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Recap: GIRLS Season 6, Episode 3

Sunday’s episode of GIRLS tackled an important issue that exists in the writing world. I’m not always the show’s biggest fan, but I’ve decided to stick it out because I believe it portrays our generation with the honesty, grit, and discomfort apparent in the millennial lifestyle. Season 6 episode 3, titled “American B***h,” hit home for me, and I’m sure for plenty of other young women, who have felt the unacknowledged but inherent presence of their sexuality looming over their heads in conversations with male colleagues and in general professional settings.

With the exorbitant amount of aspiring female writers who lack confidence, male writers in power can easily abuse their position and fame to enter the “grey area” of relationships. This is not to say that this is always true, but it would also not be true to say this has never happened before. The most recent episode of GIRLS focuses solely on show creator Lena Dunham’s character Hannah as she meets with famed novelist Chuck Palmer (played by guest star Matthew Rhys), who she had written an article about on a “niche feminist publication.” Hannah’s article was based on a Tumblr post she read from a young woman named Denise who felt coerced into having a relationship with Palmer–not only in order to establish a connection in the writing world, but, as Hannah explained, to “feel like she existed.” Hannah was hurt at a personal level when she read this post due to her admiration for Palmer’s work and what he had symbolically come to mean to her as a writer, and, as a young adult trying to find her way in the world.

At the beginning of the episode, Palmer tells Hannah that he invited her over to tell his side of the story. Since he read her article, he hadn’t been sleeping, he had to return to therapy, and he was constantly worrying about his young daughter one day learning of such allegations–all of which are completely valid points and reactions to reading something about yourself you do not believe to be true. Roughly the first fifteen minutes of the episode are a back and forth between Hannah and Palmer, who each defend their standpoints: Hannah wants to give a voice to the young female population that has been historically marginalized, while Palmer wants to make clear that although he may be “dumb” he is not “evil,” and he truly believes he did not force anyone to do anything they did not want to do. He shares with her his own piece of writing about the same exchange of events with Denise. In his version, he saw a “lovely and lonely woman” who was too afraid to let her emotional guard down, and he regrets not working hard enough to make her feel supported, which is admirable. In Palmer’s version, Denise denied any attempts to get emotionally close and wanted exclusively to have a sexual exchange with Palmer. At this point, Hannah starts to believe she perhaps didn’t know the whole story before writing.

Once they both start to see each other’s point of view, the viewer’s understanding of their relationship changes. Palmer immediately yearns to know everything about Hannah–constantly praising her intelligence and humor. Telling her again that she should use her writing for things that really matter, thus claiming that the “gray area” is not one of those topics. They begin to joke and talk about their favorite authors and writing in general; he even gives her a signed Philip Roth book to keep.

Just when we thought that maybe Hannah had jumped to conclusions in writing her article, they lay down in bed together, because Palmer  wants to feel emotionally close to someone (we previously learned that he has a horrible relationship with his ex). Things are seemingly platonic, but then Palmer subtly makes a sexual advance. Hannah is ambivalent and then realizes that this was completely uncalled for. I felt every ounce of her discomfort and outrage.

Of course they are then interrupted by the front door opening and Palmer’s young daughter calling out to her father, so he does not have a chance to apologize–from the quick smirk he gives Hannah, it seems clear that he might not have. Yet, since we do not know, it is not wise to assume.

The end of the episode solidified the statement the entirety of the episode made with its focus on his young daughter playing her flute, with the hope that she will not have to grow up and fear that her sexuality will play a part in her success as an artist if she does not want it to. After listening to Palmer’s daughter play the flute, Hannah exits the writer’s extravagant apartment building and we hear Rihanna’s “Desperado” playing in the background. The song’s proclaims, “there ain’t nothin’ here for me anymore.” Once Hannah is no longer on screen, a flurry of professionally dressed women, one by one, walk into the apartment building Hannah just exited, confirming that this is a reality many working women face today.

It’s hard to feel closure after a mere thirty-three minute episode, but I don’t think that was the intention of this installment of GIRLS. Its gotten us writing, talking, and thinking. In another review of this episode, from Decider.com, the author recommends, “if you’re going to watch one episode of GIRLS, make it episode 3, season 6” and I couldn’t agree more. The acting and set design were some of the best in the show’s history, and, in a rare moment, it handles a real-life situation and topic for many women in a genuine way.

English Major and Business Minor at Skidmore College and new Co-CC of Skidmore HC. Spends free time hanging out with friends, taking yoga classes and dancing, and admittedly binge-watching her favorite Netflix shows. 
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