Girls: “The Panic in Central Park” Season 5 Episode 6 Review

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Who is Marnie Michaels? Girls hasn’t successfully answered that question since season one. The beginning of her falling apart in season two was only believable half the time, and after that, she simply became a caricature of her former self unless Hannah emotionally needed her. Written solely by Lena Dunham, “The Panic in Central Park” is Girls attempting to right the ship once and for all. Having a full episode devoted to a character who so clearly got away from the show is risky, but the payoff was immense. There are still gaps in my knowledge of who Marnie was over these five seasons, but after this episode, I know who she is right now and I have an idea of where she needs to go.

The fights with Desi have been building in the past few episodes, but the one in the opening scene appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. By only forcing Desi on us in the very beginning and very end of the episode, right when he needs to be there, Dunham finally gives Marnie the screentime to breathe. It shows. Allison Williams hasn’t been this good in years, seemingly in the know that this is her big chance to redeem the character that brought her fame. But of course, an episode-long deconstruction of Marnie would be incomplete without the return of her conflicts in seasons passed. That means the return of Christopher Abbott as Charlie. After famously leaving the show just when it was starting a big new storyline with him, the actor, who’s noticeably improved since his departure, is back right when Girls needs him most. Though, he immediately appears more worn. After two failed start-ups, Charlie has resorted to selling drugs to high-end clients. He’s more streetwise, hardly the wide-eyed, dopey Charlie we met in the pilot. Showing Marnie an entirely different side of a man she once knew so much pushes her to accept his invitation to hang out for the day. As she finally acts on losing her way, it’s believable for her to seek solace in Charlie’s unfamiliar comfort.

It’s fun to have Marnie unhinge herself a bit. The bit where she puts on the accent and swindles Charlie’s client for $600 thinking she was a hooker was great. But the sketchier the surroundings get doesn’t seem to phase Marnie. Upon getting mugged, she immediately volunteers her wedding ring, which ironically doesn’t come off. The dangerous situation and Charlie’s opposite reactions when he can and can’t be tough barely seems to phase her. They go back to his dingy apartment and talk about the future. Charlie wants to run away, in a way invoking Jared Leto’s character from Requiem for a Dream before its revealed how similar the two just may be. Marnie doesn’t necessarily have an answer for him, but she faintly entertains the idea. Even before she finds the needle in his jeans, she knows what kind of life that would be. She was always going back home after this little excursion. The real question was whether Desi would still be in the picture.

Arriving home barefoot in her slick red dress, Desi knows he’s not interacting with the same woman. She tells him pretty quickly into the conversation that their marriage is over. The scene is a little drawn out, mostly due to the moments where Desi gets to react. But Williams gives Marnie some newfound confidence in this scene. She has no idea who she is, but that’s okay. She’s not going to force the things she thinks she wants. Marnie is finally just going to let her life happen to her instead of trying to control it. Maybe she’ll get murdered. But until then, she’s going to live. Grade: A

Some Other Notes:

  • There’s been a lot of Hannah going to Marnie for help the past few seasons, so the reverse right at the close of the episode really helps their friendship feel less one-sided. I also love that Hannah doesn’t say a word, probably a combination of knowing not to ask right then and being too sleepy to even care.
  • You’ve got to give Dunham and the folks at Girls some credit for this episode. Shows try to right the ship in a lot of uninspired ways after a decline in quality in their later seasons. But this is an example of how to fix a character at the root of the problem and rebuild them from the ground up. Who knew this show still had it in ’em.
  • Julia Garner was downright haunting as Charlie’s neighbor. For an episode that delved pretty hard in the surreal in spots, this bizarre moment really helped sell this episode as Marnie’s “One Man’s Trash.”
  • It felt like a bit of a stretch to have Charlie shooting up heroin after seeing his character just a few years ago. Sure, the early 20s really shape a person, but maybe a cocaine addiction would have been a bit more believable considering who he was in season one.

By Matt Dougherty

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