GIRLS RECAP 2: VAGINA PANIC

Television
by Sarah D. Bunting
April 22, 2012 10:55 PM
8 Comments
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"Vagina Panic" is an attention-getting episode title—but nobody's really panicking in the second episode of Girls except Hannah, whose takeaway from a childhood viewing of Forrest Gump is an obsessive fear of contracting AIDS from "stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms." "Vagina Denial" might cover the subject a bit better.

Hannah is, of course, still in denial about Adam's potential as a nurturing whatever-mate. We open with another awkward-because-it's-completely-on-point Hannah/Adam sex scene, in which our favorite graduate of Berlitz's porn-talk immersion course is jackhammering Hannah while carrying on about how she's a tween junkie in an alley carrying a Cabbage Patch lunchbox. Hannah plays along with "you're a dirty whore and I'm going to send you home to your parents covered in come"; and with Adam sort of clumsily choking her out with a cat-steps-on-your-face-at-6-AM maneuver; and with him ordering her to call him for permission to have an orgasm if she's touching herself at home. "You want me to call you?" she asks, touched; this is the part she chooses to hear, not the submissive role she's supposed to play for him . . . and does play, more or less. After Adam finishes, she sighs, "That was so good. I almost came," and instead of making sure she does come, he takes the comment as a compliment, and offers her a Gatorade.

It's utterly obvious to everyone but Hannah that Adam is not and will not become the guy she's telling herself he is, but kudos to the script for giving Adam's character a moment that explains why women tolerate that type for so long. During a grim convo that makes it clear Adam is 1) sleeping with other women and 2) not using condoms with them, he muses that Hannah's insistence on rubbers must be why it takes him forever to "nut" with her. Hannah's face collapses like a Vegas building demolition, but Adam catches his snap for once, saying she has "total freak-out face" and quickly reassuring her that he's "fine" with the sex they're having. And that's how Adams keep you on the hook, too—that one moment of acknowledgment, every few weeks, that you're doing a rockin' job as VP of Doormats.

Marnie's assessment of this situation is sugar-free. She informs Hannah that Adam isn't allowed to say the little-whore stuff to her: "He's not your boyfriend." Leaving aside the idea that apparently hooker-john role-play exists only in the privileged relationship space, the "not your boyfriend" nerve is the raw one.

Not that Marnie's interested in any truth-telling about her boyfriend, who she can't bring herself to look at during sex. That sex scene opens with Charlie suggesting that they stare into one another's eyes when they come; Marnie has her head turned away and eyes screwed shut. Her next move is to propose switching to doggie-style, so she's not even facing him, but it's still Charlie back there, and he seems to have confused "thrusting" with "continental drift." The next day, Marnie bitches at Charlie to . . . well, act more like Adam, to get pissed at her and not care what she thinks: "It's what men do." Then she mocks his testicles.

Hannah, eating a yogurt, observes that it's okay if Marnie is just bored. Marnie defensives, "That is a really simplistic explanation of what's going on." It's also . . . the actual explanation of what's going on, and Marnie should just break up with Charlie, but she doesn't want to be the kind of girl who breaks up with The Most Solicitous Man In New York, so she tells herself it's more complicated than that.

Jessa is also in denial, to a degree. She's moody during the first half of the episode, broodily smoking pot with her headphones on, then lashing out at Hannah and Shoshanna when they have the gall to defend a The Rules-ish self-help book about dating. (Hannah doesn't defend it so much as laughingly admit that she "hate-read" it at the airport, which is exactly what I did with the actual The Rules.) After bombasting that she's "offended by 'supposed-tos'" like those the author posits, Jessa bitches at Hannah for studying her face for "one of [her] novels," then announces that she wants kids someday, and she's going to be "amazing" at it. Of course you do, Hannah says, and of course you are—but Jessa's not done: "I want to have children with many different men of different races."

This United Jessa of Benetton declaration seemed random at first, and I didn't know how to react to it initially, other than to conclude that a character who considers her future offspring multi-racial-chic accessories should absolutely not have a baby right now. But I think that's the point—and it's touched on elsewhere in the episode, too, when Adam and Hannah discuss the abortion. Adam deems it "kind of a heavy fucking situation," but Hannah wonders if it really is: "I mean, I feel like people say that it's a huge deal, but how big a deal are these things actually."

Hannah then gets concerned that Adam thinks she's too flip about the issue, because of course it's a big deal—but the dialogue raises some interesting, sticky questions about how our culture and our narratives treat abortion. Specifically, I mean the tendency of many, many films and TV shows to classify an abortion as an incomparable trauma, as Marnie does in so many words; Hannah's raised eyebrows note, sans dialogue, that she can think of more traumatic situations—sexual assault, for example, or the death of a partner. And this is on the few occasions when the script goes through with it, versus having the character miscarry or otherwise sidestep the issue (see: Julia on Party of Five, et al.). Is that appropriate? Or do writers default to that position because it's the least likely to cause offense? Of course an abortion is a game-changer for some women, and not a positive one—but for others who avail themselves of that choice without regrets, I think there's a pressure to suffer, to grieve, to be seen as paying somehow.

