In its final season, Girls doesn't seem to be slowing down at all with its string of incredibly strong installments.
Girls Season 6 Episode 3 was a tour de force, another of the show's brilliant "bottle episodes" constrained to one character and one location. It tackled the topics of sexual assault and sexism.
"American Bitch" was buoyed by great writing, great direction, and stunning performances by both Lena Dunham and guest star Matthew Rhys.
The concept and set-up of this half-hour was deceptively simple.
Hannah, after writing a takedown piece of author Chuck Palmer (a former literary hero of hers) for a "small feminist blog," was invited by Palmer himself to his apartment. He was hoping that they could hash out the allegations, and, clearly, he wanted to "prove" to her that they were untrue.
Of course, what actually happened was much, much darker and more complex, but that was the beauty of this installment and the strength of it.
The majority of "American Bitch" found Hannah and Palmer sparring, back and forth, essentially debating sexual dynamics and what the definition of "sexual assault" truly is (if such a thing can even be precisely defined).
What stood out the most, to me, was how consistently on point and intelligent Hannah was – for the first 75% of the runtime, anyway.
Chuck: I'm not perfect! But I'm not saying I'm perfect. I'm a horny motherfucker with the impulse control of a toddler.
Hannah [sarcastically]: Well, that must be hard.
I can't recall another time Hannah has remained so articulate and clear in her arguments. She seemed the most like a real person (and not a cartoon caricature of a millennial) that we've ever seen her.
I had a strong feeling that I knew what was coming all along (and by "what," I definitely did mean "penis on Hannah's leg"), but the way "American Bitch" built to its shocking climactic scene was incredible.
Like Hannah, viewers entered this installment prepared to find Palmer as a one-note villain, an obvious sexual-assaulter and a Very Bad Man.
Instead, Rhys' considerable and natural charms (see also: The Americans) were employed to trick both Hannah and the audience into a false state of calm, before the ultimate denouement and the revelation of his true motives in asking Hannah to his apartment.
You're not a journalist, Hannah. You're a fucking writer.Chuck
Hannah, like us, clearly realized that something was off as Palmer began complimenting her more and more, for seemingly no reason. Even as he pretended to listen to her, it became clear that something was not quite right, culminating in him saying that he wanted to "prove" to Hannah that he thought she was more than "just a pretty face."
Palmer, like many men (and particularly many privileged white men who take said privilege for granted), was fully incapable of understanding the position that the women who accused him might have found themselves in.
His stubbornness – and his insistence that he was being unfairly castigated by the media – allowed a few incredible moments for a rightfully upset Hannah.
Last year, I'm at a warehouse party in Bushwick, and this dude comes up to me, and he's like 'Horvath! We went to middle school together. East Lansing!' And I'm like, 'Oh my god, remember how crazy Mr. Lasky's class was? He was basically trying to molest me.' You know what this kid said? He looks at me in the middle of this fucking party, like he's a judge, and goes, 'That's a very serious accusation, Hannah.' And he walked away. And there I am, and I'm just 11 again, and I'm just getting my fucking neck rubbed. Because that stuff never goes away.Hannah
Hannah's monologue, detailing the inappropriate behavior she'd suffered at a male middle school teacher's hands when she was a child, was an enlightening character moment. It was also one of Dunham's best performances ever in this role.
What was most striking about this particular story was how realistic it felt. I really got the feeling – both from Dunham's strong performance and the story itself – that this was more Dunham than Hannah. The delivery of that story just felt so personal. I'm almost convinced it was adapted from Dunham's own life.
The penis-on-the-leg climactic scene was easy to see coming and yet still completely shocking. It managed to be both disturbing and hilarious, all at once. Perfectly Girls.
Oh my fucking god. Oh my fucking god. I touched your dick. You pulled your dick out, and I touched your dick! What the fuck... And now it's still out. You didn't even put it away! I can see your dick! It's right there!Hannah
Rhys gave a glorious, wolfish, and legitimately scary grin when Hannah jumped up, horrified, after instinctively gripping his semi-erect penis for a few seconds. It was equal parts sexually salacious and "Haha, I got you."
It was clear, in retrospect, that this was what Palmer was building to all along. But Rhys did a phenomenal job of really making the accused author seem forthright and desperate to make Hannah see his innocence. The way he just flopped his penis out on her leg was wonderfully absurd.
The two final scenes that capped "American Bitch" also lent the entire installment an air of absurdity.
Hannah being trapped in the apartment, listening to the daughter of this horrible man play the flute, was just awful and yet really funny.
A great, small detail was Hannah watching Palmer watching his daughter. That seemed like an acknowledgment that even a dog like Palmer was capable of truly loving his own daughter – nothing is so black and white.
Finally, the scene where Hannah left the apartment, only for a herd of other young women to flood into Palmer's apartment building, was so eerie and telling.
Hannah managed to get out of Palmer's grasp, but there are dozens of other women out there for him to manipulate. It also completely obliterated the idea that she was the only person he'd invited over to hash out his accusations – that was obviously just a line he fed her, to make her feel "special."
The irony, here, is that his manipulations were supposedly all in the name of purposely demonstrating exactly how someone could be manipulated into a sexual encounter.
The rub is that Palmer (and men like him) can't see how that's wrong. All he aimed to prove to Hannah is that, technically, it was all consensual. Hannah chose to get into bed with him and to (briefly) touch his penis.
"American Bitch" was directed by Richard Shepard, who has directed some of my all-time Girls favorites.
Other Shepard episodes include Girls Season 5 Episode 6 ("The Panic in Central Park," possibly the show's best), Girls Season 4 Episode 5, and, of course, Season 2's "One Man's Trash," the show's other phenomenal bottle episode that found Hannah spending a lot of time in the apartment of a random man.
- The small details in Palmer's apartment were fantastic. The honorary degree in the bathroom, his "I <3 Chuck" mug, the painting in his library – all were so subtle and perfectly chosen to convey his character.
- Of course, because this is Girls, nothing was as straightforward as it seemed. There were certainly hints throughout that Hannah knew what would eventually happen with Palmer. She put on lipstick in the elevator and freshened up in Palmer's bathroom in two pointed moments.
- Hannah's Philip Roth quip was also a great touch, and her anecdote about the rumored original title of his book lent this installment its great title.
Hannah: God, I hope someone writes a book about what a cunt I am someday.
Chuck: Do you?
Hannah: Yeah, obviously! What would be better than to ruin someone's life with your wanton sex appeal and icicle-sharp intellect? But I'm half-Jewish, so I don't really see that happening for me.
- Such a Hannah quote.
What did you think of "American Bitch"? Leave us a comment with your thoughts below, and remember that you can watch Girls online anytime here at TV Fanatic to relive the show's final season.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.