Continuing the “bottle episode” theme, this segment shows only Hannah in the apartment of a literary idol, Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys). Hannah wrote a piece for a feminist blog about Chuck’s alleged probably-not-consensual sexual encounters with college-age girls on his book tour. Seeing the article, he invites her over to his apartment so he can prove her wrong.
Where “Girls” characters sometimes amount to cartoonish impressions instead of believable humans, this episode defies expectation. We expect Chuck to be portrayed as some obviously bad person that forced himself on an innocent girl. But we quickly see, through Rhys’ charming performance, all the difficult intricacies that surround issues of consent. He is portrayed more wholistically than we might expect: a man with a deep fatherly love for his daughter, a complicated history, and what seems like the capacity for vested interest and affection in women he likes.
Hannah, too, does not remain her usual defiant, millennial caricature. She notices Chuck’s intricacies and she allows her opinion of him, and of the allegations against him, to be challenged and formed. Not to mention the fact that she has also matured in her understanding of what it means to be a writer. She is no longer trying to be the best famous writer in the world overnight; she is trying to tell stories that she believes need to be told.
During their time together, they engage in something of a socratic dialogue—disagreeing, much in the same way that regular people do every day, about sexual assault, consent, relationships between men and women. etc.. The exchange mirrored life in a way that was as believable as it was true to form, not a cardboard stand-in for real experience. The audience, too, sympathizes with both Hannah and Chuck, understanding each perspective more at every turn of phrase.
But as the episode nears end, Chuck reveals himself as the insidious villain no one was expecting. Everything about their encounter thus far has appeared innocent. She willingly came to his apartment, she had personal conversations with him, she walked into his bedroom to look at his bookshelf. So, the moment when Chuck asks her to lay down on his bed with him comes as much appalling as hilarious. Even more so, after she willingly lays down, he unbuckles his pants and nonchalantly puts his penis on her leg. No one really knows what to do. Including Hannah. But she, to her own surprise, touches him.
On one hand, bravo “Girls,” you win the award for most awkward and most often naked scenes in one television show ever. Congrats. You’re so progressive and edgy and cool. Good for you.
But I’d like to lend genuine applause to what Hannah learned in that moment, as did the audience. Consent is not as black and white as we might think. She consented to everything that happened. And he never forced her, or even pressured her, to do anything. However, Chuck’s eerie and nefarious smile after she jumps up from his bed prove what his intentions were all along—to lure her into that exact situation, to illustrate how her consent happened, and to prove that it meant nothing (without ever having to say it).
And Hannah doesn’t get the opportunity to lash out like we might expect because Chuck’s teenage daughter arrives and performs an impromptu, supremely uncomfortable flute recital. Chuck’s actions shed light on one of the many dangers of hookup culture that Hannah (in all her hookups) has not been able to notice: the encounters can be both consensual and contrived. The gray area, Hannah sees, is altogether unavoidable and inconspicuously harmful.