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Girls Talk

A no-holds-barred conversation about the finale of HBO's provocative new dramedy and its most polarizing character: a boy named Adam

HBO’s Girls wrapped its first season last night with a surprise wedding and a blowup fight, leaving much unresolved for Season 2. Rather than doing another postmortem second-guessing casting, writing, and whether or not the mundane struggles of four privileged East Coast women are worthy of a TV series, we decided to wrangle our West Coast coalition of ladies — Grantland staff writer Molly Lambert, contributor Tess Lynch, and Hollywood Prospectus editor Emily Yoshida — to dig into the show’s most divisive character: Adam, as played by the curiously effective and hilarious Adam Driver. How does Hannah’s routinely shirtless love, and our perception of him, correspond with how we relate to the show? And do we finally “get” the Adam appeal, or is he just a hot-tempered, shower-peeing man-child?

YOSHIDA: So. Adam. Everyone’s favorite mouth-breather with a heart of gold got another big emotional scene tonight; more or less a redux of his memorable confrontation with Hannah after the party episode. That conversation marked a turn in Adam’s place in the show, but also how we related to him as an audience. Even though I was totally in favor of that shift and it made his character 100 times more interesting, I couldn’t help but feel like the second time didn’t exactly bring anything new to the table. I liked Adam being in this middle ground between the emotionally tone-deaf weirdo we met in the pilot and the more sensitive guy who’s willing to call out Hannah on her bullshit. But then tonight he was all, “Once I commit to something I go all the way!” and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the end of his character’s subtlety. Am I overthinking this?

LYNCH: For a couple of people who don’t drink, that fight smelled a lot like a thousand Long Islands. Who ends up in Backfat, New York, just because they were emotionally exhausted/sleepy?

I guess I never thought of Adam as subtle. To me he’s like a Puppy Surprise, and you just don’t know how many different kinds of psychopath are waiting to come out of his Velcro innards. Do people really still let their boyfriends call them fucking bitches? I thought we passed a law about that in 1998.

YOSHIDA: If I’m not mistaken, that was the first time we have seen down-and-out Hannah Horvath on public transportation, yes? Not that I want to pass any judgment on how many buses should be seen per episode, or suggest some kind of subway tokenism. Just noting.

LYNCH: I would leave Adam for Ray. Based on the McDonald’s monologue alone.

LAMBERT: C’mon, kid, Adam may not be the best dude, but he is a fantastic character! He refuses to get boxed into some predictable corner where he is either overwhelmingly terrible or sweet. He is terrible and sweet. He yells at cars but is a kitten. He is neither the all-id creature we first saw in the pilot nor the wheatpasting apologist of last week. Adam is a prism, and every new vantage point brings a new perspective, sometimes one that makes all the old ones seem hopelessly wrong. Haven’t you ever thought a nice person was a jerk and turned out to be wrong, or vice versa? Isn’t everyone really somewhere very much in between?

YOSHIDA: I like that in-between Adam! But tonight I felt like he was starting to slip into the same myopia that plagues the rest of the characters, i.e., someone who lashes out and calls someone a “fucking bitch” because he doesn’t get his way, and up till then I was liking how his myopia was so peculiar and at odds with the rest of the cast’s.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter — when Lena Dunham appeared on the B.S. Report last week, she said that in talking with friends about the show she could basically use Adam’s character as an indicator of what kind of girl (or person) you were — either you understand how someone would find him appealing or you don’t. I’d also add that you’ve either known an Adam or you haven’t. And I think the latter might even be more important to whether or not you can get down with that character. Because there are absurd weirdo sometimes-assholes, and then there are absurd weirdo sometimes-assholes who also feel completely fabricated.

LAMBERT: Yes, there are talented, violent, magnetic, possibly sociopathic babes, and there are poseurs. The first is infinitely appealing to certain types of girls, especially in their early 20s before they burn their hands on that particular stove a few times. The second is repellent. Unless you find both repellent, which is perfectly legit. I personally find Ray repellent and think his McDonald’s speech is a warmed-over libertarian Egg McMuffin meant to make other people annoyed for the purpose of drawing attention to himself.

YOSHIDA: Oh, I was talking less about poseurs than about characters who were fabricated … quirksters who resemble nothing in real life. Which I don’t think Adam is, as a character. But I do think almost everyone on this show is a poseur, and I say that with zero judgment.

LAMBERT: It’s not that I wouldn’t be friends with Ray, he just pings my jerkdar without inflaming anything else.

LYNCH: Adam’s mania versus Charlie’s buttered-noodle mother-smothers: Which is sexier? Charlie is growing on me more since his hair has grown past terrorist length. I think Ray wouldn’t flip a table if you beat him in Scrabble, whereas Adam is so benign while sniffing skewered appetizers by the fridge — but triple-word-score on him and he’s going to eat your whole face off. That terrifies me.

