The four main characters on Girls each make a big show, in their own individual ways, of celebrating their own “authenticity”: Shoshanna with brisk, word-vomit-y judgments, regardless of how inappropriate; Jessa with her desire to live outside of what she perceives to be hypocritical societal rules; Marnie with heartfelt folk songs that, she claims, come straight from the heart; and Hannah with her insistence on living by instinct and gut reaction, an id bomb always on the brink of detonation. And yet, for a group of women who are so outwardly invested in living authentic lives, it is amazing how often they lie to themselves. If season four is starting to develop a theme, it is that little by little, each member of the gang is learning to be a bit more honest, both about her own shortcomings and the ways that her behavior might affect those around her. The girls are becoming conscious. It is a painful process to watch (as all human progress can be), and some are advancing faster than others, but it’s happening: Girls is growing up.
For the youngest character on the show, Shoshanna seems to be making the quickest advances, at least personally. Professionally, she still has a lot to learn: For one, she interviews terribly. At McKinsey, where she hopes to work with Chelsea Clinton (“a strong woman struggling nobly with her very curly hair”), she tanks her meeting so completely that when she asks for constructive criticism, she gets pages and pages of bad reviews. Shoshanna cannot help but put her foot in her mouth around authority figures: Last week, she embarrassed her potential Ann Taylor boss by proclaiming that she was using the interview as a test run; this week, in the running for a job she actually wants, she cannot keep herself from blurting out that her interviewer is wearing an unflattering necklace (to be fair, gold collar jewelry rarely suits anyone). But this isn’t an accessories job, it’s in financial consulting, and Shosh continues to verbally torpedo herself when she should stay mum. She explains that “in my anecdotal experience, people really enjoy hearing the truth,” but when she asks for a critique, she could not have expected to hear so much hard truth at once about her failed first impression. There is something brave about Shosh’s mission to improve — lesser people might have slunk away from a job rejection to cry in an elevator — but it is becoming clear that her abrasive personality is hampering her career prospects and will continue to do so if she cannot change.
And yet, where Shosh is flailing in the real world, she’s making huge strides in her private life. The scenes featuring her and Ray are this episode’s sweet, bright spots. It’s a pleasure to watch these two neurotic, intense, difficult people coming to terms with how much they mean to (and need) each other. Shoshanna is finally able to apologize to Ray for how she ended their relationship — “I wasn’t ready and I was unkind and very rude and generally acted in a way I don’t want to be remembered” — and Ray admits to being hard to take, even for someone who has as many of his own intractable quirks as Shosh does. The hideous, overpriced, color-block T-shirt she makes him buy to replace his Fruit of the Loom six-pack becomes a kind of olive branch between the two; the sheer fact that Ray was flexible enough to take fashion advice and wear the shirt all over town is a sign that both are veering toward something almost resembling maturity.
When it comes to Ray, Shoshanna’s radical honesty is not a liability, it’s an endearment; she is the only person who can get away with calling him mentally ill for screaming at honking cars, and who can make him see that he needs to channel his anger into tangible civic change. And Ray, who sees Shosh for who she really is, gives her the gift of acceptance. When she asks if she is too blunt or simplistic to succeed, he assures her, “You do things in your own time. You always have.” Ray’s essential nature may be rage and Shosh’s may be excessive candor, but in each other’s presence, they are their best, most centered selves.
Marnie’s search for honesty in her own life led her to press Desi about their deceptive affair last week; she chose to protect her heart and break off the romance for the sake of her sanity (and for the music, which Jessa and Shosh dismiss as the kind of earworm radio claptrap just obnoxious enough to be a huge hit). She gave Desi an ultimatum: all or nothing. And now she finally has him. Sure, it comes after Desi himself is dumped (or is suspicious enough to do a preemptive dumping), but Marnie’s Cheshire grin when Desi mumbles, “I love only you,” sobbing into her chest, shows that she doesn’t really care about the circumstances that brought them together, only her ultimate victory. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of a victory it will be — Desi has proven himself to be a jealous lothario who is quite unstable and definitely not a bit condescending when it comes to Marnie’s beauty and youth. Marn is so swept away with Desi’s vulnerable side that it’s hilarious; her cooing “this is so intense for you” as she rubs his head is a spot of high comedy. It’s Marnie’s version of a fairy-tale ending, as a man sobs in her presence, but she of course isn’t yet able to see how destructive Desi might be for her. As Lauryn Hill told us, “If you fuck then, then you’ll probably fuck again.” Desi’s roving days seem far from over, but tell yourself those little lies, Marnie. Those sweet little lies.
Hannah is the character on the show who demonstrates the biggest gap between the authenticity she wants to present to the world and the reality of her self-delusion; her lack of self-awareness is the dark center of the show, the black hole into which everything disappears. She cannot look inwards and see how unhappy she is at school — she doesn’t fit in, she doesn’t like anyone, and worst of all, she doesn’t even like to write anymore, which is what she is here to do. Iowa is a nightmare for her, and that’s okay! Not everyone belongs everywhere, as her kindly professor tries to tell her. An MFA program is a specific, rigid system that might not work for all brains (and which, by the way, one doesn’t really even need to be a writer), and sometimes it’s better to accept that fact than suffer through it and pull everyone else into your suffering. But Hannah doesn’t want to be a quitter; instead she diverts her depression into a faux apology that reads like a long, defensive, #notallgradstudents rant rather than a genuine mea culpa.
Hannah blames her classmates for putting her in a box, for denying her a voice, and for squelching her creativity, without ever once acknowledging that her own depression might be to blame. Some of her critiques of the seminar may even be true — the group does seem full of toxic curmudgeons who decided from the get-go that Hannah was not a talent to take seriously — but Hannah’s way of dealing with her frustrations in writing is tone-deaf yet again. Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham may be good friends in real life, but Dunham has written Hannah as a character that can never, and will never, shake it off. Instead, all of her responses to her haters are juvenile: She makes fun of the cubbies for being from kindergarten, she balls up paper and tosses it at Jeffrey, and she insists through gritted teeth that using the word sorry “a bunch” in a written apology should be enough to mollify her classmates.
It is only after class that she tells her teacher that school might not be right for her, as she “thrives on the streets” (let’s not even get into the racial insensitivity of that statement; at least Hannah is an equal-opportunity offender), and it seems that she is finally ready to admit that she wants to drop out. No one is going to make that decision for her (in other news, we learn that it is nearly impossible to get expelled from Iowa), but she is edging closer to making it for herself. Thinking she might be kicked out is the happiest Hannah has felt in months.
It is Hannah’s father, Hannah’s wonderful father (oh, how I adore Peter Scolari on this show), who gives her the tacit approval she seeks about leaving the program, confessing that even Hannah’s mother, who is constantly harping on Hannah to finish what she starts and make something of herself, quit her own book project to focus on happiness. Hannah needs to hear that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, and that the “stupidest fucking decision in the world” might be the right one if it brings comfort and peace. “No one has to live in your mind,” he tells her. “Only you.” When Hannah replies, “it’s tiring,” I really began to feel for her. Hannah doesn’t belong anywhere at the moment: not at Iowa; not back in her apartment, where Adam has swapped out her things for Mimi Rose; not even in her own mind. It must be truly exhausting and scary to be Hannah Horvath. Admitting her fear and giving herself permission to make the decision to quit school, even if it leaves her in an even murkier place, is the most authentic thing she could do. Hannah is learning to trust her still-small voice rather than to spew vitriol. Hey, it’s progress.