There’s something vaguely anxiety-inducing about this week’s episode of ‘Girls,’ which splits its time between Hannah in Iowa and her friends back in New York, and finally gives us a clue about what Adam’s been up to while Hannah’s away. By now we’ve become very familiar with the willfully regressive nature of these characters, who function in juvenile, narcissistic cycles, with each revolution back around only bringing them the tiniest baby step further in their maturation. Two steps forward, one step back.

“Female Author” begins with Hannah on yet another Skype call, serving as a lateral narrative segue between Iowa and New York. Back in Iowa, Hannah is choosing to appropriate her massive amounts of free time for procrastination, which—along with the negative response to her writing from her peers—is fostering self-doubt, which Hannah is medicating with brownie mix and TV marathons and parties, which have become something to do to avoid her avoidance. But at least Elijah has found a new calling, I guess.

Back in New York, Jessa’s recklessness hasn’t abated with her sobriety, and as Adam keenly observes, she seems intent on provoking something. Similarly, “Female Author” is intent on provoking the viewer, by having us ponder a hypothetical affair between Jessa and Adam, and though the two never come close, there’s something uneasy about their pairing. Regardless of the evident sadness he felt at Hannah’s departure, Adam is clearly using this time apart to operate as if she hardly exists, lamenting the banal conversations they had and wondering aloud if Hannah would care if he threw away her refrigerator magnets. This hardly seems careless or callous, but quite the opposite; it’s Adam’s own way of dealing with her absence and softening the blow. His sidewalk conversation with Jessa hints at another woman in the picture, while back in Iowa, Hannah hardly seems preoccupied by the prospect of sleeping with anyone else—even though last week she declared herself a free agent while she’s away. But who was she really trying to convince with that posturing?

Between Jessa peeing in the middle of the street and getting herself and Adam arrested for it, and Hannah’s drunken roast of her colleagues as a defense mechanism (disguised as an attempt to prove how harmful and reductive pigeon-holing can be), this week quickly establishes itself as a high school drama—one in which we aren’t laughing with or even at Jessa and Hannah, but moved to pity these women for behaving like children. With Hannah, there’s a sense of identifiable embarrassment, of being that odd kid out in a new school where people ridicule you for being different. While she’s set herself apart back in New York as superior to her peers for her creative talents and her recent accomplishments, she’s now found herself at a table full of similarly-minded elitists who refuse to coddle her for being so special. And why should they? But at the same time, it’s so difficult to find acceptance at any age, wherever you go (or wherever you are, there you go, as Elijah might say).

Friendships and platonic (and romantic) ideals form the backbone of “Female Author,” from Adam’s insistence that he doesn’t need friends to Jessa’s desperate, teary-eyed plea that Adam be the friend she so clearly needs; from Ray’s good friendship to Marnie, which she immediately co-opts for sexual gratification (typical), to Marnie’s surprisingly mature confrontation of Desi, who is somehow impossibly more narcissistic, vainly myopic, and selfish than Marnie herself. And then there’s Hannah, who seems to have been delivered an Elijah who’s abandoned much of his good sense and is viewing Iowa as a sort of collegiate vacation. Gone is the Elijah who sternly (but excellently) advised Marnie to grow a thicker skin, and here is the Elijah who cares little for aspirations beyond anything immediate.

Here’s hoping that Hannah’s ride home with a friendly Mennonite was a symbol of her rejection of partying and vanity in favor of holing herself up to actually, you know, work. And then: Seeing him place his arm around Hannah in the carriage could simply indicate yet another impetuous and wacky choice made on a conscious level by Hannah, in an attempt to inspire creativity. Hannah isn’t known for making choices for her health, but rather making choices for the story, however damaging or ill-advised.

Additional Thoughts:

  • “Putting aside my disdain for the injection of witchcraft into a conversation that was previously tethered by logic and reason ...” Old Man Ray, y’all.
  • Desi calls Marnie “Bella.” Ugh, Desi is the personification of a douche chill.
  • This week in peripheral Shoshanna adventures: She goes on a rather successful job interview, but when she’s basically hired on the spot, she reveals that she was just using the interview at Ann Taylor Loft to practice for a more legit interview elsewhere. Why are you too good for Ann Taylor Loft, Shosh?
  • Regarding Shosh: she’s never felt like a real part of the group, always flitting about around the edges, convinced that she’s better than these messy people she calls her friends. Her relationship with Ray definitely helped integrate her more into the core of the show, much like her occasional group outings with Jessa, Hannah, and Marnie. And as much as I understand the concept of keeping Shosh on the fringe (which always seems like her own personal decision as a character than a writerly one), it feels more disjointed than ever in season 4.
  • I need to know more about what Adam is up to. But the decision to keep it hidden and only offer up tiny crumbs to the audience is smart, as it reflects how little Hannah herself knows and how much she wants to know. In this way, it endeavors similar feelings of intuition-driven anxiety experienced in a relationship, when you know your significant other is up to something that isn’t good (at least not for you), but you just don’t know what. Basically: I feel like Adam is cheating on me right now.