Is Adam a libertarian? He probably doesn’t vote. When did he get over the reluctance to leave his apartment? A lot of his behavior reminds me of my favorite horrible show, The Pickup Artist. He’s full of DHV maneuvers: peeing on a victim in the shower, violent negs (“11 pounds overweight”), text avoidance, peacocking (the muscle shirt of skin). Maybe it just saddens me to see this approach as effective. At least Mystery got his point across with top hats and amulets on chains.

YOSHIDA: Maybe I liked him as a character because his turning point at the party was the first sign that there was going to be a point of view outside of the neurotic little world that the four leads inhabit. Granted, I was dismayed that that POV had to come from a dude, on a show called Girls, but it was nice to have. Seeing him outside his nest, dancing, being chill, it was the first time we’d really seen a character having fun — sure, Adam is still narcissistic, but he seems happier too.

Huh. Actually, that’s weird. Adam is the only person who’ll just do a thing because he wants to, and not (as far as we are allowed to see) experience regret or angst. We see it every time he scoops up Hannah so they can go make more sex, we see it when he starts peeing on her in the shower just because he knows it’ll freak her out and be funny. Jessa also does whatever she wants (i.e., marrying the cop from Bridesmaids and not even getting the Irish accent — rip-off!), but I think we’re supposed to see this as a product of her own confusion about Who She Is and What She’s Supposed To Be. Which is just so, so dull — no female “free spirit” character seems to be able to last without going all Jenny from Forrest Gump on us.

Apropos of absolutely nothing: Even though it doesn’t start for another few months, I kinda wanted that last scene on the beach at Coney Island to run directly into the opening sequence for the next season of Boardwalk Empire. That would be so much fun for the 100,000 people who watch both shows.

LAMBERT: I had the exact same thought. Like she puts a message in the bottle expressing her thoughts (or containing her wedding cake foil) and then somewhere in Jersey it’s picked up by Nucky.

LYNCH: I have to say that I really admire Adam Driver for giving this character whatever realistic dimension he’s achieved that transmits creepy feelings through the screen and directly into my bones. It’s well done and fully realized and that’s great. On the other hand, I don’t know that I’d say Adam lacks neurosis or that he’s chill, because he yells (a lot) and seems to have what’s at best a shaky grip on what I think is more of a performance artist’s meditation on chilldom.

He’s also been granted the best backstory, though: The autobiographical theater piece, the sobriety, the implications of his exercise obsession, the kinky stuff. That makes him more intriguing to me than most of the women on the show. His stakes are higher, because he exhibits genuinely concerning behavior (like physically arguing with cars) and because he’s the love interest of our fragile/”scared” hero, but sometimes those stakes seem out of step with the rest of the show. I wouldn’t be shocked if Adam smacked Hannah, and that makes me uncomfortable. I suppose that also makes him riveting, and maybe adds something to the sometimes-fluffy crises of reading disappointing personal essays in front of Christopher Moltisanti, but if he’s supposed to be an attractive character, I don’t get it. The shower pee didn’t seem playful to me. It was spooky. Off that: I really need to know if Jessa was using the toilet after she’d married Bridesmaids cop, or if she was just sitting there.

You know what Girls needs? A little Paz de la Huerta. That would be a nice segue: Naked Paz from the past stumbles up to Hannah Horvath and ashes in her wedding cake, goes on to have a lesbian affair with Jessa, explores an off-Broadway theatrical career, and creates a modern times b-plot that can take over when Girls gets too saturated with scenes of sitting on benches eating frozen yogurt.

LAMBERT: I hoped the big reveal would be that Jessa was getting surprise-married to Marnie, and that they were moving into a bi-curious hippie-yuppie-chic Brooklyn bungalow together to get built-ins and talk smack on Hannah’s shiny forehead and gay ex-boyfriend forever. Actually, I was really impressed with the subtlety of the various final twists. Girls seems to toggle back and forth between embracing network sitcom tropes and subverting them. Adam getting hit by the car reminded me of Hannah falling off his bike in the warehouse episode: broad, but believable. Charlie and Marnie not getting back together was satisfying, and so was the reunion of Shoshanna and Ray.

I loved how surreal the whole wedding was, and how nobody else seemed to act like they thought it was weird. There were no ceremony-ruining toasts, or any real public acknowledgment of how ill-advised (both economically and emotionally) Jessa’s wedding to, essentially, a stranger was. Jessa misinterpreted Katherine’s advice from last week as meaning that she ought to strap herself into the nearest and most obvious signifier of adulthood, as though maturity could be suddenly slipped on as easily as a veil.

