My friend mistakenly watched the especially sex-filled first few episodes of Girls with her parents and her dad said, “Is this how all young women live? If so, I don’t want any part of it.” Yeah he’s a formal guy, but this week’s “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” finally parallels the often insular stories of its younger main cast with those of an older generation, specifically Hannah’s parents, to widen what my friend’s dad considers to be a pretty narrow scope. Being Hannah, most of her interactions with her parents are one-way interactions that further her narrative arc so the audience has yet to delve into Loreen and Tad as actual, feeling people. This week, however, Loreen’s emotional arc echoes Hannah’s when both are found to be painfully prone to drama. Similarly Hannah’s decision to become a teacher seemed completely out of left field when it was introduced two episode ago, but her motivation comes into stark focus this episode, and simultaneously adds a third generation to the fold – Hannah feels like a washed up hag at 24 and in an attempt to grasp at youth befriends a high school student.
After being established as the cool sub last week, Hannah progresses that narrative further when she seamlessly transitions from ‘teaching’ to talking about boys with her student, Cleo. The tone of Hannah and Cleo’s conversation becomes creepy almost immediately as Hannah admits to having scoured the school for “cute boys,” which if she were a man would seem downright predatory for 14-18 year old students. Cleo admits she doesn’t like anyone in her grade, but has a crush on the 28-year old Shia Laboeuf while Hannah responds to a creepy maintenance worker catcalling the duo with “we’re children.” Cleo wants to be older, while Hannah desperately wants to cling to the days when she was passionate about her writing dream and supremely confident she could achieve it.
Cleo even convinces Hannah to skip class and get a piercing, which might be headstrong at 15 but is seriously irresponsible as an employed 24 year old. The most gripping scene this episode was also the hardest to watch. Hannah and Cleo settle on a frenulum piercing (“the webbing under your tongue”) and we watch Cleo go first, screaming and ultimately crying in a manner eerily similar to a baby, reminding Hannah of the unequivocal age difference between them. Hannah commits a serious party foul by not going through on the “friendulum” piercing, showing she can still play the mature adult card when it suits her. As a result of Hannah’s taboo relationship with Cleo, and of course the Adam snafu last episode, Fran continues his role as the most reasonable character on the show and calls out Hannah as a drama factory. Hannah tries to convince him she’s just edgy and fun, but Fran rightly asserts that while Cleo might agree with Hannah, to fellow adults Hannah’s provoking behavior reads as self-involved and overly dramatic.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Hannah’s mom’s behavior this week mirrors Hannah’s because when Loreen finds out that Tad is gay on the day of her tenure party she freaks out, thus turning Tad’s emotional unrest into something all about her. Tad dropped a breadcrumb a few episodes ago when he was discussing leaving Iowa with Hannah when he mentioned that Loreen had attempted a novel years ago, only to realize it was not for her and move on to the tenured track. Whenever Hannah interacts with her parents she has a (dramatic) tendency to make the conversation all about her, so we don’t often get to see Tad and Loreen and living, feeling people. Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari handle their newly increased screen time with aplomb. Becky Ann Baker particularly cycles through all stages of grief with a visceral anger heretofore unseen that at her tenure party results in an escalation when Loreen’s coworker Avi admits his love for her.
Shoshanna’s subplot is weaker by comparison, basically having Shosh play through the Girls version of pretend-to-be-something-that-you’re-not-to-please-a-boy that generates a few laughs at her ham-handed attempt at sexual innuendo but little substance. Marnie’s subplot, however, finally escalates the Desi relationship after having mostly hit the same notes every episode since they formally got together. After a fight over German guitar peddles, Desi delivers a lame apology rehashing insincere tropes about his “old man” and being ashamed at his behavior while Marnie shows true transparency by relaying her real issues with money that apparently broke her parents up. Then Desi tells her to shut up and proposes. That scene echoes almost every interaction the two have had where Marnie expresses her feelings and Desi talks over her with some sort of platitude and kisses her tenderly to make everything better. Desi is a terrible partner and Marnie knows that, but after fighting for him for so long it’s going to take something really serious to get her to back off now.
Neither the best episode nor the worst episode so far this season, but its focus on Hannah’s parents’ strife for once adds a certain extra dimension to the dynamics of the show this week. Loreen bluntly tells Hannah her dad is gay, temporarily losing sight of the maternal tenderness necessary to adjust Hannah to this shocking news. With only two episodes left hopefully they work like an alley oop with the finale building off the penultimate, but all in all the season has stretched itself into new directions suggesting Girls will remain relevant in years to come.