This post discusses the Feb. 22 episode of “Girls.”
For all Lena Dunham’s indie comedy “Girls” has been lauded for its bravery, back in 2012 during its first season, the show took what felt like an early punt. On her way to have an abortion, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) had one of pop culture’s infamous spontaneous miscarriages, saving her — and the show — from making a decision that Hollywood still treats as controversial. Last night, the show finally circled back around to the subject, when Adam’s (Adam Driver) new girlfriend, Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs), revealed that she’d had an abortion without consulting him.
But rather than feeling trailblazing, the plotline adds “Girls” to a roster of television shows that have quietly pushed forward a new approach to abortion. These storylines don’t devolve into partisan fights over the morality of the procedure. They don’t require fictional people to behave in ways that are completely out of character, deciding to become parents out of the blue in order for writers and showrunners to avoid discomfort or protest. Instead, they’re about the emotions that are triggered by pregnancies and the decisions to end them. Abortion isn’t the big deal. The relationships in which abortions happen are.
Take “Parenthood.” In that show’s fourth season, Amy (Skyler Day), who was dating Drew Holt (Miles Heizer), got pregnant while the two were still in high school. The series had the good sense to separate out Drew’s emotional attachments to Amy and the prospect of a child with her from the reality that they weren’t ready or actually willing to be parents. “Parenthood” let Drew be sad and overwhelmed even as he accepted the inevitability of Amy’s decision and stood by her while she made it. He was overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of a part of adulthood that he had thought was far in the future, and “Parenthood” let him and us feel the whole weight of a sad and difficult situation.
Similarly, Kurt Sutter’s motorcycle club drama “Sons of Anarchy” had an intelligent, deeply felt storyline about abortion before the series descended into a truly meaningless orgy of violence. In the third season, Dr. Tara Knowles-Teller (Maggie Siff), who is married to club president Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), and Lyla Winston (Winter Ave Zoli), who is married to Jax’s best friend, Opie (Ryan Hurst), get pregnant at points of crisis in their marriages. They go to terminate their pregnancies together (in a wicked joke, Lyla registers at the clinic under the name Sarah Palin), only for Tara to back out of the procedure.
Tara and Jax are childhood sweethearts, reunited after Tara has become a respected doctor, while Jax has become deeply involved with the club’s criminal enterprises. Tara’s decision to have a second child with him, despite all the problems in their relationship and the risks Jax poses to Tara’s career and even her safety, is very much a product of that early attachment. Tara may pride herself on her professional accomplishments and her sober decision-making. But she is a different person when she’s with Jax, a more temperamental and emotional person. Long before their entanglement with the club would turn fatal, Tara’s decision not to have an abortion was the point at which she really forfeited any opportunity to leave Jax or to get him to leave his criminal life for her.
The plot on “Girls” proceeds the same way. Adam’s initial reaction, to needle Mimi-Rose over the possibility she might have had more than one abortion, feels like an attempt to hurt her back, rather than a real expression of moral outrage. And even though Adam might enjoy surprising Mimi-Rose with breakfast and tucking her in tenderly in the morning, it seems like a bit of a stretch for him to suggest that he actually wants a child. It takes until the third scene in this one-act play for Adam, who is so bad at communicating that he moved on to a new relationship without bothering to formally end the old one, to actually get at what makes him anxious about Mimi-Rose’s abortion.
“Why didn’t you want me to come with you? Don’t you need me at all? Because it freaks me out. You never tell me what you’re working on, you don’t care if I don’t make it to whatever f—— party, you don’t ask me how you look or whatever, you just look in the mirror and go,” Adam tells her despairingly. “Sometimes I can’t tell what I’m even here for. . . . I care about my butcher. I need my butcher. I can’t butcher meats. I need my butcher more than you need me.” Mimi-Rose’s response is blunt, and probably unsettling, but also tender. “No, I don’t need you,” she explains. “But I love coming home and knowing you’re behind the door.”
This is the question that needs to be litigated. Whether Mimi-Rose’s abortion was right or wrong isn’t up for debate. Neither is the question of whether she should have consulted her boyfriend of only seven weeks about the decision. Instead, Adam has to make decision about whether he can live with being wanted, rather than needed.