I watched Lena Dunham’s brainchild Girls from the very first episode, and, honestly, I love it. I am aware that many people consider Girls to be a problematic show. Since it began in 2012, Girls has faced plenty of criticism, whether it be over Lena Dunham’s openness with exposing her naked self as her character, Hannah (ridiculous and offensive, considering it seems to stem from our society’s discomfort with a less-than-Hollywood-standard body type) or the lack of diversity within the cast (a far more valid criticism). However, one thing that I find alarmingly under-discussed in the grand discussion of Girls is not the “girls” at all, but the boys. Or one “boy”: Adam, Hannah’s on-again-off-again boyfriend.
For those who do not watch, Adam (Adam Driver) is a recovering alcoholic with a variety of other, unspecified issues. When we first met Adam, he was the aloof booty-call that Hannah desperately, albeit secretly, wanted as a boyfriend. Later in the season, the two connect at a party and begin dating. There are red flags about Adam’s behavior during Season 1 — his random bursts of anger, his erratic decision making, his lack of empathy, and his boundary-pushing sexual conduct all come into play — but it’s nothing compared to the person we see in the second season.
After Hannah and Adam breakup in the Season 1 finale, Adam goes into full-on stalker mode. It’s mostly played for laughs, but I can only imagine the fear that I would feel if an ex of mine showed up outside of my not-very-secure Brooklyn apartment building. Hannah may not behave as though she is afraid for her life (even as she flippantly throws around the word “murdery”) but there is absolutely nothing appropriate about Adam’s behavior. If Hannah was my friend, the first thing I would do would be to call the cops on Adam and get a solid restraining order in place.
But it’s the things that we see as viewers — the things that Hannah doesn’t — that bother me the most about Adam. In the Season 3 premiere, Adam is confronted by an ex-girlfriend (played by Shiri Appleby) who is angry that he blew her off for seemingly no reason. His ex is noticeably distraught and uncomfortable around Adam. She begins rattling off the sexual acts that Adam wanted her to participate in. In Season 2, we see Adam and this girlfriend returning home from a party to have sex, only to have Adam “dominate” his girlfriend and order her to perform sexually. The girlfriend attempts to “go with it,” but her discomfort is clear. Her protests to regain some of the control are met with more domination from Adam. When it’s over, it’s clear that something has been violated — at the very least, trust, or mutual control within the relationship. In this scene, the line of consent — what we, as viewers, were supposed to believe was consensual — was extremely murky.
After that episode, I couldn’t reconcile Adam as the weird, slightly off-putting romantic hero anymore. I saw him as a dangerous person, or, at the very least, a person so, so messed up that they were unaware of the implications of their actions on others. Yet the writers insisted on writing Adam as the show’s main romantic “hero,” so to speak. When Season 3 started up again this past weekend, I was floored by how we saw Adam take care of Hannah’s well-being while simultaneously behaving in ways that I can only identify as abusive and controlling. Adam lovingly hands Hannah her OCD medication, then berates her for wanting to spend time with her “boring” friends. He treats sex like something he is owed as a boyfriend — even encouraging Hannah to kick her friend out of their shared hotel room for some pre-sleep sex. None of these behaviors are challenged by Hannah — instead, the two episodes that aired on Sunday featured Hannah applauding Adam for being a “great boyfriend.”
I know that many people contribute Adam’s strange behavior to the fact that Adam is, well, a strange guy. I have no problem with Adam’s strangeness — but I do have a problem with his aggressive, controlling behavior that seems to be glossed over by the show because Adam doesn’t fit the typical abuser profile. Adam doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter abusive boyfriend in order for him to be a terribly unhealthy individual to enter into a relationship with. (Though, again, the lines of abuse are hard to define, I, personally see many of Adam’s actions as borderline abusive — particularly his controversial sex act with his ex-girlfriend.)
I think it’s pretty problematic to have a show portray a guy like Adam as the protagonist of the show like Girls romantic hero. We see a ton of borderline abusive relationships on television, but often these relationships aren’t glamorized or idealized in the way that Hannah and Adam’s is. (Yes, I am aware there are exceptions to this rule.) Girls tends to skew towards realism, and whether or not you relate to Hannah and her friends isn’t really as important as whether the show wants you to — and the show definitely wants you to if you’re a struggling 20-something.
The message that Girls is sending with the Adam-Hannah relationship is, essentially, you take what you can get. If a guy cares about you and is willing to take care of you, better ignore all of the other alarming behaviors that he displays. If he treats you well, you shouldn’t care about how he treats others — even the other women who once filled your role.
I love Girls — I think it’s funny and refreshingly different, and, yes, sometimes I even find it relatable — but I don’t need to see another woman go through this type of relationship.