This interview discusses plot points from the most recent episodes of Girls.
While Girls’ Hannah (Lena Dunham) has been reckoning with her unexpected pregnancy over the past two episodes, elsewhere in Brooklyn, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) has been taking stock of his life after a devastating event. In “Painful Evacuation,” he discovers cranky coffee shop owner Hermie (Colin Quinn) dead. The following episode, “Gummies,” finds Ray going through the possessions his friend left behind and realizing that his relationship with Marnie is untenable given that she can’t stand to be with him as he rummages through VHS tapes and looks at old photos.
When we spoke with co-showrunner Jenni Konner for a different story, she explained that Ray’s storyline was influenced by the death of Garry Shandling last year. “What happened honestly is that Judd [Apatow] lost Garry Shandling, and the world lost Garry Shandling, during the time we were creating this story,” she said. “It just had a huge effect on all of us. I think that we just brought that into the season.” Sitting down with Karpovsky in New York earlier this week, we asked him about tackling the plot from that perspective as well as how he approached the end of the series. For what it’s worth, those who hope Ray ends up with Shoshanna should perhaps prepare to be disappointed.
The A.V. Club: Jenni has talked about how your storyline with Hermie came about because of Judd’s relationship with Garry Shandling and his death. Did they talk with you about that? How did that affect your performance?
Alex Karpovsky: I don’t remember them talking about it until I read the script. Then I read the script, and we had some discussions about what it means to Ray and how that might affect his future both in the short term and the long term. Judd came to set when we were filming those scenes. He told me a little bit more about his relationship with Garry. Obviously, Garry meant so much to Judd, and it’s important for Judd to continue Garry’s legacy to some degree, and I know that Judd is working on a documentary about Garry. Some of that I feel we tried to apply to Ray and his relationship to Hermie. As we go down the last few episodes of the show, we kind of start seeing how Ray’s trying to keep Hermie’s voice and vision alive in his own way as well. I think there are some parallels between that and Judd and Garry.
AVC: Are you looking to tell the story of keeping these older voices alive and Ray seeing a path for himself in doing so?
AK: Keeping his voice alive and also kind of showing, in his own way, the underside of gentrification and exactly what dangers it poses. I think hearing from older voices who are talking about a bygone time might shed some clarity on exactly the type of danger that gentrification is carving into our society, specifically its lack of culture and its fixation on financial stuff.
AVC: At the end of the fifth episode, Ray finds interviews that Hermie had done. Is that where Ray will see a purpose?
AK: He definitely spends more time with those cassettes and tries to share them in his own way with people that are close to him. On the one hand, it’s sort of a negotiation with mortality, respecting his friendship with someone who meant a lot to him. On the other hand, it’s like him doing what he’s been doing for six years, which is yelling at hipsters and calling them out on their obnoxious ideologies and their myopic visions and just how deep in the bubble they are.
AVC: Ray has always been one of the most mature characters on the show but is also always stuck in the same place. Approaching the last season, what did the writers want and what did you want to tell about his journey?
AK: In the last season of the show and especially the last leg of the episodes, I think it was important for the writers to show that Ray is slowly realizing that he can’t just keep sweeping stuff under the rug. And stuff that is unfulfilling and quicksandy in his life need to be quietly and not so quietly addressed: His relationship with Marnie needs to be addressed; his being mired in a coffee shop that isn’t that fun or challenging for him needs to be addressed; the fact that he quits things like he quit his musical pursuits, he quit his political involvement—why is he quitting all this stuff? He’s slowly getting perspective on how existentially disoriented he is. I think a lot of that perspective is forcibly injected into him through tragedy, through Hermie and then a smaller tragedy of having this local at the coffee shop pass away in front of his eyes, too. I think he’s at the baby steps of a paradigm shift in his life.
AVC: What did you think about the injection of tragedy? Why do you think he needed that to propel him?
AK: I think Ray needed that because he’s so deep in the fog that he needed something that big and traumatic and abrupt to happen to wake him up. I don’t know if anything else would do it. He probably would still be oblivious to Marnie’s thing and dating her for who knows how long. He kind of needed this earthquake to move on.
AVC: What was your reaction to the way the breakup played out? And what was it like performing that scene with Allison [Williams]?
AK: It was really fun. It was fun to play on a different frequency with her. She’s such a good actor and has so much range, and to be able to get a little bit more real with her and vulnerable and tender and challenging and difficult was sort of an area of trespass for both of us, and there’s an exhilaration associated with that even though the scene itself is quite somber. But also it’s very liberating I think for Ray and for her, too. They are not really in a great spot. I think them going their separate ways will maybe give them both individual happiness.
AVC: With Shoshanna’s and Marnie’s parallel reactions toward death, do you think the impetus is to move the Ray and Shoshanna storyline along?
AK: No. I think the impetus is for him to just start trying different things, start maybe not going back to stuff that is familiar. I think as wonderful as Shosh is, and she truly is very helpful for him, it’s not a good place for him. But I think you’re right—the reaction of those two girls to that one thing is so varied, and it says so much about them. Shosh has this wonderful celebration of youth. A lot of young people think they are not going to die—and that’s a great thing about being a young person, is living in this carefree oblivion. And then Marnie just kind of has these narcissistic qualities that are undeniable. So a lot of her interpretation of the death is, “How is that going to affect me? How is that going to make you sad, and how is that sadness going to affect me?”
