Tag Archives: Lena Dunham

‘Girls’ S4E8 “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” Expands Out of the Normal Privileged Angst

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.


‘Girls’ S4E7 “Ask Me My Name” Gives Us the Messy Opposite of Last Week’s Episode – And It’s Great

For last week’s “Close Up” I called for a the return of the “muddy shitstorm” done best in episodes like “Beach House” and it’s like the writers preemptively read my mind, or rather this episode and the last episode were written by the same person Murray Miller who probably set the arc up this way on purpose. All the false simplicity and order of characters addressing their wants and needs in an artificially linear fashion like the average sitcom with three act breaks gets thrown out the window for an episode that is like a case study on manipulation with little guidance on how to pick out the sincerity. By a turn of fate Hannah and Mimi-Rose get some one-on-one time while Adam gets cornered by Mimi-Rose’s ex, Ace, who is played to outlandish perfection by Zachary Quinto. More than just a gauge on how the whole love triangle is working out, “Ask Me My Name” also delves into Hannah’s sense of self after trading in her life as a writer for a more conventional career as a substitute teacher. The key difference between this and last week is that Hannah’s character development and the narrative progress organically rather than with measured planning, allowing the show to really flex its storytelling muscles.

Although a couple supporting characters make an appearance in this episode, we mostly focus on Hannah being forced to come to terms with her feelings about Mimi-Rose due to a series of strange occurrences. Thankfully cutting out a bunch of silly exposition, we start this episode with Hannah in the middle of teaching a class on Oedipus where much to my surprise she seems to be thriving, albeit as a substitute which she acknowledges doesn’t require all that much effort. We meet a young male teacher named Fran who might be the most normal, accessible person we have seen so far on the show, cracking jokes and asking Hannah out for beers like a regular Joe.

There is a delightful scene before Hannah’s date where she discusses clothing options with Elijah and they joke about how she’s crossing the threshold of maturity, going on dates like “someone who’s 45” which launches them into a bit on the kind of people (adults) who derive fulfillment from commitment and exercising regularly. The not so subtle undercurrent is a sincere fear that if the roommates haven’t quite crossed the threshold where dying alone and finding security are real concerns, that day is certainly on the horizon. Hannah abruptly cuts off the joke, saying she needs to masturbate before the date, but the theme of impending adulthood deftly gets inserted into the plot for later use.

Hannah brings Fran to Mimi-Rose’s art show on their first date, which he soon recognizes as a fairly orchestrated ploy for Adam’s attention causing him to swiftly peace out. Hannah’s use of Fran sets in motion a hard to pin down, but certainly intriguing, cascade of manipulation that only Adam seems to be above. Mimi Rose invites Hannah to her art show after party, which Adam fights tooth and nail engaging Hannah much like the divorced adults Hannah previously mocked. Mimi Rose and Hannah take one taxi while Ace and Adam take another to the same party and here is where the pesky question of “why” starts inserting itself.

Of course, Hannah and Mimi Rose’s taxicab hits an old woman crossing the street and in an appropriate use of comedy, not as a crutch like last week but rather a moment to give dimension to the narrative, the taxi driver tries to blame Hannah for the mishap. As a result Mimi Rose and Hannah wait to give their stories to the police in a nearby convenience store and then a Laundromat, allowing a good chunk of time for Mimi Rose to try and reach out to the recalcitrant Hannah. What’s important is that at the same time Ace, who comes off as the ultimate hipster douchebag, tells Adam that Mimi Rose is a master manipulator – but then takes it back and tells Adam he just wants her back. How much Ace can be trusted is certainly up for discussion, but neither Adam nor the audience gets the comfort of a right answer.

Ace’s comment, however, causes the viewer to read the Mimi Rose and Hannah exchange with a more critical gaze that makes the unfolding of events exciting, and slightly tense, as we wait for the real Mimi Rose to reveal herself. But, of course, there is no “real” Mimi Rose in some sort of Scooby Doo way where she takes off her mask and comes clean about the hijinks. All we have are two people with a lot of complex emotions. As seen last episode Mimi Rose is not one to mince words, even when she probably should which Hannah attributes to Aspergers, though that has yet to be established as anything more than a resentful slight. Mimi Rose ostensibly comes clean about a desire for empathy even when reaching out can be difficult, which does tie back in her relentless need to connect with all the ancillary characters like the cab driver who don’t seem all that interested. At the same time, Mimi Rose offers Adam to Hannah in an eerily well thought out plan to slowly distance herself from him as Hannah edges in.

