On tonight's new episode of 'Girls,' Hannah's turning 25, and all her friends are gathered for a birthday party -- but a surprise visit from Adam's sister (guest star Gaby Hoffmann) throws a kink in the happy couple's plans and gives us more of an idea of where Adam comes from. Meanwhile, a YouTube video from Marnie's past is stressing her out, and Ray discovers he's not quite over his break-up with Shoshanna.

I keep wondering if there's some trick here, like if I turn these episodes over and over, maybe eventually the light will hit them just right and I'll understand what I'm missing. This show is a lot of things, but it's really good at presenting the limited perspectives of its characters, particularly Hannah. And the first two seasons did such a great job of establishing that so strongly that I feel like these first few episodes have relaxed on hammering down the unreliable narrator stuff, allowing the stories to focus a bit more on the people around Hannah -- perhaps because Hannah herself is writing her own stories now instead of telling people about how she wants to write them.

I think what sort of feels like a trick is how well Hannah seems to be doing while everyone else around her is struggling, but 'Girls' is a show that's so human and, although exaggerated for comedic and dramatic effect, it is grounded in reality in very raw ways. The truth is that all of us go through rough times and then poof, one day everything is fine for a period of time while everyone around us seems to be falling apart. And maybe Hannah is growing up a bit -- maybe she needs to be the steady center, maybe she enjoys being the sane one in a sea of nuttiness. It can feel pretty nice.

So tonight we learn more about Adam and why he is the way he is, why he needs to take care of Hannah and is so glad to have found someone so willing to accept his care. We meet Caroline, Adam's mess of a sister, played by the intensely amazing Gaby Hoffmann. Seemingly suffering from a vague mental illness, Caroline has issues with boundaries, anger, insecurity, depression, and responsibility, and from what Adam's indicated, he's tried and failed many times to help her over the years, leaving him feeling incredibly frustrated. Caroline, with bruises on her thighs (which she blames herself for), crashes Hannah's party but agrees not to stay at the apartment, and everything seems to be sort of okay until Hannah and Adam return home and find her in the bathroom, sans-underwear, clutching a glass until it breaks in her fist. This is a very different kind of mental illness than what Hannah experienced, and while I think her empathy for Caroline is, at its root, genuine, I don't think Hannah is equipped or prepared to deal with the obstacles Caroline presents. Caroline could be an opportunity or a threat: she can teach Hannah more about this man she loves and about Hannah herself; or she could drive a wedge between them, slash them open, and pick at the wounds. A third option: Hannah is secretly happy to keep her around for writing inspiration -- maybe Adam finds out, drama ensues? Either way, I hope we see more of Caroline in the future, though it's clear she isn't staying in the guest room for more than a night.

Marnie is also not well: she discovers a YouTube music video Charlie made of her covering Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians' "What I Am" (oh, the autotune) and flips out, calling his assistant to have it taken down. And when she goes to the party she helped organize for Hannah's birthday, of course she has to show the video to her friends (but not Jessa, take note), and of course she has to deny that she's looked at the harsh comments. But Marnie knew about the video, and she knew Charlie put it on YouTube -- why is she just now throwing a fit about it? Marnie is spending her spare time focusing all of her energy on a relationship that doesn't exist anymore, finding new things to be upset about, and she's clearly got a whole pocket full of stuff like this video to pull out whenever she starts running out of steam. She insists that Charlie's stalking her Instagram account, so she better take pictures of the party so he can see how great she's doing, but the truth is that no one ever cares as much about us as we think they do. No one is thinking about us as much as we wish they were. Charlie probably hasn't given a second thought to Marnie since he disappeared.

And finally there's Ray: while he's taking on more responsibility at the coffee shop he's now managing and seems to be becoming the grown-up Shoshanna wanted him to be, he's still not entirely happy. When he runs into Shosh at Hannah's party, he does the mature thing and tries to talk to her, and I love watching the wheels turn behind his eyes as he rambles meaninglessly about his job before making the declaration: he doesn't want to be her friend and make small talk and be civil. He doesn't want to be in her life or care about her or acknowledge her existence in even the tiniest of ways. Even better is his nonchalant, but so very Ray sign-off, "Cool cigarette," which almost seems to sting her more than Ray not wanting to be her friend. But that's not the end of it for Ray, who ends up getting punched in the face by Hannah's editor for picking a fight with him over his crappy taste in music.

While everyone else can hardly keep it together, it seems like Hannah is the only one actually doing okay, and yet there's almost this superficial quality to the way she soothes Caroline and her sort of maternal, chipper attitude when she addresses the needs of others. She's so happy to be the one who has it together for once, and I'm not saying she doesn't: it just seems like she's overcompensating, as if she's making a show of it. At least it's less obnoxious than Marnie forcing Hannah into that awkward 'Rent' duet against her will.

Additional thoughts:

  • John Cameron Mitchell is playing the greatest obnoxious little gay man of all time. And yes, Adam, he does sort of look like Ed Norton.
  • Colin Quinn's Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt is the most Colin Quinn-appropriate wardrobe choice.
  • Tako!
  • Laird is really into this song. What's it from?
  • I really want to know what Laird made for Hannah.