If you’ve not seen Season 5, Episode 6 of Girls, “The Panic In Central Park”, stop reading now, bitches!
I’ve sworn I’d quit Girls several times since it started, but every time I do, it smacks me with a truth no other show seems capable of. There’s no doubt in my mind that Girls is problematic. From failing to address its own whiteness, to its questionable treatment of trans characters, I often wonder why I’m still following it. But something as popular as Girls should be talked about, because people are watching it. Reviewers have been torn over Season 5’s so called “mature” tone, but finally, the characters are coming into their own, growing up, fucking up, and finding out that there is no perfect timeline. And in its latest episode, Girls took on marriage, and Marnie fucking killed it.
I’ve always felt a kinship with Marnie. I should relate most to Hannah, whose life mirrors mine with its teaching career and failed ebooks, but emotionally I’m Marnie, and I reckon it’s brave to admit as much. Is she a whiny and privileged white girl who embarrassingly throws herself into things she shouldn’t? Sure. But “The Panic In Central Park” was so fucking incredible because Marnie woke up, and it was the single biggest character U-turn we’ve seen from her, and possibly anyone else. The episode, which was written by Lena Dunham, singles out Marnie’s narrative, and it’s a lonely place to be.
Marnie likes being married about as much as she’s liked anything since we last saw Charlie, the so-called love of her life that deserted her. At the time, rumors were rife that Christopher Abbott walked because of a rift with show creator Lena Dunham. Written out abruptly, Abbott’s Charlie had only just reunited with Marnie at the end of Season 2. With him written out, Marnie became a pathetic mess, well on the way to being the show’s most-hated person. She got over him eventually by hooking up with, and then marrying, Desi, her musical partner, who generally seemed to annoy Marnie and everyone around, and especially me.
While Season 5 Marnie has so far thrown herself into marriage, delving forcefully into compromise, there’s always been uncertainty at the center of her relationship with husband Desi. Not only does he make decisions without her (building a wall in the middle of their tiny apartment), he tells her how she should feel and act. At the start of this episode, Desi tells Marnie that he would never have imagined she’d be so cold towards him, and that he thinks she’d feel better if she was nice to him, fucked him, and acted happy. Understandably, Marnie isn’t a fan of being told how to feel, and it doesn’t stop there. In a total casanova move, mid-conflict, Desi starts crying and says that he wants to die, and that he’s going to kill himself. Shout out to all those stand-up guys and girls who casually use emotional abuse during disagreements!
Marnie leaves the apartment, and riding the subway, sees a couple kissing. We don’t know where she’s going, but later when some guys on the sidewalk pay her attention, she’s not against it. Because sometimes, in a bad relationship, you’re so devoid of the interactions you crave as a human being, any attention is important. Then, the craziest thing happens. One of the guys turns out to be Charlie. Marnie tries to walk away, but he follows her.
I never thought we’d see Christopher Abbott again, and his shock return is welcome. Bringing Charlie back is a wake-up call, for Marnie and for the audience. The timing’s exquisite and rings true. Marnie’s been telling herself for weeks that she loves being married. But running into Charlie, mid-fight with Desi, is a revelation waiting to happen. Charlie explains his absence, and convinces Marnie to go to a party with him. He buys her a dress at a vintage shop, and they drink champagne while he sells drugs at an upmarket party. In un-Marnie-fashion, she’s unfazed by Charlie’s actions, and embraces the randomness of the moment. It’s escapism, and it’s kismet, if kismet was a thing and the universe wasn’t totally random.
The pair eat and dance and Marnie tells Charlie he’s put weight on; it’s a compliment. And her face says it all. This is the first moment in the longest time that she’s comfortable with another person. Strangely, years apart, and shitty circumstances aside, he understands her better than anyone ever could. And that shouldn’t make sense, but it really does.
They get in to a boat in Central Park, because why the fuck not, and they fall in. And in what should be a completely cheesy moment, once in the water, Marnie doesn’t move. And she might not get the significance of this yet, but we do. She’s stuck, in the wrong life, the wrong situation, and she doesn’t know how she got here, or how to change it. And it shouldn’t have taken a taser like Charlie to snap her out of it. But marriage is a lock and key type situation, one which you convince yourself you’re in for a specific list of reasons, even when the reasons stop making sense.
On the way back to Charlie’s place, they get mugged, at gun point, which should be shocking, but it’s somehow cathartic. His apartment sucks, and there’s a trash bag over the window. He sleeps late, he says. Marnie’s not trying to change him, or anyone, anymore, and she tells him as much. Because she’s married, now, and she knows that people don’t change, not in the ways that you hope they will anyway. There’s nothing you can control, especially when you think you’re controlling it.
Charlie says they could run away, and even though it’s crazy, Marnie’s on board, because it’s an out. An exit from her life, her decisions, her choices, every wrong thing she’s done, and the list is long. Marnie’s been denigrated as a whiny white girl that never appreciated her gains. But “The Panic In Central Park” shows a depth of character we’ve never gotten before, and Allison Williams has never been better.
They have sex, and in the shower after, Marnie meets a girl that lived in the building. This stranger, perpetually disappointed by everything and everyone, is a foreshadowing we don’t even need. Perfect days like the one Marnie and Charlie have had rarely end well. And, back in the room, sure enough, Marnie finds a needle amongst Charlie’s things. He’s high, it’s morning, and she has to go home now.
Desi’s waiting for her, pillow in hand, fake tears and death threats at the ready, and in the boldest television move in fucking ages, Marnie ends her marriage. It would be more typical of Marnie to make her marriage work after a run-in with an ex, and the inability to let go. Which is why the episode is so fucking spectacular. “The Panic In Central Park” is unwavering, wanting to show what happens more often than we want to admit. People get married and it doesn’t work out. And here, Girls says more about modern marriage than My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 ever could, despite trying, desperately.
The best line is all Desi when, true to form, he tells Marnie that she can’t be alone because she’ll probably get murdered. But fucking finally, Marnie stands up to the abusive cunt, and tells him he’s not her problem anymore. She goes to Hannah’s apartment, and gets into bed with her. An Ellie Goulding song plays. The whole filmic, brutal beautiful thing is perfect, completely. Charlie’s important, and will always be. But after the longest time, Marnie’s found a way forward.
Images: Giphy (2)
Amy Mackelden is an Entertainment Writer at Bustle, and has written for heat magazine, New Statesman online, Kinkly, The Independent online, xoJane and Hello Giggles. Her book, Adele: The Other Side, is out now from Eyewear.
She co-founded poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog, and is co-editor of Clarissa Explains Fuck All. She’s developing a theatre show, MS Is My Boyfriend, about life with multiple sclerosis, and a collection of prose poetry called TV Is My True Love. Harrison Ford is totally bae.