Girls: Beach House review

HBO's Girls gets out of New York City for a quick trip to a beach house...where the expected arguments arrive in short order.

I love going on trips with GirlsOnly one episode ago I was lamenting the relative absence of Season 3 episodes that deviate from the standard sitcom format of checking in with what the gang is getting up to in New York City from week to week, witnessing various dramas unfold amongst them. So “Beach House” (wherein they go to a beach house) is a welcome shakeup. It’s certainly not as drastic a departure as something like Season 2’s “One Man’s Trash” because all the ladies make the trip and it’s still very (very) much focused on the drama and comedy generated between them. But the setup allows that stuff to come out in a unique way.

The beach house getaway is Marnie’s idea. She wants all the girls to reconnect and “prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group.” It’s clear a big part of what Marnie is hoping to resolve is her and Hannah’s never-quite-resolved falling out from the previous season. I was really happy to see this conflict referenced as Season 2 ended with Marnie and Hannah never actually making up and at the start of Season 3 they were just kind of friends again. But there should be an emphasis there on “kind of.”

I thought Girls had been content to just let the Hannah-Marnie rift fall away organically, but the show proved once again to have its head much more solidly on its shoulders than I gave it credit for. It’s not that this conflict was forgotten altogether, but rather that it was handled in a very true-to-life fashion. Fights between longtime friends often don’t get resolved in any definitive way and, on reflection, throughout Season 3 Hannah and Marnie have continued to stay mostly apart (notably, Hannah didn’t invite her on the road trip to collect Jessa from rehab) and, when they are together, their interactions with each other remain stilted.

So “Beach House” made me very happy by acknowledging Marnie and Hannah’s unresolved issues as well as bringing to the forefront how complicated it is to try and work stuff out. That Marnie thinks she can manufacture a situation in which everyone can be honest and heal of course leads to utter dissolution instead. Girls is sometimes content to pretty straightforwardly be a sitcom, but episodes like these are staunchly anti-sitcom, showing that the requisite heart-to-heart at the end of the half-hour is a bullshit thing that just doesn’t happen. Hence, Marnie and Hannah’s heart-to-heart comes early in the episode; feels forced and inauthentic; and clearly fixes nothing when the vitriol comes gushing out in this episode’s climactic argument scene.

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But before getting to that, something else to love about “Beach House” is the sudden reappearance of Elijah (Andrew Rannells), his new boyfriend, and his new group of theatre friends, all of whom Hannah invites over to the house. It’s obviously just a bit too convenient that Elijah, the catalyst of Hannah and Marnie’s falling out, just so happens to be spending the same weekend away at the same area in Long Island, but I didn’t let it bother me that much because I always found Elijah hilarious and somehow very likeable even though this episode served as a reminder that he’s maybe one of the show’s biggest assholes. For example, after hearing Marnie’s pretty impressively sad and pathetic story of being dumped by Charlie (which Elijah quite fittingly dubs “like the worst story ever, truly”), moments later, once Marnie’s out of earshot, he casually remarks to his friend that he fucked her.

Speaking of Marnie, it’s driven home just how nuts she can get trying to plan and control social affairs—behavior that has made her unsympathetic for much of the season. It’s annoying to watch someone with such an unmoored existence passing judgment and trying to control other people’s lives with no apparent self-awareness. It’s great, therefore, that though Marnie’s arguably at her worst here—putting little name placards on everyone’s beds dictating where they get to sleep and scheduling “healing” to take place at dinnertime—that I was on her side for some of it. She might be a control freak but I still felt sorry for her when everyone else started drunkenly insulting her for cooking so little (something which really wasn’t her fault). It sucks to be the one person not having fun at the mercy of a gaggle of drunken morons. Plus, again, her Charlie breakup story is pretty darn sad.

“Beach House” made me simultaneously view Marnie as a psycho control freak and an unfairly treated sympathetic figure and that’s really what this episode (and Girls on the whole) does so well. I’ve really never seen these characters as terrible people. I think most people in life just are pretty terrible and Girls isn’t afraid to acknowledge it. This show continues to be the best at depicting arguments and the one that takes place near the end has everyone calling each other out on their worst traits, but no one really comes out of it redeemed or better (though Jessa’s hilarious aloofness lets her escape from it relatively unscathed). It’s the show demonstrating a self-awareness of how flawed its characters are then having them continue to live up to those flaws.

And the argument is a hilarious, amazing sequence, mostly driven by Shoshanna. Of course, we don’t really see much of what has pushed Shosh over the edge in this episode so it relies heavily on our history with her and how she’s been uttering actually quite cruel things about her friends throughout the season. Previously, however, it was unclear if she just had no filter and wasn’t actually trying to be insulting. Here, Shoshanna is drunk and pissed right off that everyone ignores her, treating her “like a fucking cab driver.” All the stuff she says during this argument cuts to the bone and it’s consistently funny how Jessa, Marnie, and Hannah keep pointing out that, even in the heat of an argument, she is being way too mean.

I also love how, even though we have less investment in them, we get a glimpse of how this party has managed to ruin relations between Elijah, his boyfriend, and the theater group friends. The end of one of their arguments closes out the night: “The truth is I don’t think you’re very talented.” “I spent $80,000 on a theatre BFA. Of course I am talented.”

Ultimately, “Beach House” does too many of the things I adore about Girls for me to not love it. It’s a trip out of NYC and it’s got a big argument in it. And the characters just feel like such real people acting the way people do: happy to listen and be sympathetic to someone one minute and talking shit about them with someone else the next.

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And maybe everyone managing a near-musical-perfect dance number in the middle of the kitchen without once bumping into anything stretched the limits of plausibility for me, but I’m willing to let this slide as it allowed for the fantastic final shot of the girls waiting for the bus, lethargically going through the dance moves together, implying that they know how stuck they are together despite the events of the previous night that suggest they might almost straight-up hate one another. It’s a lovely moment that closes everything out in that way that all the best non-NYC Girls episodes do and makes it feel like you’ve just watched a brilliant little piece of indie cinema.

The last few episodes, while certainly not bad, were ultimately a bit uninspiring for me. “Beach House” may have decimated the girls’ relationships, but it was exactly what was needed to revitalize the series.

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5 out of 5