Girls recap: 'American Bitch'
Matthew Rhys gets his way
- TV Show
Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys) has everything: a nice New York City apartment, plenty of published novels, plenty of awards for said novels. He also has four college students accusing him of using his status to get his way sexually, something Hannah — a fan of his — discovered after reading some allegations online. She reacted by writing a piece about it, and Chuck reacted to that by inviting her over to talk about it. The whole episode takes place in his apartment, a la season 2’s “One Man’s Trash” — just swap Rhys for Patrick Wilson and an uncomfortable penis moment for the naked ping-pong (never forget the naked ping-pong).
It starts with Chuck clarifying he’s not looking for an apology and Hannah acting combative, trying to figure out what he is looking for. He wants her to know she’s funny and smart and sharp and that he thinks she should be applying those qualities to writing about things “that matter.” She maintains that this does matter, and the two continue to get into an argument about women and consent — Hannah believes it’s important to listen to women when they say they’ve been wronged, while Chuck wants people to ask more questions — that you’ve probably seen happen on Twitter once or a million times before.
More specifically, Chuck contends that he didn’t force anyone to give him a bl– job, while Hannah thinks it’s crucial to listen to these girls who are saying he did. There’s a painting of Woody Allen holding a gun to his head behind Chuck this whole conversation, a not-so-subtle prop that clearly tells us, This man is not to be trusted.
He tries to tell Hannah he’s innocent, though. He tells her that this whole scandal has caused him to lose sleep and 20 pounds. He’s been taking pills, going to therapy, trying out meditation, learning Spanish, rowing, doing a juice cleanse to get better — he even went on a silent retreat, goddammit. But none of those have worked. He’s still wracked with, well, I’m not sure. Doesn’t seem like guilt, because he is insistent that he didn’t do anything wrong. At one point, he does point out that he’s afraid his young daughter will find out about the accusations and he’s worried about how that would affect her. So is it fear that his reputation is forever damaged — or maybe even fear that despite what he tells himself, he did do something wrong?
Eventually, Hannah reveals that she had a creepy teacher back when she was 11 who gave her neck rubs in front of the rest of the class. Years later, she ran into one of her classmates at a Bushwick warehouse party, where she asked if he remembered how she was sort of molested back in the day. “That’s a pretty serious accusation to make,” he responded, something that caused her to suddenly feel like she was an 11 year old starving for validation in whatever form it could come in once again.
This story shuts down Chuck a bit. Hannah’s a real human to him now, maybe. And he wants to show her that he’s a real human, too, so he has her read something he wrote, supposedly after his encounter with one of the accusers.
“I saw a woman who was lovely, lonely, and scared,” he says afterward. “I saw a woman who didn’t want to let anyone in. I see now in myself every f—ing guy who didn’t care enough to push a little further to get to know her. Hannah, that is what I’m guilty of. Not pushing hard enough to get to know Denise. To get to the heart of her story. Do you get that?”
Do you get that? He’s treating her like a student at this point, his words standing in for her creepy teacher’s neck massages. She lights up. Yes, she gets it. And now he wants to tell her why he invited her over to talk about this. She wants to know. She’s smiling, almost giddy. He tells her he invited her over because he doesn’t want to repeat his mistakes. He wants to get to know her. So he launches into some questions: Where are you from? What are your dreams?
It’s charming. He’s charming. I blushed watching it, simply imagining being in Hannah’s spot. This is what this whole episode’s all about, right? He never proved his supposed innocence to her; he just spouted off some probable bulls— about how he should have tried harder to get to know Denise and then asked Hannah some very surface-level questions about her life, which was enough to get her to let her guard down. That’s power. That’s horrifying.
NEXT: Matthew Rhys’ penis (prosthetic) makes a cameo
Soon, they’re looking at his bookshelf, shooting the s— about Philip Roth, a conversation that causes Chuck to offer up, “You can’t let politics dictate who you read or what you f—.” Then he lies down on his bed and invites Hannah to lie down next to him. She hesitates, still clutching the Philip Roth novel (another symbolic prop: When She Was Good, his 1967 book about a woman trying to better the men in her life), and then does as he requests. She’s on her back; he’s on his side facing away from her. She apologizes for writing something that upset him without considering all the facts. He says it’s okay, he’s not angry. Then he turns over to face her, puts his dick on her thigh, and rests his face in the bed. She looks down to confirm that, yes, he did just rest his penis on her, and a few seconds later, gives it a tug before she jumps up and exclaims that she just touched his dick. He looks up at her with a sinister smirk, a face creepier than the last episode’s entire horror homage. His plan worked.
This moment — the penis on the thigh, her reaction, his reaction — is immediately funny and also deeply discouraging. She was understanding and open and he took advantage of that; he punished her for her empathy. And going back to that smirk: It’s remarkable how that single look completely transforms the meaning. If he had instead looked alarmed or concerned when she sprung up, it could be interpreted that he honestly just read the room wrong. Maybe they would have talked more and, who knows, had sex. But no — he, with one look, confirmed that he just laid out a trap for her and she fell right in.
At first, I thought this episode was good and funny and sad. Then I thought about it and found it infuriating because I got Hannah. I can see myself being suspicious and then hearing more and making the transition from thinking of him as The Enemy to Just a Human and going, You know what, people are complicated and life is complicated and maybe this is all just a misunderstanding. I have been Hannah — and I’m going to guess that every single woman has been, too. You’re understanding and hopeful and then… they put their dick (figurative or literal!) on your thigh.
I wonder now how this will affect Hannah. Is she going to be less trusting, more on her guard? Is this going to chip away at her faith in the good of humans, or is she going to keep hoping that, more often than not, people are good?
Right as Chuck is flashing that evil grin at Hannah, his daughter walks into the apartment. He zips up his pants and, as Hannah’s about to leave, his daughter invites her to listen to her play the flute. Hannah obliges, and she and Chuck sit on separate pieces of furniture as she plays Rihanna’s “Desperado” — a musically ominous, lyrically conflicted track that makes the final visual of a horde of faceless women entering Chuck’s apartment building after Hannah exits almost unbearably eerie. Hannah got out. Will they?
How Hannah describes what a non-consensual bl– job would entail: “It would be very choke-y.”
Most Hannah quote: “God, I hope someone writes a book about what a c–t I am some day.”
Biggest lie: “I may be stupid, but I’m not evil, sister.” —Chuck