Girls: 6.03 American Bitch
When she was good.
She was very, very good…*
This week’s episode of Girls entitled American Bitch. Wow. Yeah, this one ain’t so funny. It’s another bottle episode - helmed by Richard Shepard - and takes similar cues from season two’s One Man’s Trash.
Hannah has written an article (for a “niche feminist website”) about a must-loved and admired author, Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys) who, she inadvertently describes a “heinous sleaze bag” in print. One who uses his power to involve himself sexually with students. Hannah’s piece is in direct response to “Denise’s Tumblr” post, in which she cast doubt on her consent and claims the blow-job in question was non-consensual. Hannah, as fan of Palmer’s, can’t conceal her disappointment and wrath, fury, rage, anger - yes, I know they all essentially mean the same thing but all apply.
Chuck in his infinite wisdom has not only found the article and printed a copy of it but tracked down the writer and invited her to his beautiful and book-brimming home. All to give his side of the story. Hmm, white male, accused of sexual assault and remains unscathed by the press, questions why he’s being punished. Timely, wouldn’t you say? Chuck is handsome and charming - kudos on the casting choice because, well, here I can only speak for myself but suffice to say my Rhys-affection has longevity. The Woody Allen picture on the wall and I <3 Chuck mug give pause for thought… but as he talks and the photographs of his daughter and candids of Toni Morrison come into view, things become fuzzy and boundaries are blurred.
As Hannah recounts her experiences with her creepy teacher and his inappropriate touching, she’s furious - this is directly lifted from Dunham’s memoir - victims of abuse don’t speak up to tell stories, as Palmer suggests, they don’t require sympathy, “this shit never goes away’. Chuck’s response is sympathetic but he his quick to pint out, his situation is different - he, a grown man was in the company of a grown woman and no gun was pointed at her head. “Sexuality,” he says, “is muddy”. To which Hannah, again illustrates the power imbalance and then yells that she is “sick of grey areas”. These women work twice as hard to gain a fraction of the power he has, they want recognition, they want him to see them, ask about them, not trade sexual favours based on his worth.
Four separate women have made allegations. Why shouldn’t their voices be heard while he, the accused, continues to receive glowing book reviews? Why should he get to liken his plight to the Salem witch trials and why, oh why, hasn’t Hannah noticed the compliments? She’s “very bright”, she’s “funny”, “she’s more than just a pretty face”. He gets to know her, asks the fervent questions. And just like that, the guard is down. Grey area? Fifty feckin’ shades of the stuff (or however many Dulux stock).
The conversation changes, they bond over books, namely Philip Roth. American Bitch was rumoured to be the alternative title of his 1967 novel When She Was Good, his only novel to feature a female protagonist in Lucy Nelson. Her main goal? To reform men, even if it destroys herself in the process. Hannah acknowledges that she shouldn’t like Roth because “he’s a misogynist or whatever.” Chuck responds:
“Don’t let politics dictate what you read or who you fuck.”
Or the heinous sleaze bag who unbuttons his jeans and lays his cock on your leg, before his daughter arrives and you are invited to sit and listen while she plays the flute (visual metaphor not lost).
This episode is extraordinary, challenging, self-aware and scathing as Hannah and Chuck battle consent, sexual harassment, and the power struggle between men and women. It is, once again, brilliant writing by Dunham, controlled and creative directing by Shepard (that last shot is spectacular) and incredibly cunning casting. Rhys’ likeability is one of the main reasons the episode works. When he’s mad, he’s very lovely and when he’s cold, he’s delightful.
*Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Desperado by Rihanna ℗2016 Westbury Road Entertainment