TV Recap: Girls, “Only Child” (3.5)

By Jordan Ferguson


2/2/2014, 10:00 pm (EST), HBO

This season of Girls is slowly shaping up to be a story about how easy it is to feel stable, collected, mature and driven when things are going well, and how quickly that delusion can fall apart if things take a turn for the worse. “Only Child” shows us this with Caroline and Marnie, but the focus here is squarely on Hannah, who has painted herself as a paragon of adulthood, with her mental illness in control, a live-in boyfriend, and a book deal. After her tailspin last season, Hannah believed she had figured it all out, that she had found her happy ending.

We, of course, knew better, both because we know Hannah and because we know Girls. The other shoe was always going to drop, and in “Only Child” it does, as Hannah learns Mill Street isn’t going forward with her e-book, but owns the rights to it for the next three years. The episode tracks Hannah on an emotional rollercoaster, from callously using the funeral to network, asking David’s wife (he had a wife! And she was Jennifer Westfeldt!) for another publisher she can shop her book to, through her elated reaction to landing a new book deal, and to her crushed understanding that her dreams aren’t coming true quite yet.

Meanwhile, because sometimes this show takes place in my dreams, Marnie and Ray hooked up. This union makes a certain perverse sense, especially once you realize that Marnie’s self-loathing and Ray’s brutal honesty transform his monologue about her flaws into a weird sort of foreplay. The scene verged on eye-roll territory for how broadly telegraphed its conclusion was, but it felt so true to both of these characters that it was delightful to watch. This is another instance where I’m not sure whether the show will return to this well, but I very much hope it does. Just as Ray and Shoshanna are pretty much perfect together, Ray and Marnie are a match made in hell, and I would love to see them caustically sniping at each other after everything falls apart.

Then there’s Caroline, who is always teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown, begging the world to notice her beautiful tragedy and embrace her as the victim she constantly paints herself to be. Gaby Hoffman is always an incredibly game actress, but it hasn’t been totally clear what, exactly, she’s doing in this season, other than the vague notion that she might drive a wedge between Hannah and Adam. We begin to see her purpose, though, in the long scene where Hannah “Dr. Phil’s” Caroline and Adam’s relationship. Caroline exists as a contrast point for both Adam and Hannah simultaneously, and lets us learn more about each of them through her.

Hannah is an only child who claims she has always wanted a sibling. Yet like many only children, she has no real understanding of the dynamics of those relationships, somehow colossally misreading Adam by throwing Caroline out. Really, though, her decision is, unsurprisingly, less about Adam’s wants and needs, and more about feeding her own ego. Hannah likes to be the center of attention, and if Adam does anything for her, he feeds that need. He’s a passionate guy, but Hannah is used to him directing most of that passion her way, and in “Only Child,” he is focused solely on Caroline. So Hannah gets a taste of sibling rivalry and reacts by trying to cut Caroline out of her life completely.

The episode’s end also provides some context into Adam, who Caroline describes as constantly needing to save people. As he races out into the night to find his sister, it is all too reminiscent of the way he rushed to save Hannah at the end of last season. This is, in some sense, who Adam is, the sort of guy who papers over the holes in his life by buoying up others and pulling them back from the ledge. As Caroline points out, Adam has no career or even job prospects, and we have been reminded several times this season that he doesn’t really have friends. Adam has a lot of problems, but instead of recognizing them or working to fix them, he distracts himself by saving those around him. He protects Caroline from her aimlessness as a distraction from his own. He offers to take Jessa to meetings to feel better about the fact that he has to go himself. He anchors Hannah because he is himself at sea.

“Only Child” is another step forward in this season’s solidifying story about how hard it can be to act like an adult and keep your life together when everything is falling apart. Marnie is chasing dreams and drowning in self-delusion to the point that she actually thinks she wants to see the truth (which of course she doesn’t). Jessa is still play-acting normality, trying to get a job and pretend she isn’t in free-fall. Hannah is self-destructing in the wake of her disappointment. And Caroline was never very together in the first place. It’s easy to be happy, healthy, and collected when things are going well. But when the darkness comes, when disappointment seeps in, it becomes a struggle to maintain all of the things we’ve built up. That struggle is called adulthood, and it is the continuous conflict that sits at the center of this show about learning what it really means to grow up.

The Roundup

  • -“I thought you said he was gay.” “Well, I don’t know anymore. He had gay apps on his iPhone and liked to show his ankles, but what does that even mean in this day and age?”
  • -“What happens after the fifteen year plan?” “It would be, like, insane to think about that.” Never change, Shosh.
  • -“Why are we telling you we love you?” I’m not sure I like the version of this show that reminds us its aware of the characters’ awfulness better. It usually seems a bit on the nose to me, but this definitely made me laugh out loud.
  • -“Are you sure that’s the kind of job you should be having? Like, being near things that children are near?”
  • -This week in Marnie’s downward spiral: she’s telling a kitten that its her best friend.
73/100 ~ GOOD. “Only Child” is another step forward in this season’s solidifying story about how hard it can be to act like an adult and keep your life together when everything is falling apart.
Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it. When he isn’t wasting time “studying the law” at the University of Michigan, he writes about film, television, and music. In addition to writing for Next Projection, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Review To Be Named, a homemade haven for pop-culture obsessives. Check out more of his work at , follow him on twitter @bobchanning, or just yell really loudly on the street. Don’t worry, he’ll hear.