Rembert Browne is a 26-year-old Grantland staff writer living in New York City. Emily Yoshida is a 28-year-old Grantland editor living in Los Angeles. With their combined millennial thought-leader Gen Y/Project X coastal powers, they have watched the entire third season of the HBO series Girls and emailed each other about it.
Rembert Browne: Hey, Emily, you’re from Iowa. How do you feel about Hannah headed to perhaps your state’s most prestigious beacon of academia, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop? Does that make you happy? Is this the thing that will finally bring the two of you closer? Excited on your opinions about this, and many others, seeing as this is our final exchange.
Don’t hold back. Because we’re not doing this for Season 4. Because we’re going to be in Season 4. So get it all out now.
Emily Yoshida: As we speak, I am wiping the Internet of every bad thing I have ever said about Girls, so as to have a better chance of getting that sweet Iowa City lifestyle consultant position in Season 4. I’ve already got a backlog of potential plot points ready to go: Hannah gets a job at Prairie Lights and harasses visiting author Joyce Carol Oates into reading a novella about picking the dead skin off the soles of her feet (guest star potential!). Hannah discovers to her disappointment that using nudity for shock value is already totally played out at No Shame Theater. Hannah contracts hepatitis after trying to swim in the Iowa River.
Honestly, big ups to Hannah Horvath for sneaking in an entire grad school application process in between her six-figure job at the pun factory and fights with her boyfriend and Hamptons getaways. She had a lot on her plate; that’s commitment! Acceptance into the most respected writing program in America doesn’t just fall into your lap, you know.
I’ve got more IC plot points, though. Let me know if you want them or if I should just start a novelty Twitter account for them.
Browne: Let’s come back to IC. Later. Because I need to bring this up before I forget:
NO ONE RIPS AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF MAIL IN HALF.
Did you see that? What was that? You can’t get into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and rip an envelope in half. I think that’s impossible. I really do. Easily the least realistic part of the episode; maybe the entire season.
But that’s just a small piece of the finale. Because there’s a lot. There’s Jessa begrudgingly aiding in a woman’s easy passing. Want to go there? Adam’s play? We could take it there? Or we could talk about how the last thing we see in this season is this:
Or we could just list our top five Marnie moments from just this episode. Want to do that? Let’s do that. Here are my five.
5. Marnie hiding behind a fence as Desi and Clementine fight, because she’s terrible.
4. Marnie spitting game via James Taylor guitar pick, because who needs Tinder when you have a James Taylor guitar pick.
3. Marnie comforting Shoshanna by telling her she’d been sleeping with Ray, and then getting attacked.
2. Marnie ruining a relationship and then smiling in the theater after kissing Desi, because Marnie rules.
1. Clementine telling Marnie, “Nice dress,” after owning her entire life.
There was no way to predict Marnie would become a comic-book villain by the end of the season, but she did it. Shout-out to Allison Williams. I’m impressed.
Yoshida: Honestly? Rem? With the exception of Adam’s and Hannah’s parents, they’re ALL comic-book villains. Every last one of them. We shouldn’t even be surprised at Hannah and Marnie barging in on the men they (want to) bone, ruining their opening nights by sliming their dumb lives all over the dressing room. If I were a visiting Neil deGrasse Tyson checking out the strange world of Girls for the first time, I’d say it was definitely written by a man; probably a Ray-like unmarried man in his mid-thirties with a lot of repressed, near-violent contempt for women, a man who wanted to write a show exploring all the ways women are idiotic and useless and life-ruining and men are helpless victims of their narcissistic machinations. Surprise! It is made by Feminism’s Great New Hope! Cool trick, Girls!
Seriously, though: Time to own a letter opener, Hannah. All adventurous women do.
Browne: I — proudly — do not have a definition for what makes something or someone feminist. But I feel as if I can solidly characterize this show as not that. Right? Unless, perhaps, something the show is doing is proving that girls (and therefore real women) are not a monolith and come in all terrible shapes and terrible sizes? And because that is being shown on an HBO television show, that’s progress. If people can learn anything from Girls, it’s that you can’t put women in a box, because they can be anything, at any time.
I cannot imagine looking at this show through a feminist lens. I also acknowledge that I am a man, so things are different. But perhaps my greatest privilege in watching this show is that I’m not a woman. Because, as a non-woman, I can look at it as entertainment. Because the way these characters are perceived has zero impact on my life. ZERO. I will never have to defend one of my demographics because of what happens on an episode of Girls. And you, Emily Yoshida, don’t have that luxury. That’s probably the foundation of this entire 12-week email chain, you hating this and me finding ways to be entertained. Because Girls can kinda make you look bad.