The show is not necessarily equipped to answer these questions, and wisely doesn't try. Certainly Jessa isn't delving into them; she's dressed for the procedure in harem pants and complicated lace-up heels. She's also late for the procedure because she's in a bar, drinking White Russians, pontificating about the sinking of Venice (of course she is), and making out with a stranger who borrowed her cell phone—which is how she finds out she won't need the procedure in the first place, because her period is late too, but now it's here. Menses ex machina!

Everyone else has gathered at the clinic, though, to support Jessa and/or get tested for STDs. Marnie is incensed that Jessa is late, except she actually loves it, because she gets to feel a better, more responsible martyr than Jessa, which is what her whole relationship with Jessa is about. But when Hannah goes in for her appointment, Shoshanna can't maintain her denial any longer, confessing to Marnie that she's a virgin. Marnie is taken aback, but shrugs that it's no big deal and sex is "overrated" anyway. She assumes that Shoshanna has given BJs, right? "Yes! . . . No!" Maybe it's because we just saw Chris Eigeman in last week's ep, and he's a lead in Kicking and Screaming, but that put me in mind of the running gag with Otis in that movie. "Is that a pajama top, Otis?" "No! . . . Yes."

We end the episode with Hannah facing one fear head-on as she slides into the stirrups. This is Hannah, so she's babbling more or less uncontrollably to the GYN about how having HIV does in fact have its up sides: it's a great excuse to bail on your job hunt, say, or get really mad at the guy who gave it to you. (She should do that anyway, of course, but: you know. Denial.) Maybe she's not afraid of getting AIDS, she says; maybe she actually wants to get it. The GYN informs her that that's a ridonkulous thing to say, and disgorges a PSA's worth of stats about women's infection rates, and that response is no doubt the result of a network note to the effect of "please make it clear that we're not expected to think this is funny." (It put me in mind of the My So-Called Life pilot, and Angela Chase observing that Anne Frank was "lucky" because she was stuck in an attic with a boy she really liked.)

I didn't think we needed the prod, because the episode keeps coming back to a question about certain charged topics and conversations, namely: How much of what we do, of our reactions, is what we think we "should" do? It's in Adam's "little-whore stuff," which is cast as goofy rather than threatening. It's in Hannah’s wondering if abortion is always a really big deal every time, for everyone, and her frightened Googling about rogue semen. It's in Marnie’s not wanting to come off like a bitch, and coming off like an even bigger bitch as a result. And it's in that disastrous job interview Hannah goes on, when she starts out acing it on a vibing-with-the-interviewer level, then unfortunately feels comfortable enough to make a date-rape joke and shoots herself in the foot. She's supposed to feel that that isn't an "office-okay" topic or tone, because obviously it isn't—but why will she censor herself and her disappointment with Adam, then push the "humor" envelope in an interview? Why does what she "should" do, the idea of "being good," pertain more in this farkakte romantic relationship?

I don't know the answers; I don't think the show does either. But in spite of some kludgy, on-the-nose dialogue in spots this week, the episode successfully showed that issues and people are complicated, and don't resolve in 30 minutes. Or ever, sometimes.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

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8 Comments

  • ryan | February 18, 2013 1:28 AMReply

    ;

  • Mandi | April 26, 2012 11:32 AMReply

    I have mixed feelings on this show. On the one hand, I appreciate that the writing, while very expository in its own way, is at least thoughtfully expository. I understand the complaints (here in the comments: many excellent examples) about how the characters are generally despicable, how there is a lack of real action or meaning, and how nothing really happens and it's all very "boring," but that is, in my humble opinion...kind of the point.

    I'm not saying it's perfectly executed, but with only two episodes, I would qualify it as "still finding its legs." And it certainly, CERTAINLY will not be everyone's cuppa, but I have always been interested in character studies and increasingly tired of the inevitable plot-driving logical fallacies of more "exciting" and "dramatic" shows (I mean, I've seen every episode ever of The Vampire Diaries, and I simply set aside my irritation that Elena does not simply get a small wrist tattoo and thus eliminate the possibility that Katherine can impersonate her--and setting THAT aside, how can vampires with super hearing continuously fail to hear the total lack of heartbeat???) so I, long parenthetical aside, am cautiously hopeful about Girls.

    I guess, while I see the flaws, I assign them different adjectives, and I find they add up to something that I like. Instead of boring, I think the show is insular. It's not ABOUT anything, is what it's about. Other than these girls living their mundane, normal, flawed lives, it is not driven by anything. Instead of unlikeable, I see them as realistic. They are whiny and self-centered; but so would we all be, were our normal lives the subject of a half hour television show in which we never acknowledge the camera or the audience.

