“Are you going to call me self-involved too?” Hannah asks Adam’s sister Caroline, who has extended her stay in Hannah and Adam’s apartment, halfway through last night’s episode of Girls. The two women, plus Laird, are out for a constitutional, a cup of tea, and some cemetery high jinks, and Hannah’s worried that her lack of a reaction to her editor David’s death is going to alienate everyone around her. “No,” Caroline declares. “I’m going to call you secure.”
The scene is a bit of a reversal of a tendency Girls has shown this season to put judgments of the characters in the mouths of people they can’t hear, but that we can, loud and clear. Unlike the rehab administrator who delivered a cutting assessment of Jessa, Caroline is an utter loon, so we’re not supposed to trust her opinion of Hannah. But — and it frustrates me to admit, because I think the character is an oxygen-hogging misfire — in this case, I find myself in complete agreement with Caroline.
Much of “Dead Inside” involves people telling Hannah that she’s not feeling enough about David’s death, or that she’s not grieving appropriately. But the theme of the episode is performance, and most of the people who lecture Hannah are actually proselytizing another brand of ugliness to her: melodramatic insincerity.
First there’s Adam, who tells Hannah that her reaction has made him frightened of how she might react if he were to suddenly pass away. “If I died, would you be like, ‘Oh, I hope I can make rent’?” Hannah’s reaction is actually totally appropriate and proportional given the actual amount of time she’s been dating: She’d be disoriented, and sad, but rent would be on the list, too, because of course it would. But Adam smugly insists on proving that he’d grieve her better: “If you died, the world would blur. I wouldn’t know what a tree was.” Sure, maybe he would. But given that Adam also told Marnie how he went into shock after the end of his brief relationship with the Colombian Columbian, he’s professing less a discerning sensitivity and more melodrama as the only authentic reaction to anything.
And Ray, who’s been out of lecturing mode for a while, slips back into it when Hannah, after her initial declaration that “I lost a friend, yesterday. A close friend,” downgrades her emotions to the hilariously mannered “We in the literary community are left scratching our heads,” and finally confesses that she’s numb. “You don’t think it’s odd that I feel worse than you, and the one time I met this dude, he hurled me across the room and into a table?” Ray demands to know. The answer that Hannah should have given him is that yes, it’s absolutely bizarre that Ray would attempt to bandwagon onto everyone else’s tragedy and pretend that he feels deeply touched by David’s death, instead of seeing it for what it is: a bizarre and somewhat upsetting coincidence.
What the episode doesn’t really get at — in a way that for me is illustrative of some of the problems with the iteration of Girls we’re getting this season — is what it might be reasonable for Hannah to feel about David’s death. Sure, he was her editor. But the project he assigned her was a crash-deadline attempt to exploit the public appetite for young women humiliating themselves. During their initial, disastrous attempt to work together, David didn’t exactly notice that Hannah was falling apart. When she got better, David used their acquaintance to crash Hannah’s birthday party, snag her phone, and to act out on the grounds that the high jinks she’d turn into literature would make her a good enabler.
There’s no question that David gave Hannah opportunities, but it’s also true that their relationship was neither close nor equal. And I wish Girls had given Hannah a bit more permission to sit with the true bizarreness of the situation, and support for the idea that of course she’s worried about her book. If last season, the show seemed to be punishing Hannah as if to reassure Girls’ critics that Lena Dunham wasn’t bought into Hannah’s vainglorious flights of fancy, this year, the show seems to treating her as if she’s almost as silly as Shoshanna, a dope who gets her head stuck in rocking chairs and doesn’t know how to react appropriately to big news.
I wish Girls felt comfortable liking Hannah a little more. The final scene of the episode, in which she steals Caroline’s made-up story about Adam’s childhood and passes it off as her own, might have landed harder if the rest of the episode treated Hannah like she were less ridiculous. That’s a genuinely scary transgression as much because it’s a writerly misdeed — it is, after all, plagiarism — as much as it is an act of potential relationship self-destruction. But I wish that Hannah had arrived there on her own out of frustration, rather than being goaded into it by the vortex of crazy that is Caroline.
The person who does get to linger with her emotions, and with whom Girls does feel comfortable in a way that’s both clear-eyed and kinder than she deserves, is Jessa. Maybe it’s just that Jemima Kirke, who plays her, is one of Dunham’s long-running friends, or maybe it’s that Jessa’s dreadful behavior has been so clearly established that Dunham feels comfortable giving the character an opportunity to grow and to earn our respect.
But whatever the reason, Jessa’s story line is one of the finest things Girls has done all season. In a very dark, very funny turn of events, David’s death and Shoshanna’s counseling inspire Jessa to try to visit her old friend Season’s mother, or failing that, as Shosh suggests, “her grave, if her mom is dead, and bring flowers, or ‘like’ her Facebook in Memoriam site.” Except, hilariously, Season is alive, having faked her own death and funeral, a ruse she knew she could pull off because, as she tells Jessa when Jessa comes to find her, “We knew you wouldn’t come!” It’s a lovely illustration of the fact that Jessa’s unpredictability is, in fact, predictable.
Watching Jessa get outraged at Season at the same time she’s becoming hugely jealous of her brownstone home, her baby, and her “cool-looking husband” is simultaneously hilarious and just. Jessa has never sounded more young than she does when she huffs at Season, “Don’t call me when your life is in shambles,” until Season tells her, with remarkable calm given the circumstances, “I won’t.” Jessa’s been playing the bad girl so long in the belief that it’s the most interesting thing to be that it’s fascinating to see her fall apart when faced with someone who isn’t enthralled with her, who isn’t enchanted by the fact that she’s a mess.
It’s a blunter statement of the dilemma Hannah’s going to face sooner or later. “That’s really not good for a writer,” Hannah tells Caroline, who’s describing her feeling of being numbed out and distanced from the world when she’s on her medication. “But it’s really good for a person,” Caroline reminds her, sage once again amid the crazy. If Hannah really wants to be a writer someday, she may have to admit to herself that it won’t be so good, not just for her, but for the people around her. Writ large, she may have to choose between concern for all the books to come, and the regard of the people around her.
Hannah’s Reception Area Game: Everyone knows you always cultivate the receptionist.
Jessa’s Short-Term Memory: No wonder Season’s family figured Jessa wouldn’t show up to a fake funeral if she can’t even remember that Shosh was just talking about her friend who died. Though to be fair to Jessa, this seems like it could be a symptom of years of substance abuse and not just her regular utter self-absorption.
Marnie’s Self-Help Guru: “How do you know this is the experience that you need? Because this is the experience you’re having at this moment,” is simultaneously really awful advice for people who badly need to reassess their own choices and are avoiding acknowledging that things might actually be the worst, and exactly what Marnie needs to hear right now. Because when Marnie stomps out of Grumpy’s, declaring that “Fancy people want to work with me, so I’m going to give them that pleasure and go work with them,” my main reaction was finally. Seriously, Marnie, what were you doing being a cocktail waitress and messing around with Booth Jonathan instead of getting a real job, given that you’re the only one in this bunch with actual qualifications.
Shoshanna’s Bandana Collection: Honey, no.