What's Really Going On With Ray On 'Girls'?

There was a big change in the second-to-last episode of Girls Season 5 (“Love Stories”) that you may have missed. Yeah, there was that big romantic twist, but behind the scenes, Alex Karpovksy, who plays Ray, took on a new role on the show: director. Karpovksy is no stranger to jumping behind the camera (see: films like Red Flag and Rubberneck, as well as a particularly dreamy music video for Tanlines’ “Palace” featuring Natasha Lyonne), but this marks the first time he’s taken on that role on the show he’s worked on for five seasons. Of course, it couldn’t be a more perfect episode for the director to make his series debut, because in case you missed it, Ray & Marnie kissed on Girls.

It was a moment in which time seemed to stop: After having a dream about Ray that appeared to bring her sexual satisfaction without actually being at all sexual (although I guess I can’t judge anyone for whatever gets them off, including brushing the object of their affection’s hair), Marnie really does it. She barrels into Ray’s apartment and declares that she thinks Ray is it for her; cue a serious makeup and millions of jaws on the floor. Not only did Marnie just decide that she needed to be alone post-Desi, but I think it’s safe to say no one thought she’d follow through on her feelings for Ray. But the real question that follows is, what are Marnie’s feelings for Ray, really? It’s something Karpovsky got to juggle on two levels — one, as the actor in the shocking scene, and two as the scene’s director.

“I tried to kind of play within the tone that the dynamic of Marie and Ray that has already been established [by the show], but also try and surprise the audience and maybe progress the arc that they have between them,” he tells me on a phone call, with the faint chirps of birds in Los Angeles chiming in the background. “We had a lot of discussions about the way that could play tonally and to what degree we want to telegraph certain motivations versus others. Like, was Marnie doing this as a tortured and confused rebound from her emotional trauma with Desi or to what degree did that trauma allow her to have the resolve and the courage to approach Ray with a more authentic angle?”

So, much like Marnie, we’re in the dark about her true motivations, but that’s kind of the bread and butter of this show (I mean, look at Hannah trying to explain why she’s done anything this season). For his part, Karpovksy is game to see more Marnie and Ray togetherness, with one caveat.

“I have sort of mixed feelings. I hope they find a way to stay together, but I also hope that it's going to be fraught with doubt and confusion and chaos,” he says. “I’m pretty sure it won't go anywhere.”

Karpovsky is quick to point out that he’s not a writer on the show, so he’s certainly not the end all be all authority on what will eventually happen with Ray & Marnie in the series’ final season, but he certainly knows the show and the characters well enough to know if their prolonged relationship is a worthwhile endeavor. And Ray & Marnie are certainly a trainwreck waiting to happen.

Plus, as many ‘shippers on Twitter will tell you, there’s another option for Ray’s one true partner: Ms. Shoshanna Shapiro. And those fans will be delighted to know that Karpovksy doesn’t think that idea is necessarily all that crazy.

“Never say never,” he says. “I know that Lena [Dunham] and the other writers like to write things that are based in their own experiences and sort of the collective history of the writing team, and it's not uncommon, as we all know, for people to take a break in their relationship for years and then for them to return to the relationship with a lot of perspective, with a newfound resolve and see if they can find a way to make it work.”

Karpovsky has some personal experience with this sort of break, which in his case allowed him to “thrust our tensions into a light that was helpful.” And as he sees it, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Shosh and Ray to turn their time apart into a relationship-mending tool of enlightenment. “I think it's possible. They have a lot in common, in their own weird strange ways,” he says.

But amid all these romantic possibilities for Ray in “Love Stories” and one the smooch that will be heard ‘round the internet in no time, there is one rather unique mark on the episode that Karpovksy can call his own: His direction of Jenny Slate’s character, Tally Shifrin.

Tally, Hannah’s nemesis and respectably successful young author (tiny refresher: Hannah once proclaimed that Tally was “so lucky” because her boyfriend died in a car crash and thus gave her something to write a book about), makes her second appearance on the show, but this time, she gets to be more than a stimulus for Hannah’s rant at a fancy party. When she runs into Hannah on the street and the duo embarks on their adventure together (stealing bikes and scarfing Crif dogs on a sunny afternoon in Williamsburg), Tally awakens something in Girls’ head girl that feels new.

It’s something Karpovksy says he’s “lucky” to have encountered while directing the show, because as he puts it, “If I did virtually any other episode of this season, we would have been just working with actors who I love, but whose characters are already very well defined.”

Luckily, the Tally we encounter in Season 5 is a very different Tally from the one we found flitting around a book release event in Season 1. And Tally’s breakdown this episode — in which she admits to Hannah just how insecure she is about how others perceive her, down to the detail of look herself up on the internet to see how other people see her — very clearly stirs something in Hannah, and in the series itself.

“I think that's a very difficult thing to do and her character has to come from a very specific angle to work and I think that's a testament to Jenny's acting and a testament to her ability to just figure out a backstory that could surgically remove elements of a protagonist that we thought we knew pretty well,” says Karpovksy.

And just knowing that a series can still feel new not only its viewers, but the people whose job it is to live in that world is a true testament to the series’ power. For all the think pieces written about Dunham’s divisive show, and for every “complicated relationship” that opinionated internet dwellers have with Hannah Horvath & Co., Girls’ true legacy should be that even in its later seasons, it still has the ability to catch fans off guard. Well, that, and the time that it became responsible for the world’s first kiss inspired by a dream about Ray Ploshansky’s one-of-a-kind coif.

Images: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO (3)