Girls: Hannah and Her Mother’s Sisters Can’t Quite Go With the Family ‘Flo’

By  · Published on March 3rd, 2014

Fans of Oscar nominee June Squibb had a hell of a double feature last night, as the Nebraska star hit up the Academy Awards and co-starred on this season’s tenth episode of Lena Dunham’s Girls, appearing as Hannah’s (Dunham) reportedly-near-death grandmother, Flo.

Although some of the best episodes of the HBO series’ third season have benefitted from throwing the show’s entire cast together in one place, “Flo” mixed things up to its own stirring effect – removing Hannah from New York City and forcing her upstate to mingle with her mother (Becky Ann Baker), her crazy cousin (Sarah Steele), and her bickering aunts (Deirdre Lovejoy and Amy Morton). Sure, Adam (Adam Driver) made a quick visit, but this episode was all about the interpersonal relationships of the women in Hannah’s family, and man, are they messed up.

With just one more episode to go, Rob Hunter and I turn our critical charms to this season’s latest episode of Girls.

Kate: Although I’ve spent much of this season salivating over episodes that tossed the whole crew together into one big stew of dysfunction, this latest installment veers exactly away from that, with stellar results. We’ve only seen Hannah out of the city and with her family on one other occasion, when she went home for a visit during the first season, and although this new episode doesn’t take place at the Horvath abode, it does force Hannah wildly out of her comfort zone and into the loving arms of her family.

And, wow, if we thought the girls of Girls were in a bad way, it’s high time we met the women of Girls.Dysfunction is the name of the Girls game, but it finally has real stakes when it comes to familial matters and literal possibilities of death. Best episode ever?

Rob: June Squibb!

And yes, this episode has a hell of a lot going for it. It took getting Hannah out of her element for us to get a real handle on why she is the way is. Her mom and aunts are some ice cold bitches. Divvying up Grandma’s pills, putting Post-it notes on her possessions… all while the poor lady is still alive! Pragmatism is one thing, but this is just barbaric. This is obviously a heightened situation, but it’s clear these women are no wiser or better off than the girls of Girls.

Kate: Ah, Rob, looks like we are going to part ways early on this one.

I think that situations like the one the sisters find themselves in either bring out the very best in people or the very worst, there’s little middle ground (though, oddly enough, if anyone is occupying Middle Ground here, it’s Hannah). Clearly, “Flo” focused on the latter, at least as it applies to the older generation. Perhaps if this was a nice, normal, loving family, this would be different, but I am not going to call Hannah’s mom and her aunts barbaric in their actions, simply because it’s obvious that they’ve all got some deep-seated issues with each other and their mother. No, they do not behave well in this episode, but they behave believably. (And, no, I don’t think they are barbaric, but I don’t really want to hang with them.)

I think they are being practical in their actions, because you have to remember that they started dividing stuff up while all working under the assumption that their mother was going to die right then. However, I will concede it seemed a bit monstrous for them to all be there at once for the Post-It-ing, when at least one of them should have been with their dying mother, though I don’t think that care and class really enter into a lot of their thinking.

What say you – who should get Flo’s ring?

Rob: So “barbaric” is over the line, but you agree they’re “monstrous?” That seems a bit like splitting hairs. Dire situations bring out the truth in people, for better or worse, and the truth here is clear as all three of the sisters move to material gain while their mother is left alone and literally on her death bed in the hospital. It’s a me-first attitude that pervades Hannah’s adult life, and it most definitely deserves condemnation. And to be clear, I never said their actions weren’t believable. It rings very true and very similar to events in my family, but again, honest behaviors aren’t exempt from criticism. And of course there’s a degree of practicality to their actions, but as you yourself point out (and far too easily forgive), the three of them left her there alone. She could die at any moment, and they left her to go claim their winnings.

The episode backpedals a bit by ending with the group playing the other side of the coin and actually camping out at the hospital until she dies or recovers, but that felt like more of a choice of writing constraint than any real sense of compassion. They had to wrap up this particular story in this particular episode, so everyone’s change of tune was inevitable.

Flo’s ring should go to the unmarried daughter for safe keeping and then given to whichever member of the family gets married next. Boom!

Kate: I will concede that I think that monstrous is a bit below barbaric, but yes, we might be splitting hairs here. Bad behavior, nonetheless, and believable. I also want to make it clear that I don’t forgive them for their leaving Flo in the hospital to divide up their wares, but I guess it’s possible that visiting hours were over? Who knows – while we might not exactly agree on all points here, we agree that they all exhibited bad, but believable behavior.

I think it’s worth exploring how much we learn about the women in Hannah’s family in this episode. Clearly, there are some major issues at play with the aunts that have contributed to the way Hannah’s mom is, and while she’s never been fully fleshed out as a character, she has always seemed just a bit off. She’s certainly not as warm as her father, and now that this all coming to light, I’d love to go back and rewatch other episodes with the Horvath parents to see what I can glean from them, though perhaps there wouldn’t be anything there. The scene early in the episode when Hannah and her mom were sitting outside the hospital, and Hannah’s mom started blathering about how her mom wasn’t a good mom was striking – Hannah, like so many people also do around her age, finally had to see her mother as a person with her own life and traumas, not just her mother. That rang very true, and I am glad that was included in this episode. If nothing else, “Flo” temporarily pushed Hannah outside herself, even as it exposed her to some rough truths about her own make-up.

