Lena Dunham, Becky Ann Baker, Peter Scolari
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Girls’ fourth season is a pivotal one, and judging from “Iowa,” Lena Dunham is well-aware of that. Sending Hannah to Iowa is no small matter. She’s the show’s center of gravity, and whatever happens to Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna is only important to the extent it impacts their relationships with Hannah. Even when Marnie started sleeping with Ol’ Man Ray, something that should have theoretically had more ramifications for Marnie’s relationship with Shosh, Hannah’s reaction carried far more weight. Removing Hannah from Manhattan fundamentally alters the show.

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Hannah’s relocation isn’t a mistake though. It’s exactly what she should be doing now, and it’s easily the most mature decision she has made. Hannah’s relationship with Adam was already nearing a crossroads as his anxiety over the play made him increasingly alienating, and while she initially tried to take up the slack as she felt him drifing away, she made a pivotal decision after learning she was accepted into the writers’ workshop. Hannah decided to do something to advance her own dreams, even if it will potentially jeopardize her relationship with Adam. She’s being selfish, but this time righteously so.

Of course, when Hannah made the decision, she did so thinking everything would work out, and not in a general sense, in a specific sense. Though she tries to quell her anxiety with platitudes about everything vaguely working out for the good, she’s invested in a specific outcome in which she’s a successful writer, Adam is her successful actor boyfriend, and her friendships are hermetically preserved until she’s ready to unwrap them. “I’m sure it’ll all work out” is a statement most often made by people who are not remotely sure it’ll all work out, and so goes “Iowa,” in which Hannah unsuccessfully solicits reassurance that she’s not about to make a gigantic mistake. But there are no such assurances to be given, either to the character, or to Girls fans who worry about what this means for the show.

If there was any doubt as to how significant the moment is, “Iowa” eliminates it in its opening scene, which so strongly echoes the opening scene of the pilot, it would be reasonable to think this was the first installment of a final season if Girls hadn’t already been renewed. Hannah is at a fancy dinner with her parents, this time to celebrate achievements that once seemed like they would never materialize. Adam blows in late, grumbling about a botched audition and confirming everything Loreen said about Adam in “Flo.” Adam is a weird dude, and while he’s weird in a way that intrigues someone like Hannah, who thrills in studying and deconstructing quirks, he’s also weird in a way that’s impractical for her.

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At a time when so much is up in the air, Hannah wants to know this one relationship will remain constant. Adam is not only unable to reassure Hannah, he’s actually unwilling to do it. He reminds her he’s bad at the phone, rather than suggesting another way for them to communicate when she’s away. He’s oblivious to her distance when they’re having sex. He refuses to negotiate a “plan” with her despite her multiple attempts. Even a kiss goodbye is too much of a capitulation for Adam, who pretends to be sleeping when Hannah is leaving. It’s indicative of the fatal flaw of their relationship, which is that they’re too much alike. A relationship between two temperamental, emotional artistic types is simply not sustainable. It’s beautiful when everything is going well, but when there’s conflict, neither is able to see through the emotional fog.

The same can be said of Hannah’s relationship with Jessa, who goes out of her way to feign indifference to Hannah’s departure when she’s clearly upset about it. But both are so absorbed in their own feelings, Jessa can’t grasp how difficult it must be for Hannah to leave, and Hannah can’t grasp how difficult it is for Jessa to be left, especially after having to part with Bedelia following the botched assisted suicide. “You’re pussying out on this whole thing, the thing that we’re always trying to do, which is make it right where we are, regardless of location,” Jessa says, as if her character is not defined by flightiness and refusal to commit to places, let alone people. If anything, they’re swapping roles, which is reinforced by a final shot of Hannah in the backseat that looks a lot like Jessa’s arrival in the pilot. Jessa is trying on stability, while Hannah is following her bliss.

Jessa’s free-spirited ways makes her the least grounded of the characters, and therefore the one who seems most untethered from the narrative. But with Hannah off to pursue her literary goals, there’s a good chance Jessa won’t be the only one without a secure mooring in season four. At least Marnie has a playmate in Desi, who we’ll be seeing much more of now that Ebon Moss-Bachrach has been upped to regular status. I desperately miss the Marnie of season one, back before she became the show’s least endearing character. Marnie has always been judgmental, but in her post-Charlie phase, she’s developed a neediness and insecurity that makes her, as Shosh so accurately put it in “Beach House,” “really unpleasant to be around.” Between Clementine’s mea culpa and the stage meltdown, if the jazz brunch sequence is indicative of Marnie’s arc this season, it’s going to be mighty tough to watch.

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But it’s impossible to know what’s in store for Marnie, or Jessa, or Shosh, who has now graduated with a degree of some kind, but please don’t ask me to describe it at all. Shosh irons out the wrinkles in her relationship with Ray, but it remains unclear what comes next for her. Then again, that’s basically the central theme of Girls, the terrifying breadth of choices adulthood offers. The same, plentiful rope that can be turned into a ladder can also be tied into a noose.

Stray observations:

  • Here are the first words Elijah speaks in season four: “I woke up in Harlem smelling like moussaka and I didn’t have time to go home and change. There’s a lot of things happening above 125th Street that I’m very happy to know about. I stopped at the First Corinthians Church for a musical interlude, and then on my way downtown, I rescued a kitten.” This perfectly encapsulates why I’m so thrilled and so concerned about Andrew Rannells’ promotion to regular cast.
  • “Onward And Inward” is a truly heinous song, but I don’t deny that it could easily be the high-school commencement theme of choice for two or three years, like Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” or Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” But it apparently needs a parenthetical, like “Onward And Inward (Goodbye Friend).”
  • Natasha Lyonne was great as Bedelia’s estranged daughter, and the farewell scene between Bede and Jessa was awfully sweet.
  • Marnie, in tears after being heckled by a child: “Some of those songs are about death!” Oh, girl.
  • “‘Breathless’ is the title of the song,” says Marnie’s mom, in the throes of a stage mom bliss-out.
  • That was a nifty crane shot from Adam at the window down to the car.
  • Tad and Loreen brought Fig Newtons for the ride. Do they know their daughter or what?

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