TV Recap: Girls, “I Saw You” (3.11)

By Jordan Ferguson


March 16, 2014, 10:00 p.m. (EST), HBO

One of the most frustrating things about Girls is the way it occasionally falls in love with its own mystique, loses sight of its satirical angle, and basically becomes the show its detractors criticize it for being. “I Saw You” is hardly the worst example of this tendency in the show’s history (in fact, season three has probably been the show’s best in this regard, if not in some others), but it is an episode that I could show any of the show’s harshest critics to basically validate their opinion of the series.

When Girls is a show about Hannah and her friends slowly gaining a modicum of self-awareness and falteringly learning how to deal with the fact of other people in the world, it is trenchant social satire and a fascinating, uncomfortably realistic portrayal of mid-twenties narcissism. When it is a show about how Hannah and all of her friends’ dreams slowly come true because they are special little flowers destined for greatness if they can see beyond themselves to the lives they might change—well, it can be a little insufferable.

“I Saw You” isn’t as bad as all that, really. But it is an episode in which Marnie is suddenly an immensely talented singer, Adam is about to open a show on Broadway, and even Hannah’s future as a writer seems like sort of a foregone conclusion if she can just get out of her own way for a few minutes (which, of course, she can’t). Jessa walks into a gallery, is an asshole for 45 seconds, and is handed a job on a silver platter. This sort of self-serving fantasy is not what the show does best, and in fact, it exacerbates the series’ worst tendencies. If this is all set up to a finale where everything comes crashing back to Earth, “I Saw You” may look better in hindsight. But for now, it looks like an increasingly improbable story about how some generally bad people made good because their talents were just too prodigious to be repressed.

The episode isn’t blind to Hannah’s flaws, of course, because this show is never that enamored with its central characters. Hannah remains a deluded person who has little grasp on how the rest of the world sees her. At its best, the show makes her sympathetic because it reminds us of how often our own perceptions are at odds with reality, and of all the awkwardness and pain that can cause. Yet the opposite of this tendency is that the show expects us to relate to these people even when they go wildly further than we ever could. Girls demands our empathy, and then pushes us to see how far it should really go. It relies on its heights to compensate for its deficiencies, even though the gap between the two is wide enough, they can feel like different series entirely.

The show is best when it is a series of short stories in the mode of “Flo” from a few weeks ago. But it is increasingly clear that it sort of falls apart when it tries to tell bigger stories. Few shows on television are as frustratingly incapable of building a coherent arc, which wouldn’t be a problem if the show didn’t want every season to end with one. Take, for example, Hannah and Adam’s relationship problems. Instead of actually developing them over a series of episodes, the show has inexplicably decided to just use Patti LuPone as shorthand for what is going on there, bringing the actress in to foreshadow where this was all headed, and bringing her back here to remind us what we are supposed to be seeing (but aren’t, really) in the central relationship.

We are told Adam’s success will cause problems in their relationship, and then we see several episodes of the two getting along as close to normally as they ever do, until suddenly everything explodes, less because it makes a lick of narrative sense, and more because it is that time in the season, the point at which things have to fall apart for the show to build to what it seems to think it needs for a narratively satisfying finale.

Similarly, Marnie’s story for this season (which is increasingly a mess) has been about her lack of control in her life, her weird fling that means more than it should with Ray, and her fledgling singing career. This is the season’s penultimate episode, and so all of those elements just sort of reappear, in spite of the fact that none of it quite makes sense. Leave aside, for the moment, that the show has been wildly inconsistent in the way that it expects us to approach Marnie’s dreams of becoming a singer, the stories of her frustrations at the gallery and her attraction to her singing partner that leads her back to Ray out of frustration grate against each other. If this was a half-hour spent inside Marnie’s head, linkages might be more apparent, but as it stands, these are just “some things that happen to Marnie this week.”

It may sound like I am being exceedingly tough on “I Saw You,” which isn’t a bad episode so much as an incredibly frustrating and largely incoherent one. But I assure you, my anger comes from a place of love. Girls has the ability to be unlike anything else on TV; in fact, that is what it is best at being. When it tries to force itself into a more conventional narrative structure, the strain shows, and its worst tendencies float to the surface. Hannah sees everyone around her exceeding expectations tonight, and it forces her to fall apart. She sees herself as the center of the universe (and it both helps and hurts this show that she actually is its center), but more and more, she is becoming a marker of stability as stagnation in a group of people flowering all around her. She growls that everything is her business right before walking in on Marnie and Ray, and she really believes it. All of these things are going on around her, and because she is Hannah, she needs to quickly figure out a way to make them all about her. Placing the protagonist of the story in a situation where she has to assert her centrality to people who have their own stuff going on is actually a pretty brilliant positioning going into the finale. But let’s not pretend that the road to this point was paved with anything other than some seriously messy storytelling choices.

The Roundup

  • -Louise Lassler is incredible here as Beadie, the artist setting up a show at Marnie’s gallery. She basically exists in the plot to randomly validate Jessa, but her speech about TV’s tendency to portray old women as shells was truly beautiful. “It hurts to be a shell” was maybe the best moment in the episode for me.
  • -Ok, seriously though, what does the show even think it is doing with Jessa right now?
  • -If the show pulls off the finale next week, I may forgive it a lot of the problems here. Fingers crossed next week finds me eating my words.
61/100 ~ OKAY. I Saw You” is an episode that I could show any of the show’s harshest critics to basically validate their opinion of the series.
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.