Girls Talk: Hannah Takes the Next Step In a Series of Random Steps, Straight To “Iowa”

By  · Published on January 12th, 2015


The fourth season of HBO’s occasionally beloved and often controversial Girls has arrived, and with it comes the promise that maybe this go-round will actually feature those damn eponymous girls growing into actual women. The season picks up soon after the conclusion of last year’s run, with Hannah (Lena Dunham) bound for the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) recovering from attempting to off her employer (hey, she asked for it), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) dealing with the fallout of maybekindasorta not graduating college and Marnie (Allison Williams) attempting to break into the apparently blossoming jazz brunch scene. These girls are certainly moving forward, but that doesn’t mean that the decisions that are pushing them are the best ones they could make – if that’s not the way of Girls, we don’t know what is.

As ever, Rob Hunter and myself are here to recap the show for you, complete with well-meaning arguments, heady banter and a deep concern for, well, just about everyone. This is your fourth season of Girls, and it’s going to Iowa, whether you like it or not.

Kate: I took a look back at some of our predictions for this new season, which was half-jokingly doled out during our recap of season three’s finale, “Two Plane Rides.” Here is what we were looking for with this new season, distilled down for clarity and comparison:

Kate: Hannah meets a poet, Shosh tones down her hair, Marnie decides to try out the opposite sex, Jessa gets in touch with her emotions, Ray takes Shosh back, Adam is still hell-bent on his acting career, and Elijah has become a star in his own right.

Rob: Hannah gets a new dude and a fat head, Shosh graduates, Marnie gets her ass beat by Clementine, Jessa is on probation, Ray takes Shosh back, Adam is still hell-bent on his acting career, Elijah gets cast in a soap opera.

Hey, three for seven in just one episode! Indeed, Shoshanna has toned down her hair, apparently to match her newly serious “get er done” attitude about life, Jessa has already started tapping into some major emotions, and Adam (Adam Driver) has gone whole-hog on this acting career thing (even if it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere fast). Of course, what I am more interested to see is what happens to the rest of these predictions, mainly as it applies to whatever the hell Hannah gets up to in Iowa. Rob, how are you feeling about your forward-thinking ideas? You nailed a few of them, too.

Rob: Well, judging by Marnie’s first appearance in this episode I think I deserve points for the predicting she would “get her ass beat.” I know this isn’t a competition of course, but come on, that was pretty spot on.

The other predictions were a mixed bag so far, but the big thing I got wrong is that I expected the show to pick back up when Hannah returns from Iowa as opposed to actually following it through. It’s a good surprise though, as not only does this open up more avenues of story, but it also provided the opportunity for a scene that includes just about every one of the main recurring characters. There are a lot of laughs and fine character bits during this brunch/concert get-together – “brunching with the Lisas” is a favorite – and I expect it’ll be one of the last such opportunities this season.

Can we agree that Elijah is the episode’s MVP?

Kate: Did I take a particular pleasure in looking back at that uncanny bit of accidental wordplay? You bet, ahem, your ass I did.

I was also pleased that the show didn’t do a big time jump and that it appears like we’re actually going to get a nice big slice o’ Hannah trying out this whole writin’ thing. The show’s trailers have repeatedly shown her living it up at Iowa (“living it up” loosely translates to “getting drunk with undergrads and looking viciously out of place in her classes), but I’m stoked that we get to see her entire process, not just snippets here and there. Is this possibly going to work out for Hannah? I can’t imagine it will, but then again, I didn’t expect that she’s even get into Iowa, so what hell do I know?

Elijah, as ever, brings it. One of the major issues with Girls is that it often feels impossible to expect the gals to show great moments of personal change or insight, but Elijah handily erases that by kind of shouting what all of us are thinking. While everyone treats Marnie with kid gloves, Elijah gives her the talking-to she’s needed for months. Thank you, Elijah, and also please explain how the hell you’re going to get to Iowa, because that’s in the trailers, too. Speaking of giving Marnie a talking-to, uh, what’s up with Marnie?

Rob: Man, I need to start watching the trailers apparently.

I don’t see it working out well for Hannah in Iowa – partly because of the show’s inclination for sticking her in terrible situations with even sadder repercussions, but also because I see Hannah as a character prone to self sabotage. If she feels like she doesn’t fit in with the others there then she’s the kind of person who will actively make things even worse.

And yes, Marnie needed that talking to from Elijah, but the question now becomes does she use it to embolden herself or does she walk away from performing? I mean, she’s not very good, but I assume that’s intentional and may change as she finds her voice. Speaking of her though I think her best moment was at the end when she came to see Hannah off. This is a show about friends, but moments of true friendship seem few and far between so this was an especially nice and long-overdue hug. It also shows Marnie as someone capable of pushing aside her own interests in order to acknowledge a friend’s needs, and for all of her faults that’s an often overlooked strength.

Oh, and I also want to give a shout-out to Natasha Lyonne’s brief but fantastic tirade against Jessa. More of this please.

