We haven’t seen much of Jessa or Shoshanna so far in the second season of “Girls,” making their highlighted storylines in this week’s episode refreshing. “It’s a Shame About Ray” deals with the difficulty of relationships, and how being in love and feeling used can overlap.
Wackily mismatched newlyweds Jessa and Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd) go to dinner with his parents. It’s Jessa’s first time meeting them, and once we meet them, we understand why Thomas-John has held off on introductions. The middle-aged couple is coiffed and early to the restaurant, clashing with Jessa’s bohemian devil-may-care outfit ensemble and general disregard for punctuality. Kudos on the parents’ casting: Thomas-John’s mom (Deborah Rush) is brittle, blonde and uptight, while his dad (Griffin Dunne) is hilariously bizarre, making moony eyes at Jessa throughout dinner and interjecting with strange non-sequiturs. (Example: “I love movies about schoolgirls who fall in love.” Huh?) But perhaps his weird choices in conversation reflect an interest in steering the discussion away from what his wife clearly wants to broach. “So Jessa,” she says, “You’ve found yourself in a very… successful situation.”
Thomas-John is mortified that Mommy Dearest would be hurtling accusations of gold digging at Jessa. But when the two are alone later in their apartment, he betrays a measure of agreement. “Girls” has mastered the art of the epic, massive fight. It happened in the first season when Hannah and Marnie had their blowout, and it happens again in this episode with Jessa and Thomas-John. Notice how writer Lena Dunham lets the argument go on for an uncomfortable length of time. Much like a real fight, words are said that will almost immediately bring regret, and then yet more ugly insults are piled atop. Thomas-John calls Jessa “a whore with no work ethic,” Jessa spits that she’s embarrassed to be seen with him because he’s “so average.” He admits to a hooker habit, she smashes his humanitarian award. They agree that $11,500 is an acceptable settlement price for a split.
Meanwhile, Hannah is celebrating the publication of her first JazzHate article, and her platonic breakup with roommate Elijah. She throws a dinner party for friends, which begins awkwardly and becomes more so. Shoshanna discovers that boyfriend Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is living with her. How, you may ask, does one “discover” that a partner is actually a live-in partner? The lovey-dovey duo had been spending all their time together, and Ray, out of embarrassment, didn’t have the heart to tell Shoshanna he was ousted from his previous apartment. Just as Thomas-John feels used by Jessa’s insinuation into his lucrative lifestyle, Shoshanna feels used by Ray’s insinuation into her home, and that a significant step in their relationship occurred without her agreement.
The scene between Shoshanna and Ray in the subway station is lovely. Zosia Mamet and Karpovsky are usually called upon in the series for comedic relief, but here they get to play with sadness, insecurity, and the keen feeling of not deserving love. Ray’s admission that he’s a “33-year-old loser” rings true. Often “Girls” can seem so specific to the twentysomething experience, yet Dunham shows that self-disappointment, lack of direction and financial burden haunt us well beyond those few years after college. On a different note, the vaguely “Brokeback Mountain” theme music during this sequence got me a little teary.
I find it interesting that Charlie (Christopher Abbott), the unbearably “kind” boyfriend, is in this episode a remarkable jerk to both current girlfriend Audrey and ex-girlfriend Marnie. All three are invited to Hannah’s disastrous dinner. When Audrey rightfully points out that Marnie is a needy, disrespectful ex, Marnie hightails it to the roof to let off steam. Charlie follows her -- wrong decision. Not only does he ditch his girlfriend, he then kisses Marnie and, upon having his advances rejected, childishly upbraids her for dating Booth Jonathan. Hell has no immaturity like a Charlie scorned.
Bits and pieces:
- This episode is directed by Jesse Peretz.
- Jessa bares a breast in this episode, which marks the first time that one of the female lead characters -- other than Dunham's Hannah, of course -- goes in for nudity. (We saw a bit of Shoshanna’s butt cheeks in the first season.)
- Aside from being a talented actress, writer and director, Dunham can also carry a tune. Hannah sings Oasis’ “Wonderwall” to herself alone in the tub, and the real version of the song plays over the closing credits.
- Best line goes to Shoshanna, if just for Zosia Mamet’s delivery: “What’s a butt plug?”