‘Girls’ Season 4, Episode 4 Recap: “Cubbies”

It’s been seventy-five years since Thomas Wolfe wrote the book on it, but You Can’t Go Home Again is still a productive theme with a protagonist as un-self aware as Hannah Horvath. Poor Hannah can’t undo the damage she did at the rager last week with an “apology” letter so passive-aggressive even she doesn’t realize how unapologetic it is. So she tries to turn back time even further by taking her father’s advice and returning to New York—only to find her couch gone and her boyfriend attached to blonde, pencil-thin Gillian Jacobs, a situation that’s likely the stuff of Hannah’s insecure nightmares.

Hannah’s unhappiness at Iowa reaches its apex this week when her classmates attempt to “workshop her emotions.” The best thing the Girls version of Iowa is that, unlike the Girls version of GQ, Hannah’s peers are just as awful as Hannah herself, allowing her to be alienating and on-point all at once. The apology letter is ridiculous; so is writing a story about a robot horse and referring to cubbies as “sacred spaces for sharing art.” Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: even as Hannah shoots down her frat bro classmate and (rightfully) points out that cubbies are mostly for kindergarteners, she also refuses to take responsibility for how she’s contributing to her own unhappiness. The one-on-one with her workshop leader shows exactly why Hannah’s attempt to undo the damage is doomed to fail. At some point, she has to take a good, hard look at her own choices beyond wishing she hadn’t made them. But that’s not very Girls, is it?

Which brings us to this show’s most frustrating character. Marnie is emblematic of Girls’ built-in character problem: how do you make a series about a group’s inability to evolve without letting that inability cripple the series? Changing their surroundings works, but only temporarily (see: the last two paragraphs). Sooner or later, something like Marnie and Desi’s most recent sex scene happens—a retread of emotional trainwrecks past so blatant it’s like watching Marnie stuck in her own personal Groundhog Day, minus the personal growth. Which may be the point, but what fun is that to watch?

Seriously: remember in the finale, when Desi kissed Marnie and she gleefully watched as he went to break up with his girlfriend—or so she thought? Desi sobbing about the breakup (now that it’s finally, questionably happened) into Marnie’s vagina is simply that, plus time and an R rating. Here is an awful dude, a dude Ebon Moss-Bachrach has crafted into a Michelangelo’s David of bullshit-spewing awfulness, proving that awfulness by cheating/sleeping with Marnie. And here is an awful girl, a girl whose ability to suppress every reasonable, moral instinct in the name of validation is written all over Allison Williams’ frown-to-O-face. They’re great performances, but they’re used to crush any hope last week’s confrontation gave us that Marnie’s inching forward.

Shoshanna alone seems to strike the balance between growing up and staying exactly, wonderfully the same. Brutal honesty has been Shoshanna’s trademark long before she showed up at McKinsey and Ann Taylor Loft. It’s what gave us moments like “That duck tasted like a used condom”—still the best one-liner in Girls history—and what makes her backhanded confidence in Marnie’s song so sweet. McKinsey Lady’s necklace may be unflattering, but she’s right: Shoshanna’s “unique personal style” (those hair clips!) definitely isn’t right for consulting, but it’s probably perfect for somewhere else.

But it’s also what allows her to admit to Ray that she’s the one responsible for their breakup, an admission that wouldn’t be possible without some serious introspection. (Ray’s another character who’s grown up in some ways, like owning a coffee-shop, and stayed put in others, like a propensity to scream at irresponsibly loud drivers to the soundtrack of Birdman-esque drums.) And if her confession that knowing she was in love with Ray gives her hope that she’ll do something else great one day didn’t get to you, well, blame Marnie.