‘Girls’ Takes On Fame And Sexual Assault In One Of The Series’ Best Episodes

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“Girls” has always wrestled with fantastical if-onlys: if only success were handed to you, if only every relationship made sense, if only fleeing home provided a seamless reboot. This week’s episode posits an if-only that mirrors a possible fantasy from the series’ second season. Both installments find Hannah disappearing inside an older man’s luxe apartment while the rest of the world unfolds without her. First it was a hot doctor (Patrick Wilson) in a brownstone, and now it’s a famous writer (Matthew Rhys) in a townhouse.

But there’s a catch: Whereas the hot doctor was a fleeting encounter, the revered writer, named Chuck Palmer, has long evoked Hannah’s admiration. They say don’t meet your heroes, and it’s probably best not to read about them online either. Multiple women have written Tumblr posts saying Palmer coerced them into unwanted sexual encounters during his book tours ― allegations he denies after inviting Hannah to his apartment, wanting to discuss the article she wrote criticizing his abuses.

From the opening shot of Hannah strolling up to Palmer’s home, seemingly stationed on Manhattan’s ritzy Upper West Side, there’s a fantasy at play in the episode, titled “American Bitch.” What famous author would solicit an internet writer to discuss appraisals of his sordid private life published on a “niche feminist blog”? Is Hannah there to confront the power inequality Palmer now represents, having taken advantage of college students susceptible to his success? Or is she there to find, in typical Hannah style, some form of validation from a literary figurehead whose books she has “dog-eared and underlined”?

Whatever their intentions, fantasy butts up against reality as walls are further flattened. Hannah is a sucker for compliments, so of course she’s charmed when Palmer reads the first sentence of the article aloud and compliments her prose. (Note the suicidal Woody Allen painting on the wall.) And she is similarly mystified when Palmer snaps into family-man mode, arranging care for his depressed teen daughter and lovingly watching as she later performs Rihanna’s “Desperado” on flute. How can Hannah reconcile the disconnect between someone who probably took advantage of young women and someone who also has an altruistic devotion to his own female offspring?

Humanity is a spectrum, and Chuck Palmer’s seems to mirror Hannah’s in a distinct way ― he is sad and unfulfilled, just as Hannah can be sad and unfulfilled. He found success, but it didn’t cure his rocky divorce or the pressures of a culture in which anyone can gut whomever they want to online. And then, after Palmer has convinced Hannah to absolve him of these allegations, after they have moved on to bantering about Philip Roth, he spots in her the same vulnerability he exploited in those college students. He invites her to lie down. Against her own best judgement, she accepts.

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