“I don’t need to change anybody anymore.”
It’s important, maybe one of the most important things in the world, to be self aware. It’s see easy to delude ourselves and forget reality, whether that reality is very happy or very dismal. And it’s easy, as a result of that, to make all sorts of missteps and miscalculations as a result. Those missteps can be benign or they can be as brutally awful as marrying the wrong person or entering the wrong career. And those mistakes, without self-awareness, can be made again and again and again.
Marnie is that kind of person, the one who lacks the self-awareness to understand how bad her decisions can really be. We all knew that her marriage to Desi was a terrible, terrible idea, and Marnie to some degree understood that as well. But she wanted to believe that if she at least took action, it would push her in the right direction. And to an extent, it did. At the end of this episode, it seems as if Marnie is a little more self-aware than she was at the beginning. So Marnie had at least one thing right: action means something. We learn from the reaction to our actions and from how we commit actions.
For example: Marnie spent the majority of her relationship with Desi enabling him. Desi is wildly manipulative, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and playing the victim almost go ridiculous extremes. After a fight, he works to end it as quickly as possible, not for Marnie’s sake but for his. And Marnie doesn’t feel heard as a result. Desi loves conflict and drama, even if he doesn’t seem like it, because it allows him to exercise his manipulation and power games. It allows him to vilify somebody else and forget the mistakes that he’s made in his life. Part of Marnie’s attraction to him comes from his complete and utter lack of self-awareness. Likely as a subconscious thought, Marnie loved how his lack of self-awareness enabled her own. But there’s only so far that enabling can take a relationship before it implodes.
This episode is about Marnie running into Charlie again, and about their adventures together until she goes back to tell Desi that their relationship is over. Being around Charlie isn’t just an opportunity to connect with somebody after feeling so isolated around Desi; it’s also a way for her to examine herself through her connection with an ex-boyfriend. When she goes with him to sell coke in a high-class restaurant, she cons the buyer out of six hundred dollars by pretending to be a hooker. She steals a boat and paddles out into a lake with Charlie. She’s robbed at gunpoint. It’s exhilarating for her because she feels able to have all of these experiences in a bubble, where she’s safe and sound with Charlie. But she’s really not. The men in her life aren’t going to keep her safe, and they’re not going to be what she needs to evolve. Both Charlie and Desi kind of push her around and force her to morph into what they need, and that’s ultimately destructive for her.
Really, at its core, “The Panic at Central Park” roots itself in tragedy. It’s not until Marnie sees the needle that falls out of Charlie’s pants that she understands how far he has sunk, how his breakup, his father’s death, and pressure to “man up” led him to a life that has effectively broken him. It’s seeing Charlie like this that shows her how not all “life experiences” are fun and exciting. Some show you just how dark and miserable the world can be, how badly other people feel pain. And those experiences best show how having “life experiences” isn’t about doing something. It’s about feeling something new, about gaining empathy through seeing through another person’s eyes. Marnie knew Charlie well enough that she was able to see the pain that he felt, and it made her relationship with Desi feel fake and inauthentic in comparison. Sometimes it takes a hard dose of reality to see just what fantasy looks like.
“The Panic at Central Park” is easily one of the best episodes of Girls that ever aired, at least the best season since the hot streak the show was on in the middle of Season 2. It not only provides Marnie with some fantastic and fresh character development, but continues to position Girls as a show about growth. Season 5 has all of the characters growing, becoming better versions of themselves (even Hannah, though her growth is much subtler), and it reminds us of how we grow in our 20s. It’s easy to sit around and wait for change, and it’s easy to take action and close our ears to change. But it’s hard to see reality, to hunker down and accept it. And it’s doing that, looking hard at you actions and the reactions to them, that really pushes you forward in the world.
So what did you think of “The Panic at Central Park”? Are you happy that Marnie and Desi are finally splitting up? Let me know in the comments!