After three episodes of detours, following the travails of Hannah (Lena Dunham), Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Adam (Adam Driver), and the for-the-moment departed Jessa (Jemima Kirke), "Girls" gets the gang back together for yet another strong episode in which some of our favorite supporting players get to shine. For those feeling a bit let down by the recent experimental plays on form from Dunham, last night's episode returns to season one familiarity, with results just as winning as anything the show has done.
Long an underrated and underutilized sideplayer, perhaps the best thing about "It's Back" is that the episode put Zosia Mamet's loveable Shoshanna in the spotlight. Walking in the park with Ray, she runs into Radhika ("She's the richest Indian I know"), an old friend, who invites her to party that night with old college friends. Ray is quickly put off when Radhika, boasting a similar, bubbly spirit to Shoshanna, but far emptier, describes the roller blades she's wearing as "vintage." "You're about to make me cry and I don't even know you," he quips. Much to the chagrin of Shoshanna, he bows out of attending the party, but she's undeterred, wanting to make an appearance to show the world that she's still around, and not just caught up in a new relationship.
Meanwhile, Charlie (Christopher Abbott) gets reintroduced into the mix, now as a successful web entrepreneur. He's sold an app to a tech company for quite a bit of money, and landed a lucrative job all at the same time, and upon hearing the news, Marnie (Allison Williams) wastes no time in making a beeline to his Chelsea office. And there she finds a newly successful Charlie, leading a team young, smart, attractive employees, seeming to have more than his fair share of authority. And unlike past encounters with Marnie, Charlie has his guard up. He's instantly wary of why she's come by, and when she begins to feel around for just how much he sold his app for, he bluntly asks if she needs money.
But perhaps the biggest twist of the knife comes with the revelation of what the app is. It's called Forbid, and once installed, it blocks a number of someone you want to call but shouldn't -- an ex-lover or an old boss for example -- and if you do decide you need access to that number, you have to pay $10. Charlie cites Marnie as the inspiration, saying it's something he started working on after their first breakup, and before he can talk with her any longer, he's called away to participate in a lipdub for a neighboring company, for a YouTube video they're putting together (people still do that?).
Adam also re-emerges, but at first it almost seems like his stalker persona is back. The show opens with him calling Hannah (she doesn't answer) and a few scenes later we catch up with him, now back in AA. This is a really lovely way to reintroduce Adam, and pick up on a character detail that was first introduced last season. Acknowledging that he first came to the program in his late teens, before slowly drifting into some regular meetings, Adam admits that a recent breakup has weakened his resolve. He hasn't relapsed, but he recognizes that he may need a bit of support. But the AA meeting suddenly unfurls into an opportunity to move on from Hannah.
After it's over, Adam is cornered by a woman played by a charming Carol Kane, who persists in setting him up with her daughter Natalia. We rarely have seen Adam completely taken off guard, but this is a hilarious scene as he has no idea how to deflect these overtures. He's clearly flattered and a bit weirded out, but he does indeed call Natalia, and when they meet up for dinner, not only is she gorgeous, but the date goes well. They are both surprised to be a little taken with each other. Adam is nervous, but fascinated by Natalia's work with a private investigator, and she in turn has plainly sworn off regular dating, but is glad to meet someone interesting. It's eye-opening to see Adam in this light, and have his guard slightly up. And while he still swears like a sailor, he keep his more outrageous nature hidden from Natalia for now. But we do have to wonder what on Earth she'll think when she sees his apartment.
But if the breakup with Hannah forced Adam to confront his weaknesses, his call at the opening exacerbated hers. With her parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari) in town, Hannah's teenage OCD has come roaring back with a vengeance. Crippled with anxiety both by the threat of Adam crashing back into her life and the deadline for her book, she slowly crumbles over the course of the episode, winding up in the office of a doctor played by Bob Balaban. Standoffish and embarrassed, Hannah reveals just how bad her OCD was in her youth, which led to many sleepless nights as she constantly rearranged the most mundane items or even masturbated numerous times to the point that she was in tears. But the biggest tragedy is that, now that Hannah finally is able to show her parents that she's a success, the OCD gets in the way, and what she says to her father on the subway after her appointment says it all: "I hate it when you look so concerned about me."
As for Shoshanna, the party turns out to be a bust as Radhika isn't all that interested in what her friend has been up to, and quickly finds some others to hang out with. Defeated, Shoshanna leaves, but not before a few kind words from the doorman lead to a furious makeout session in the mailroom. It may seem out of step for Shoshanna, but consider that she's recently deflowered, living with a boyfriend with whom she shares more differences than things in common, and the fact that he can be condescending (on air quotes: "Pantomime to express your emotions is a crutch, we've talked about that"). It's nice to see Shoshanna be commanding rather than reactive, and this could bring some interesting notes to her character.
Finally, Marnie continues to spiral into the being most detestable character on the show. After her blatantly transparent visit to Charlie to witness his new tech fame and fortune, she returns home and gripes to Ray about Charlie: "I mentally budgeted six years of brokeness." She proceeds to call him one of the "sad messes" in life who find their dreams coming true, while people like her who have their "shit together" continue to struggle. Ray tries to help by lecturing her that she needs to stop wanting, and start doing something to achieve her goals (ironic, given his own perma-slacker behavior). When he presses her about what she really wants to do, she says: "I want to sing." While Ray concedes she has a good voice after she gives him a demonstration, it's exactly the kind of fairytale, long-shot goal Marnie would have. Something unattainable (to most), but that she feels she deserves. Are we about to see indie rock Marnie? The next couple episodes should be interesting.
But all told, this is the kind of strong outing from "Girls" that can almost be taken for granted, where the show is firing on all cylinders, with some great growth and movement all around. Those itching for an "old school" episode were likely very, very pleased. [A-]
Songs in this episode: Cali Swag District "Teach Me How To Dougie"; Jerry Vale "Al Di La"; Al Lerner "So Until I See You"; Judy Collins "Someday Soon"; Cher Lloyd "Want U Back"; Judy Collins "Song For Judith"