Dear Evan, Phil, and Lili,
It looks like I might make a poor habit out of writing about Girls on the last day possible. Once, a professor and I related my intense slowness (or procrastination) as a writer to my self-defensiveness as a thinker. I suspect many critics are like this: critical of others, but more so hypercritical, even preemptively critical, of themselves. Lauren Berlant seems to me like this. Susan Sontag certainly was so. Lee Krasner and Adrian Piper too. Many of them were women, steadying themselves—through prolonging the reading or researching process—in preparation for a deluge of future judgment. It follows that many of them, as Sontag’s early journals so vitally show us, were at one time definitively “girls.”
Hannah doesn’t strike me as such a writer. There seems to be less waiting, or hand-wringing, between her acts and their recording. Instead, Hannah’s a note taker. She takes notes. In real time. For her book. Dunham, as well, comes off as a bit too ahead of the game. (Is this why everyone is so eager to criticize her? Because this 26 year old could not possibly be capable, or ready, or have enough distance, to translate the experiences of 24 year old girls onto the television screen?) Her life is happening and she’s going to put it out there as it does. All those who, upon watching Girls, joke about the possibility of Dunham installing cameras in their apartments because, they “literally had that exact same conversation last night”? There’s some truth to that. Reflect my life back to me, Dunham. I’ll spend the week pondering what it all means.
Lili, your reading of episode 6 as reverse-Lynch and reverse-Lifetime was brilliant, but I think I loved this observation of yours the most: “she tells Eric about sex with Adam and Adam about sex with Eric. Those, for her, are seriously erotic moments.” Yes! Even Hannah’s prelude to her “possible overshare” with Eric is staged: “I will tell you what happened.” So she tells Eric about the end of her vegetarianism, when the boy she was dating only had meat at his house. And, of course, she couldn’t leave to get plant-based food because that would mean the possibility of never being let back into his apartment. Dunham says something along these lines in explaining the pipe-fuck scene of Tiny Furniture—that Aura doesn’t question the condom-less sex she’s about to have with Keith because that would increase the possibility of him changing his mind. Thinking through something often means, finally, not ever doing it at all.
Later, in bed with Eric, the specter of Adam’s kinky sexuality haunts the room. Hannah is here sleeping with Adam as much as she is with Eric. While this might be reverse-Lynch, it is also reverse-Sackler (did you know Adam’s last name is Sackler? Is that not perfect?). Hannah imports, as Lili notes, Adam’s script of sadomasochistic sex, but in a scene where she’s the only one who knows how to play it out. It’s a great moment where female submission doesn’t simply mean male domination, but quite the opposite.
Phil, first things first: I had no idea the song Heather lip-synchs to is an actual song by Keri Hilson. No idea! It’s rather—as most pop songs are wont to be—insidiously catchy, but that video–I don’t want to get into it now, but watch that video if you haven’t! (Dreams of Hollywood, woah, no?) But the more important Carrie, and the one that I didn’t even think of until reading the always-wise Dana Stevens, is, of course, that of Sex and the City. So it makes a lot more sense that we don’t know where Carrie’s body is and if, in fact, she is actually dead. Is Carrie really gone? Will further investigation really give us closure on that front?
Which brings me to Phil’s interpretation of Tad’s “a person like that,” which, while definitely carrying notes of fear and uneasy discomfort about his daughter’s mental well-being, also just expresses doubt. His Hannah is Hannah’s Heather. What if people “like that” remain self-delusional about their talents forever? What if they die before every finding themselves? What if they never stop to reflect upon their actual merits as artists and, so, never stop trying to become artists? What would it mean for them? Moreover, what would it mean for the rest of us?
All this leads to a large part of why I agree with you, Evan—why I find it strange that Dunham didn’t make the girls, or at least Hannah, native New Yorkers. Dunham grew up around a certain niche cultural circle that would be exactly the type who’d react to Heather’s jiving with a grimace. Self-doubt, for Hannah, only comes as an afterthought. Hannah/Aura/Dunham (also Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna) can march through a party—then write about said party because those rooms have always been open to them. It’s only something I (as a person who has whittled this past month in New York) have become more sensitive to because those rooms really aren’t always that easy to place oneself in. Sometimes, you can feel attacked or, worse, ignored, by a room. Hannah’s position at Carrie’s memorial is a bit different—she doesn’t feel attacked in the room at all. As others have noted, her judgment might be the most monstrous aspect of that scene.
At least, then, Dunham often makes Hannah monster to herself—a slave to her own desires. I concur that “this place…doesn’t even really want us.” And if New York is darkness, as Lili observes, then Adam is part and parcel of that: he doesn’t really want Hannah either. That’s largely the experience, though, of coming to New York. Find yourself and fit that self into a city that never wanted, nor needed, you in the first place. Until it does. Hannah’s life in New York (which bookends this episode) is not, as some have called it, a detractor to the singularity of this episode. Instead, Hannah’s conflicted relationship with New York makes “The Return” a kind of wake-up call. Don’t ask money from your parents. Don’t get a job at the florist. Don’t become like Carrie, and, dear lord, do not be like Heather.
I’d even hazard to say that the other wake up call—the one from Adam—though poorly timed, nonetheless also brings Hannah closer to her self-realization as a writer. Like many artists, Hannah is defined by her failures and limitations—in this case, she has to impose them herself because life might otherwise be (scarily) too easy.
The scene that brought it home, so to speak, for me was the final one with Hannah on her parents’ lawn speaking to Adam over the phone. Dunham’s directorial cues here are great, and so familiar: a girl somewhere between homes and between identities, talking to a boy that feels close despite, and because of, how far away he really is. It was painful and expected and disappointing and tender and, really, made my chest hurt. It was regressive, yet also forward-looking: an ending where you lean into arms that will surely drop you again. That’s okay, though. Unlike Tad, Hannah could afford to fall a few more times.
Going to try it out in L.A.,