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“Good Man” finds Girls threatening a full-blown comeback season

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“Good Man” is one of the most purely, consistently funny episodes of Girls in a long time, perhaps the whole run of the series. The episode is funny in all the narrow, specific ways Girls does funny, but the nods to earlier seasons feel more like homage than retread. One example is the awkward confrontation, if you can call it that, between Hannah and the kindly old principal of the school at which she continues to teach 8th grade. Hannah has a knack for testing the boundaries of older authority figures, like her doomed job interview with Mike Birbiglia in season one, or her fumbling attempt to extort her handsy boss later that season. Hannah’s behavior scrambles the brains of most people she comes in contact with, because it combines an enraging sense of entitlement with an abject obliviousness and naivete about how the world works that you can’t help but pity. Hence, Hannah goes from being on the cusp of receiving the kind of professional warning you can only get once every 30 days to politely excusing herself to go deal with her inconsolable gay dad.

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Hannah’s relationship with Tad is the likely origin of her often fraught dealings with “white men over 50,” as Hannah describes “their kind,” and in “Good Man,” the boundaries in Hannah and Tad’s relationship go from blurred to functionally non-existent. Tad summons Hannah to a Manhattan hotel room in the midst of an anxiety attack following a hastily arranged gay hook-up. Clearly this is not the kind of encounter Tad is used to, though it isn’t quite the emergency Hannah feared when she told her boss her father had likely been violated. Tad’s embarrassed and ashamed by his impulsiveness, his infidelity, and his abandon. Leaving his wallet behind is a mortifying symbol of how he risked exposing everything he holds valuable for a few moments of pleasure with a kind stranger. Tad needs his “banana” to go pick up the wallet, and in his moment of need, Hannah comes through. Suddenly, the wisdom of having Tad come out as a gay man is becoming apparent. It provides the perfect opportunity to show that Hannah is changing.

Yes, Hannah is still a weirdly selfish, sometimes blithely offensive person, as when she leaves young Sophie in charge of the class when she excuses herself, then tells her not to use the time to preach her agenda. But she’s also now a person who can, to some degree, put aside her personal discomfort with her father’s evolving sexuality and guide him through a difficult moment. The final shot is magnificent, the peak of an especially terrific Lena Dunham performance. Hannah has to break down herself, as it’s finally now sinking in that her parents’ marriage is ending, and they’re both about to need from her the emotional support she’s accustomed to getting from them.

The Tad and Hannah story is emotional, but it’s also wacky, like some kind of antiseptic sex romp. It’s hilarious, but also grounded in real feelings, as are the best episodes of Girls. It’s also intriguingly ambiguous. Look at the title, for example. To whom does it refer? Is the “Good Man” Keith? Is it Tad? Fran? Laird? Adam? Arguably the title applies to all the men. Dunham has created a universe in which emotional vulnerability is the most profound act of bravery and the only currency. As long as these men are being introspective, communicative, open-hearted, and generous, they are fundamentally good men even when they make bad, insensitive choices.

At least that’s one way to explain the show’s surprisingly even-handed take on Adam’s budding relationship with Jessa, which ascends to the next level at Adam’s insistence. Jessa and Adam share a mutual connection, but she insists against exploring it any further because this type of situation is all too familiar for Jessa. Since Girls begin, Jessa has been beguiling horny, attached men and causing them to wreck their boats on the jagged rocks. But she doesn’t put up too much of a fight when Adam persists, and they go to a carnival together, as if their purpose for doing so is to trigger a twee falling-in-love montage. Jessa is still against taking the relationship further physically, but if she and Adam are compromising at self-pleasure duets now, it shouldn’t be long before they’ve sealed the deal.

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I don’t hate the Adam and Jessa stuff, but I don’t like it either. It’s not as if Girls hasn’t been as even-handed as possible when writing for Adam, as was the case with his relationship with Mimi-Rose last season. Adam’s actions were understandable given the circumstances, but so was Hannah’s devastation and subsequent meltdown. And if Adam is going to continue to be a big part of Girls, this is the way I imagine seeing the character portrayed now that Girls is at a point where any of its characters can carry storylines independently. But I didn’t realize Adam was going to continue to be a big part of Girls. The end of “Home Birth,” combined with the news that Adam Driver had been cast in The Force Awakens, led me to believe Adam was going on a brief hiatus. I’ve grown attached to Adam as a character, but I was really excited about the idea of seeing what the show looked like without Adam as one of its major characters. It’s kind of a snake-eats-tail thing for me, because if Adam wasn’t as big a part of the show, that would have forced the writers to come up with literally anything else for Jessa to do this season except violate her friendship with Hannah for the umpteenth time.

Of course, there are upsides to Dunham efforts, along with Jenni Konner, to make the characters as independently viable as possible. It allows Ray and Elijah to have their own side adventure, which leavens the show even more. Elijah is Girls’ most purely comedic character, and Andrew Rannells just kills every performance and manages to make it look like it’s probably the easiest thing he’s done that day. Elijah gets a new love interest in the form of Corey Stoll’s heartthrob newscaster. And Elijah’s new gig at Ray’s coffee shop, which is getting its lunch eaten by a new, anti-lid hipster java joint across the street, is an invitation to lots of Odd Couple adventures that I’m happy to accept. “Good Man” is as noteworthy for what’s not in it, namely Desi and Marnie, who are probably off honeymooning in peace. But I have to say, I didn’t miss them. Like, at all. And I didn’t even realize they were nowhere to be found until halfway through the end credits. I’m not worried about Shosh, who will fit right back into the show as if she never left, but the idea of episodes half-composed of Marnie and Desi’s married life literally terrifies me.

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Stray observations

  • There are too many choice lines in this Dunham/Konner script, so I’ll let you guys rank them in the comments.
  • It’s interesting that Adam and Jessa’s kiss at the wedding was apparently their first. I thought that might be the case after watching that episode, but they played it so ambiguously, I also thought it was a nod to a relationship that had commenced sometime during the time jump. I like their kiss scene slightly less because of it.
  • I’m also fascinated by Fran and the way he affectionately calls Hannah “buddy” or “pal,” similar to how Adam talks to her. I’m not quite sure if that’s supposed to be a general idea of how young men speak to their girlfriends or some indication that Hannah continues to be interested in men who are emotionally unavailable on some level.
  • Peter Scolari killed this episode, as did Becky Ann Baker in the 17 seconds she was on the screen.
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