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‘Girls’ Review: “The Return”

Girls
HBO

This week’s ‘Girls,’ titled “The Return,” sees Hannah returning home to Michigan to visit her parents for their anniversary. And for those who have criticized Hannah’s poor decisions and lack of growth — this one’s for you.

Marnie makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the episode to bid her friend farewell, as Hannah makes her way to the airport with a trash bag in lieu of a suitcase. This week brings the long overdue return of Hannah’s parents, played by Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari. When she gets home, Hannah slips into regression mode, seeking out her high school best friend and stress-eating all the food in the fridge.

In the morning, her mom asks her to run the pharmacy, where she meets another old high school acquaintance named Eric. He offers her some personal lubricant to go with her mom’s hormone replacement prescription (women of a certain age have needs, too) and asks her on a date. He seems nice and normal and not at all like Adam, which is what she needs right now to gain a little equilibrium.

Their date includes going to a benefit for an acquaintance who went missing while on vacation, and Hannah’s old friend and a couple of her lady pals put on a weird dance number in skimpy outfits. There’s much on Hannah’s face at the benefit as she watches her high school friend dance around on stage in skimpy clothing. It’s a mix of feeling awkward, alienated, and maybe even envious. These people are not as self-aware as Hannah and they don’t understand how ridiculous they are. It’s kind of a great moment in the context of Hannah’s journey because here is someone who engages in ridiculous, jaw-dropping behavior at times (see last week’s confrontation with her grope-happy boss) and isn’t aware of how ridiculous she’s being in the moment, yet she judges other people who lack that same self-awareness. Yet, Hannah is also very much aware of her flaws, in a way that people of her age (or, hell, almost any age) are — it’s all very self-involved, underscored by subjective self-assessment. Basically, Hannah wants to admit her flaws, but only a little bit at a time. After all, she has a reputation to uphold with herself.

During dinner with Eric, Hannah provides the theme to this week’s episode in one sentence: “I kept doing it for like, six more weeks ’cause I’m a slow learner.” The episode is about self-awareness, but that kind of awareness where you are keenly acquainted with your flawed behavior, yet you choose to continue engaging in it, even though you know what you are doing is bad for you. It’s behavior common among people in their late teens and early 20s — a sort of willful ignorance that belies the minute genesis of inner growth. It doesn’t seem like productive or healthy behavior, but awareness is ultimately better than being wholly ignorant. Hannah’s self-awareness shows that she is cognizant of her poor choices, but her willful ignorance indicates that she’s scared of change. Her regression in this week’s episode runs counter to what she’s trying — albeit shakily — to accomplish: becoming a responsible adult.

Up until now her willingness to change and her perpetual string of bad decisions have been debatable, but I think that showing her self-awareness shows that she is a character with depth and not someone whom many have found to be easily despised. Hannah knows that what she does is wrong, she knows that she should do and deserves better, but when you cut to the heart of it, she’s just scared and lost and confused and clinging on to things that are comfortable for her.

It’s almost like Hannah’s parents represent the divergent audience opinions on Hannah’s character. Her father wonders what type of person she’ll become and bemoans her aspirations and her irresponsibility. Hannah’s mom, on the other hand, really gets what I’m saying about Hannah, when she says, “She does what she wants when she wants to do it, and she has fun. And then she thinks about that fun and she learns from that fun.” Well, we’re all hoping Hannah learns from the fun she’s having, and I believe she is, just very slowly.

Further proof that Hannah is evolving: Her mom asks if she’s sure that she’s okay with money, and in an act that shows some honest-to-goodness growth, she turns down the offer for help. Hannah does need the money, and perhaps she’s a little proud, and perhaps she’s enacting some silent retribution for her parents cutting her off, but it’s still progress. It’s Hannah accepting that she needs to take care of herself, no matter how hard it is, because that’s how she’s going to learn. She knows it in her bones.

As an aside, Peter Scolari’s Woody Allen impression is spectacular during the dinner scene between the two parents. And their shower sex scene is even more hilarious, as we’re faced with body parts of Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari that no one thought they’d ever see.

Hannah goes back to Eric’s place to have sex, but since she’s only recently been exploring more daring sexual waters with Adam (and he’s only one of a few partners she’s ever had), things get pretty awkward as she attempts to elevate the regular sex Eric wants to something more interesting. She’s not used to nicer boys in light of Adam’s attitude toward her, and she certainly seems to believe that more men are like Adam, particularly in the bedroom.

Speaking of Adam — earlier in the episode, Hannah dials him and quickly hangs up before he answers. He calls her back at the end of the episode and Hannah explains that she realizes how disconnected they are from each other in that she’s not sure she’d know if something bad happened to him because they share no common friends and no one would know to call her. And then something startling happens… Adam tells Hannah, “I wish you were here.” He does it in his Adam way, jokingly admitting something more serious, and I hesitate to praise this progress because there are few things more irksome than the cliched story of a girl who hooks up with a guy who’s emotionally distant and wrong, but is somehow magically able to crack his hard shell and transform him into a better person.

Still, I don’t think ‘Girls’ is the type of show to take the easy, heavily trodden paths. Lena Dunham has so far proven that she takes the familiar and makes it searingly real, so while Adam may be showing a more caring side this week, it could all just be leading to more trouble for Hannah down the line.

Quotable:

“I don’t really think that you guys are understanding the severity of this situation. I’ve been dating someone who treats my heart like it’s monkey meat.”

“What’s your real job in New York?” “I’m a writer.” “And that’s how you make money?” “No, I don’t have any money!” — Truer words were never spoken.

“I just helped my dad with a sex injury, so… that happened.” “You had sex with your father?!”

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