A Girl on “Girls”: East Lansing, Naked Parents, Vampire Pharmacist, and More (S1/E6, “The Return”)

“The Return” felt a bit like the audience was being punished for some forgotten crime.  Without Jessa, Marnie and Zosia Mamet (sigh, Shoshanna) to keep us company, all we are left with is sad, awful Hannah.  Much has been said about how Lena Dunham has deliberately made Hannah despicable, and if there was any doubt about this before last night, it is clear now that Hannah is indeed as terrible as Dunham can play her.  If each decision the character makes is a fork in some road (or a different timeline, if you watch Community), then Hannah will, without fail, always take the wrong way.

Horrible Hannah goes back to Michigan to spend the weekend with her parents.  Instead of a suitcase, Hannah bundles what I assume is dirty laundry into a black plastic garbage bag.  It’s a nice visual reminder that she doesn’t have her shit together, as if we could ever forget.  Her supportive parents greet her at the airport and from the second Hannah climbs into the family station wagon; she is venomous and cruel towards them.  I understand that when visiting family there is the temptation to just bask in their lives like a hedonist—free food (Hannah eats it out of the fridge like she’s never seen food before), no work, endless resources—but Hannah takes her parents’ good will as if it is an attack on her very self.  She even shouts, “You don’t know me!” after a particularly bland conversation during a movie where she won’t stop texting.  It’s over-dramatic.  We get it, Dunham; Hannah is a jerk.

But where the episode is grotesque in its Hannah-centricity, it is brilliant in handling how someone from a big city handles returning to the small town that bore(d) them.  Kindly local pharmacist Eric is introduced to the audience as Hannah’s foil to show us just exactly how the city has made her different, and in some regards, ruined her entirely.  Hannah cannot appreciate the benefit for Carrie, some girl she knew from high school that disappeared (think Natalee Holloway), because all she can see is the earnest choreography of an old friend deluded into thinking that she can take on Hollywood.  Hannah is right, the dancing is cheesy and the outfits are even worse—but the sentiment is sweet, and where Hannah can barely contain her laughter, her date Eric is touched and sympathetic.

Sidebar: did you think that Eric was the kindly effeminate vampire Jasper from Twilight?  I saw him and shouted “VAMPIRE PHARMACIST,” but IMDB tells me that Jackson Rathbone (LOL) wasn’t on Girls.

What “The Return” completely and utterly understands is that feeling you have if you are like me and moved from a small town to a big city: when you are back in that small town, nobody else is drinking the same haterade.  It feels a bit as if you are the only sane person in an asylum—how can you people see that Chili’s is not an acceptable place for a romantic evening?  How can you shop at the mall and not feel like you’re in an ant farm?  How can you tolerate living in this tiny, boring shit hole town?—and that emotion is both isolating and electrifying.  Hannah is mortified and disgusted, but she is also given the opportunity to feel genuinely superior to a bunch of yokels.  She tells herself in a mirror that everything she says is more interesting than anything they can say, which is mean, but probably true.  Hannah is a profoundly unhappy person, but that despair may be the driving force behind her desire to make something special out of her life.  If you are reading this from New York, or Los Angeles, or London, the same might be true of your own life.

But Hannah’s parents don’t see someone who is deeply unfulfilled; in fact, Hannah’s mother talks about Hannah as if she is living life completely focused on “fun.”  Hannah’s mother probably uses the word “fun” fifty times in one sentence, speaking about “fun” as if it is both currency and emotion.  Where Hannah’s father sees that there is little proof that Hannah is actually in New York growing into a better, adult version of herself, Hannah’s mother has deluded (there is that word again!) herself into thinking that Hannah has gained in “fun” where she lacks in professional and emotional maturity.  Sadly, the Hannah we know doesn’t have much fun anywhere.  She is too nervous and self-sabotaging, winked at by her father’s strange Woody Allen imitation.

In an episode that felt like an NC-17 live action version of the “Cathy” comic strips, Adam was certainly something like chocolate—Adam, Adam, Adam AACK!  Hannah dials his phone and we yell “NO!” at the screen, but she does it anyway.  When he finally calls her back (in the middle of the night) I roll my eyes when he repeatedly calls her “kid” and acts as if they are on perfectly good terms.  Adam and Hannah have a very unhealthy relationship, and sometimes I wonder if Dunham wants us to root for them as a couple.  Obviously he’s a weirdo and the way he treats Hannah is unfair, but their conversation is a reminder that she isn’t going to stay in Michigan and settle down with Eric.  She’s a weirdo too.

The sex scene between Hannah and Eric is also brilliant, in that it shows us that Hannah, coming from a sexually literate creative class, cannot have sex without processing the meaning and implications of the act.  She has been told again and again, probably at dorm floor meetings and in columns at The Hairpin, that people should just ask for what they want when they are fucking.  When sweet, simple Eric just wants to have normal sex and doesn’t articulate his wants, Hannah just goes and tries everything.  The scene was supposed to be funny, but it was much more than just two awkward people trying to fuck for the first time—it was the naked (punny!) juxtaposition of a big city girl trying to apply her life to a place where it just doesn’t belong.  She’s used to weird Adam who wants to have his balls stepped on and can say as much, and that’s okay.

I could discuss the scene where Hannah’s father falls while having shower sex with Hannah’s mother, but I won’t, because I am traumatized; instead, I’ll say that I very much look forward to next week, because spending an entire half an hour with horrible, weirdo Hannah just made me miss Marnie, Jessa and Zosia Mamet that much more.

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