Kate: Watch those trailers, Rob! They’re great. They’re either intentionally playing up how out of place Hannah feels at school, or they’re misdirecting us and showing early material before Hannah finds her voice and becomes the best student in the program. The trailers also show Elijah showing up at some point, which also doesn’t bode well for Hannah – is he coming to keep her company?

Marnie flummoxed me during this episode, because even as I want to shake her around and get her to stop banging the world’s most boring troubadour, she exhibited real emotion and vulnerability. Sure, she’s a terrible performer and their songs probably suck because they use all their rehearsal time actually, ya know, eating in the kitchen, but if this is what she wants to do, she needs to snap to. But even in the midst of her personal issues, she still found time for Hannah. Remember when it seemed like these two couldn’t make their friendship work? Those days are long gone.

How about a shout out to Lyonne and the rest of the show’s awesome guest stars? Anthony Edwards, Ana Gasteyer, Danny Strong and Rita Wilson, this episode was an embarrassment of riches.

Rob: More Elijah is always going to be a good thing so if the price of him crashing Hannah’s Iowa retreat is complete disaster for her, then so be it.

This episode, like most from previous seasons, keeps the real dramatic focus on Hannah and Marnie while leaving Shosh and Jessa little more than minor scraps. I’m okay with that of course, as I think both work best in small doses, but do we expect that trend will continue? My feeling is that they add flavor and color to the proceedings and offer breaks from the more emotional arcs presented in Hannah’s and Marnie’s lives, but this may change some now that Shosh is getting serious and showing real maturity (ie with Ray) and Jessa has a new sparring partner (love interest?) in Lyonne. What do you think?

Kate: I’d love to see more of Shosh and Jessa, but you’re right in pointing out that the trend has always seen them playing second fiddle(s). I do think, however, that there is a real chance here for Shosh to step up and provide a fresh, wide-eyed perspective to this whole “trying to be an adult” thing. She’s already making strides, too! In just one episode, she’s toned down her hair, shunned her insane parents and offered up a very real and very heartfelt apology to Ray. These are big steps! I want more of them! Jessa, as I’d hoped, is exhibiting her own growth. Although her life appears to be teetering into another tailspin, it’s heartening that she seems to be opening her heart up a little bit. If Jessa and Shosh are going to represent actual change, maturity and evolution in this series, I’m into it.

But speaking of Ray, did you notice that something about him seemed off in this episode? The guy was dressed like a schlub in the middle of the day – a fancy jazz brunch, you guys! – but he seemed almost incandescently happy and well-centered. Was he high? Or is there something else going on with the big guy?

Rob: I actually love the idea of the two fringe characters – Shosh and Jessa – being the ones who actually manage to grow up while the two leads are left floundering. It risks losing what makes those two such fun side characters, but I’d appreciate the effort towards seeing them grow.

And Ray has always been a bit of a schlub, hasn’t he? He’s usually miserable and grumpy though, so maybe you’re on to something. I would be surprised if it was something as simple as him being high, so maybe he just found someone/something that honestly makes him happy? Of course, he’s Ray, so whatever it is it most certainly won’t last.

Kate: The mysteries of Ray. Sold.

Elsewhere in the guy-sphere: Adam. I’m amused that we both guessed that Adam would still be into his acting adventures this season, and he only seems to be getting more obsessive about it. When he showed up at dinner wearing his greaser jacket and made a comment about how they were looking for more “Tour De France biker,” I nearly lost it. His commercial for depression medication was also phenomenal, and I love the idea of him getting approached on the subway by unhappy consumers.

This Hannah and Adam thing isn’t going to work, is it? While it seemed okay at first, all that “the plan is that there is no plan” stuff aside, things ended on a real downbeat: Hannah not willing to rouse Adam to say goodbye, and a forlorn Adam sneaking a peek at her departing from behind a curtain.

Rob: Well, I think we both knew that Iowa would split Hannah and Adam, so while it my take another episode or two, I fully expect them to call it quits. For now.

Adam was still entertaining here, and I agree with your appreciation of his dialogue, commercial and situation, but it doesn’t quite feel like Adam to me. Like it’s just ever so slightly off from his true character. He’s always been a disgruntled artist, so I can appreciate his constant berating of his own performances, but he seems more invested in this whole thing than I would have expected. Invested in the legitimacy of it all, I mean. Does that make sense? I’m still curious to see where it goes – and I think he and Marnie are on an interesting parallel course – but while I buy her wide-eyed scramble for fame I just don’t see him being all that interested.

Kate: I feel like it’s in Adam’s nature to go whole-hog on something for awhile and then drop it – acting, Hannah, that old canoe he had in his previous apartment – and acting is the latest thing. It too shall pass.

Are we excited about this new season? I’m pumped.

Rob: That is all true.

Girls is the kind of show that I honestly don’t think about between seasons, but when it’s airing I’m reminded how sharp so much of the writing actually is both as comedy and critique. Plus, I will never tire of imagining Brian Williams’ expression while watching his daughter’s ass cheeks get motor-boated in the kitchen.

So yes, I’m excited for this season, too.

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Girls airs Sundays on HBO.

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