AVC: In the previous episode, Ray and Marnie had a sex scene that was a reference to her infamous scene with Desi [Ebon Moss-Bachrach]. What was filming that like?
AK: Well, sex scenes for me are always kind of hard, because I don’t want to be excited. You know, there’s this biological association, when you do this movement, these things happen, and you’re basically trying to rewire this 4-billion-year-old reflexive circuitry, which for me can be challenging if I don’t really, really focus. It’s the one of the few times as an actor where you are basically showing something with your body and your face that’s completely different than what’s going on in your mind. Because what’s going on with my mind is, “Don’t get excited, don’t get excited, don’t get excited.” And with my body, I’m thrusting my hips. It’s very weird. So most of the time my attention is as far aways as possible from what’s actually happening. That’s usually what’s going through my mind, and you’re also wearing a dick sock, which is also very confusing, because you only wear them when you do sex scenes, so the novelty of it is just weird. But you know neither of them are that into the sex. Ray wants somebody to hang out with and have dumplings with, and Marnie—who knows what’s going through Marnie’s mind? That’s for Allison Williams to talk about. I don’t even know.
AVC: How did you deal with both your reaction to playing sex scenes in general and the reaction that Ray had to have to Marnie’s bizarre, poetic speech?
AK: It crystallizes or brings into high relief all of Ray’s frustrations with her. She’s doing the big, flashy actions—having wild sex and saying these really spectacular grandiose statements about poetry and stuff, where he just wants “let’s just be real and kick it and enjoy each other’s company as authentic individuals.” I think that line to him is as disappointing as her desire to have athletic sex. It’s just a different side of the same problem. He’s as disappointed by that as he is by his being forced to stand in the middle of the kitchen naked.
AVC: What were your last days on set like?
AK: Not surprisingly, it was the most challenging, because I didn’t know that I could focus, because you have six years of friendships and feelings and memories, but all you need to do in the scene is just stay present and deliver these lines. That can be a little bit challenging. My mind tends to wander, and focusing on one thing is almost always a challenge. In these situations it’s a really big challenge. But I was proud of the scene, and I like the way that we sent him off, so I just kind of turned attention to that.
AVC: What was your reaction to seeing the Hannah pregnancy storyline?
AK: I was surprised by it, but I also know it’s season six. It’s our final season, so we need to start going a little bit, not just big, but just being provocative and throwing really challenging and difficult wrenches into the machine. I think having a child is a huge challenge. The decision of whether to keep it or not, just starting there, is a huge thing that I think she is going to be wrestling with for a while. So in the context of the grand scheme of things, I did have some appreciation of where it was coming from.
AVC: Do you think it’s important that the show ends with realizations of maturity for its characters or no?
AK: I think we shouldn’t have the same type of resolution or conclusions across the board. I think the succinct answer is there should be, in my opinion, some variations. Some people should have more levels of maturity than others, but you know to have a show that’s grounded, tethered to reality, if you follow a group of people for six years and you show no maturity, I think that would be inaccurate. They’ve all matured. Some faster than others, some in more tortured ways than others. One step forward, two steps back, type of stuff. But I think, ultimately, as we go to the last leg of the show itself, I would say the majority of characters we will send them off showing that they have learned a lot along the way.
AVC: How do you evaluate Ray’s path for yourself over the course of the show?
AK: I think when we’re originally introduced to him, he’s this guy just screaming a lot, and he’s got a lot of judgments and cynicism and unresolved anger. But as we get to know him, especially in season two, we’re starting to explore the underpinnings of that rage. Why is he so angry? What’s motivated him? What is the fire that’s driving all of this? In season three and four, largely through his relationship with Shoshanna and others, we start to kind of see him get a little bit of perspective and clarity on these issues. And then hopefully in the last leg of the series itself we start him not only getting perspective but actually making pivots based on that perspective and sort of cleaning house a little bit.
AVC: You said that Ray’s coming story will deal with gentrification. Do you feel like that will be in conversation with the show’s overarching take on gentrification?
AK: I’m not sure if I see a parallel. I think it was really important for Lena initially, six years ago when we started the show, to show a Brooklyn that was reflective of the Brooklyn that was really there at that time. In six years, the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods where the show takes place has changed so radically. I think the show has tried to keep up with that as much as possible in skewering it, but also just showing its undeniable reverberations on the neighborhood in grander terms. Sort of a bridge between those two things might be that coffee shop, Helvetica, that opens across the street. It’s just like these are the people that are now taking over, that are now in fashion, and it came very suddenly and very aggressively.
AVC: There’s a sentimentality for Ray’s relationship with Shoshanna, especially seeing them grow up and become more compatible than they were when the show began. Are you saying that’s not going to happen—we’re not going to see some resolution for those two? Would that be something you wanted?
AK: I have mixed feelings whether or not I wanted that. There’s a part of me that knows these are two freaks who have a beautiful chemistry, and they can definitely vibrate on the same frequency, and that’s something that really brought them together, and I think we’ll always keep them together as friends, but they’re difficult people. Especially, Ray. Shoshanna has also got her issues. When you’ve got two difficult weirdos, it’s hard to find a relationship stability in there. I don’t know if I’m rooting for these two people that I like a lot, Ray and Shosh, to kind of be frustrated by each other. They’re always going to be friends, and I think the specter of being more than friends will always be pulsing on the horizon with them.