Saturday, April 12, 2014

Girls Season Three

The just-concluded third season of Girls left its characters right where you would expect people in their mid-twenties to be – dangling in a cloud of uncertainty. But in this extended state of arrested development, the show found an important truth that people of that age learn, often the hard way – that no matter how solid and permanent things feel, they rarely are.

Hannah is provided a moment’s happiness, but not much more. The show picks up not long after the conclusion of season two as she and Adam are warmly ensconced in the blush of their romance; he, tending to her as she recovers from her OCD-related meltdown, she, rediscovering her writer’s voice and receiving hosannas from David, the editor of her e-book. But as in life, things rarely stay simple (or happy) for long. Adam’s sister (an excellent Gaby Hoffman) moves in and leaves a wave of destruction before Hannah kicks her out, David dies suddenly, leaving Hannah’s e-book in permanent suspension as the rights are not released by the publisher, Adam finally bears down and lands a prestigious role in a Broadway play, and when offered the steady income (if soul-deadening experience) of working in corporate America, Hannah implodes, not just storming out of her advertorial job, but napalming the bridge behind her.

If there is one constant throughout the show’s three seasons, it has been to constantly remind viewers, as Hannah did to Marnie late in season one, that Hannah hates herself; but the longer the show goes on and the older Hannah gets, the harder we cringe at her watching-a-car-crash-in-slow-motion behavior. Whether it’s indelicately milking David’s widow at his funeral for names of other publishers or spoiling Adam’s opening night performance by mentioning to him right before he goes on stage that she has been accepted into a graduate program in Iowa, the level of self-absorption Hannah displays borders on the sociopathic. That she gravitates back toward Elijah after their epic blow out in season two is unsurprising, he is just the type of callow poseur that feeds into Hannah’s insecurities, whereas Ray and Adam challenge her in ways she does not like – they sniff out her bullshit and call her on it; Elijah indulges it.

Not that the situation is much better for Marnie, Jessa, or Shoshana. Marnie, smarting over the loss of Charlie, finds an apartment (the payment for which surely can’t come from her brief stint at Grumpy’s or the faux-ssistant job she lands with Soojin toward the end of the season) and drifts into Ray’s arms after he rightly identifies her as a shallow person who uses people (fathom that). When he dumps her, she is crestfallen, even as she tried to give off an air of indifference, and then quickly swoons over Desi, Adam’s co-star and just the type of bearded hipster whose creative skills are enough to get work, but will never make him rich (or famous). When flirtation becomes connection, Desi’s girlfriend cuts Marnie off at the pass, leaving her the cold comfort of observing the couple squabbling immediately thereafter.

Jessa should just become an adjective that describes someone who flits in and out of danger and dumb situations without consequence. She is bounced from rehab, gets a job at a designer children’s clothing store, relapses (while stealing money from her employer), gets clean (overnight!) and ends the season as archivist to a wheelchair-bound artist who connives to get Jessa to assist in her suicide. Shoshana, on the other hand, sows some oats but slacks off academically, resulting in her not graduating with the rest of her class and also realizing (too late, as it turns out) that she wants to be with Ray.

This is all to say that these characters spend a lot of time screwing up, making decisions they regret, and some they don’t, and learning life lessons one-at-a-time. That Hannah acts pissy and too good for her fellow scribes churning out “advertorial” content at GQ is something you expect from a person who still believes in the purity of her craft, but her fear of being second fiddle in an artists’ relationship reflects her insecurity. Her dogged determination to stay true to her dream of being a writer is admirable, but her passive aggressive behavior toward Adam as he focuses on preparing for his Broadway debut and dismissive attitude toward Marnie’s unrequited dream of pop stardom affirms her venality, not her humanity.

Much of the season’s theme revolves around the unmooring that occurs to people as their paths diverge the further they get from college and struggle with the messy complications of adulthood. And there, Dunham’s voice shines. In Hannah’s interactions with Adam you can feel the effort each puts into making things right, healthy and supportive, but at the same time, it is impossible to hide the petty jealousies and insecurities that those with fragile egos busy themselves with. Mortality is also something the characters face for the first time, and the deaths of Hannah’s grandmother and her editor are both used to good effect in highlighting how disorienting and dislocating it is for people to first contemplate that finality.

Ultimately though, the repercussions of bad decision-making appear to redound only against Hannah. Marnie has drifted aimlessly but to little adverse consequence for some time now and Jessa seems to have a cosmic “get out of jail free” card. Even the comeuppance Shoshana experiences is minor in the big scheme of things – a summer course will secure her degree and her longing for Ray will pass as she matures and finds herself in the world. And perhaps that is what makes the show so maddening but also so apt. When you are nuzzled in the cocoon of upper middle class-dom that Girls traffics in, there is a safety net to cushion your fall. Rarely do the consequences of bad choices leave a permanent mark. Hannah can press pause on adulthood and go to graduate school in Iowa; Marnie has the succor of her indulgent mother. Which is all to say that privilege buys you a certain protection against the impact of stepping on land mines, but as the women of Girls will learn, the older you get, the thinner that buffer becomes.

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