“I am a writer and as such, I think I’m obligated to use my voice to talk about things that are meaningful to me.” It’s not Lena Dunham herself speaking—it’s her onscreen persona, Hannah Horvath, during a tension-filled sit-down with Chuck Palmer, an acclaimed author whose work Hannah admires but whose sleazy (and possibly nonconsensual) book-tour dalliances with college coeds she does not. Still, given the sheer amount of self-reference that Dunham folds into tonight’s script, it might as well be Lena speaking.
Dubbed “American Bitch”—after an alternate title for When She Was Good by Philip Roth, another writer whose misogyny Hannah has to grapple with in her admiration—the third episode of season six forgoes the usual Girls shenanigans to solely follow Hannah’s meeting with Chuck (played by an exceptional Matthew Rhys, of The Americans). Dunham & Co. regularly do excellent work with such bottle episodes—see season two’s “One Man’s Trash” and last season’s “The Panic in Central Park” for proof—and “American Bitch” proved no exception.
Chuck invites Hannah to his impressive—and hilariously, narcissistically decorated—doorman-building apartment to tell his side of a story that Hannah wrote for a “niche feminist website” about the sexual-assault accusations that several women had lobbed against the author. Dunham has been vocal about her own personal history with sexual abuse, but Hannah’s talk with Chuck hits on plenty of meta Dunhamesque topics, from power dynamics to the complexities of consent to the clout of social media. (“Isn’t that the crazy part about being alive right now? That so much of your life can be destroyed by something called Tumblr?”)
Their conversation sharpens the blurred lines between person and persona, between the artist and the art they make. (Keep an eye out for a portrait of Woody Allen holding a gun to his head.) At the episode’s onset, Hannah worships Palmer’s writing but cannot reconcile with his douchebag behavior. That is, until Chuck begins to thaw her iciness through—what else?—flattery. (This is still Hannah Horvath we’re talking about.) He compliments her writing, inquires about her upbringing and gifts her a signed copy of Roth’s novel.
Guards are down when Chuck asks Hannah to platonically lie beside him in bed, which she does. And that’s when the shoe—or, in this case, the dick—drops. Literally. Chuck abruptly pulls out his penis—a gross test—which Hannah reflexively grabs, until she comes to her goddamn senses. It’s clear that Chuck is, in fact, exactly the douchebag that she expected, even if that’s complicated by the fact that he’s also a talented author and devoted father.
It's a discomfort that Dunham gratefully doesn't ease up on, instead capping the episode with a still-reeling Hannah leaving Chuck Palmer and his beautiful building, just as the next wave of young, faceless women is ushered in.
“Are you some kind of activist?”–Chuck
“No, I don’t even recycle.”–Hannah
“God, I hope someone writes a book about what a cunt I am someday.”–Hannah