Andrew Rannells (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

One of my fondest memories of the few years I spent in New York City was an interaction I saw on the subway during my commute home from a brutal workday.

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The A train was carrying rush-hour loads long past rush hour, and seats were scarce. A load of people deboarded at Union Square, including one rider who’d been occupying a coveted seat. Her seatmate, who stayed on the train, was a black woman in around her mid-50s, who looked like warmth and shelter weren’t things she took for granted. “Would anyone like to come sit here?” she announced. “Jesus is sitting over here.” Most people snickered, and predictably, no one jumped at the invitation. (In fairness, the invocation of Jesus made the invitation kind of confusing, since it sounded like the seat might be, at least, spiritually spoken for.)

Shortly before the doors closed, a taker emerged: a bespectacled white guy who looked like he was coming from the type of office where smug men mock one another’s neckties in secret email chains. “I’ll come sit there,” he said, then went to the trouble of maneuvering around a half-car’s worth of people. He sat down and introduced himself, and they talked and laughed like old friends until he got off four stops later. Jesus wasn’t actively engaged in the conversation, but I assume he was smiling and nodding along.

I remember it so vividly because it jibes with what I imagined New York being like before I got there, which is exactly how the city is in Girls. It’s a mythical metropolis where people have amazing, life-altering, yet totally casual interactions with people they wouldn’t have interacted with if not for the population density. Moving away from the actual Brooklyn couldn’t have been easier for me to do, but the version in “The Bounce” is incredibly fun and seductive, and makes me wish Girls could crank out one more (preferably Jessa-free) season.

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Speaking of Jessa, she’s entirely missing from the episode, along with Adam, Shosh, Desi, and Ray. “The Bounce” focuses on three weird, magical, awkward interactions between Hannah, Elijah, and Marnie and people they might have never met if not for this city. In a welcome change, Elijah gets the bulk of the attention. “The Bounce” isn’t as much a showcase for Elijah and Andrew Rannells as “The Panic In Central Park” was for Marnie and Allison Williams, but it’s another example of a Girls episode that shows surprising depth to a character that seems best consumed in small doses. It begins with Elijah filling in his thespian coworker on the trending scandal involving his famous, callous ex, Dill Harcourt. Apparently, Dill was ready to adopt, but tried to buy on the black market so he could get a white baby.

Elijah’s got more pressing concerns, namely a workshop for a brilliant-sounding musical adaptation of the ’90s basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump. He’s nervous about the audition, his first since helping his coworker run lines reanimated his passion for acting. Dill shows up to Hannah and Elijah’s apartment, a blubbering mess with no place to go since the paparazzi are capitalizing on his crisis. To his credit, Elijah goes to the audition, where he meets the effervescent Athena Dante. Had Athena not been rehearsing a song on the staircase, Elijah would have wound up back home having pizza sex with Dill much sooner. But she is there, and she convinces him to finish his audition.

Meanwhile, Hannah has landed her latest babysitting gig since Dill can’t bear to face his angry public. Corey Stoll is phenomenal as Dill, and I was initially bummed to see him back in the picture at all, because he made Elijah cry, and none of us wants to see that. But Stoll has such an easy charm about him, it’s not hard to see why Hannah quickly warms to his presence all things considered. She’s nervous about her upcoming conversation with Paul-Louis, a good faith gesture that didn’t really occur to Hannah until Marnie suggested it was important for him to know. The conversation itself is brutal in its efficiency. Paul-Louis says he’s not ready for a kid, but affirms her decision for what it’s worth and wishes her the best. Based on her reaction, Hannah didn’t know what to expect from Paul-Louis, and might not have been happy with any other reaction, but certainly wasn’t crazy about the one she got. Dill, who Hannah barely knows, and who’s only there because he claims it was the nearest hiding spot, is there to comfort Hannah when she needs it most.

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Marnie’s breakthrough comes when she winds up at a pawn shop to offer up what she believes are priceless family heirlooms. Naturally, the appraiser has unwelcome news. The trinkets she’s been treating like precious treasures are of highly suspicious provenance, and when Marnie tries to throw a tantrum about how everyone in her life lies to her, the appraiser implores her to take some responsibility for her own life. Marnie’s is probably the weakest story of the “New York strangers” triptych, because it stretches the furthest to make plausible the idea of a New Yorker stopping to give another complimentary talk therapy. But maybe that’s why the interaction affected Marnie so much. The next time we see her, she’s packing her apartment as she faces eviction, and leaving a voicemail for Desi, taking responsibility for her unwise choices and letting him know she can be found on her mother’s couch.

Each of the characters comes to a realization they wouldn’t have come to if not for the random interactions with the kind of fascinating denizen that populate New York fantasies. Marnie has a major breakthrough, deciding to take a step back now so she can hopefully take two forward soon. Elijah gets a callback for the show, despite botching the Harlem Globetrotters meets Stomp choreography. And Hannah takes the next step on her journey to motherhood, confident as ever in her choice to go it alone. The Gotham of Girls has never been as luxurious as the New York City of Sex And The City, nor as grimy as the one in Broad City. But it has its own fantasy elements and its own sense of romance. It’s a place where everyone is quietly invested in everyone else’s personal growth, and no one minds showing it. What a great place to raise a baby, no?

Stray observations

  • This one was co-written by Tami Sagher, who happens to write for both Broad City and Girls, two fictional New York Cities where a White Men Can’t Jump musical could reasonably exist.
  • Speaking of the WMCJ musical, let us not forget the original title track from the soundtrack, performed by long-forgotten R&B group Riff.

  • I loved how the dance montage took the episode from being about a White Men Can’t Jump musical to basically being an actual scene from the movie.
  • It seems like there should be a ‘70s exploitation movie called Black Market, White Baby.
  • Elijah: “They stuffed it!”
  • Athena Dante: “Good dick is a prison.” So, so many hilarious lines in this episode.

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