Girls Recap: An Education

The fourth episode of Season 5 is all about couples: Fran and Hannah. Marnie and Desi. Elijah and Corey Stoll?

This week’s episode of Girls was one of the most interesting of its entire five-season run. We left Japan and returned to New York to watch the crew — sans Shoshanna — deal with the kind of buried frustrations that come as relationships transition and evolve.

In by far the best position this episode is Elijah, who has somehow managed to hook nationally beloved not-Anderson-Cooper-but-come-on-we-know-what-you’re-getting-at anchorman Dill Harcourt, played by the gorgeous and gorgeously voiced Corey Stoll. It’s probably too much to ask for, but I wouldn’t mind if their relationship continued on exactly like this for the rest of the season, with Elijah’s low expectations continually surpassed and kinky sex for all to enjoy.

Hannah and Fran, on the other hand, seem in position for a fall. They have a private blow-up over teaching techniques that sets Hannah off into a familiar stream of vindictiveness and self-sabotage, which eventually leads to public blow-ups not only with Fran, but with Jessa too.

However, when it comes to Hannah and Fran’s disagreement itself, this might be the first time in the history of Girls that I would declare Hannah Horvath 100 percent in the practical, procedural, and moral right. Even if he disagreed with Hannah’s ability to execute her no-grammar-no-problem plan, Fran was out of line in messing with her lesson — in what world does it make sense to grade another teacher’s papers without permission? Besides, the American educational system has been reaping the meager rewards of rule-and-repeat education for decades, and where has that gotten us? Far below the standard of the developed world among high school graduates in math and reading, that’s where — so, for once, Hannah’s liberal-arts-school flouting of protocol in favor of creative expression seems entirely appropriate. Fran, let the children grow and develop, you adorably neurotic fuddy-duddy.

Of course, Hannah’s correctness only lasts for about 15 minutes before she takes things way out of hand, pulling Fran out of his class to openly fight with him about their personal relationship in front of the eighth grader — Male (it’s Gaelic, and it's pronounced Miley) — whose paper was torn in their skirmish. One step forward, 17 steps back. Hannah and Fran are clearly in for some stormy weather over the next few episodes, and I’m not sure if their relationship will survive, but I have high hopes that it will give the always reliable Jake Lacy something meaty to work with.

Marnie is mostly a trifle in this episode, but it’s nice to have her back after her two-episode Eccccchhhhuadorian honeymoon retreat. Somewhere along the last five seasons, Marnie has become the character most likely to score laughs from me, and watching her manage her predictable disgust at Desi’s impulsive decision to rip up and renovate her apartment made for an episode arc that was at first amusing and then surprisingly sweet. If the season opener highlighted the dysfunction in the Marnie-Desi relationship, this week was a nice reminder that a lunatic like Marnie is probably best suited to another lunatic. Dysfunction was always going to be a given for these two, but their compatibility is a welcome twist.

If most of this episode was spent setting up story lines to explode later in the season, the biggest concrete development is that, after a solid season and a half of teasing, Adam and Jessa finally got it on. In a typical Girls move, the show’s two sexiest characters who are not Corey Stoll get together in a scene that is more awkward than it is erotic. There are fumbling arms and inconvenient position changes -- plus the the whole encounter takes place on Adam’s couch. After a particularly embarrassing slip, Adam mumbles, “Is this what bad sex is like?” and it’s hard to imagine that a scene meant to satisfy audience expectations could have produced a moment as sweet as this.

I know everyone knows Adam Driver is excellent, but does Jemima Kirke get enough credit for how good she is as an actress? For someone who proclaims little interest in professional thespionage beyond this show, Kirke is one of Girls's most fascinating cast members. Where most of the actors on the show are tasked with characters who are selectively clueless, Jessa is self-aware enough to keep her feelings hidden. So Kirke has the charge of playing behaviors but not necessarily the emotions that drive them, and she consistently rises to the occasion. In this episode alone, she is conflicted with Hannah's friendship, blaming Hannah for her own asceticism with Adam, flustered at Adam’s door, and confident as she and Adam (finally!) have sex -- and then it all pays off in the episode’s final moments as she lies in Adam’s arms, her face for the first time an open portrait of her character’s vulnerability and self-doubt.