Film Notes: Rihanna’s “Desperado” Sparks a Provocative Moment in HBO’s ‘Girls’

Girls "American Bitch" © HBO
Girls "American Bitch" © HBO

Atwood Magazine is excited to announce Film Notes, a column in which we feature moments from current television and film and how they are heavily impacted and elevated by music. We all have those moments when watching our favorite movie or TV show: The ones where you find yourself unexpectedly wiping a tear from your cheek, or realizing your heart is racing just a little too fast, or even experiencing extreme yet irrational joy. This is due in part to the story and the characters, but also to the music. Music plays perhaps the largest role in actually making us feel so intensely for what we see on screen. There’s a science as to how and why certain songs are placed within specific moments of a story; they exist to elevate the scene in a way that can only be done by music.

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HBO’s television series Girls is known to push the envelope: It tackles issues other series won’t touch. Not only that, but it also tackles these issues in the realest and most raw ways. Since its fruition, music supervisor Manish Raval has worked with show creator, Lena Dunham, and executive producer, Judd Apatow, to pair their carefully crafted stories with the perfect songs to amplify each moment. Some of the most memorable moments of Girls so far have been set against songs like “I Love It by Icona Pop, “Dancing On My Own by Robyn, “Shiver” by Lucy Rose, and “Tied Up” by Casey Veggies. “Desperado” by Rihanna follows suit by closing out Episode 3, Season 6 “American Bitch” in an explosively powerful way that leaves you still, thinking about what you just saw, as the credits roll.

Girls © HBO

American Bitch” is a stand-alone episode in the series Girls. You don’t need to know much about the show in order for this episode to make sense and make an impact. The premise revolves around main character Hannah Horvath, played by Dunham, as she spends the afternoon at accomplished writer Chuck Palmer’s (Matthew Rhys) home. Palmer invites Hannah, an aspiring writer, to his home to discuss a scathing article she recently wrote about him. In the world of Girls, several young women had come out accusing Palmer of sexual harassment. Being that Palmer is someone she admires, Hannah felt affected, and decided to write an article about the disappointment. In her own words, “If one more male writer I love reveals himself to be a heinous sleazebag, I’m going to do a bunch of murders, create a new Isle of Lesbos, and never look back.”

“Desperado” by Rihanna is placed meticulously and brilliantly at the end of the episode to symbolize how real of a problem sexual harassment is; and how at times there seems to be no end in sight. Throughout the episode Palmer compliments Hannah. He tells her how wonderful of a writer she is, and although her anger is prevalent, she is unable to hide her joy of being complimented by such an accomplished writer. He continues to tell her he’s not perfect. The entire episode is a push and pull of him being someone she admires and revolts all at the same time. Much like the song “Desperado,” where Rihanna is struggling in a similar push pull of a relationship. She’s singing about this “desperado” – someone who is on the run literally and metaphorically. The song is about her struggle with this person and if she will be able to run with them or eventually be left behind. In many ways, Palmer is this desperado character – constantly yearning for something or someone to fill what’s broken inside of him.

Girls "American Bitch" © HBO
Girls “American Bitch” © HBO

Towards the end of the episode, you see Hannah slipping into his trap: A trap that is so powerful, it’s even able to catch someone fully aware of its existence. After hours of him praising her work, and telling her he’s only human, she lets down her wall ever so slightly. She begins to think, maybe he isn’t what these women say, and then just like that – right on cue – he exposes himself to her. Instantly she realizes that she is just like every other girl. She was lured to his home and manipulated by hunger for appraise from a higher power. Once she realizes what has happened, she immediately retreats.

This is where Rihanna’s anthem comes into play. Palmer’s daughter returns home and asks Hannah if she would like to listen to her play the flute. Unsure of how to say no (as she is halfway out the door) she reluctantly sits to listen. The girl begins to play the flute to the tune of “Desperado;” slowly the music of this scene transforms flawlessly from the flute into the actual song. As Rihanna’s hymns and the song’s serious undertones beat on, the camera slowly focuses in on Hannah. Her facial expressions reveal that she is recounting the bizarre events of the day and how she came to be where she is now. The transfixing and empowering beat picks up and simultaneously, Hannah leaves the apartment.

Gotta get up out of here and
You ain’t leaving me behind
I know you won’t, ’cause we share common interests you
Need me, there ain’t no leaving me behind
Never know, no, just want out of here yeah
Once I’m gone, ain’t no going back
Listen: “Desperado” – Rihanna

As the song progresses and you continue you watch Hannah walk further away from the apartment. Your eyes then shift to something new on the screen. Women. Dozens of polished, young women walking the opposite way of Hannah towards the apartment, eventually up the stairs, one-by-one. The chorus prevails,

If you want
Take a peek and run away, running from
And it’s out of luck
Yeah, yeah, there ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing here for me
There ain’t nothing here for me anymore
But I don’t wanna be alone

Girls brilliantly uses the echoing and haunting “Desperado,” sung by one of the strongest women in music, to be the soundtrack to this symbolic moment – therefore lifting it to its highest potential. Hannah wasn’t the first to walk up those stairs, and she most certainly won’t be the last. “American Bitch” was created to make you really think about this issue. Desperado plays through the end, as the credits roll, to allow you to sit with what you just saw and begin to process what it means to you.


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:: Watch Girls on HBO here ::

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