Hannah doesn’t know what to make of her as Adam’s girlfriend, and frankly neither do I, but professionally Hannah is sure that Mimi Rose captures what it means to be a real artist. Mimi Rose leaves a poem she composes in two minutes in a random person’s washing machine because she’s “always wanted to write a random person a poem” and details the novel she’s writing that took so much time away from her art exhibit. Everywhere they go Mimi Rose spreads her artistic whimsy and to Hannah, whose artistic whimsy seems to have died in Iowa, this compounds the loss of Adam by having his new beau be the funky artist girlfriend that he must have always wanted.

Ultimately Mimi Rose lays out how she feels compelled to produce art because she doesn’t know any other way, but acknowledges her worry that everyone finds her as off-putting as Hannah does. As they mutually share a grass is greener moment, I think Mimi Rose finally gets humanized. Or does she? Is Mimi Rose abruptness due to her true artistic inclinations for complete honesty and self-expression or is she some sort of manipulative mastermind as Ace describes her? The beauty of this episode is that this precarious situation does not get answered this episode and might never fully be answered and that precarious, uncomfortable situation is where we as humans make our home. Not at the end of Scooby Doo.

Girls S4E6 Close Up

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Close Up” Stretches Believability to Make Room for Jokes

Dramedies balance out the “drama” and “comedy” with different ratios with shows like Scrubs tending far more towards the comedy while hour long shows like Desperate Housewives I would say lean more towards the drama. Girls is the uncommon thirty minute show that will have an entire episode about Hannah’s throbbing break up, for example, with more drama than comedy. This week’s “Close Up” leaned into the comedic end of the spectrum, likely to get out of Hannah’s claustrophobic apartment of despair, but the steps Hannah and Shoshanna particularly take in the wake of persistent rejection and discontent seem almost implausible even within Girls’ often implausible world. During an interview for a marketing position Shoshanna says the object she is supposed to market smells like “bedussy” (combo of butt, dick and pussy)… and then she gets a date out of it? I don’t think so. Hannah’s therapist tells her she is a “helper” which makes Hannah want to become a teacher? Double no. There were some funny jokes to be had this episode, but the overall narrative felt more like a misstep than a calculated movement in a different direction.

A lot of the characters’ stories get fleshed out this episode despite it being shorter than usual at about 23 minutes, so much so that there had to be a Mad Men style montage round up at the end tying up all the loose ends. The story that got the plurality of time this week, and the one I found most compelling, was Adam’s discovery of Mimi-Rose’s abortion of his “ball of cells” as she calls it. Mimi-Rose casually drops the abortion bomb while explaining why she can’t go for a run with Adam, also known as one of the most insensitive ways to tell your partner you got an abortion. Adam kicks and screams all over the open plan apartment, and in a strong directorial choice by Richard Shepard, Mimi-Rose remains calmly seated on the couch and then walks in a straight line over to the sink not playing into Adam’s temper tantrum.

The same histrionics that I’m sure Hannah would have indulged and escalated were more or less negated, and that comparison between girlfriends is completely clear but the extent to which Gillian Jacobs plays up Mimi-Rose’s detached and I would even say aloofness feels too extreme. I could see Adam turning to someone less Hannah-like after their impassioned relationship, but someone on the complete opposite pole like Mimi-Rose seems unlikely. Then when Adam makes the choice to sneak out of Mimi-Rose’s apartment, presumably to end this surreptitiously, in an almost romantic-comedy coincidence Mimi-Rose reasons with Adam to stay using the line, “wanting you is better than needing you because it’s pure.” I’m sure no one in love, especially not the intensely passionate Adam, would hear that and feel comforted.

