A Girl on Girls: Your Granddad is Both a Gentleman and a Renegade (S1/E9 “Leave Me Alone”)

With what has happened over the last couple episodes, it is easy to forget that Hannah is in the position she’s in because she wants to be a writer; otherwise, she would have gone back home to teach English by now.  This week’s episode of Girls, “Leave Me Alone,” reminds us of Hannah’s plight by starting off at a book party for a former classmate played by comedian Jenny Slate.  Author Talia Schifferin (SP, since I am just going with spelling used by other Jews I know) is celebrating the release of her book, which Hannah hates on according to the scale distributed at the beginning of all undergraduate writing workshops that lets us know how jealous to feel when a classmate is published, even though we remember how they totally used an oscillating fan in a period piece about poor kids in Brooklyn circa 1910.

Anyway, this story is ostensibly about Hannah, and this episode goes to great lengths to remind us of that.  Her reaction to Talia’s book—she got lucky because her boyfriend killed himself—and subsequent conversation with said frenemy (“I am having such a good time!  I’ll have to leave soon”) is a great way to ground us in Hannah’s corner for the rest of the episode.  Hannah’s jealousy is at first vain and unfounded, since the introduction of Talia’s published work asks us to assume that she is a decent writer; however, when Talia opens her mouth (“It’s like I just water-birthed my truth” and “If I were still in my experimental phase I would just rip your dress off right here and get into it” stand out) it’s easy to agree with Hannah—this girl is a hack.

But the party still manages to shake Hannah’s confidence.  She sees Talia and can’t help but compare her own career, wondering what Talia did that she hasn’t yet—“She took chances.  She wore lipstick to class.  She did everything right.”—but an old writing professor (Michael Imperioli) steps in to confirm our first impressions.  Even though she was on “Fresh Air,” Talia is a hack, and Hannah is a better writer.  Swarthy and handsome Professor Goldman (he likes to be called Powell) asks Hannah if she would read at a weekly reading series he produces, which functions both to make us wonder whether Powell is just hitting on Hannah and to give her something to do for the rest of the episode.  Hannah is rightfully skeptical, saying it’s just not her style, but Powell responds with an important question that Hannah can’t answer: “Give me an example of what a Hannah thing to do would be.”

Back home, Hannah obsesses over the reading.  Adam, the show’s shirtless voice of reason, isn’t going—he has “never been to a reading where [he] didn’t want to strangle the person reading.” Marnie doesn’t want to talk about it, but Hannah presses until Marnie finally gets angry.  When Hannah accuses Marnie of not being supportive, Marnie counters sharply (“Hannah, I support you literally!”) and Hannah defensively yelps back, “I know! That’s why I took a trial shift at Grumpy’s.”  If we had forgotten that our protagonist is still petty and immature, that statement is enough to remind us that this is Hannah Horvath we’re dealing with.

The Café Grumpy detail is also an excuse to involve Ray, who is quickly joining Adam as a figure of great wisdom and reason.  When Hannah shows up for her trial shift in a white dress, Ray is outraged (“You are daring a homeless person to wipe their blood on your dress.”) and sends Hannah home to change.  He demands “jeans with a slim leg,” and then warns, “I know all the dick moves.  Don’t be a dick.”   Hannah could definitely use this advice, which would be handy later on in the episode, but she ignores it and instead, of all the things he says in just one or two scenes, follows Ray’s assertion that intimacy is trivial and “Death is the most fucking real.”

So when Hannah arrives at Powell’s reading she has a rushed piece about death instead of the funny essay she had planned about a date with a hoarder.  It’s not as if she’s following a genius (“Maybe everyone in this town is looking for a bathroom.”) but Hannah manages to fall totally flat.  Even Powell admits that she wasn’t very good, sending her off into the night already in a foul mood.

Meanwhile, Jessa’s ex-boss (Kathryn Hahn) visits to dispense some wisdom of her own.  I suppose the uniting feature of this episode is that Jessa and Hannah are both getting some very important advice that they will or have already ignored.  Jessa looks on blankly as Katherine names many of her youthful transgressions and tries to assign them deeper meaning; “You are doing it to distract yourself from becoming the person you’re meant to be,” even if that person is serious and uncool.  We know that Katherine isn’t full of shit, but Jessa is unpredictable by nature; next week, Jessa could either finally grow up or go completely off the rails.

But she would be in good company, because Zosia Mamet is totally off the rails! Shoshanna wants to start living, so she made an Internet dating profile on ElectricHellos.com (it’s the most expensive, so it must be the best) and has a date with a guy named Bryce at the Old Navy flagship store.  This was another episode where Shoshanna really had no function besides making us laugh, but laugh we did.  Way to go, Zosia Mamet!

Hannah comes home and immediately ignores Ray’s ominous warning (“Don’t be a dick!”) and starts a fight with Marnie.  She found Talia’s book on the kitchen table, which definitely means Marnie is a traitor and a shitty friend.  Both girls accuse each other of being selfish, and we learn that Hannah is sick of counseling Marnie over guys and Marnie is totally over having to hold Hannah’s hand through everything.  Hannah accuses Marnie of only wanting “a boyfriend with a luxury rental” and a best friend that guests on “Fresh Air.”  Marnie tries to play it cool, but soon enough they are shouting and throwing a toothbrush across the living room.  When Hannah finally admits, “I don’t really give a shit about being a good friend,” we get some of the truest dialogue from the character yet.  Hannah is a complex person, and it is partially because she prizes her own happiness so far above everyone else—just look at how easily she entertains Powell as a romantic possibility—and this admission to Marnie is crucial in understanding Ms. Horvath moving forward.

Next week is the season finale, and with both Hannah and Marnie having vowed to move out, it should be a dramatic final installment.  If anything, “Leave Me Alone” was important because it put us back in seeing things from Hannah’s point of view, even if that meant mostly losing Jessa and Shoshanna for the week.  But what we lack in the absence of half of our Girls, we gain in the conflict over Talia’s book.  As hilarious as some of the jokes were, it was the catalyst for genuine self-examination on Hannah’s part.  When Marnie defends her right to read Talia’s book, she says “She captures something really true about the uncertainty of being our age,” and I knew then that we weren’t really talking about Ms. Schifferin at all; instead, once again, we were talking about Girls.

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