Another week, another bottle episode of Girls. “Video Games” takes place outside the show’s chronology (except for including Jessa’s split with Thomas John) and only features Hannah and Jessa from the main cast. We get to meet Jessa’s dad (Ben Mendelsohn, playing an absent father with anger issues), his girlfriend Petula (Rosanna Arquette) and Petula’s oddball son Frank. It’s nice getting a peek into Jessa’s emotional and historical life world, but I’m not convinced it was worth leaving Brooklyn.
Upstate New York does offer some charms. Jessa is well traveled and well spoken, despite having no problem being quite vulgar—so I figured her parents had to be either Euro-trashy or otherwise of the upper class; instead, her dad is something of a bohemian hoarder, filling his car with old computers (he doesn’t want anyone to have access to his ideas) and never cleaning his house. He is the caftan collection of Jessa’s emotional wardrobe (her real caftans are on display in this episode, presumably to hide her real-life pregnancy), meaning that he is mostly shapeless and ephemeral but manages to do serious damage nonetheless. Jessa’s free spiritedness—and occasional bout of off-putting wanderlust—certainly comes from her dad’s side. All Petula does is provide comic relief (she keeps rabbits for food and for company) while simultaneously denying the validity of numerous scientific truths. That and her Jefferson Starship shirt signify that she is a true, upstate hippie chick.
But Hannah is there to be the cushion, as Petula calls her. The role of buffer should be familiar to those of us who have endured uncomfortable weekends with the family of a close friend. We know our friends so well, but when they around close family members, the dynamic shifts—Hannah trying to desperately get the joke between Jessa and her dad early on in the episode is a good example of how it feels to be an outsider, even to someone you love. Though Jessa gets the joke, she’s an outsider too. Her dad is always late, doesn’t cancel his plans for her, and leaves them at the grocery even after promising to try harder. He is making a lot of empty promises to Jessa because she wants to get something back that he can’t give, namely, the years she feels she wasted on account of his failings as a father. But at the end of the episode when Hannah finds a letter from Jessa saying she’s not going back to Brooklyn with her, we have to assume this is because Jessa’s still trying to find a way back into her father’s life.
While Jessa is grappling with considerably weightier emotional issues, Hannah is battling a recurring UTI, a physical reminder of the unfinished e-book manuscript waiting for her back in Brooklyn. It’s also just an easy sight gag to fill out a pretty mediocre episode, but I have to believe it serves a bigger purpose than just for us to laugh at Hannah peeing in front of a few horrified onlookers. In fact, “Video Games” humiliates Hannah for sport a few times, including her brief (8 second) tryst with turtleneck Frank in the cemetery and the way her mother immediately assumes that if she is expressing any gratitude toward them, she must want something in return. I’m not sure any of this functions the way many of Hannah’s stumbles in the past have—she doesn’t really learn anything, and we don’t really learn anything about her. She lives for petty epiphanies, for experiences that make great short anecdotes, and for taking the moral high ground. As satisfying as it is to see her chewing through the new, lovely rural scenery, I can’t help but wonder if it was all just filler.