Through a motif of distinctly un-sexy tracking shots tracing various characters’ feet and then legs up the bed as they sleep, we then run into Hannah jarring as ever sitting straight up and thus breaking the visual sequence. A thinly veiled meltdown over missing Cinnamon Toast Crunch indicates Hannah’s not doing so hot, though she seems at least to have surpassed her purely emotional response last week for a more restrained existential crisis. In the wake of this, our good friend Bob Balaban as the plot device, excuse me, I mean Hannah’s therapist again defies believability by agreeing with Hannah that she was drawn to writing because of its ability to “affect change.” Not only that, he also goads her on by telling her she is a “helper”, which if he has been listening to Hannah over the past few years should not even be a possibility in his mind. It is understandable that in the wake of the fiasco that was Iowa followed by the fiasco that was Mimi-Rose, Hannah would become disillusioned with the current progression of her life and opt for something different. It is inconceivable to me, however, that Hannah’s something different be becoming a teacher. The unpredictable decision is clearly meant to be ludicrous given how little serious thought she appears to put into her new career, but it just doesn’t seem ludicrous in a way that meshes with Hannah’s heretofore established personality and sense of self.

I had a good, strong laugh at Shoshanna’s interview with a budding soup entrepreneur, but her outrageous outburst too felt noticeably incongruous with reality because how did she hear about such an obscure job that the soup entrepreneur also derides her for being unqualified for? He had her resume beforehand presumably and she knew he’s looking to market soup, right? Similarly Ray faces the ineptitude and inefficiency of city council and with an outburst he actually gets the board to acknowledge their shortcomings? Even though his scene felt like a burst of Coen Brothers’ oddity into our normal Millennial view of New York, I still don’t buy it all in the way the show wants me to.

The problem “Close Up” shares with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story fame is a disproportionate focus on plot and outcome, over logical character motivation. Shoshanna gets a date with the soup entrepreneur which I’m sure will be a running plot line, but how she got there simply does not work. This show has shown the ability to weave stories together in a muddy shitstorm, completely oblivious of outcomes and steeped in Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, Shosh and Co.’s attempts to find their personalities a home in the city, but an attempt to work backwards and graft a concrete outcome onto their motivations just doesn’t sit right for a show that knows how to be intelligent.

Girls S4E5 Sit-In

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Sit-In” Shows Its Strength In Its Reintroduction To New York

The art historian Meyer Schapiro wrote that while certain artistic conventions are very culturally specific (the dragon as emblematic of good luck in China versus the English St. George slaying an evil dragon) others are universally understood due to a shared psychological predisposition.

Now what does an art historian have to do with this episode of Girls? Well “Sit-In” starts off with a wonderful shot by Tim Ives, a frequent Director of Photography for Girls, where Hannah stands off to the left, making a face that could be described as smelling rancid milk while trying to hold back tears, and looking down off screen engaging neither Adam nor the audience. An off center composition has been identified as a commonality for art made by emotionally disturbed children because it conveys a destabilized discomfort, which funnily enough is exactly how Hannah feels upon returning from Iowa to find Adam shacking up with Mimi-Rose .

The fanciful montage of Hannah in a taxi heading back to New York at the end of last week’s “Cubbies” feels so far away from her current reality. Nobody is in the wrong because it’s unrealistic for Adam to have waited the projected two years for Hannah to return, but it still stings that he moved on so quickly. I object to the title of “Sit-In” because I think it devalues the historical weight of Civil Rights sit-ins, especially in light of the show’s notable lack of diversity, but I’m sure Hannah would see the difference in magnitudes as negligible. My political grievances aside, I think writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman did a mostly convincing job of telling Hannah’s breakup by hitting some notes that are often missed in the breakup story. For example, this episode is almost entirely a bottle episode, or one that takes place in a confined location, and Adam is missing from the story except for the beginning and the end. This atypical plot structure allows the audience to get re-acclimated to the NYC crowd by a communal response during Hannah’s time of need.

The confined setting is enlivened by a parade of Hannah’s friends who show up to support her as if her mother just died. Shosh comes over and plays up the role of the ‘true friend’ greeting Mimi-Rose with, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care to know and that’s all I have to say about it.” Later the now pregnant Caroline and Laird appear in Hannah’s apartment and subtly offer a threeway as emotional support. The move to lighten the tone works by shaking up the pacing and not by completely buying into Hannah’s overblown doom and gloom.

Every one of the main cast stops by to pay Hannah a visit, yet what truly relates the show’s cynical tone of voice is that that almost every character shifts the conversation to be about themselves. Ray relates Hannah’s unjust breakup to his frustrations with the city council board he joined as per Shoshanna’s advice, even rambling on after Hannah yelps from a bacon grease burn. The only one who doesn’t do this is Jessa , though it turns out she was the one who introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose. Jessa’s compassion for Adam marks a clear shift in the dynamics of this friend group and belies perhaps the first sincere relationship we’ve seen on her part so far in the show.

