By Sarah D. Bunting | Press Play June 11, 2012 at 9:15AM
The climactic argument between Marnie and Hannah in "Leave Me Alone" is soooo satisfying—and it's not merely because Marnie is acting as the viewer's proxy in calling Hannah fully and completely on her bullshit. That's fun, but Marnie isn't even alone in that this week, because Hannah's finally gotten a semi-, sort-of, part-time coffee-shop job . . . and her manager is Ray. Ray not only sends Hannah home to change when she shows up in a stain-tempting white dress, ordering her to "forget all the BBC you watch at home with your cats" and put on something appropriate; he also advises her on what to buy at American Apparel, complete with hand gestures ("slim leg! slim leg!") (not for nothing, but a skinny jean is about the only thing that would be less flattering to Lena Dunham's figure than the dresses Hannah already wears).
Ray also gives explicit voice to the anxieties of young writers about their material—specifically, whether it's "serious enough." I had to accept years ago that I'd never make that cut, because when I was Hannah's age, the internet was considered the JV, at best, never mind writing about television on the internet, or telling funny stories about karate class or doing your laundry. I didn't have an agent, I didn't write literary fiction, and it didn't really matter, at all, but back then, if a guy like Ray had blown off my subject matter as frivolous—"How about divorce? How about death? . . . How about death?"—I would have taken it to heart, and I would have tried to write a somber, well-researched, mindful, high-fiber piece about municipal politics, and it would have bombed, just like it does for Hannah at her reading. Hannah's former writing prof is very encouraging throughout, and seems to understand what Hannah's writing strength is, whether it's one that Hannah wants to own or not. (He's also played by Michael "Christopher Moltisanti" Imperioli. Imperioli has other, more recent credits, but I have to think the casting is meant to recall "Christophuh"'s struggles with the written word over the run of The Sopranos.)
But Hannah feels that snarky essays about dating a hoarder and spending the night on a stack of flattened Chinese-food cartons won't get you onto "Fresh Air." Of course, that very sort of observation by Dunham has gotten Dunham herself onto "Fresh Air," via "Girls"; the episode really nails the insecurity and toxic envy of starting out as a writer, although I'm not sure it's something Dunham has really experienced in that way. Maybe episode co-writer (and New Yorker cartoonist) Bruce Eric Kaplan helped shape the bits with Tally Schifrin, Hannah's creative-writing program-mate who already has a memoir out. Tally's a perfectly drawn cartoon of the non-fiction classmate we all despised, the well-connected mediocrity just clever enough to leverage a single incident or tagline into a hardcover deal. If you thought Hannah snarking that Tally's "lucky" to have a boyfriend who killed himself so she could write about it was too over the top, even for Hannah, you haven't spent that much time around writers. (And you shouldn't start. We are ruthless.)
Professor Imperioli is comforting, telling Hannah the thing every struggling, lost essayist wants to hear from someone in authority—that Tally's a "shitty" writer, and Hannah is good. It's more than Marnie has mustered; asked her opinion of the hoarder-date essay earlier, Marnie deemed it "a little bit, like, whiny." But when Hannah whines that Marnie could be a bit more supportive, Marnie sighs, "Hannah, I support you. Literally."
And when Hannah comes home from the reading and bags on Marnie for throwing clothes away instead of donating them to Goodwill, it sets off a very rewarding showdown. As I said before, it's partly because Marnie is ranking on Hannah for all her friendship sins: Hannah's selfish; she uses her self-loathing as an excuse to be a narcissist; she has no other subject but herself. Hannah gets a few good shots of her own off—Marnie is too focused on achievement and comparing herself to others; her woe-is-single-me routine is getting old (we haven't really seen that, but I'm fine with inferring it from Marnie's sad-sackishness last week); this is about Hannah having a boyfriend and Marnie not having one, because it throws off the balance of power. Now, Hannah doesn't use exactly those words, and it's a topic so nuclear that most women friends would never go near it out loud—but Marnie is used to having the boyfriend, feeling the pity instead of needing it, fitting into the size 6 (a fact she makes glancing reference to by saying that one of her old dresses might fit Hannah a bit snugly—exactly the right tone and wording for that kind of slight).
It's possible that Hannah isn't only selfish and lacking in empathy for Marnie; it's possible that, as the one who's feeling more settled emotionally for a change, she doesn't know how to support Marnie. But . . . it's more likely that, just as she herself says, being a good friend "isn't a priority for" her right now. Marnie's icy "thank you" when Hannah admits this echoes of the audience—because no shit, first of all, and second of all, it's not just Hannah. It's Marnie; it was me, I think, at that age. I'm not sure I had "friends," exactly, so much as "people I stood next to while holding a beer, in order to hate myself outside my apartment now and then."
All of Hannah's scenes, and the post-collegiate writing-competition stuff, totally resonated with me—and pretty much made up for a baffling plot "development" for Jessa in which Kathryn Lavoyt shows up at her apartment to ask her to come back as her daughters' nanny in spite of everything. It's unclear what Kathryn thinks happened, or how she found out about it—Jeff could have confessed, but it seems like something Jessa would do to quit and explain exactly why—but she takes the opportunity to share a very on-the-nose dream she keeps having about stabbing Jessa and eating her body while her mother is breastfeeding her husband. Kathryn gets a speech about how Jessa causes dramas like this, to distract herself from becoming who she is. Jessa looks intrigued by that possibility, and asks who she's becoming, then; Kathryn's response is more speechifying about how that person might not have a cool job or hair "like a mermaid," but might be happier than Jessa is now. Or . . . something. I really can't tell whether we're meant to hope that Jessa hears something for herself in these Now The Married Lady Will Tell You Your Life pearls of wisdom, or to think that Kathryn's condescending and out of touch. I have to go with the latter, although I don't think the scene came out the way it may have been intended.
And speaking of things that perhaps weren't intended . . . is that a jar of mayonnaise next to Hannah's bed? And do I want to know either way?
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.