    As for Hannah, I...I don't know, man. I think I could be friends with her in real life, and I'm not sure what that says about me. I think there is a remarkable and admirable level of realism in the depiction of her relationship with Adam. He's a dick, yes, but he's not a lying or manipulative dick. All he's guilty of is doing him. I wouldn't want a piece of it, but I don't really blame him for existing. And I get why Hannah keeps going back to him. She doesn't feel pretty, she's ashamed of her life at some level (her confession about her parental support to him, long after they started sleeping together shows us that, if nothing else), and she seems to generally have no idea what she wants out of life, or where to start finding it. She likes the boy, which means she doesn't realize fully that she should do better, and she's apparently fairly insecure, which means she doesn't think she *could* do better.

    Marnie, on the other hand...oh, have I ever been Marnie.

  • ct | April 25, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    Great review. You're so very right about Adam and why he keeps getting laid. His and Hannah's relationship is so delightfully/horrifyingly real...

  • Elisa | April 24, 2012 6:12 AMReply

    As much as I fear that I am programmed to love this show, I really do love it. Anything that draws positive associations to "Kicking & Screaming" and MSCL is aces. In the almost 20 years since K&S, this show's voice comes closest to exploring the post-college adolescence (minus any grad students so far).

  • Liz C | April 23, 2012 10:47 PMReply

    Great recap. I'm definitely interested and engaged with the show, and it's nice to read about the show and not just the reaction to the show.

    I thought that there was an interesting parallel between the GYN (I'm guessing she was a PA or RN doing the pelvic exam) and the guy in the job interview. Each was initially drawn into Hannah's conversation, but then had the point of "hey, that's too far." There was something about the "adults" wanting to engage with the 20's character, but then feeling like they needed to deliver a lecture on the "real world" that I found relatable as a person who was a 24 year old, and has been the boss of 24 year olds. That thread of generational interaction (maybe conflict is too strong) was also in the first episode with Hannah's parents and Chris Eigeman, and I'm curious to see how/if it plays out in future episodes.

  • Bunting | April 23, 2012 9:16 AMReply

    Thanks for the kind words, guys.

    "Adam, far from being the ass-hat clown we're supposed to think he is, is actually a LOT more likable than Hannah (which isn't saying much, but bear with me)" -- I kind of agree. He's not all that attentive to or interested in her, but 1) he's fairly straightforward about that and 2) it's her choice to stay. And he's not a total cartoon.

    And while I don't agree that Hannah's dull, I also like the "ghost" observation -- that she's just floating through, not registering. I find that more relatable than you might because I think I was having the same kind of trouble bearing down at her age, for lack of a better term. But I've also said many times that realism is not necessarily entertaining, so I can't really argue your take on that. Heh.

    Anyway, thanks for reading!

  • Bill Scurry | April 23, 2012 1:26 AMReply

    Great recap, Sars. It's crazy, but only two episodes in I'm loving this show. It sounds like nothing else on TV, and the photography by Jody Lee Lipes looks more akin to an indie movie than a TV show, which befits his roots.

  • Brendan D | April 23, 2012 12:21 AMReply

    Honest to God, this review is SO much more interesting than the episode itself. I can barely pay attention myself. Each one of these characters is so hideously unlikable in his/her own way that it makes watching this show a special chore. Well, not so much anymore. I gave it two episodes. The first one bored me to tears, and as for "Vagina Panic," well, it's not a good thing when an episode primarily about sex makes me want not to have it, like, ever again.

    But it's not really the sex scenes, absurd and, well, boring as they were. I can go for awkward sex scenes because that's pretty much what sex scenes are like in real life. No, what's obnoxious is that Adam, far from being the ass-hat clown we're supposed to think he is, is actually a LOT more likable than Hannah (which isn't saying much, but bear with me). Hannah is an utterly useless person. I've been in her situation before (as, I think, many of us have). You're sleeping with someone you don't really like, putting up with his/her malarkey and horrible sexual etiquette because, well, they're nice to you sometimes... Adam is just a typical d-bag guy, no more, no less. By contrast, Hannah is the protagonist and ostensible hero of the show, and nothing she does makes her more likable. She refuses to take charge of her life, preferring to let is work around her. Instead of either accepting her fate of having to frak Adam or breaking it off with a guy who even she is obviously not interested in, she just kind of blithely waltzes through life doing whatever, because that's what makes sense or is easy or nice to do.

    In a way, I get that. A lot of life IS like that. But you know what? That's not really a television program. No, we don't learn life lessons in 30 minutes or less, and I don't think anyone really wants to watch another sitcom like that. But frankly, I also don't want to watch someone tiptoeing through life as if a ghost. Hannah is a boring person. Her friends are boring people. Her boyfriend-or-whateverthehell-he-is is boring. It has amounted to a boring show, which is disappointing, because the acting isn't awful at all. I have seen nothing remotely interesting to keep me going, so I wish you the very best of luck reviewing. At least YOU have the chops to write well enough to keep detractors like me interested.

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