, that Lena Dunham is a capable person, who will get better as she learns from other talented people. But, on her own, she has a long way to go before she can truly live up to the hype around her. Will she learn humility and start giving credits where they are due? Who knows?
Interestingly enough, as reported by The Atlantic Wire on March 7th, the co-authors of the It's Back episode are not invited into the third season's writers' room. Moreover, everyone in that room has been fired. Only a few older pros will be allowed to share credits with Ms. Dunnam in the third season: Apatow, Konner, Kaplan, Heyward. Maybe it will help Lena to hold on to her "so young, so brilliant" status longer? These people will always be older than her. You know who else is pegged to participate? Dunham's parents. Reverse nepotism? Oh, well...