Do the right thing! The Sunday, February 26, episode of HBO’s Girls saw Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) standing up for her beliefs and “[using her] voice to talk about things that are meaningful” to her. In this case, that meant standing up for women who may have been sexually taken advantage of, so get ready, because this episode — written by Dunham — was uncomfortable and meaningful.
Hannah started the episode by walking into a very fancy-looking apartment building and asking the doorman to tell Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys) she was there. See, Chuck is an author she likes … or used to like. When she found out he slept with a bunch of college-age women while on his book tour, she wrote a takedown of his predatory behavior for a feminist website. He invited her over to talk about it, so she went.
Everything about the episode was designed to show Us how powerful and privileged Chuck was. His doorman, his building’s mirrored elevator, his apartment’s array of plaques and awards bearing his name and his “I ❤️ Chuck” mug proved that he was rich, egotistical and, above all, successful. In contrast, Hannah’s nervousness, canvas tote and lime-green hair tie showed her relative immaturity and inexperience. In this situation, he clearly had more power, which was the problem Hannah identified in his sexual encounters with other women and aspiring writers who weren’t that much younger than she was.
Still, Hannah did her best to cut him down to size. She half-jokingly criticized him for seemingly having an “ass-deep” Google alert on his name if he’d found her article on a niche feminist blog, and made a biting comment about how they did the same thing for a living, though she didn’t have a picture of herself hanging out with Toni Morrison on her own wall.
Let’s Talk About (Consensual) Sex, Baby
Through the interaction, Hannah held her own. When Chuck said he hadn’t invited her over to ask for an apology, she responded, “Good,” then spent the rest of the time rolling her eyes while he complained about people being mean to him online.
He repeatedly tried to downplay the seriousness of Hannah’s concerns about him by complimenting her — “You’re funny” — and telling her to focus on other topics — “You should be using your funny to tackle subjects that matter” — but it was his insistence that words like consensual make his life “messy” that proved her concerns were warranted. That, plus the ostensibly misogynistic worldview that crept out when he talked about his “tortured woman” of an ex and “good girl” of a daughter seemed to solidify in Hannah that she made the right initial character assessment.
She told him as much, saying that consent is a pretty big deal, especially when women online were alleging that they hadn’t wanted to participate in sexual encounters with him in the first place. She explained to him that a person can leverage influence and power to get someone else to engage in an act they don’t want to be part of. It might not be a violent physical act, but coercion can constitute assault.
When he complained about so-called “gray areas,” she exclaimed that she’s so tired of gray areas, then shared a personal story about an elementary school teacher who got too close to her but whose conduct remained in a “gray area” in spite of its lasting effect on her.
Chuck — and Dunham, as the writer — did a good job of showcasing the effects of “call-out culture” when he expressed concerns that his daughter would grow up and read the blog posts about him, from the women claiming they hadn’t wanted to get sexually involved with him but had been pressured to do it, to Hannah’s article.
“I may be stupid, but I’m not evil, sister,” Chuck said, summing up the human element that makes scandal and impropriety so complex. He went on to read her something he’d written about the woman who initially accused him of taking advantage of her. It was touching and caused Hannah to reconsider her wholesale evaluation of his character …
… until he pulled his penis out after giving her a signed copy of one of her favorite books. For one second, she actually touched it, demonstrating how easily even she was swept up in the moment. But then, she stood up and walked out because she didn’t want to do it.
The episode ended symbolically, with Hannah marching out of the building as a parade of beautiful young women in businesswear streamed in.
Tell Us: Does Chuck deserve all the bad press?
Girls airs on HBO at 10:00 p.m. EST.
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