Girls: The Panic in Central Park Review

An interesting, self-contained episode that engineers a major turning point for Marnie.

This Girls review contains spoilers.

Girls: Season 5, Episode 6

A couple of my friends have been telling me I’m all wrong about this season of Girls and that it’s actually been really solid. Personally, I’ve mostly been seeing glimmers of the show I used to really enjoy — one that smartly balanced comedy and drama without disserving either — amidst contrived sitcom plots and romcom moments. But the episodes have been steadily getting better as they begin to veer away from conventional sitcom structure while also going a bit heavier on the dark stuff, finally leading us to this, a completely Marnie-centric dramatic episode. And it happens to be the best, most interesting episode of the season thus far.

Time and time again, I’ve discussed how what I really loved about Girls in the first two seasons was its willingness to occasionally deviate from the straightforward plot-juggling TV show structure of checking in with all the characters, pushing them along bit by bit through their respective storylines. “The Panic in Central Park” is a return to that radical approach. The episode focuses on one transformative night in Marnie’s life, making it feel far more like a short film than an episode of television.

When Girls takes these little side journeys away from the status quo, it takes the opportunity to shift its tone as it sees fit, so while this episode does have funny moments, it’s largely played straight and serious, but with a touch of the surreal. It’s surreal in that there’s quite a dreamlike quality to it all. Really, way too much crap happens to Marnie in one night — she has a fight with Desi and walks out only to run into her ex-boyfriend she hasn’t seen in two years; she goes to a high-class party and on a romantic boat ride; and finally she gets robbed at gunpoint. At face value it doesn’t really feel like, well, a real night. But the slightly off tone of it all makes it all land pretty well.

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The moment Marnie randomly runs into Charlie (Christopher Abbott, who we haven’t seen since the end of the second season) with his different accent as well as his gruffer look and demeanor, there’s just a quality to the episode that gives the sense that everything we’re seeing is possibly not quite happening. The weirdness starts with Charlie who, compared to the gentle guy who used to bend over backwards to do anything for Marnie, now straight-up seems like a totally different character. Marnie, too, keeps not quite acting like herself as she cheats a skeevy rich guy out of 600 bucks (using the hilariously unconvincing pseudonym Meguita Perez) and doesn’t bat an eye when she learns Charlie’s now a drug dealer. Clearly she’s just in a frame of mind to embrace whatever she can that isn’t her stifling life with Desi, but I still kept waiting for Marnie’s usual personality to bring her back down to earth.

It does, eventually, when she discovers Charlie is also a heroin addict now and that running from Desi back to him is clearly not a healthy step. And then Marnie finally rids herself of Desi. One could argue this happened too fast; I mean, they only got married five episodes ago. But, on the other hand, Desi has been blatantly awful since he first appeared in season 3, so this is really more of a long-overdue inevitability. And, man, am I glad to see it finally play out.

Again, this is a more drama-heavy episode, but there are funny moments too. There’s Marnie telling Desi, “You’re playing aggressive guitar at me” or her completely fair bewilderment (because NYC is just so rich and non-scary these days): “I didn’t know people get, like, robbed anymore.” And I love Desi’s limp and stupid pronouncement, after Marnie says she’s done with him, that she has so little sense of the world that “you’re just — you’re gonna get murdered one day.”

“The Panic in Central Park” is a very interesting, self-contained episode that successfully engineers a major turning point for Marnie. It also benefits from being the episode where Marnie finally tells Desi he’s an asshole (hooray!). Furthermore, it quite deftly adds some closure (weird and unexpected closure though it is) to Marnie and Charlie, considering Christopher Abbott’s sudden departure from the series had left their relationship feeling like a dangling, unresolved thread until now.

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5 out of 5