We're three episodes into the final season of Girls, but I've just experienced my favorite episode of the entire series.
You can watch a preview of the episode below. Post continues after video.
The episode is titled 'American Bitch'. It's one of those rare, perfect standalone moments in the series, where the focus sits squarely with only one lead.
The only characters involved this time were Hannah Horvath (played by Lena Dunham), and Chuck Palmer, a famous author she admires (played by Matthew Rhys).
It takes place entirely within the four walls of the author's sprawling brownstone. Hannah is there on invitation: Four college-aged women have recently accused Chuck of sexual assault and Hannah has written an article about how disappointed she is to find out her favorite author is a creep. Chuck wants to explain his side of the story—and wants Hannah to apologize for "jumping to conclusions".
Throughout the episode, Hannah and Chuck go back and forth on consent, power, gender and privilege. The way Hannah sees it, Chuck used his position of power to take advantage of young women who did whatever he said in the hopes they would get ahead in their careers. In Chuck's mind, he's the victim.
As Executive Producer Judd Apatow says in a discussion about the episode, "He thinks he's the one being used, that young women are taking advantage of him."
All of this plays out as Hannah is repeatedly complimented by Chuck.
"You're not a journalist, you're a f***ing writer," he tells her—which in Hannah's eyes is the biggest compliment you could give her. For six seasons, we've watched her try and prove her writing abilities to everyone from her parents and friends to magazine editors and book publishers. Here she is, finally receiving praise for her work. She loves it.
But it's blatantly obvious to viewers that this is Chuck doing exactly what he does best.
And it's a fascinating insight into a scenario every woman has experienced before, and every young girl can learn from.
A woman, placed in a vulnerable position with a man of authority she looks up to. A man, taking advantage of his position of power when faced with the same situation.
We've all been there. That's exactly why this episode is so important.
As creator and star Lena Dunham explains:
"This episode came out of a lot of conversations we were having about bringing these dialogues out of the shadows, what happens when women do, and the gray areas of power dynamics—and this idea of putting Hannah into a situation where she really had to grapple intellectually with some of this stuff."
At the end of the episode, when you start to really question whether Chuck is a bad guy or just seriously misinformed and misunderstood, he asks Hannah to lay on his bed with him. He places his penis (if you're wondering, it's fake) on her leg. There's a pause for Hannah's decision. Then she places her hand on his penis—before realizing what's just happened.
As a viewer, you almost feel something like relief, that Chuck is exactly who you thought he was. But you can also picture yourself in that room, lying on that bed and being faced with that exact scenario.
It's profoundly relatable, messed up, and a pretty incredible teaching moment: Just because we now talk about male power more openly, doesn't mean it's not still there.
You can watch Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow talk about the episode below. Post continues after video.
We are not Hannah Horvath, or Lena Dunham. But we can see ourselves in this episode. It's the story you share with your friends, your family and your partners. It's every woman's experience, portrayed in a 30-minute HBO show. And it's important.
The very last scene feels noticeably different to anything Girls has done before, yet to me it's the most poignant piece of the entire series. As Hannah leaves Chuck's apartment, signaling the end of the episode, the camera pans to dozens of nameless, faceless women walking down the street and entering Chuck's apartment, one by one.
It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, one I didn't even notice until I began to read reviews of the episode afterwards. But it acts as a bigger commentary on the episode itself. Hannah is one of countless women who will find herself in a situation like this. Her word against his, her vulnerability against his position of power.
At one point in the episode, Hannah tells Chuck why she felt the need to bring the story of his alleged sexual assaults to life. "I'm a writer, and as such I think I'm obligated to use my voice to talk about things that are meaningful to me," she says.
It doesn't feel like a Hannah Horvath line. It feels like a quote from Dunham. And in dedicating one of the final episodes of Girls to this topic of consent, like that's exactly what she intends.
Girls airs Sunday nights on HBO at 10/9c.