Girls Season 2, Episode 9, ‘On All Fours’: Recasting the Romantic Male Lead

Sunday’s episode of Girls cemented something, which we all should’ve known, guessed, seen, but had somehow ignored: Adam (portrayed by Adam Driver), Hannah’s ex and sometime soulmate, is not Mr.Big. He may steal his lines, calling Hannah ‘kid’ at each opportune moment, but that’s where the comparison stops, since he segwayed into sexual predator territory.

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Perhaps it was obvious that Adam wasn’t rom-com fodder, considering every time Hannah found her way back to his apartment, he bestowed upon her a series of insults/assaults, from paedophilic role play to urolagnia (apologies to parents, but read urban dictionary ‘golden shower’). Dunham’s character, Hannah, consented, mostly, played these for comedy, romance, sexual embarrassment, all painfully relatable. Still, weren’t these signs that Adam wasn’t happy-ever-after material? When he told Hannah at the start of this season that loving someone means you don’t need to be nice to them all the time, wasn’t this also a clue?

When Adam turned up at Hannah’s apartment post-break-up, wanting to talk, it read two ways. It was the classic romantic comedy gesture, in which Prince Charming tries, but fails, to win back the girl he’s wronged. It also made me think of an ex-boyfriend texting to say he was outside my apartment, and where was I? He wanted to see me. The late night phone call, letterbox shout, that makes you check number plates when you walk anywhere at night. It’s a short distance from romantic involvement to borderline stalker. And I don’t use that word lightly. Definition says you ask someone three times to stop calling, texting, arriving at your house. After that, it’s harassment.

When Adam started dating Natalia (played by TV stalwart Shiri Appleby) we were meant to be in awe, I think, because she’s god damn beautiful, and we, afterall, have seen Adam’s apartment, have heard every word he’s treated Hannah to. We’re privy to information about him she’s not, as somebody set up, on a blind date. But the way this season has played, Adam’s shown us emotion. Sure, he hasn’t handled his break-up with Hannah well, but he genuinely loves her, that’s been clear in every screen-time scrap he’s torn. Adam had become likeable, even, as an individual, if momentarily, during his AA meeting, trip to Staten Island, and after. And then, on his dates with Natalia. Because of every Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy I’ve paid money for over the past fifteen years, I’ve learnt the conventions, know that if Adam’s on the same path, he may be an emotional fuckwit, purveyor of promiscuity and drunken sexual encounters, but it only takes one person to change that. Eventually, even he wants to settle down. Except, this being Girls, I know there’s only messiness and probably, he won’t end up happy any more than any of us are in real life.

Watching for the first time, my reaction when, in his apartment, Adam asked Natalia to crawl on all fours to his bedroom, wasn’t of shock. Because I, too, have dated men with apartments this ruined, have felt the compulsion she exerts, to sort, clean and change, to better what’s already there. I, too, once thought you could save somebody. And next, when he grabbed her, her unease evident yet, for the moment, consenting, I saw every rom-com, Sex and the City move we expect, but shouldn’t – that women are waiting to be kissed, stripped, flung, thrown, held. And he does, strip her, and she, silent for the most part, can’t summon the voice she had at the start of the episode, where she very definitely told him what she did and didn’t want. They have sex and Adam ejaculates on Natalia, as she asked him to do earlier, except when he spins her over to finish, she says, “Not on the dress,” pulling her clothing out of the way, noticeably upset with the way this has gone, ended, clearly wanting it to stop.

I don’t know whether this is rape. Several articles have made a case for it being rape, or assault, or something in between, and it certainly is (xojane and slate both have excellent, detailed articles). It’s a long way from where the episode started, purposefully, and it’s not good sex, categorically. The scene is about control, is Adam’s way of exorcising his emotions having bumped into his ex-girlfriend earlier in the night, and it’s self-destructive, perhaps the only action left for him to carry out. But it’s not a surprise, or it shouldn’t be. We were willfully tricked if we thought Adam was capable of normality, was boyfriend-material by any stretch of the imagination, if we hoped that his, too, was a journey we would follow for more than a couple of seasons.

