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Did Girls visually assault us? As a friend said, Sunday’s episode of Girls was “the most uncomfortable half-hour of television I’ve ever watched.” Lena Dunham‘s HBO series always has generated heated debate, from the protestations that she’s not the voice of a generation (a satirical line somehow made concrete) to the discussion of her insistent nudity (I think I’ve seen her breasts more than my own). There are lots of things about Girls that work, plenty of perceptive bits of Millennial culture that make us Millennials cringe with self-loathing — or laugh with recognition — but there’s also quite a bit more that makes us just wonder.
Most of “On All Fours,” this season’s penultimate episode, was bleak. It seemed to circulate around a bitter truth that no matter how hard you want to become your idealized self, your real nature cannot be bested. It was uncomfortable to see Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) struggle against who they are versus who they want to be, but it was the very hardest for Adam (Adam Driver, one of the standout performers of the series), who went too far this time. Did Girls go too far as well?
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The reactions to “On All Fours” were interesting to document throughout the day Monday. It was like a collective hangover — did last night really happen? There were those who wanted to keep believing Adam was the lovable weirdo who crossed a line but should be forgiven and those who wanted him arrested. Adam’s request that Natalia (Shiri Appleby) get on her knees and crawl to the bedroom was not even a tenth as bizarre as some of the things he’s asked Hannah (Dunham) to do, but while Hannah always appeared willing to go along with him, it was instantly apparent that Natalia was uncomfortable. When he grabbed Natalia and threw her on the bed to perform oral sex, she really began to hesitate, muttering that awful line, “I haven’t showered today.” But it was Adam putting her on her back and jerking himself off onto her chest, followed by the gratuitous shots of the results pooling there, that really sent most everyone over the edge.
Some arguments Monday suggested that if you supported Adam after that, you have a bad-boy complex (or you are a bad boy) and you’ll get over it in a decade. Or was the scene brave and provocative for being so explicit? Others said that Dunham has just completely run wild with the show and should be better guided by those more experienced — and that this scene and this episode were reminders of how self-involved most 25-year-olds are. In the end, the most common reaction was just “eww.” Were we ambushed?
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Yes, HBO “went there,” and it’s not like it hasn’t done so before (who can forget that post-blowjob mouth- and chin-wipe that Littlefinger gave the prostitute before he sent her to her next client on last season’s Game of Thrones?), but this sort of ultra-shock moment drowned the bigger message, so why shoehorn it in? And isn’t the suggestion of it enough?
Adam tried so hard to be “normal” and ended up sticking to Natalia’s rules for sex, though he added his own twist. It was his way of compromising, of letting his own kinks in, but in his drunken state, he did so in a humiliating way that crushed Natalia’s trust in him and almost certainly any future for their relationship. Adam can’t change who he is, and when he repressed it so completely, it just ended up bursting out (literally). But who has time to think about that kind of stuff when you’re staring at a puddle of semen sitting on Appleby’s chest?
It was a creepy, uncomfortable, unpleasant and dark 30 minutes, from the milder offenses of Marnie’s awkward singing and Shoshanna’s denial to Hannah being the only person left on the planet who didn’t hear that PSA about sticking a Q-tip into your ear too far, and, of course, that gratuitous money shot. Whatever your feelings about Dunham and Girls, you have to admit that the show fosters discussion, or at least ends up making it so that we all have to find a way to cope with our visual violation together. It’s also a reminder from HBO that we are paying for it. One way or another.
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