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[Warning: The following story contains spoilers about Sunday night’s fifth-season Girls episode, “The Panic in Central Park”]
On Sunday night’s Girls, Allison Williams’ Marnie got a blast from her past and made a big decision about her future.
While walking around New York after getting into a fight with her husband Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Marnie unexpectedly runs into her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott).
After quickly catching up, Marnie and Charlie, who hadn’t seen each other in two years after he abruptly broke up with her (when Abbott unexpectedly decided to leave the show), spend a whirlwind night together, ending at Charlie’s squalid apartment. After they have sex, though, she finds a needle that falls out of Charlie’s pants. She leaves and walks home barefoot, with wet hair, still wearing the episode’s signature red dress, where she runs into Desi on the stairs of their building. When he asks what happened, she tells him she no longer wants to be married to him and shouldn’t have gone ahead with the wedding but “didn’t want to give up on yet another dream.”
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Williams about Charlie’s return, Marnie’s decision to end things with Desi and how her big night will affect her going forward.
What was your reaction when you got the episode and saw that not only would it be all about Marnie but would feature so much big stuff for her? I went into it truly not knowing what happens to Marnie, because [creator and star Lena Dunham had] mentioned things over time but I didn’t know what was going to stick and I knew that Chris [Abbott] was coming back, I just didn’t know how it was going to end between them. And when I finished reading it, my heart was racing. I was like this is the most incredible gift, this is a real opportunity to show someone who’s been controversial in terms of people understanding her or even liking her on the show thus far. … I immediately started to think about how to arc it out and how to break it down and make sure every scene had every emotion in it but hit one emotion the hardest. … I just wanted to do justice to the beautiful script I’d just finished. … I knew it was going to be challenging for a lot of physical, logistical reasons. So I think what I wanted to focus on before shooting it was all of the work parts of it, all of the actor-y preparation things, so when I got to the actual scenes themselves and they were challenging in very new ways for me on Girls, I could just focus on what I had to know in order to get the scene done and go back to what I’d prepared in terms of the emotionality of it and the specificity of everything.
Do you have any insights into how Christopher Abbott’s return came about? What it was like working with him again? I know very little about the origins of that idea. I think what happened was Lena reached out and he was receptive to the idea, but I don’t know like how long it took him to get back to her or if it was a big choice. All I know is that there was something very hilariously meta about it because I hadn’t seen him since he left the show, so there was a very weird real layer on top of everything. … It was great to have him back and it’s funny how quickly a dynamic comes back. Our characters’ vibe together was I guess kind of latent and dormant in me, and it just instantly came back to us both.
When Marnie first spots Charlie, she turns around and walks away and keeps trying to get away from him. What do you think is going through her mind in that moment? I think she’s just thinking like, ‘There’s no interaction that will leave me feeling good, that I could possibly have in this moment. I need to get out of here. I need to leave this situation and go think about it.’ Also, I think she’s coming from a place of being incredibly vulnerable and probably allowing herself to have some pretty scary thoughts about her marriage and Desi in general, and I think to run into someone that gets that vulnerability so quickly … is kind of exactly what she doesn’t think she needs in that moment. The best-case scenario for her for that walk for her would be walking by all of those guys telling her she’s pretty and walking by a store and having someone offer her something for free. She would probably prefer to have the Belle experience of walking through town. But what she gets is this incredibly jarring record-scratch moment where her day, in one moment, is completely different than she thought it might be. I think there’s also an aspect to an interaction with an ex where you want it to be on your terms. She probably spent years imagining what it would be like to see Charlie again, and I think in all of her ideal imaginings of it, she had the upper-hand or it was some meet-up that she engineered or she was in charge in some way. This is not what she was expecting or even wanting.
She notices that he’s acting different and he does keep having to run to the bathroom. Do you think she sensed he was doing drugs before she saw the needle? Not at all. I think in her mind a lot can be explained away by those years. She knows he’s in a dark place. I think she attributes a lot of that to his dad [committing suicide], which who knows whether that’s true. And I think she’s also high off of this version of herself where she’s not as judgmental. I think we see that throughout the episode. A lot of things that we would have felt jarring or different or weird in Charlie’s behavior, she’s actively trying not to judge and of course the one time she’s actively trying to turn off her judgment she needs it really badly. … As much flak as she gets for her judgment, occasionally it would come in handy.
She tells Desi right after leaving Charlie that she doesn’t want to be married to him. When do you think she realized that and knew she had to tell him and made the decision to tell him? I tried to put that inner struggle in her mind in some of the dormant moments. I tried to make sure she was toggling between thinking about the dynamic with Charlie … and then getting sucked into the funnel of thinking about things with Desi. … So when her head is on his shoulder when they’re dancing, on the subway, when she’s talking to the sales associate, she’s practicing things. When she’s walking. I mean they walk from wherever they buy the dress to The Plaza, so that’s a lot of time to pass. She has that whole walk from Charlie’s apartment to her apartment, which is really long. … I think it’s a really useful time because she has nothing to distract herself with … and she just has to focus on something she’s been putting off for some time. When she gets to [her] apartment, I think she’s gone through all of the stages of grief … she has nothing left except she has this little bit of empathy left in her tank and the idea of telling Desi that makes her sad and is the end of something that she thought might work … She didn’t want to have this fail. Her desire to have it not fail is what propelled her into it even though some part of her knew better anyway. So I think she decides fully throughout the course of her day and night and the walk solidifies it.
How is this break-up going to affect Marnie going forward? In New York, you can have these really personal, very isolated interactions with people. They bleed into your life in the way that they affect you, but it almost feels too private to even share. … So Marnie just doesn’t mention Charlie. Hannah certainly knows about the divorce going into the next episode, but there’s this sense that everyone can’t believe it and all that stuff. Marnie interacts with Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and doesn’t bring up Charlie. … Everything stays in that night except for that one headline that her friends know and she wants people to know, that she’s getting divorced.
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