Tim Ives does a great job with shakier handheld camera work than we normally see on Girls that makes Hannah confinement to her apartment a more dynamic experience. In addition to the cinematography, the inclusion of so many other characters makes us forget we’re stuck in an apartment and deftly draws us out to their respective lives across the city. This more dispersed focus certainly makes the episode more enjoyable, but her friends’ support and Adam’s consistently considerate behavior made me lose some sympathy for Hannah’s stubborn behavior.

The final few minutes of the episode contain both the strongest and the weakest points of the episode. When Adam finally returns to find Hannah ready to move on after watching an inspirational talk online by Mimi-Rose, the two have an honest discussion that bring’s Hannah’s meltdown into perspective. As Adam re-wraps Hannah’s burnt hand, he finally echoes what Marnie  said earlier — that they probably weren’t meant to be a “forever couple.” Adam Driver’s few scenes this episode were all superbly acted, but he really tugs at the heart strings when telling Hannah he needs to see where this Mimi-Rose things goes. I felt the final scene, however, where Hannah settles on her couch in the claustrophobic storage room Adam bought for her to the tune of an overwrought indie ballad was overdone. Strong directing, acting and writing coalesce into a compelling and relatable episode, but I hope the break-up doesn’t mean Girls breaks up with Adam Driver.

Girls S4 E4 ‘Cubbies’ Brings Hannah Back

Girls has always been good at profiling so-called ‘First World problems’. In combining the television genres of drama and comedy, Girls has refused to err too far into schlocky melodrama or, conversely, into pratfalls and poop jokes. Breakups and growing pains are more Girls‘ speed and this week’s “Cubbies” features both, with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) all navigating those ordinary problems that still feel extraordinary to anyone who goes through them.

This episode feels particularly disjointed with each character’s story arc seeming to exist in a parallel track from the others without intersecting in any fluid way. A scene early on where Marnie tries to solicit feedback on her new song from Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna highlights how much Hannah is the center of their friendship. Perhaps it’s the camera decisions that make the table all three sit around seem giant, or the surreal aspect of the bar being obscenely quiet, but none of them seem to be connecting. Even Marnie acknowledges her need for Hannah to come back in the mix so she can actually get real feedback. Or at least more constructive feedback than the earworm diagnosis Jessa and Shoshanna agree upon.

Luckily, Hannah seems to have come to the very same conclusion. Hannah stuffs her version of an apology for her tirade from last episode into her classmates’ cubbies, where she describes the class conditions as a minefield where she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to write. Hannah casts herself as the victim, issuing a celebrity apology where she uses the word “sorry” a lot without actually apologizing for anything. The move feels insincere until she meets with her professor and says point black, “for a second I thought I was getting kicked out and I was so happy.” She’s been sabotaging herself in an immature attempt at getting booted from Iowa. It’s moments like these that remind us why this show is called Girls not Women, because Hannah keeps seeking validation for quitting the program that apparently no one quits.

Peter Scolari stands out as Hannah’s dad this episode who gives her the parental go ahead to quit if she wants. He channels a dad who loves his daughter enough to allow himself to be used by Hannah for advice, even though it’s clear he wants a more sincere connection. Hannah’s whole progression is certainly important as it brings her back to New York, and back to her apartment where Adam (Adam Driver) has been shacking up with Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs), but here the dialogue in her scenes seem less well chosen and consequently don’t contain the dramatic heft they should.

While Hannah’s once-promising writing career hits another snag, Marnie is somehow succeeding with the singing career I for one never thought would come to fruition. Marnie’s ultimatum last episode for Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to leave Clem or stop the sex sounded like she was clearly standing up for herself, but now it’s harder to tell. A well-chosen reaction shot stays on Marnie’s face as her uncertainty about Desi’s decision to break up with Clem shifts to an irrepressible smile at having Desi finally say “I love only you” and maybe actually mean it. Her momentary catharsis feels as though it’s the beginning of a slow burn, but Marnie hasn’t had too many wins in the past few episodes.

