Girls tackles consent versus power in an elegant episode

HBO

Previously, Hannah had opinions and some self-awareness and Marnie may have broke it off with Desi the Dick.

Sometimes TV shows do “bottle episodes,” where basically a series of conversations of small events happens entirely in one location. Often this was historically done for budgetary reasons, but it’s also done for story or character purposes. One common feeling is the sort of “stage performance” feeling you often get, like this episode could be entirely on a stage. Here we see two people having a charged, difficult conversation and they don’t leave the apartment.

This episode is entirely about Hannah and her attempt to reconcile the concept of a problematic artist with her appreciation for their art. Chuck Palmer, played by an always great Matthew Rhys of The Americans, is a successful and celebrated author living in a beautiful NYC apartment on the Upper West Side. But when Hannah writes about how several women have accused Chuck of non-consensual sexual aggression or possibly worse, he invites her to his place to have a “talk.”

Immediately the episodes puts you off guard by presenting the situation ambiguously; at first, it’s unclear whether or not Chuck is guilty. He presents his side: he didn’t force anything and these women are writers trying to find a good story. He feels under attack and punished for sleeping with willing younger women. The other side is several women, chief among them someone named Denise, saying it’s not that way.

Hannah presents a great argument, that Chuck used his power and influence to make it very difficult for these girls to refuse. The argument reverberates around victimhood versus privilege, the bubble of Tumblr versus the possibility of misunderstandings. And the mystery of whether or not she really “wanted it” or not. Of course, consent may seem confusing, but the episode builds to a point of showing how someone can be manipulated into consenting when they don’t really want to consent.

Hannah reveals some backstory of a pervy high school teacher and how people didn’t seem to want to hear her accusation, painting a new depth to her character. Her desire, which Chuck pushes her to reveal, is to help others feel less alone and laugh about things that are painful. When they talk about Philip Roth and how he was quite problematic as an artist himself, it’s a clear parallel and serious question.

HBO

Although the behind the scenes talk said that Chuck hadn’t planned to expose himself, his “did I do that?” grin showed that he didn’t regret it at all. Perhaps Chuck isn’t a predator who plans to manipulate, but he does it despite whether or not he wants to want to manipulate. The episode does not answer the question of whether or not you can enjoy problematic art.

The final shot of Hannah watching Chuck watching his daughter play music is quite affecting, and her conflicted emotional state makes the point that people are complicated. People can create wonderful art and still also do terrible things.

As the episode ends, we see a score of young women unrealistically disappear into the building, making the metaphor literal. There will always be more. The episode does not give us an answer, and perhaps that’s an “I leave it to you to decide” thing. People can forgive and forget scandals and problems, and artists get a lot of forgiveness. When something affects you, you don’t want to believe in their problematic behavior, because then you might feel guilty for enjoying the art.

This is an episode about a “message,” heavy on acting and dialog. I think it will resonate with some more than others, but for me, it’s more about the character growth. Here, Hannah is reasonable and measured, confused and conflicted. It’s not my favorite of these bottle episodes, but there’s a lot of interesting depth here. Still, Hannah isn’t my favorite character, so … it’s not my favorite episode.

What did you think of this episode? Tell us in the comments below!

 

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