I agree on that backpedaling, but damn if it didn’t give us that awesome screaming scene. A new favorite for all time.


Rob: I love seeing more depth from peripheral characters, and new characters all together, and this ep delivered that in spades with Hannah’s extended family. Yes, her mom has always been a bit stand-offish with her and definitely the colder parent, and we’ve never really gotten a reason as to why that is. Until now of course, because it’s clear here that she and her sisters have a lot of experience being selfish, judgmental, and indifferent.

The ep is book-ended almost with chats between Hannah and her mom, and both are revealing. The early one you mention seemed telling in that the mother was talking about her and her mom, but she was commenting just as clearly on Hannah and herself. She wishes Flo had sat her down for a conversation that led to a “real breakthrough,” but it never came. Is she subconsciously asking for the same thing with Hannah? Or does that only work one direction, and instead she’s acknowledging that she’ll never have that to give to Hannah?

And then the closing talk where she basically tells Hannah go have fun with Adam, but then go find a real man… eesh. She slams Adam and her own husband in just a few sentences, becoming even less likable in the process, and once again making it clear that Hannah is her mother’s daughter. Hannah’s put off by this of course, but do we think she’ll take it to heart leading to a season finale breakup? We’ve been talking about a break-up initiated by Adam, but could Hannah let her mom’s words wiggle into her heart and take a dump all over her feelings for the tall, kind, angry, goofy-looking guy?

Kate: Hannah and her mother’s two chats seem decidedly at odds with each other – Mrs. Horvath first bemoans that she and her mother never had said “real breakthrough,” then she later talks about how special Hannah is and how she deserves everything. Sure, parents think the sun rises and sets with their kids, but get fucking real, Mama Horvath.

As wrenching as that chat about Adam was, I adored how the scene was set during the epic screaming match, with Snobby Aunt Whoever needling Mama Horvath for settling down with her husband, “Tad Horvath,” delivered with such vitriol. Clearly, he wasn’t viewed as a catch by the entire family, and hearing that out loud was revolting (but, again, terribly believable). The certainly made its way into Mrs. Horvath’s brain, prompting her to “get real” with Hannah on a subject she’s probably be thinking about for quite some time. She’s obviously wrong – yes, there was plenty of rocky stuff with Adam in the beginning – but he’s stepped up his game. He has a cool job! They live together! He rushed to Hannah’s side after the accident! You know what, Mama Horvath? Papa is too good for you, and Adam might just be too good for Hannah.

Will this get into Hannah’s brain? I hope not, and I think Hannah’s shock at the chat might keep her from doing what her mom wants.

Rob: I would hope so too, but with three episodes left I’m thinking something’s about to come to a head. That’s not to say I’d complain if the season ended simply and peacefully, just that I don’t think it will.

But let’s move to the first time in a long time where I felt Hannah showed a bit of heart and empathy for someone else. After that big hallway blowout among the aunts, after everyone else has cleared the area, Hannah silently and knowingly puts her hand on her cousin’s. Hannah and Rebecca were a bit at odds throughout the ep, and that crash while texting bit was obvious but well crafted… but that moment was pretty spectacular.

Kate: Seriously, every piece of the hallway throwdown was great, and that was a wonderful way to end it.

Can we talk about Rebecca? Let’s talk about Rebecca. I love how she’s billed as basically a non-functioning human, then we find out she’s in med school (cool human point), and then she ends up being rude and crazy (non-human points). She’s like a new wave Gaby Hoffmann, trainwreck supporting fun, and I can’t quite decide if I want to see her again.

Rob: I do want to see her again, and my expectation is that next season she’ll take a break from the pressures of med school by running to the city and crashing with Hannah (again, boom!). Her frantic rudeness was a bit exaggerated and stereotypical, but it’s easy to see the dynamic between them becoming what it has over the years. Frankly, she’s a more interesting “girl” than at least two of the ones waiting for Hannah back in NYC…

Kate: Speaking of, what do we think everyone else is doing back home in the Big Apple?

Rob: Adam’s starting a new career as an actor, Ray’s managing coffee shops, Jessa’s interviewing for a job at Arby’s, and Shosh is getting an STD test.

Kate: Is Marnie finding a new man?

Rob: Damn. Forgot all about Marnie. I’m sure she’s off somewhere feeling sorry for herself. With a new man…

Kate: Perhaps working on her singing (no, I am not letting go of my Spice Girls-centric dreams)?

Rob: So maybe she’ll get an out of the blue call from a producer friend of Adam’s actor friend?

Kate: Whatever happened to that magical Dropbox of songs anyway?

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