Shoshanna has suffered from two weeks of job rejection with a particularly bitter and personal one starting the episode off. As a result, she seeks out Ray (Alex Karpovsky) to regain the sense of self she seems to have lost since their break up. The writer of this episode, Bruce Eric Kaplan, who cut his teeth writing for Seinfeld, really inserts some of that New York-centric humor with Ray screaming at the drivers outside of his apartment for honking too much. Shoshanna accompanies Ray during his errands and these two have the most fulfilling arc of the episode in my opinion. In a fitful monologue full of Shosh-isms, well delivered by Zosia Mamet, Shoshanna relates to Ray that maybe she was the problem in the relationship. She shows a lot more maturity than any of the other ‘girls’ on this show and drops a hint of inspiration with Ray to grow up and stop yelling at drivers on the street and actually take the problem to city government like an adult.

I knew something would bring Hannah back to New York because as she said, “I thrive on the streets. I always have.” Just kidding, I knew she would be back because she is like the sun and the rest of the characters on Girls orbit her. The uneven tone this episode might be due to Hannah’s story line taking up so much time despite being paced slowly, but hopefully her return to New York will even out the pacing.

Jessa and Adam Girls Female Author

Girls S4 E3 “Female Author” Is a Victory for Personal Victories

The sophist philosopher Protagorus said “man is the measure of all things,” or basically what might be hot for one person can be icy cold for the next. There is no one truth and by extension, no one ‘right’ way of reacting to a situation. I say that to say Girls works best when the characters are all clawing at what they want without any idea of the right way to get it, or if they should even be wanting it in the first place. Desi’s relegation of Marnie to the role of not-mistress-mistress echoes the position Hannah was in with Adam way back in the pilot, though I don’t think she would stand for such degradation now. As for Jessa I’m sure every relationship she has been in has consisted of similar power struggles. The point is everyone can offer advice, but “Female Author” allows us to laugh at these characters plodding through uncertainty in search of their own personal victories.

Every member of the principle cast made an appearance in this episode, which means unlike last week’s “Triggering”, we’re not watching the Hannah Horvath show. When Marnie seeks advice from Ray on how to handle her relationship/affair with Desi, Ray rightly calls him a Svengali who manipulates Marnie’s tragically devalued sense of self. Marnie is so in need of emotional support she makes out with Ray just for offering up a few obvious reasons why Desi is bad news for treating her like a mistress without the integrity to even acknowledge that’s what she is to him. At this point it is hard to tell how much of Marnie’s current situation is from her choosing the precarious singer songwriter life and how much is just a fundamental fact of her personality.

Hannah’s breaking point in being Adam’s girl-on-the-side came after contracting HPV and receiving an accidental dick pic, but Marnie has reached hers after an awkward meeting with abnormally young record execs who somehow love Desi and Marnie’s wispy folk songs. Hope is still alive for a record deal, but afterwards Marnie gives Desi an ultimatum: leave Clem or we stop the “intimacy”. Arguably any woman with self respect would not beg to date a man who would cheat on his girlfriend, but Marnie’s line in the sand had to be drawn somewhere and this is it.

Hannah too has reached a breaking point of a different sort, though how she will move on from here is anyone’s guess. While Elijah just arrived in Iowa City and yet already knows everyone poet in town, Hannah feels guilty about watching too many Teen Nick marathons. She has neglected the writing that brought her to Iowa City in the first place. The way she targets the effect, i.e. not wanting to write anymore, without understanding the nature of the cause feels very true to the twentysomething experience of trying a bunch of different jobs and hobbies until one feels right, or at least right-ish.

Hannah quietly proposed that maybe she has just been writing because she has been telling herself she’s a writer, and then goes a step further and levies criticism against the rest of her classmates for making writing so unpleasant. If Hannah has to be 50 Shades of Grey knock-off girl due to all the blowjobs in her stories, she gets to tell them a thing or two about their recurring problems. Hannah putting each of her classmates on the hot seat is the funniest part of this season so far, but the sincerity with which she tries to solve her writing problem sets up a strong trajectory for her to explore what she really wants during the rest of the season.

Hannah can’t seem to get any updates on Adam, but lucky for us the writer of this week’s episode, Sarah Heyman, shows us why Adam has been flying under the radar. He has no tolerance for the small talk required in a long distance relationship and has seemingly gotten swallowed up in Jessa’s electrifying persona. Adam and Jessa share impulsive personalities with dependency problems to boot so their flirting over talk of sober birthdays doesn’t just feel like an artificial plot point to get two more Girls’ characters to hook up. Still when Jessa gets them both arrested because she was peeing in the street, Adam puts his foot down on what he will accept from her. He will only the new and improved Jessa we have seen come about this season. This relationship is ostensibly a friendship, but ultimately could result in a mutual support or a dark descent into any number of their vices.

