TV Recap: Girls, “Beach House” (3.7)

By Jordan Ferguson


16/2/2014, 10:00pm (EST), HBO

One of the tough lessons in life that television rarely teaches is that friendship doesn’t have to be forever. This is one of the bold narrative changes that has begun to separate cable television from the network model, or more accurately, that indicates the shift from the old to the new. Until recently (And in many cases, currently), television was not built as a satisfying narrative medium. It was built to last. Television shows were not novels, with planned beginnings, middles, and ends—they were engines that could churn out stories until the money wasn’t there anymore. This isn’t to say there isn’t great TV made in this mindset. In fact, most of the greatest television ever made was forged under this system. But it is one way in which television has not always reflected life.

Because for most of us, most of our friendships are temporary. This isn’t always a good or a bad thing; it is simply a fact of life. We grow together, we grow apart. We fight and forget to make up. We move, and the distance between phone calls grows farther until it falls off. Some friends we really do have for life. But most of them, we have for moments. This is most true in our mid-twenties, though. As children, many of us grow up in the same place, or at least spend years there. It is easy to have a lifelong friend in your home town, before you’re old enough to leave. Once we are settled, it is possible to develop these longer friendships again, because we know where we are and we know we’ll be staying. But from the period when you enter college to the one in which your life begins to actually stabilize, friendships are delicate, temporary, and eventually tinged with nostalgia.

“Beach House” is a great episode of Girls because it captures the feeling of that moment when a group of friends realizes they won’t be together forever, that things are already driving them apart and that they aren’t likely to get any better, at least not soon. Hannah and Marnie moved to New York together right out of college, but they are becoming different people with different expectation and different ways of viewing the world. They are growing in separate directions, and the weekend that we see in this episode is Marnie’s desperate attempt to get something back that she longs for in theory but is growing past in fact.

I don’t know that I truly buy the idea that Girls will stick with this as a storyline in the long term. Even for a cable show that has proven itself capable of some serious narrative experiments, alienating your entire core cast is a difficult proposition, and it forces me to wonder what the show would look like if it went through with this schism in anyway other than the fitful way it has handled it so far. Perhaps Marnie, then Shoshanna, then Jessa would drift away from Hannah, who would find herself among new friends and in new situations. I don’t think it is impossible for the show to go this way, and if any show on TV were to do it, it might be this one. It just seems like this is one mold that can be particularly difficult to break. When I spoke of it above, it sounded mostly negative, but the idea of a core cast on a television show is also supremely comforting. It lets you know what to expect in ways that might get predictable. But it also gives you a place, and people, to return to, a place where everybody knows each other’s names.

In any case, what “Beach House” is doing is narratively impressive, moving, and very funny. The episode has an almost Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf structure, except of course those characters knew what they were getting into. Marnia invites her friends to the beach to “heal” their relationships, which really means engaging in a tightly scheduled weekend of Marnie-planned activities designed to get everyone to open up in ways Marnie desires and to the ends Marnie has in mind. Of course, things don’t go as planned, when Hannah runs into Elijah and his gang (which includes Danny Strong as his casual boyfriend he wants something more from) and decides to make up and invite them all over. This leads to a choreographed dance number and to the boiling over of several long-simmering conflicts.

Marnie’s story this season is one of a girl who thought she was nearing her happy ending, only to discover the whole notion is a charade. She built her life around a few core concepts (Charlie, who she dated from early on in college, New York, where she planned to live, and a career that has fallen apart around her) and her self-conception calcified around them. Marnie never fully formed as a person because she formed a plan and figured that would be enough. But now her plans have gone awry, and she’s flailing to find anything to hang onto. The weekend, in a way, mirrors this struggle, as instead of connecting with her friends or actually engaging in the weekend, Marnie plans, and slowly falls apart when the world doesn’t conform to her plans.

Her girls’ weekend transforms into something else, but it’s hardly something that couldn’t be salvaged. She planned to save her relationships, but she doesn’t see that letting go and enjoying the circumstances she finds herself in might go a long way toward accomplishing that. Marnie understands only the language of control, perceives power over her surroundings as the only positive. If she cannot plan and then execute, she can’t see how to move forward. What she will have to learn to break her cycle of expectation and disappointment is that sometimes the only way forward is to let go, to ditch the plan, to improvise.

The sequence in which all of the girls finally let loose, prompted by Shosh being a “cruel drunk,” doesn’t really develop as organically as it should. It’s clear from the beginning that this is the purpose of this episode, that we are watching one of those weekends where everything sort of falls apart and conflicts are laid bare, but the episode cannot seem to figure out how, exactly, to get us there (I would blame this problem on the episode having three writers if they were not show runners Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner and executive producer Judd Apatow, but I am still not sure this isn’t a case of too many cooks in the kitchen). The beginning of the fight doesn’t really work for me, but the fight itself is near-perfect, a brutal, bruising exercise in personal excoriation by a group of people who know you well enough to scar when the claws come out.

Every one of these women are truth-telling to the others, but in classic Girls fashion, they are too busy accurately assessing the others to really listen to the valid criticism flying their way. Shoshanna calls Hannah the most narcissistic person she has ever met, and Hannah deflects, saying people have been telling her that since she was three, and Shosh needs to come up with a more original insult. It doesn’t even occur to her that she might constantly be hearing this for a reason. She is too eager to jump on Shoshanna for how vapid she can be to understand there is some truth behind the attack.

At one point in the episode, Elijah’s boyfriend mocks him for not knowing what the word “inertia” meant, for thinking in fact that it meant moving too fast. It seems like a tossed off joke at the time, like more evidence that this guy is not a good person for Elijah to love, another bruising relationship in a life full of them. But it becomes more meaningful once the girls are breaking each other down. Finally, Shoshanna admits that she doesn’t really want to hang out with these people any more. None of them really want to hang out with each other anymore. These are friendships built on inertia and narcissism, they are friendships of convenience more than actual bonds. None of these women really likes the others, or really even thinks that liking the others is part of the point of being their friend. They each view their friends instrumentally, and when looked at from that perspective, its impossible not to see all the ways these people are letting them down.

The end of the episode is the sort of beautiful, lyrical sequence that this show usually manages to just pull off, that seems on the surface like it undercuts the damage that has just been done, but that actually, in a way, affirms it. As the four silently clean up what became their warzone, they are not clearing the refuse of their relationships. And as they sit at that bus stop, slowing joining Hannah as she mimes the moves of the dance they learned the night before, it’s clear they are putting masks back on the faces they bared the night before. These people are friends because they don’t know how to be anything else and because they don’t really have anyone else. They are stuck together not because they are bonded, but because they fear what would happen if they fully pushed each other apart. They are nowhere even close to solving their problems; in fact, though their friends have a handle on them, for the most part they are not even fully acknowledging their issues. So they sit there in silence, miming a happiness none of them feel, making the motions of a connection that has mostly been severed. The moves stay the same, but the meaning has changed.

The Roundup

  • -“I can’t go in open water unless I’m menstruating.”
  • -“I don’t know if I like duck…”
  • -“Well then maybe you should lower your expectations.” “I can’t lower them any further.”
  • -“I spent $80,000 on a Theater B.F.A. Of course I am talented, Gyril.”
87/100 ~ GREAT. “Beach House” is a great episode of Girls because it captures the feeling of that moment when a group of friends realizes they won’t be together forever, that things are already driving them apart and that they aren’t likely to get any better, at least not soon.
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.