Girls: “American Bitch” Season 6 Episode 3 Review

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“American Bitch” is a heroic episode of television. The premise is instantly jarring. Hannah has been invited to the home of a famous author she happens to respect, but also defaced in print, as he was also recently accused of sexual assault while on his most recent book tour. Matthew Rhys plays Chuck Palmer, a confident yet humble figure who appreciates that Hannah’s takedown of him is, at the very least, well written and funny. Hannah, meanwhile, arrives with her weapons locked and loaded.

Lena Dunham wrote the episode herself, and she ensures that every line of dialogue has purpose in the episode’s ambitious goals. As Hannah and Chuck continue to talk, we learn Chuck’s side of the story, and we learn his life and his approach to women. Dunham never justifies sexual assault, of course, but she does not turn offenders, in this case Chuck, into out and out villains. We never learn whether he did it or not, which is the episode’s smartest ploy. For what “American Bitch” is trying to accomplish, whether Chuck actually forced a young woman to give him a blow job or not is irrelevant. What is important is Hannah’s perception of him and the way she talks about him, as well as his life. Based on his actions throughout the episode, he probably did, and that’s haunting. But he’s also a tortured man and a father, one proud of his daughter and her own artistic value.

Girls doesn’t make the mistake of pointing the light on a sex offender and trying to make us feel bad for this creep. What it does do is force us to recognize that it isn’t some powerful monster who forced himself on a woman, but a human being with thoughts, desires, and perceptions. I expect this episode will be incredibly controversial once it hits the masses. Some will call out Girls humanizing a rapist. Some will call it out as a warning that “every man could do this to you.” “American Bitch” rests perfectly between those, acknowledging that Hannah’s potentially ill-informed article does participate in a bit of a witch hunt while also giving her some very strong points about the dangers of rape culture.

The story Hannah tells Chuck about her fifth grade teacher rubbing her back is a perfect example of how subtle and long-lasting misogyny’s effects can be. Meanwhile, Chuck worries about how the other students at his innocent daughter’s school will treat her if they happen to read the Tumblr post that exposed him. “I’m so sick of grey areas!” a frustrated Hannah says. But as she learns here, there are human beings behind every aspect of a sexual assault charge, not just the side that was victimized. She’s learning that none of it is fair, even to herself, as a writer who looks to up to another writer that will later put his dick on her without asking. The only way to really fix everything is to take a time machine back to the dawn of civilization and start immediately purporting women’s rights. Hannah doesn’t have the power to do that, but she does learn here how to approach this situation a little better. As a feminist and a writer, that’s only going to strengthen her. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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