‘Girls’ Postmortem: The Cast on That Big Addiction Reveal

Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Allison Williams in <em>Girls</em>. (Photo: HBO)
Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Allison Williams in Girls. (Photo: HBO)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Hostage Situation” episode of Girls.

Some actors know absolutely everything there is to know about their character from Season 1, Episode 1. And then there are those who discover something unexpected about the person they’ve been playing for multiple seasons in the show’s final year. Ebon Moss-Bachrach belongs in the latter camp. For three seasons now, the 38-year-old actor has portrayed Marnie’s bandmate-turned-lover-turned-husband-turned-soon-to-be-ex-husband, Desi Harperin, a soulful guy wrestling with some serious emotional instability. And on tonight’s episode, “Hostage Situation,” the reason for that instability reveals itself: Desi is addicted to OxyContin. Like, 20 pills a day addicted.

Related: The Girls Cast and Producers on Their Favorite Moments From the Series

Because she’s never able to see drug addiction until it’s staring her in the face — remember Charlie? — Marnie only discovers this fact when she stumbles upon Desi’s stash while they are on their lovers’ weekend (plus Hannah) in Poughkeepsie. And while he initially tries to pass off the pills as candy, he eventually admits that he’s been high for much of their relationship, up to and including their wedding day. “You are so bad at knowing when people are high,” Hannah tells her shocked friend after this bombshell revelation, which is the understatement of the century.

In all fairness to Marnie, there’s no way she could have known that Desi’s an Oxy addict. After all, the show’s creative mastermind, Lena Dunham, discovered that for herself only while writing the script. “It was new information for all of us,” Dunham tells Yahoo TV, laughing. “I always assumed he was taking recreational drugs, because he’s always at one extreme or another in terms of behavior. I looked back [at the past seasons] and was like, ‘There’s nothing in here that implies he’s not on drugs.’”

Even so, Moss-Bachrach admits that he was caught off-guard when he learned of Desi’s retroactive appetite for Oxy. “That was news to me! I was like, ‘So I’ve been high — that’s what I’m working with now.’” At the same time, it didn’t strike him as being wildly out of character with Desi’s already addictive personality when it comes to his on-again, off-again relationship with Marnie. “It would have been harder for me [to accept] if it had been Ray on Oxy,” Moss-Bachrach says. “And it’s interesting to have a new thing added to the equation; it breathes new energy into it. It’s like you’re in the middle of the long run of a play and you get a new cast member.”

To aid her star in working this new information into his performance, Dunham passed along addiction memoirs that he could use for reference, although those proved to be too much of a good thing. “He read them all and said, ‘This research is really bumming me out!’” Dunham remembers. “I was like, ‘It’s a comedy, so you don’t have to do all of this research, just a smattering of things. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ He was supercool about it and played it so well.” And, as Allison Williams points out, this revelation is just as revealing about her character as it is about Desi. “I love how Marnie has this giant blind spot where she can’t tell when anyone is on drugs — she undrugs them with her eyes.”

Lena Dunham, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Allison Williams in <em>Girls.</em> (Photo: HBO)
Lena Dunham, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Allison Williams in Girls. (Photo: HBO)

Another reason why Dunham chose to reveal Desi’s OxyContin habit in this manner was to satisfy a desire to make a Girls episode in the vein of a horror movie. “I had just watched Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and wanted to do something with that kind of energy,” she says. Released in 1971, that controversial film starred Dustin Hoffman as a wimpy mathematician who has to defend his home against a gang of hooligans. Dunham, who also directed “Hostage Situation,” channels Peckinpah’s film most strongly in her use of canted angles, as well as Desi’s window-breaking theatrics. “That was a really fun episode for me — the entire idea was to shoot it as if Girls had suddenly become a Sam Peckinpah movie. I even wanted to call the episode ‘Straw Dogs,’ and [HBO] was like, ‘Nope!’”

Desi isn’t the only character to have a major freak-out in “Hostage Situation.” Shoshanna also loses her cool, although not due to any drug-related causes. Instead, what sets her off is a trip to a meeting of young businesswomen hosted by the two girls she almost went into business with, had she not chosen to help her cousin, Jessa, hunt down Vincent Gallo instead. That seemingly minor decision turned out to have major ramifications, as her former almost-colleagues now oversee a wildly successful jeans line, while Shoshanna is earning a junior associate paycheck. “Watching someone else succeed at something you could have been involved in is a very real, very deep human experience,” Zosia Mamet says of her character’s raw emotional state in this episode. “Actors feel that all the time when we miss out on something! For whatever reason, it’s about timing. Watching Shoshanna figure that out felt very basic and very powerful. It’s exciting to have that be part of my storyline [this season].”

Zosia Mamet in <em>Girls</em>. (Photo: HBO)
Zosia Mamet in Girls. (Photo: HBO)

On the heels of her humiliating evening, Shoshanna needs to direct her hurt and fury somewhere, and Jessa turns out to be the nearest, and easiest, target. Bearing witness to this epic cousin-versus-cousin squabble is Elijah, who accompanied Shoshanna to the event — the longest time they’ve ever spent in each other’s company. “I don’t think Zosia and I have ever spoken dialogue directly to each other,” says Andrew Rannells, who became a regular cast member in Season 4. “There’s usually one scene where all the characters are all together, but we didn’t really have that this year. So it was exciting that she and I had this opportunity [to act with each other]. And it ends with Shoshanna having the realization that she’s maybe pissed away a huge chunk of her life, while Elijah realizes that he’s not a grownup either. They both have this moment where they’re like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing at all.’”

Without giving away the arc of the final season, Rannells does say that Elijah, at least, will make some very real steps toward actual adulthood. “We’ve never seen him work,” he says, laughing. “He’s talked about jobs, but we’ve never seen him doing them. So he’s got to very quickly figure out, ‘What’s my thing. What am I going to do now?’ And I think I can say that he does find it — he figures out what he wants to do. I’m happy with the way we leave him; there’s a sense of hope for him, rather than a fear that he’s going to end up in a gutter!”

Girls airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.