Threat of rape and rape situations are far from exclusive to Girls this season, and The Walking Dead, in particular, is uncomfortable viewing weekly. There’s a constant unease, each female character unsafe, and in this apocalypse scenario, assaults and rape are commonplace, another danger each person is wary, and seemingly capable, of.

This episode of Girls is fearless, which is important. What happens, happens, and that needs to be said. We’re not shown it to be shocked, because it’s ‘ground-breaking’ or whatever, but because sex is like this sometimes, and that’s not something we should be quiet about. The question the scene poses is crucial: during sexual activity with a some time or new partner, where is the line, and what should we do about somebody crossing it? In any new relationship, sex is a difficult navigator and, this early on, it can be impossible to determine what someone might do next, when you’re at your most vulnerable. If you’ve consented to one thing, does that guarantee consent for the next? It can’t possibly, but when do we re-label bad sex and sexual failure as assault or rape? And where is Adam on this scale?

I watched this scene knowing I’d experienced it, at least in part, as I expect many, many people have. Sex is coercion, or can be, and you can’t always place how you feel about an act until it’s already happened, and it’s too late, especially when it’s quick to happen like this is. Sex with the wrong partner can also be completely out of your control, as it is here. I know now the apartment is a warning sign, a get-out-cue if there ever was one. If nails, and trash, and someone else’s heels are on the floor, you shouldn’t be there, it’s time to leave. But knowing when to trust and not trust someone can be a tricky thing, and it’s important we see that, that it’s a TV story line that’s told, and not a shameful detail we tell as a joke, a lesson learned, or regret. When to revoke trust is also key, is no longer a clean-cut case of boyfriend and lover, with respect and consent as revocable attributes at any point of the night, even, and especially, during.

I also wonder if we’ve seen this scenario before, just set in a cleaner, brighter room, played completely for comedy. In numerous Sex and the City episodes, each of the characters encounters bad, grimace-worthy sex, which they’d rather they hadn’t had. Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis) may not have told men to stop mid-way, but she sure looked like she wanted to. She cringed as a man called her a whore (apparently involuntarily) and waited for it to be over. Miranda (played by Cynthia Nixon) is degraded as a partner insists on watching porn during sex, paying little to no attention to her, and when a man says she’ll enjoy an oral sex act she’s never tried, she refuses then changes her mind mid-way. And perhaps most notably, when Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) sees Jack Berger’s apartment for the first time, she tells him she’s seen it all, including dead bodies. “Men left to their own devices,” she says.

And can anyone say, in good conscience, that Joey Tribbiani wasn’t a massive sexual offender/predator/probably on a wanted poster somewhere? But until recently, sex on TV, for the most part, has been played for laughs. So discussion, and a change, is welcome.

This penultimate episode of Girls leaves us precariously wondering what happens next, what resolution, if any, we’ll find before summer break. The set-up suggests that Hannah and Adam will reunite, somehow, following his forced break from this new girlfriend. That Hannah and Adam are both on a disaster course ready to destroy themselves and others in any order.

But if they end up together, I’ll stop watching. If that’s where this is heading, I don’t want in. How Adam’s indiscretion is dealt with in the next episode will tell us everything about Girls and the ground it’s prepared to cover. After this, Adam can’t be love-interest-extraordinaire, but only ex-boyfriend, approach-with-caution. Everyone makes mistakes, sure, but a temporary flailing (such as Marnie’s quarter life crisis, or Hannah’s OCD episode) can only explain so much, it can’t diminish responsibility. And Adam’s beyond reproach now. He’s not Chris Noth by any stretch of the imagination. And Mr. Big was a real dick some times, let’s be honest. He didn’t always act responsibly, didn’t deserve Carrie’s undying attention and advances. But he didn’t do this (that we know of).

In episode 10, the police need to turn up, or there should be a discussion about what just happened. No more bullshit excuses. Adam’s not endearing anymore.  If there’s any sort of promise of a romantic way back from this, I’m finding other shows to watch. Maybe like Nashville. Who knows? But I’m out.