I have more on this, but I’m taking a breather. Go.
Yoshida: OK, OK. You called my f-bomb bluff. I did not mean to suggest this show is antifeminist. I think “feminism” in 2014 means something along the lines of “ladies can do whatever they damn please and look however they want and tell whatever stories they want,” a sentiment I agree with fully in principle, and in that case, Girls more than fits the bill. I’m probably the wrong person to ask about these things anyway; I similarly did not enjoy the 2012 film Bachelorette because most of its mostly female ensemble were in full-monster mode by the end and I found the experience of spending time with them to be taxing on a purely sensory level. But even that movie had a more fully formed point of view about those characters and their behavior, as unpleasant as it was. It was a complete vision.
The third season of Girls felt like it was frantically grasping around for something to “be about,” and that, combined with its occasional spurts of all-out sitcom antics, left it without a sense of identity at all. On paper that all sounds brilliantly thematically appropriate for a show about finding yourself in your twenties, but the experience of watching it was completely empty, offering the viewer nothing to hold on to and get comedically or dramatically invested in from week to week. It was like watching a troupe of amnesiacs do a weekly Brooklyn-lifestyle improvised LARP session. Maybe because I am trying to watch it the way I watch any scripted show — looking for seeds to be planted and payoffs to be delivered, and characters to be developed comprehensively over multiple episodes — I am doomed to be disappointed. MAYBE I RESPECT GIRLS TOO MUCH.
Browne: I think I just mansplained Girls. I went there. Dammit.
Please allow me to back away from anything I said about how Girls is or is not a feminist show. I got caught up in trying to make sense of it all. And sometimes, when one attempts to display one’s expertise in such matters, one starts talking like an man who inherently knows everything about women.
Here’s the thing, though: You don’t respect Girls too much. I’m pretty sure of that. But, again, who knows. I’m not going to tell you what you think.
But here’s, maybe, my final broad thought on the season:
I think it’s weird that Girls is more enjoyable to watch as a man. I honestly think it is, and I don’t know what to do with that information. Do you think that’s true? I haven’t polled men, and I certainly know men who don’t like the show (even though the conversation is often rudely reduced to “Why is Lena naked so much?”). We’ve addressed a ton of the show’s issues, both coming at it as similar-aged people in the same career with similar interests and temperaments. But you’re a woman and I’m a man and it’s clear that, ultimately, we’re watching two different shows. Which is why you end up being fed up with Lena and I continuing to live in a world where I’m still blissfully envious of her twentysomething platform.
Based on the premise of the show, and the promise of the show, I wish I were the one who was constantly off-put by it, and you were the one occasionally passionate about its existence. And not vice versa.
But here we are.
Yoshida: I’m gonna have to get super real before we close the rickety MacBook on this season: When Girls first came out, if you were a writer and a girl and you didn’t like it, everyone assumed you were just jealous of Lena Dunham. And you know what? They weren’t wrong! How cool would it be to be 25 and have a show on HBO, to be able to tell your stories on such a widely seen, respected context? Once you recognize that twinge of envy, though, you do everything in your power to take it out of the equation of your opinion of the show, to be supportive of a rare female voice in a male-dominated medium.
But as the fact of the show’s existence sets in and it comes time to appraise it just on its own merits, it’s hard to stay so objective, because the reality is that there are only so many positions of artistic power that the industry feels comfortable giving to women. And until that changes, it’s hard not to feel weirdly emotional and protective of the spots out there. That’s not a good or noble or well-reasoned feeling to have, but it happens to the best of us. And from there, as a female writer and non-Girls fan, you oscillate between two positions: “Eh, this show isn’t for me, but it has the right to exist” and “Wait a second, I’m not sure this show has ANYTHING to say; why is it taking up this imaginary-yet-unfortunately-real lady TV real estate?”
In reality, there’s no reason anything Lena Dunham does or makes should impact me if I don’t want it to. The reasonable thing to do would be to stop watching Girls and give more attention and support to female storytellers I actually like. That’s not the way the Internet works, generally, but check it out! This show won’t be on for another nine months! And I’m gonna spend all nine of them lobbying for Lynne Ramsay to direct the second season of True Detective. And watching bros get fucked up by the Khaleesi’s dragons. In the meantime, this has been an unpredictable, frequently maddening, ultimately enlightening journey, and I’m glad to have shared it with you.
Browne: This has been great. And if you think I’m following that Yoshida mic drop, you’re insane.