When HBO’s Girls debuted, it depicted a privileged sisterhood. Not only were the stars elite white women, but they also shared a closeness that critics found alternately enviable and puzzling. Creator Lena Dunham calls the series a love letter to female friendship, and claims the character Marnie (Allison Williams) is based on her best friend. Characters initially shared beds, bathtubs, and the most intimate details of their sexual health; the series’ opening scene depicts roommates Hannah and Marnie sleeping intertwined. Naïve Shosanna (Zosia Mamet) adores her friends, comparing the group to her prized Sex and the City poster.
However, as these “girls” gradually became women, they moved from their homosocial world into relationships with men, and the closeness characteristic of Season One gave way to frequent fights and petty rivalries. Instead of Sex and the City, the girls began to resemble the dysfunctional, fragmented foursome in classic single-girl narratives like Valley of the Dolls.
Critics rightfully ask why these characters are still friends – and sometimes the women wonder themselves. In “Beach House” (3x7), Marnie plans an elegant retreat for the women to talk through conflicts and prove, at least on Instagram, that their friendship is solid as ever. Her idealized weekend is marred when Hannah invites gay male friends over for a raucous pool party. The women briefly achieve unity, allowing one of the men to choreograph them in a dance routine. But tensions turn them against each other, and in this scene affable Shoshanna expresses her pent-up rage.
While Shoshanna may stand in for viewers struggling to make sense of these flawed, unlikeable characters, the episode also expresses deeper concerns about female friendship. There is no clear resolution or apology, but the next morning the women silently help Marnie clean up from the party. As they wait for their bus, they begin to practice almost involuntarily the choreographed movements they had performed the night before. The women’s friendship is sustained by duty and habit. The meaning of the word "inertia" surfaces earlier in the episode; and accordingly we can read these college friendships as inert, resisting change and forward motion even as they appear to be moving in synch.