“I am so sick of grey areas.”
It has become a pattern over the years for Girls to follow up plot-moving episodes with a placeholder that focus squarely on Hannah. Being the final season, ‘American Bitch’ is likely to be the last of its kind and is one of Lena Dunham’s most impressive standalone episodes and the most sharply written of the season thus far.
Matthew Rhys is a fantastic scene partner for Dunham, embodying the character of Chuck Palmer, a prolific, high successful novelist that Hannah has publicly slandered for procuring non-consensual blowjobs from his adoring fans. Though several similar articles have also made their way online, Chuck specifically seeks out Hannah and invites her to his home because her writing is the most thoughtful and considered piece, imbued with enough humour that it is highly persuasive.
Hannah arrives at Chuck’s home prepared to defend her words and as a viewer, our natural instinct is to side with her and against the accused. This is somewhat reinforced when Chuck tries to undermine Hannah’s article and discredit the accounts of the four women who shared their stories, however, Chuck has a kind of disgruntled charisma and a natural ability to weave stories of his own. From his point of view, these women attend his book tours, vying for his attention and any sexual encounters born from that have been consensual. Hannah questions Chuck’s motivations to defend his character to an unknown writer and again he compliments her literary prowess, then shares his fear that his own daughter could one day find the article online and be just as influenced by it as he was.
Their discussion morphs from one of consent to an abuse of power as Hannah shares her own story of when an older male figure she admired (her fifth-grade English teacher) used to praise her in class, rub her shoulders and touch her hair. She tells Chuck that at the time she didn’t mind, because she felt special that her talent was being recognised. The anecdote comes to a powerful close as Hannah recounts her run-in with a former classmate where she brought up their English teacher who practically molested her. He tersely replied, “That’s a very serious accusation, Hannah”, causing her to be transported back to her eleven-year-old self, because “that shit doesn’t go away”.
This frank discussion prompts Chuck to read a new piece of work to Hannah, one that he wrote after his encounter with one of the women Hannah talks about in her article. In this thinly veiled piece of fiction, he reveals that he attempted to get to know her, but was shut down in favour of simply having sex. Chuck admits to Hannah that he is guilty of “not getting to the heart of [her] story” and wanting to rectify that with Hannah in the hope that he can understand a woman on more than a surface level. Matthew Rhys completely sells it and our initial impressions of him are challenged.
The entire episode is a brilliant commentary on power imbalances and as the story unfolds solely in the space of Chuck’s lavish New York Apartment, the power dynamics shift between Hannah and Chuck in a highly nuanced way. ‘American Bitch’ also happens to be damn funny, with Hannah’s wry observations as razor-sharp as ever. Hannah is ultimately disappointed by Chuck Palmer, only to then have another rug pulled out from underneath her as she becomes privy to the genuine love he appears to have for his daughter, despite his complete inability to relate to women in a way that isn’t sexual.
The episode closes with yet another stellar song choice – Rhianna’s “Desperado”, and while it doesn’t resonate thematically with ‘American Bitch’, the image of Hannah stepping out of Chuck’s apartment building as a dozen women slowly pour inside is practically chilling.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10