Charlie returns in Girls season 5, episode 6, “The Panic in Central Park” to give Marnie a much needed wakeup call.
“One Man’s Trash” may be one of the best episodes of Girls. It is a contained story told in season 2 that is set in motion by Hannah dumping the trash from Ray’s coffee shop in his bins. Joshua, played by guest star Patrick Wilson, complains and it leads to Hannah spending two days with him. They have a lot of sex, play ping-pong, and that’s about it. Why is this episode one of the best? Because it is one that you can recall instantly for being so separated from the series and it is utterly ridiculous.
Three seasons later, “The Panic in Central Park” set out to become the same type of episode. Hannah has never been isolated or forgotten about as Girls moves forward, but Marnie for the better part of two seasons has taken a back seat. What better way to get a good look at how Marnie is actually fairing than to look at her life through the lens of 2013.
Enter Charlie. After Christopher Abbott and Lena Dunham went through their real life fallout at the close of season 2, Charlie was reduced to a person who retreated behind the Internet to seek his revenge against Marnie’s reign of terror by posting the music video of her singing “What I Am.” He may have also admitted to never loving her, but really I only remember the viral video. Charlie was reduced to an avatar on a nameless YouTube account and thus erased from memory. When he reenters the scene as part of a group of men catcalling Marnie, my reaction was quite similar to hers. Why is he talking so differently? Is this actually Charlie? What purpose does this serve?
Part of what is so frustrating about Marnie is her superiority complex. Some much needed praise should be thrown to Lena Dunham who managed to use Marnie’s greatest character flaw to give her some much needed agency in two relationships. This shell of Marnie, one who wants to run around the city dressing up in fancy dresses, pawning money off of guys who think she is a prostitute, is a welcomed guest. Threads of Marnie still run deep, especially when she is getting robbed and can only think to ask if people actually still do that. Charlie is the gateway drug to the escape. A high that only lasts for a few hours.
The night ended with Marnie showering in a communal bathroom and hearing from an uninvited guest who just wanted to talk about how love masks the truth. When Marnie returns to Charlie’s bedside, she slowly comes back into herself. The haze of the Charlie hit wore off. Suddenly the trash bag on the window is shedding a bit too much light on the situation and the needles on his floor.
Marnie tried to change Charlie once, it didn’t work. The cost of silencing his passionate, sensitive self came with a Marnie lecture. Now it comes with excessive opiates and a rush of adrenaline from pulling off drug deals.
People need to work through their own issues in their own time. Marnie has yet to face her problems, choosing to focus on Hannah, or Desi, or Ray, or whoever walks through the door and doesn’t ask for her help.
I still think Marnie is insufferable. She surrounds herself with people who are also insufferable. It took five seasons, but she finally realizes it. She winds up without a husband, without a career, and in the bed of someone who, for the most part, is in the most stable relationship in the series. She’s not alright and for the first time since Girls began I finally felt some stirring of support for her.
Charlie was the catalyst for the Marnie I grew to hate. Three years later and he might be the catalyst for a Marnie I can stand to acknowledge with a polite nod.
Watch Girls season 5, episode 7, “Hello Kitty,” Sunday April 3 at 10:00 p.m. ET on HBO.