This episode’s strengths were in developing every character without feeling like the narratives served any other purpose than entertaining the viewers. Every character took a step forward while keeping us interested to see if next episode will be their two steps back. Funny and as sincere as Girls can be, “Female Author” is the most compelling episode so far.

Girls S4 E2 Triggering Hannah sits at table

Girls S4 E2 “Triggering” a Dud – Or Playing the Long Game?

“Iowa” threw so many different plotlines in the air last week that this mostly Hannah episode felt a little isolating, though considering she just made the move from New York City to Iowa City that might very well be the point. This week’s “Triggering,” written by Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, feels like a series of vignettes united only thematically by big city Hannah struggling to catch a break in Iowa. She even goes on a (not well received) rant about how TMI is an outdated term because “there’s no such thing as too much information.” Hannah is used to NYC mirroring back her over-the-top personality, but here she’s mostly met with annoyance from classmates and campus bookstore employees alike. The problem is that all of this becomes abundantly clear early on, but then the episode keeps repeating that point without progressing the narrative.

From the first shot of Iowa cornstalks blowing in the wind set to plucky guitar music, I could see what was coming – Hannah’s going to love Iowa’s quaint charms but then quite soon she will see the cornfields for what they really are. While Hannah writes short stories idealizing amber waves of grain, farmers in Iowa actually make a living off that corn. Well the first part comes true almost immediately, but unfortunately the larger perspective that Hannah could hear and then ignore does not come. Hannah loves Iowa because she can get almost a whole house for the price of a cramped New York apartment and hears she doesn’t have to lock her bike, but then her house has bats and her bike gets stolen. The fairly predictable cityslicker-in-the-country story gets belabored, which is particularly strange as Hannah is supposed to be from the East Lansing, Michigan which is, in fact, smaller than Iowa City so it frankly seems unbelievable that she is so thrown for a loop.

The closest we get to a larger Iowan perspective is Hannah’s Writers Workshop classmates who uniformly hate her short story, which in their defense is a fictionalized account of the time she took four Quaaludes and asked her boyfriend to punch her. They sound like a chorus of Girls detractors criticizing her privilege and finding it hard to discern where the author ends and the story begins. The thing is only one of her classmates seem to be any more sympathetic or thoughtful than Hannah, while the others come off as just as obnoxious as her but in a different way, though noticeably more diverse than the cast of Girls has ever been. Who knew you had to move to Iowa to find all the people of color? Anyway, Hannah continues to make excuses about her writing and ignores claims that it is useful to hear other perspectives on her work, but how this vignette coalesces with the previous one is hard to discern. Perhaps this is just part of a long-term set up for a future catastrophe, but for now I just felt a little uncomfortable and slightly bored.

The closest we get to understanding how Hannah is relating with Iowa is that she tells her parents she is maybe thinking about suicide for the first time ever, so I guess that’s something. Then as soon as Hannah arrives home to “metabolize her notes and integrate them into her writing”, she finds Elijah walking out of her shower. As always Elijah ups the comedy of any scene he is in and made it so Girls isn’t just the Hannah show with a brief check-in from everyone else, but his intrusion whisks her away from any hope of a unified story. Elijah managed to find a rager on his way from the airport which leads to a fun setpiece of them dancing to “Get Low”. There are some great moments like when Hannah comforts a girl sobbing about her boyfriend cheating on her by rehashing an explicit speech Elijah likely told her to keep her head up about Adam – and then promptly cuts the poor girl in line for the bathroom.

After the rager Hannah sums up her feelings with a nice little bow, “I want to go back to undergrad school. I don’t like grad school.” Of course the party was just a way for Hannah to distance herself from her problems, but Girls just doesn’t work well when it can be summed up with couple pithy sentences and a crane shot.

