In a week when “Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham made headlines for telling “Glamour” that she may quit acting, and defended once again her choice to get naked in almost every episode, it’s fitting that the season’s penultimate episode was so concerned with performing — with and without your clothes on.
When last we saw our heroine Hannah (Dunham), her boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) announced he was moving out in the weeks before his Broadway debut in “Major Barbara,” George Bernard Shaw’s play about a woman in the Salvation Army. And yet, there they were, going at it in the opening scene. This was not a traditional breakup but what exactly the separation means to their relationship provides much of the tension beneath their antics.
“I feel like you’re leaving me in such slow motion that I can’t tell,” Hannah tells Adam (after following him back to Ray’s house where he’s gone to practice his Cockney accent).
“I see you and I think it’s play time and it’s work time,” he counters, before accompanying her in a cab back home.
The old work-play dichotomy gets a workout in the other characters’ lives as well: Marnie (Alison Williams) is working as an assistant in an art gallery for a famous and frank aging photographer ("Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" star Louise Lasser) though she really wants to be a singer. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is diligently finishing college while her recovering junkie roommate Jessa (Jemima Kirke) seems to be trying to cure her addiction via frenetic dancing followed by collapse. “You’ve probably destroyed your pleasure sensors but they’re probably going to grow back,” Shosh tells her, in what passes for a compassionate line.
That Jessa is going through coke withdrawal cold turkey makes me worry for her character’s chances, and I just learned that using speed was once so common in major league baseball that taking the field without having done so was sometimes called “playing naked.” (Dunham, take note.)
It is Hannah’s show, after all, and her anxiety about Adam’s looming stage career is only heightened by another attempt to interview Patti LuPone about bone density medication for the GQ advertorial project she is freelancing for. This meeting takes place at the Broadway star’s apartment, where her house husband, a failed writer, serves them all dinner.
“We go out and I’m still ‘Mr. Lupone,'” he tells Hannah and her friend Elijah (Andrew Rannells), who his wife drools over — calling him “Troy Donahue” — despite his blatant gayness. It is clear that Hannah sees her future as that of an also-ran, a second banana and therein lies the root of her many bad choices — quitting the lucrative if intellectually unrewarding day job at GQ, for instance.
“Did you think you were going to grow up and work in a sweat shop factory for puns?” she harangues her fellow scribes, in what is probably as good a description of most publishing jobs as you’ll find. (One of her colleagues, a lapsed poet, sniffs that “Rhyming ‘need for tweed’ was a brilliant idea and you all signed off on it.”)
The title of the episode, “The Worst Best Song Ever” (written by Dunham and Paul Simms), refers to the folk ditty Marnie and Adam’s fellow actor Desi perform together at an open-mike performance. The scene manages to portray the awful amateur hour feel of most such events with the sense that what they’re doing is actually … pretty good. For the first time, Marnie sings with something like conviction and their performance of the bad song (written by Dunham’s boyfriend, and fun. member Jack Antonoff) actually has a kind of integrity.
“Adam’s going to be on Broadway and Marnie’s going to be a pop star,” Shosh rhapsodizes during the show, and then turns to Hannah: “And you were supposed to be a famous writer and now you’re working in advertising.”
The best defense Hannah can offer is telling her friend she quit.