‘Girls’ Season 6 Premiere Recap: Get In The Sea
Metaphorically speaking, there are worse things than getting a little sand in your vagina.
This is a recap of the latest episode of Girls. Spoilers!
Indoorsy kids often have a touch of snobbishness. Those of us who could easily stay in our rooms reading for three days straight were reassured by our parents or teachers that no, it didn’t matter that we always got picked last or didn’t have the coltish bronzed limbs of the Little Athletics stars, because we had brains. That was better in the long run, no matter what Jessica G sneered to us at recess.
But, too busy building rich inner worlds, many of us missed out on developing a love for doing things with our bodies out in the world. We ended up young adults who think of exercise as something boring people do to get laid.
After a childhood of begging my mother to let me stay inside and read on beach holidays (I soon worked out that copping a nasty sunburn on the first day would get me my way) and spending most of my twenties on the couch and in bars, I’m a recent convert to occasional outdoorsiness. A little while ago, during a rough time, a friend who sees the sunrise regularly by choice told me I needed to go into the sea and put my head under the water and I would feel better. He was right. When you’re prone to being too in your head, being smacked around by the elements a little can remind you that you have a body as well; it’ll help you learn to love being in it, and being in the world.
Hannah Horvath, of course, has a history of resisting the outdoors (remember her obstinately listening to podcasts in the woods instead of hiking?) and any exercise that isn’t sex or dancing (Adam tried to get her to run at least once, to no avail and much complaining). She generally channels the sulky, bookish teenager she still is whenever she’s presented with even the slightest learning curve or something that doesn’t align with the identity and narrative she’s building for herself.
That sulkiness and “it’s just not me” outlook, by the way, is also a handy cover for giving up easily when presented with a new experience she doesn’t immediately take to (e.g. Iowa, which she couldn’t stick with; as opposed to teaching, which she actually had a knack for and enjoyed). It was clear during the women’s retreat Hannah and her mother went to last season that she considers herself above the kind of women who would go to such things earnestly (or more specifically, dreads being one of them).
In this season’s first episode, Hannah and her new editor (Chelsea Peretti) cook up a surf camp article idea on the premise that rich white ladies don’t come by their professed affinity for anything honestly — that it’s usually filtered through a consideration of how skinny or virtuous or charmingly free-spirited it will make them appear.
Her surf instructor Paul-Louis repeats an aphorism about how “the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea” that comes from a Karen Blixen short story about rich people telling stories about themselves. Of course, it’s now been reduced to a Pinterest proverb to be superimposed over endless insipid abstract photos of the ocean by the same forces of aspirational wellness capitalism that can earnestly co-opt any physical activity and turn it into a kind of “shitty yoga”.
This all comes after Hannah is anointed as A Good Writer by two of the most prestigious literary brands in New York, and the season opens with the moment most aspiring writers picture when they fantasise about those early successes: all her loved ones (and the nervous subjects of the piece) devouring her compelling recount of a romantic misadventure in a real print newspaper. That is a real achievement, and her joy is real and justified and earnest. It’s lovely to watch, so of course the show is going to find as many ways for her to humiliate herself as possible soon.
The angle of her new story is “more-dumpling-than-woman” Hannah going along to this surf camp and making these women sound silly and shallow. It’s not clear whether she picks up that she (specifically her “look” and “shape”) is also the butt of the joke for the editor and the readers of Slag.
This Montauk excursion feels like a retread of the retreat episode in some ways: the sulky refusal to show enthusiasm, the awkward sex with the exercise-loving instructor who doesn’t find her blatant disdain for their work off-putting, the reluctant trying-on of a persona she’s already dismissed as not-her. But God bless the guileless Paul-Louis (Rogue One and The Night Of’s Riz Ahmed) for being the latest in a long line of sweet men to be drawn in by Hannah’s abrasive joie de vivre.
Dunham and Ahmed don’t actually have much in the way of chemistry, but their scenes are adorable enough to make up for it; from Ahmed’s drunken take on Twista’s ‘Slow Jamz’ verse and Hannah’s delighted reaction (“I’m gonna fuck him!”) to the weird-cute ocean makeouts and their genuinely lovely, slightly stoned conversation on the beach. Hannah obviously starts the interaction thinking of Paul-Louis as a potential sex idiot, but the way both her actual respect for him and his attitude grows alongside her understanding of the appeal of his lifestyle leads her to something near a revelation.
She was “so ready to hate this”, she says. But she’s surprised herself by enjoying it, because she looks back on her NYC self as one of the people running around “chasing success and defining themselves”, like her friends who “define themselves by what they hate” (and hey, there’s an app for that).
It’s no coincidence that we’ve just watched a scene of Ray and Shosh bonding over their mutual disdain for Paul Krugman (as Marnie stands on the sidelines in her impeccably-styled activewear and awkwardly sips the multinational-chain coffee Ray rejected). By the by, Marnie clearly knows that no matter how much they pointedly call each other baby, our favourite Old Man belongs with someone else. If the show doesn’t sort that out by the end of the season, I’m gonna throw stuff.
Paul-Louis is the opposite of this. He’s patient and open and genuine, and seems to love sharing what he loves with other people. That is an intoxicating quality when you cocktail it up with those elemental sensations: bracing water, fire warming your face, a wave knocking you over, sand on your skin, and the satisfying surprise of appreciating a new perspective — like releasing a muscle you didn’t realise you were holding tense.
But Hannah is still incapable of just enjoying this for what it is. When he mentions his girlfriend (which, to be fair, is something he might have done earlier) her face falls, not because she wanted “something serious” but because it punctures the new identity she was already constructing for herself as some beachy seaside scribe hanging out with her surfer-philosopher lover.
That night, she has a moment of pure, giggly happiness by the fire, before something punctures it again. A flash of impostor syndrome, maybe, or just realising that she’s supposed to be writing something mean about these earnest, Tal Bachman-covering people who are good at enjoying life and giving vibes.
It’s a surprisingly positive and, yes, earnest initial framing for Girls’ final season. The show has always indulged and rebuked Hannah’s self-involvement in equal measure, but this episode underlines that she is both allowed to be happy and successful despite her flaws, but still can’t stop getting in her own way.
Similarly, it both celebrates the simplicity of Paul-Louis’ philosophy on life and pokes holes in it. He tells Hannah she would have fun surfing if she “just let [her]self — everybody else does”, which is probably generally correct but also uselessly broad. It’s not the most helpful thing to say to someone who prides herself on not fitting in with “everybody else” and secretly kind of wishes she did.
But the fact that Hannah’s more receptive to experiences that don’t seem to fit her narrative bode well for her quest to become who she is. Metaphorically speaking, at least, there are worse things than getting a little sand in your vagina.
Girls is on Showcase at 8.30pm Wednesday nights.