“You’ve stopped trying to please people,” Marnie tells Charlie during last night’s episode of Girls. As a statement about Charlie, it’s patently ridiculous, but as a statement about this show, it rings true. Maybe it’s that the writers know the end is coming, but Girls feels like it has finally stopped trying to please its fans and critics, and started pursuing its own internal sense of purpose.
This week continues with another bottle episode, this time following Marnie, who has been a background presence for most of this season since her marriage to Desi. They’ve been a pair marked for disaster since the moment they got together, but the road this episode took to the dissolution of Marnie’s marriage required a detour: Marnie tried out a different fantasy relationship, this time with her ex Charlie, who returns to the show after three seasons away with a new voice, a new attitude, and some new habits.
Marnie starts her day walking out on Desi after a fight over a scone, and she ends it shoeless, wandering back after her adventure with Charlie proved to be a disappointment. At what point would you have balked on Marnie’s night out? When Charlie opened the door to a room with garbage bags on the windows? When Charlie pulled a knife on the guy mugging you? Would it have been when Charlie dressed you up for a party in Manhattan where he was going to sell cocaine?
Maybe you would have run away sooner than Marnie did. Maybe you wouldn’t have run away at all. Maybe you would have noticed the warning signs in a person you were once intimately entangled with, and you would have started asking some questions. Was that story about your dad true? When did you start selling? Are you using? How can I help you?
Instead, Marnie and Charlie dance together, at which point Marnie looks up at him starry-eyed, and says, “You’ve stopped trying to please people.”
But Charlie hasn’t stopped trying to please Marnie; he’s only found a more effective way to please her. Instead of the liberal arts school soft boy, he’s now a bearded and tatted man of mystery with a Ryan Gosling Brooklyn accent. (Marnie tells him, hilariously, “You talk differently now.”) Marnie wants an adventure and Charlie spends the entirety of their day together providing it via a kind of Aladdin carpet ride of the wreckage his life has become.
Is Charlie still holding onto his love for Marnie? I don’t think so, or at least I don’t think Charlie’s love extends to Marnie as a full human being. But Marnie’s vision of the world is like a drug. It’s not the red pill that opens up the truth of the Matrix, but the opposite: the blue pill that puts you back to sleep.
Marnie sees herself as the princess at the center of her own fairy tale, and the totality of her delusion has the power to transform everything in her path into its fantasy counterpart. It’s not a man paying for sex, it’s a grift along the crossroads. It’s not a shabby slum, but a lover’s nest with a shower that has great water pressure. So long as Charlie can play along, so long as he can keep himself a character in her fable, he’s not an addict living in a dirty tenement, but a pauper whose fortune could instantly change with the love of a kindly princess.
“Let’s run away,” he says, and it’s a testament to Marnie’s selfishness that she doesn’t ask any questions. “I don’t need my stuff, I hate all of it,” she replies, with an obliviousness that borders on cruelty.
Marnie’s mirage withstands even the intrusion of a fellow traveler, a lesbian at the end of her own long night, ready to give up on chasing fantasies after getting dumped off a motorcycle. A motorcycle probably wouldn’t have been enough for Marnie — it takes an actual heroin needle to burst her bubble.
Marnie goes home, still in her party dress, now without shoes, and ends her marriage with Desi. Marnie gives her by now predictable explanation about needing to find herself, and Desi responds with maybe the first moment of clarity that he’s ever shown in their marriage: “You’re gonna get murdered.”
Watching Desi and Marnie toss around references to her inevitable murder was probably the hardest I’ve ever laughed at an episode of Girls — both because it’s such a harsh thing to actually voice to someone, but also because it’s so true. Marnie’s adventure with Charlie could have ended in catastrophe at any point, and judging by her response to Desi, Marnie knows it and has no intention of changing.
“Maybe I do get murdered.”
It’s so typically Marnie that she would view death as merely a price that comes with holding on to her fantasies. It preserves her sense of grandiose purpose. If things work out, she’s a princess, and if they don’t, she’s a martyr — anything, so long as her life retains its glow of predestined meaning. For Marnie, even being the heroine of a tragedy is preferable to accepting that there might not be a story at all.
(Damn, this is a good season.)