Lena Dunham, Adam Driver, Gillian Jacobs
“Feel the fear…and do it anyway.” The mantra was coined in 1987 by the late Susan Jeffers, who chose it as the title of the first of her 18 self-help books. The book launched Jeffers’ career thanks to the simple but powerful idea that fueled most of her work: the idea that fear sabotages our potential, and the only way to vanquish it is to charge towards it as in a game of chicken. “There’s no such thing as a bad decision,” Jeffers wrote. “Each path is strewn with opportunities, despite the outcome.”
It’s an infectious concept. If you can white-knuckle it through the scary part, “everyone’s path will unwind just right,” as Hannah told herself in “Iowa” to avert a meltdown. The flaw in Jeffers’ thesis is its presumption that fear is useless because it feels awful, but fear can signal legitimate danger. It can also be baseless and irrational, but there’s no reliable way to tell. You can feel the fear, do it anyway, and still wind up in a ditch.
Hannah’s Iowa adventure has been tough to watch because it’s such a relatable, awful, human experience. She was terrified to leave Brooklyn, especially with Adam’s apparent indifference about how their relationship would be impacted. The goodbye was supposed to be the hump Hannah had to get over, and she thought if she could suppress her fear long enough to physically get to Iowa and settle in, the rest of the ride would be smooth. But when is the fear supposed to end? When is Hannah supposed to get a definitive answer about whether or not Iowa was the right move?
“Cubbies” is the episode in which Hannah learns there’s never a definitive answer. Life isn’t Let’s Make A Deal—if you pick the box, you never get to see what was behind the curtain. To watch Girls is to watch its characters make glaringly awful decisions and feel wiser than them, but it’s much more difficult to judge or second-guess Hannah’s choice in “Cubbies.” Sure, she should probably recognize what a great opportunity the writers’ workshop is and fake it until she makes it, but Hannah’s had a really, really tough time of it in Iowa. She’s homesick, unmotivated, and bored. Her classmates don’t like her, and there’s a flourishing underground market for bicycles belonging to her. Under these circumstances, it’s not unreasonable for Hannah to conclude this isn’t her field of dreams.
In the latest indignity, Hannah issues a letter to her classmates apologizing for the fusillade of personal insults she unleashed at the poets’ party, and it is received about as warmly as the rest of Hannah’s writing. The group’s reaction to Hannah’s story in “Triggering” seemed excessively hostile, but their reaction to Hannah’s “apology” letter is appropriate. Hannah isn’t apologizing to her classmates, she’s extending them the opportunity to apologize for stifling her creativity and blocking her flow. Naturally she gets called out for her “hate letter,” but the reaction plays right into Hannah’s scheme because she designed it that way. If the group accepts the apology and confesses to creating an environment in which Hannah can’t create, she has an excuse to leave. If the class rejects it and becomes more hostile towards her, exacerbating the “negative energy,” she still has an excuse to leave.
The backlash isn’t as much ammunition as Hannah needs though. If she’s going to leave Iowa with no guilt or regret, she has to feel like she was forced to leave or because she’s absolutely certain the writer’s life is not for her. She’s disappointed when the professor tells her she would only get kicked out for being extremely violent toward another student, a line suggests it’s about to be followed by a fight-training montage. Instead, Hannah gets some inspiration from Tad, who reveals her mother tried to write a book, then abandoned it and started enjoying life. Tad’s story echoes Elijah’s breakthrough about giving up dancing and triggers the same doubt in Hannah. Maybe she isn’t meant to be a writer, and the only way to find out is to start directing her energy elsewhere. It’s time to go.
Even if Hannah’s choice is the wrong one in the long-term, it’s clearly the right one for her in the short-term, and the satisfaction and relief is all over her face when she makes her triumphant return to Brooklyn. The music cue, RAC’s “We Belong,” underscores how thrilled Hannah is to be going home. Her enthusiasm is what makes the final scene so harsh. It’s tempting to call Hannah’s introduction to Mimi-Rose awkward, but awkwardness is the show’s baseline. And by the time Hannah arrives home, we’ve already watched another excruciating Shoshanna job interview and Desi’s ugly cry when he tells Marnie about his split with Clementine. Hannah’s return isn’t awkward; it’s mortifying. It’s also the closest thing to a genuine cliffhanger Girls has done in ages.
The Mimi-Rose cliffhanger puts Girls in the position to pull its other characters back into Hannah’s orbit, where they thrive most. As strong as Hannah’s scenes were, “Cubbies” was weighed down by its other elements, in particular the Ray and Shoshanna scenes. I don’t envy the task of writing for Ray these days. After all, he began as Charlie’s friend, then became Hannah’s boss and Shoshanna’s boyfriend, then Marnie’s secret lover. Ray has never had his own presence in Girls independent of the other characters, an issue that becomes more glaring when he doesn’t have anything to do except yell at honking motorists until Shosh runs into him.
It’s not necessarily a problem for the other characters to exist in service of Hannah, but it becomes a problem when Hannah isn’t around for people to prioritize her needs. But it’s safe to say the Mimi-Rose reveal constitutes an all-hands-on-deck moment.
- “Why were you offended Logan?” Hannah’s “bitch please” tone was amazing, and one of Lena Dunham’s best line readings.
- Shoshanna is terrible at job interviews, but she’s right about that necklace. It isn’t flattering.
- Does anybody else want to read Chester’s story about the robot horse?
- While I liked the workshop scene, it’s not at all far-fetched to think Hannah could be kicked out of the program for chucking a paper ball at Jeffrey. That sort of thing doesn’t fly.
- For the record, Clementine absolutely dumped Desi, and more power to her. Marnie’s reaction was amazing. There’s a big difference between stealing someone’s boyfriend and inheriting a cheater after the previous owner is done with him.
- Marnie was even more awful than usual trying to squeeze validation out of Jessa and Shosh at the bar. Jessa was hilariously bitchy: “Well, you did it. You made a song.”
- I love Patsy Cline and all, but “I’ve Got Your Picture” felt a little on-the-nose for the closing credits.