After a first episode that reunited the Girls crew for Marnie’s wedding extravaganza, the second episode of the new season was all about taking care of business.
Fresh off of a season and a half of “Am I seeing what I’m seeing?” flirtation, Jessa and Adam are settling in for some classic will-they-or-won’t-they drama. One of the things that makes Girls interesting as a show is that despite each character being deeply selfish and contributing little more than intelligent misery to the world, they all still have a strong moral code. Jessa and Adam are attracted to each other because they share the same distaste for arbitrary rules, but the situation surrounding a possible romance puts them in a place where their morality doesn’t match. Jessa doesn’t want to betray Hannah; Adam doesn’t care about betraying Hannah; and Jessa only lets herself have what she wants when Adam is able to reframe the hookup, telling Jessa that she’s being considerate on behalf of Hannah, who might not be as generous if the situation were reversed.
Would Hannah hook up with an ex of Jessa’s if she was really into him? Maybe? I sort of doubt it, but it’s plausible enough to talk Jessa into some mutual masturbation … eventually with eye contact. That mutual-masturbation scene, by the way, is signature Girls: all weird, hot, and excited about it. At its best, Girls is a show that thrillingly explores uncomfortable places, that finds uncomfortable places not just authentic, but sexy.
But if Jessa’s boy troubles this episode exist within the normal realm of messiness that society comes to expect of youth, Hannah spends her time managing the fallout from unresolved adult desires, the ones that don’t necessarily fit into the normal boundaries that institutions like marriage and parenthood depend upon. Enter Tad Horvath.
Last season, Hannah’s dad came out as gay. This season sees Tad exploring his sexuality beyond just the realm of theory. Hannah gets a call at school from Tad, who is sobbing that he’s in New York and needs her help. Hannah skips work and devotes the rest of the episode to settling her dad’s romantic drama.
Now, school politics are a bit of a fascination of mine, so we might be entering personal pet-peeve territory, but even if this is the most Montessori make-your-own-curriculum charter school on the planet, Hannah’s school scenes are pure fantasyland. There is no way she’d be able to teach Philip Roth, abruptly leave school, and stay away for the rest of the day with no consequences. If Helvetica, the no-lids fair trade coffee shop encroaching on Ray’s coffee place, is a conceit perfectly in tune with the specific pretensions of “artisan” branding, Hannah’s school exploits are funny only in a purely hypothetical way that exists completely outside the realm of real-world possibility. Maybe they work better for someone else than they do for me, but I like Girls best when there’s a grain of truth to the ridiculousness of the characters’ behavior.
But the scenes involving Tad, his onetime lover Keith, and Hannah’s mother Loreen are painfully honest, exactly the line that Girls treads best. We don’t see Tad and Keith hook up; instead, the drama unfolds through how every member of this sad triangle relates to Hannah, and everything from Tad’s almost childlike dependence and selfishness to Keith’s awkwardness to Loreen’s bitter anger reflects on their relationships both with each other and with Hannah.
Between this episode and last week’s wedding, Girls is moving on from the short-term disappointments and uncertainty of youthful relationships to pull back the curtain — in little peeks at a time — of immaturity into the world of adults. And what’s behind the curtain isn’t any more promising than what’s in front of it. Life remains messy, people remain unfulfilled, and after you have a happy ending, you have to keep on living.
This episode sees Hannah take on the role of a parent, comforting her father, reassuring Keith, hearing out her mother’s complaints. In the episode’s final moments, Hannah offers her father the maternal promise, “I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you.” The joke here, of course, is that Hannah is the blind leading the blind, and judging by the look of despair on her face as the episode closes, she’s starting to realize that there’s no point at which everything becomes clear.