I think the expectation was that Adam is a gun who was going to go off in the finale. All the red flags were seemingly waved off so that we could see Hannah as somebody who displays a lot of “don’t date me” red flags of her own. She’s been conditioned to expect Adam to treat her badly or strangely, so when he becomes her boyfriend and then does something as normal as say “I love you” or suggest they move in together, she reacts like it’s way too soon and adult for either one of them, even though it’s what she may have thought she wanted. Or she just doesn’t trust him yet, which is totally fair.

Adam also seemingly has the most self-awareness of any of the characters. He is unapologetically aggressive and seems to know what he wants. Since those are the exact qualities Hannah lacks, it makes sense that she would get sucked into his aura.

YOSHIDA: Maybe Adam’s biggest fault is that he treats Hannah like the tough, mature person she aspires to be — and in the meantime, fronts as — rather than the incredibly neurotic and vulnerable person she is. So she acts like she wants an NSA relationship — OK, well, Adam isn’t going to burden her with his backstory or the fact that he’s in AA or any information about his friends or interests. So she brings up the idea of moving in — well, he’s going to take her at her word for that, as well as all the next-level commitment that it would indicate she’s ready for and psyched about. He wants her to be totally secure about her body, so he plays with her stomach fat because she’s obviously a confident, strong woman and won’t care, right? This is at once really optimistic and shows how strong he thinks she’s capable of being, and also totally oblivious to how certain things are never really OK for certain girls, and certain things are always going to be a neurosis trigger.

But I still find Adam refreshing for this reason — not attractive, necessarily, but I like the (admittedly idealist) policy of “You’re OK, and if you’re not OK, I trust that you will come and talk to me like a rational person about why you aren’t.” It’s so antithetical to the m.o. of almost all of the characters (save Jessa, perhaps), who seem to derive a weird energy out of hashing and rehashing every single relationship and interaction in their lives. I always find characters with chaotic histories who lead reasonably well-managed lives (yes, crunches and masturbation are part of a well-managed life) much more interesting than characters with stable histories who find all sorts of reasons to freak out in the present. Which is why, like Tess, I haven’t been able to relate to a lot of Girls, but why, unlike Tess, I find Adam the odd exception. I never get the angry-man, abuser vibe from him. I think he’s continually being caught off-guard by how un-self-aware Hannah is — the whole “you love yourself,” “No, I hate myself” exchange in their fight last night basically sums it up — Hannah’s “self-hatred” is just a twisted manifestation of intensely myopic self-regard. Adam, despite many faults and idiosyncrasies that he seems to be aware of, probably ultimately likes himself, no caveats included. And there aren’t a lot of characters like that on TV right now.

LYNCH: The comments on Vulture’s Adam Driver feature are intriguing: Obviously we’re as split on Adam’s charms as they are. I guess he draws attention to Hannah’s self-hatred (like when she put Mr. Boogedy’s hand on her breast; “you’re gross, I’m gross”), because the more he slams the ambulance door on her or fails to secure her on his bike’s handlebars, the more she’s enraptured by his protein diet and masturbation performances. When he’s stable, in a dirty onesie or dropping the love lines on her, she gets squeamish. The way he approaches her insecurities, with what I think a lot of people would find to be an almost impolite frankness, makes her feel understood as though he Avatar “sees” her, but I think what Adam is all about is control (most people who compulsively crunch their abs are). That’s why he seems to always be tumbling toward angry-dude critical mass — Hannah slithers away when he thinks he’s captured her and committed! To! Something!

This show still makes me squirm. I hope Marnie and Tally Schifrin move into a loft together in Alphabet City and get into a threesome with Michael Imperioli on a stack of galleys for Leave Me Alone.

LAMBERT: The “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” of Girls for me is “Who did Adam send that fur-wrapped dick pic to?” We know it wasn’t Hannah, and it implied that he was both shady and careless enough to pursue other partners without checking the text receipt. I don’t blame Hannah for being skeptical or guarded that he would suddenly became a good boyfriend after suddenly promising to do so once. So yes, Adam has had a remarkable journey from Guy Who Takes the Condom Off Without Telling You to Guy Who Tells You That You’re Beautiful, Smart, and a Great Friend. But that seemed very realish to me, because most people are nothing if not inconsistent, and Adam seems like the type of guy who believes in everything he feels in the current moment and never thinks about anything beyond that. For an overanxious worrier like Hannah, that holds a lot of romance, but also fear, since she can’t stop thinking a hundred steps ahead. You can admire somebody for their qualities without always liking the way they make you feel. Aligning herself for real with the forceful, volatile, often very hostile Adam would mean giving him the type of control over her feelings and body that is usually way less fun in real life than it’s made out to seem in 50 Shades of Grey. But it also might involve coming to terms with her most unattractive and self-sabotaging aspects. Nudity is easy. Real emotional vulnerability is the hardest thing on earth.

Filed Under: Girls, HBO, TV

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert

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