So far, the sixth and final season of “Girls” has been its most self-aware yet.
Its third episode, “American Bitch,” is a capsule episode that tackles sex, power and reputation in the internet age.
It's… it's a lot in 27 short minutes.
Hannah visits the home of fictional novelist Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), who hopes to confront her about an online think piece she composed regarding several women's claims Chuck used his name and literary influence to sleep with students while visiting colleges on his book tour.
Chuck insists he doesn't want to request an apology, but simply tell Hannah his “side of the story.”
It is evident early on Chuck is a smarmy piece of shit. He proudly displays symbols of his success, as Hannah puts it, “right in [her] face,” and, during a debate about consent, becomes visibly intrigued during Hannah's description of a non-consensual blowjob.
After complimenting Hannah's piece and calling her “funny” in the sort of charitable, breadcrumb-tossing way all female writers and performers are too used to hearing, Chuck advises her to quit wasting her talent on him.
You should be using your funny to tackle subjects that matter.
Hannah maintains that providing a platform for marginalized voices to share their stories does matter to her, but Chuck continues to see himself as the victim.
He worries his daughter will come across the piece one day. He wonders whether his past as a late bloomer counts for anything. He tells Hannah,
Look, I get there are kids dying in Africa, blah, blah, blah... but this is fucking hard for me.
It's evident Chuck is likely the power-wielding sexual aggressor the Tumblr posts that inspired Hannah's think piece painted him to be, and yet the realest element of this episode is the impact his celebrity has on Hannah herself.
She walks into their encounter with a prepared speech about her own literary integrity, yet touches herself up in the elevator prior to her arrival.
Even after hearing Chuck refer to himself as the victim of a witch hunt and take a long, personal call mid-meeting, Hannah sneaks away for a familiar pre-sex turbo-cleanup.
When Chuck inevitably confirms himself a deviant, Hannah momentarily succumbs to the instinct to respond favorably to his behavior, whether it be for “something to write about” or “to feel like she exists.”
Hannah's ability to deliver Chuck a mix of logical, well-conceived summaries of the female experience and outright disgust for his behavior exists alongside her small physical concessions, rather than following them.
During a scene in which Chuck and Hannah talk in his kitchen, trading status on and off not only with each monologue, but by choosing to take turns being physically imposing — sitting and standing like a casually choreographed debate — she shares the story of her fifth grade English teacher, Mr. Lasky.
Hannah claims Mr. Lasky paid special attention to her in class. He would rub her neck and rustle her hair, which, at the time, made her feel “like someone saw [her] and they knew that [she] was gonna grow up and be really, really particular.”
It wasn't until years later, while talking to an old classmate at a party in Bushwick, that Hannah realized how inappropriate the teacher's attention had been. When she made a joke about her former educator “basically trying to molest” her, the classmate chastised her for making light of a “very serious accusation.”
She tells Chuck,
And there I am and I'm just 11 again and I'm getting my fucking neck rubbed. Because that stuff never goes away.
The time gap between problematic treatment and Hannah's ability to register it as such is far tighter with Chuck than it was with Mr. Lasky, but continues to exist in small measure.
Each Mr. Lasky-type experience makes these small abuses seem more and more a normal part of a woman's existence and yet also serves to help her identify when she's being taken advantage of.
In the few brief moments wherein Chuck's argument for discretion and the eternal consequences of the internet appear to hold weight, his behavior overall lands a win -- and a middle-aged penis -- in Hannah's lap.
Chuck's privilege is glaring to Hannah, but invisible to him, despite his constant dependence upon it. When he forces her to sit and watch his daughter's flute performance after successfully winning a modicum of awkward and instantly kiboshed sexual consideration from Hannah, it is impossible to sympathize with any of his initial grievances.
Their back-and-forth is almost like a millennial, New York version of "Beauty and the Beast" (he's a misunderstood brute! But, wait, they're bonding over books!) if, at the end of the Disney movie, the Beast ruined whatever goodwill (or Stockholm Syndrome) he'd built with Belle by whipping out his dick and shattering the illusion of decency once again.
In the end, Hannah leaves Chuck's apartment and his daughter's flute solo fades into Rihanna's "Desperado."
As Hannah walks away from his home, woman after nameless woman walks inside it. We only see their backs and will never know their identities, but we can guess what lies waiting for them on the other side of that door.