I just caught the latest episode of HBO’s Girls because on Sunday evening I opted to watch what would become one of the most compelling Academy Award broadcasts in history. But, Girls had a big surprise too.
It was one of the best installments of Girls ever, it’s a sort of mini-movie, a virtual two-hander with handsome special guest star Matthew Rhys. Rhys has had to do steamy sex scenes on FX’s The Americans (2013), but what his character, acclaimed author Chuck Palmer, does on this episode, titled American Bitch was a big surprise. Well, not too big, but big. Rhys:
“It’s about where the pendulum swings.”
The episode was provocative enough, with Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath meeting the writer at his beautiful Upper Westside apartment at his invitation after she has written an online piece about the famous writer who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several college students. You can’t tell if Ryhs’ character is a terrible asshole, or maybe a sensitive, misunderstood, talented nice guy. The episode is complex and startling, but no more so than when Hannah obliges a cuddle with Palmer who soon whips out his penis and plops it on her thigh.
Although Rhys had the opportunity to choose his stunt penis, he opted to leave it to the director, producers, and Dunham. The prop team had a hard time finding just the right dick. They had decided that it wouldn’t be fully erect, and I guess semi-erect latex phalluses are hard to find. Although they didn’t riffle through my sex toy drawer. Director Richard Shepard:
“It’s actually very hard to find a not-fully-erect dildo because, usually, they’re fully erect. What we wanted was a three-quarters-erect penis. It’s actually much harder to find. We ended up getting it from a medical supply company for people who have surgery, gender-reassignment surgery or other surgeries, and they make these semi-erect penises. Our prop people came with a box of penises, and one day at lunch Lena and producer Jenni Konner and I got to pick Matthew Rhys’s penis for him. He, of course, had final penis approval. It looks pretty darn good, doesn’t it? It doesn’t look fake.”
Rhys and Shepard had to block the scene in rehearsal. Rhys:
“Richard was very specific about it, actually. ‘This is what I want you to do. You turn, it comes out. Boom, that’s it.’ Very specific.”
We get more than a little glimpse. There was not much left to the imagination. The scene was shot from overhead. It was not as alarming as Dirk Diggler’s dick in Boggie Nights (1997), but I think Rhys’ stunt rod should be considered for an Emmy Award.
By the way, American Bitch is one of most unsettling and thought-provoking episodes in Girls six seasons, with a nuanced, smart look at how men, especially famous white men, use their power over women, and what constitutes sexual abuse. Oh, and it’s funny. It’s available On Demand and on HBO GO.