When you’re a woman watching an episode like “American Bitch” it really is just an excruciating countdown to dick.
The last time Hannah was alone with an older man in a beautiful, expensive apartment, it was the strange and iconic episode “One Man’s Trash”. It was an episode that weird, dreamlike and oddly romantic- but there was also dick. Dick is just inevitable in these situations. And lo and behold, right near the end of the episode, just when I thought Hannah was out of the woods, there it was.
Despite all the anticipation, by the time it arrives in the last five minutes of the episode, it didn’t excite me. I was expecting it, after all. It was a sad confirmation of my biases.
And honestly, I’m not sure if I wanted that.
The set-up of the episode is pretty cut and dry: Tipped off by a Tumblr post, Hannah wrote a piece on a famous author sexually assaulting female college students. Said author read the article, felt like he was misrepresented and requested that Hannah come over to his apartment to talk about it.
Hannah actually goes (!) and the situation spirals out of control from there. She starts off strong- arguing her point, standing her ground and calling out the author for playing the victim instead of taking responsibility for his actions. Hannah really does hold her own before things go totally off track. Its obvious that Hannah sees this exchange as an opportunity to stand up for herself and other young woman. It’s also clear how hard it is for her to maintain her composure in the face of a powerful man with pull in her line of work.
The thing that people often get wrong about feminists is that we don’t actually enjoy being aware of misogyny and the way patriarchy works in our society. It is not fun for us to have a fear and distrust of men. We do not rejoice in the revelation that many of our male heroes hurt women. We are not out for the destruction of men; rather, we are interested in men taking responsibility for their role in subjugating women.
That is essentially Hannah’s argument to (fictional) award-winning author, Chuck Palmer in “American Bitch”. It’s a valid point. It’s a well-argued point. And by the end of the episode, it means nothing.
For most of the episode I couldn’t seem to get over how long Hannah allowed herself to stay in Chuck’s apartment. It’s difficult for me to even match up this Hannah with the Hannah in “Hostage Situation” calling out Marnie for not paying close enough attention to the men she encounters in her life. I was just commending Hannah for calling out Marnie literally an episode ago. It just happened! Girls gives me whiplash.
That is not to say that I don’t feel bad for Hannah. She was blinded by admiration and very visible doubts in her opinions on feminism and patriarchy. Watching Hannah argue with Chuck, it’s like she’s reading off a feminist script. She’s saying all the right thing, but we have doubts she really believes them. Chuck sees those doubts and exploits them to take advantage of Hannah. He interrupts her, talks over her, derails her argument with irrelevant questions until he gets enough control to shift the conversation.
The awful thing is, all of these tactics work. Chuck steamrolls Hannah, she surrenders, she lets her guard down, and then he takes out his dick. (That’s how a lot of sexual assault happens, by the way.)
Matthew Rhys as Chuck Palmer had me shook in the worst way. He embodied the white privileged male artist archetype so thoroughly that I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t a real guy. I have never had such a visceral reaction to a male “villain” character before. Usually the depiction of the misogynist male in media is painted with broad strokes. Chris O’Dowd’s portrayal of Thomas John in the first two seasons, comes to mind. It was obvious what the show was trying to do with Thomas John, but he never managed to come off as a real guy. He was just a caricature of the type of guy the show wanted to go after: Men that are weak, privileged, entitled and ultimately boring.
Chuck Palmer feels like an entire fully realized man. He reminds me of creative writing professors I’ve had. Men in my life I’ve heard whispers about. Men I’ve been friends with. Men I’ve dated. Chuck feels, familiar. And because of that, I had his number. I could predict, just by looking at him and hearing him talk, where the episode was going to go. I’m not sure if that speaks much to the smartness of the writing or the familiar, shared trauma that is the female experience. (It’s probably a bit of both.)
It’s hard to know what the take-away of the episode is supposed to be, which is part of the reason why I admire it so much. At first, the episode feels like a finger-wagging about speculation, but by the end it seems to be saying that often times the speculation is correct. Especially if the subject of speculation is a straight, white, able-bodied, well-off white man.
“American Bitch” is the strongest and most thought-provoking episode so far in Girls’ farewell season. I’m hoping this a sign of things to come for the remaining episodes. I love Girls (in all its messiness). Episodes like “American Bitch” remind me of that.