Alex Karpovsky, Lena Dunham

On a plot level, Girls can be incredibly difficult to evaluate because there’s a massive gap between what the audience wants to see happen and what actually happens. Not only that, there’s a massive gap between what the audience thinks they want to see happen, and what would actually be satisfying to them. Would Girls be more enjoyable to watch if Hannah got her act together?

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In “Daddy Issues,” Hannah completes her campaign to botch her new substitute teaching gig by having a knock-down, drag-out fight with her underage bestie Cleo, calling her a bitch in the middle of the school hall. Principal Toby invites Hannah to his office, where they discuss her inappropriate behavior, and Hannah thinks the issue is that the conversation encroached on the school day, not that it happened at all. It’s irritating to watch, but how satisfying would the alternative be? If Hannah had post-traumatic flashbacks after witnessing Cleo’s frenulum piercing—and who could blame her?—then decided to start behaving like a mature adult, would Girls be easy to like or less?

These questions came up for me during “Daddy Issues” because I’ve written about how Girls challenges my tolerance and makes me actively wonder how long I can stick around for a show full of characters I actively dislike. These weren’t questions that came up during season three, the content of which wasn’t tonally different from anything in season four. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that a show like Girls, in which the characters are designed to be grating and to chase their own tails, has an exposure limit, and Girls has been allowed to continue beyond that limit because it’s been critically successful and widely discussed despite not being widely watched. The other possibility is that the show’s elements have to be balanced really precisely, and if that balance becomes skewed in any way, it becomes harder to stomach.

For those growing weary of Girls, either of those explanations could be true, and both could be true. Season four has been solid overall, though it has felt a bit misshapen due to the heavy-on-the-Hannah first half. That tiny change to the formula could be enough to make the show feel like a shadow of itself even while it’s been qualitatively consistent. In any event, while I mostly enjoyed “Daddy Issues,” it’s an episode I could see marking a turning point for loyal viewers on the fence.

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“Daddy Issues” is one of those Girls episodes that makes Hannah look completely justified in thinking the entire world revolves around her. After her horribly awkward confrontation with Cleo, Principal Toby takes Hannah into his office and very gently corrects her behavior but doesn’t fire her, or even so much as formally reprimand her. He merely tells her to “be mindful of boundaries.” Then the episode pivots to Hannah’s difficulty processing Tad’s sexuality, and Hannah spends the remainder of the episode trying to exert her own boundaries while everyone around her tries to force her to imagine her father having sex.

It’s reminiscent of the issue with “Triggering,” another episode in which characters seem to make all of their choices based on what would most make Hannah Horvath uncomfortable. Much of the Hannah stuff works though because it’s made up of such great scenes. I expected Elijah to gloat over his victory, but I didn’t anticipating quite this much gloating. I’m grateful for it though, because it gives way to some of the funnier recent Elijah bits. Love Elijah or hate him, Andrew Rannells kills, and Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari are invariably great as Loreen and Tad.

The other storylines don’t fare as well, including the impromptu double date between Ace, Jessa, Adam, and Mimi-Rose, during which it was always unclear who was on a date with whom. It looks like the Age of Mimi-Rose has come to an abrupt end; Ace uses Jessa to trigger Mimi-Rose’s jealousy, and Mimi-Rose confesses that she wants Ace back before dramatically declaring she chooses neither man. It feels like an unearned twist to break up Adam and Mimi-Rose just before the season finale. Also, if this is the last time we see Mimi-Rose, I’ll feel like I never really got to understand who she is. It’s hard to tell where the responsibility for that lies. Gillian Jacobs’ performance is part of it. In “Daddy Issues,” she’s the vacant, robotic Mimi-Rose that casually mentioned to Adam that she aborted their child. It’s difficult to parse Mimi-Rose, who seems composed of a very warm side and a very cool side, as if she is some kind of human McDLT.

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Adam and Jessa wind up at the pub where Ol’ Man Ray is celebrating his victory in the race for a seat on the community board. The pub will one day become a famous landmark, filled to capacity with Marnie and Desi fans eager to see the place where their favorite band announced their engagement. It’s literally impossible for me to invest in the hastily arranged Desi-Marnie-Ray love triangle. It can be difficult to conceive of what would be satisfying in an episode of Girls. But I’ll be ready to stand up and cheer when Ray finally realizes the wedding of Desi and Marnie is the most efficient method of containing two unstoppable forces of evil.

Stray observations:

  • Excellent cameo from Jake Lacy, who strolls by in the middle of Hannah’s fight with Cleo.
  • Loreen: “Where is your father, Christopher Street or something?” Hannah: “That’s not even where gay people hang out anymore.”
  • Hannah, during Marnie’s announcement: “She is so not sorry to interrupt.”
  • Watch Scandal this week, if your Lena Dunham rage is not sated.

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