Hannah at dinner with her parents

Girls S4 E1″Iowa” Ushers in a New Chapter to These Girls’ Lives

Who would have thought that Girls’ season four premiere would be titled “Iowa”? Further who would have thought the spoiled, self-involved Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) would be moving there? This episode, more than any other so far, crystallized how fragile promise and success can be in one’s twenties. The five-year plan Shoshanna naively made season one is so far off track that we share her embarrassment in picking up her diploma from an NYU basement office with her divorced parents bickering around her. None of the four main characters’ trajectories or self presentation is the same as when this show started and for all the show’s criticisms, I think it has consistently shaped how quickly the lives of even ladies as homogenous as these can get destabilized.


“Iowa” brings about resolutions to last season’s cliffhangers, but as is often the case with resolutions, they also serves as new beginnings. Shoshanna’s unceremonious graduation from college was the result of a senior year of unabashed excess. Pilot episode virgin Shosh is long gone, seemingly along with her upbeat optimism. Now she responds to greetings with shrugs and hates Marnie, yet her heartfelt apology to Ray signals a maturity brought on by her forced grounding in the real world. Whether Shoshanna’s grounding is permanent or temporary is hard to tell, but her transformation rings true to the perhaps less talked about college experience of coming out far less sure of yourself than when you came in.


This episode, written by Dunham and Judd Apatow, thoughtfully calls out Hannah’s nondecision decision. As Hannah says, she applies to graduate school every year because it provides a certain structure sorely missing from her life as an aspiring New York City short story writer. As Jessa pointedly mentions, Hannah really is “pussyfooting out of the whole thing.” Not saying that the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop is worse than a GQ advertainment job, but her choice to attend graduate school comes across as a method of delaying making hard decisions for a year or two. Sure Jessa could just be hurt Hannah brought her back to New York only to leave and Hannah’s career will probably benefit, but it’s hard to not see it all as a veiled cop out. The inclusion of real decisions like this with very grey gradations of right and wrong are what make Girls worth watching. Sometimes being realistic and true to yourself are mutually exclusive.


While Hannah can be seen as both a winner and a loser in this scenario, Adam is clearly the loser. We get a glimpse of what lies just below the surface when Adam shows Hannah an artful commercial for Torpica, a depression medication, homing in on his blank face that recurs later on at Marnie’s ill-fated jazz brunch. His plan is to have no plan, which when planning a long distance relationship means trouble on the horizon. Hannah’s nondecision decision solves her professional problem, but exacerbates the disconnect between her and Adam that neither really understands how to address. The ambiguous nature of their relationship is uncomfortable and kind of sad, but fits with what we should expect from these two fickle folks at this point.


Marnie’s attempts at jumpstarting a singing career have, on the other hand, been an unambiguous failure. Her path has been the most surprising in the past few seasons from being a repressed art gallery assistant to getting a rimjob by a hippie with a girlfriend (named Clementine). Running out of her jazz brunch gig crying indicates her goal might not be achievable, but there is something to be said for her working through this dream and following it through until it fizzles or she somehow becomes famous. Good old Elijah makes it clear to her that just because she has a couple songs about death doesn’t mean that anyone will respect her though. Girls has done a great job so far of illustrating in ways big and small how Marnie just doesn’t respect herself, so seeing how that manifests itself in others not respecting her fits like a puzzle piece.


Marnie seems to be approaching rock bottom, if she isn’t already there, but Jessa started the show at bottom and only now seems to be pulling herself out of it with the help of an awesome old lady. Jessa found Baedie who could respond to her outrageous behavior with firm kindness, and Jessa somehow rose to the occasion. Although Jessa tried to assist suicide in the last season’s finale, we first see her this episode telling Baedie about her cat’s gall bladder issues and picking up groceries, something almost impossible to conceive of last year when she was robbing stores and snorting a lot of coke. If anything, Jessa seemed like she had negative potential when the show started but now seems to have finally found herself. Her not responding to Hannah’s messages was a choice she made because she was upset at Hannah, not an accident from being too careless and therein lies the chasm Jenna has bridged over the course of the show.

I think the first three seasons of Girls can be thought of as the first period, and the beginning of season four onwards will be the next period in these ladies’ lives. Whether that period is better in their perspectives than the first is thankfully unpredictable and certainly relative. The show has allowed each of these four characters the room to fail and succeed often at the same time without trying to insert some kind of artificial safety net. This episode had some good laughs, but the strength lies in the delicate storytelling that positioned all four girls slightly away from each other and towards a future none of us can see yet.