Peter Scolari, Becky Ann Baker

For evidence of why “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” is one of the best episodes of Girls’ fourth season, look no further than the title. The departure from the show’s core characters is a refreshing change of pace at a time when Hannah and her friends are behaving in especially grating ways. That departure results in a rhythmically atypical episode of Girls, as the last few have been, but it’s now obvious why Lena Dunham has adopted this strategy for the back half of the season. Hannah is the main character of Girls, but Dunham doesn’t want the show to be hemmed in by an excess of Hannah’s perspective. The early part of the season was Hannah-focused, and now that she’s back in Brooklyn, the final stretch of the season can balance the scales in favor of the other characters. It’s a noble direction, and probably a necessary one considering no episode since “Iowa” has featured an appearance by all eight regular cast members.

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“Tad” also changed my perspective on Hannah’s relationships, if only slightly. It would be difficult to shift focus to the other characters and their personal interests if they’re all busy tending to Hannah’s emotional wounds. While the choices initially seemed designed to show how all of Hannah’s relationships are crumbling around her, it now looks more like the primary goal is to develop the other characters by not absorbing them in Hannah’s drama. The degree to which it makes the other ladies look like “fucking whiny nothings as friends,” to quote Shosh, is both a function of that choice, as well as its own element of the story.

Speaking of “Beach House,” like that episode, “Tad” goes out of its way to hammer home the fact that Hannah is herself a raging narcissist and it plays as a semi-defense of Shosh, Marnie, and even Jessa. When it comes to being self-centered, Hannah gives as good as she gets, though Dunham takes advantage of protagonist bias even as underestimates it. While Hannah is crazy to think the world revolves around her, this is a television show in which she is the main character, so in that sense, the world actually does revolve around her. Hannah’s behavior, even as selfish and oblivious as it can be, will almost never come off as badly as Marnie’s or Jessa’s.

But Hannah definitely tests the audience’s tolerance in “Tad,” as her post-Adam spiral continues. Hannah’s first-date ambush in “Ask Me My Name” was an insane thing to do, but Hannah doubles down. After such a mortifying date with a colleague, many people would quit that job without notice in a terse e-mail. Instead, Hannah—on the wise counsel of a child—seeks Fran out to see if she can take him on a second date, perhaps one in which she takes him to a swingers’ club and has sex with other men in front of him. Naturally he rebuffs her, providing much more context than most people would have, and Hannah fires back with a statement about how he wants to tame her that’s socially inept even by Hannah’s exacting standards.

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Who even knows what any of that means, but it’s one of several rock-bottom Hannah moments in “Tad,” the second episode of the season credited to Dunham and Jenni Konner. In addition to her botched reconciliation with Fran, Hannah makes the remarkably irresponsible choice to leave St. Justine’s in the middle of the day with Cleo to get a piercing, as if teaching is the latest thing she’d be relieved to fail at. It’s hard to watch Hannah’s desperation to make a connection with Cleo, but kind of understandable given how distant and unavailable all of her other friends have been. It’s much harder to watch Cleo’s traumatic frenulum piercing, which is as visceral and physically uncomfortable a sequence as anything The Americans has done this season, and that’s a profound statement. If I were Cleo, I’d be equally pissed that Hannah flaked out on their deal. But I would have reneged too. That was brutal, and seemed to last far longer than the 45 seconds it occupied.

Fran’s spot-on assessment of Hannah takes its toll, and by the end of the episode, Hannah calls home to be heard by Tad and Loreen, the only people willing to listen to her bullshit so long as they’re not in the middle of a good Scrabble game. Hannah is completely detached from reality, which is par for the course, but this particular rant is a special case. It should be read in its entirety:

Do you think I’m a dramatic person? ‘Cause this guy that I like, or, like, don’t even like, I went on one half-date with him and he claims to like me, says I am too dramatic. I’m not dramatic. I’m someone who’s not gonna sugarcoat things. I’m a person who really gets a lot out of life, okay, and I’m also a person who sees the darkness in life. I’m not a fucking character on The Hills. I’m responding to real issues. I’m responding to the financial crisis. I’m responding to the fact that so many people are homeless. If that makes me dramatic, if that makes me Courtney Love, y’know, then I can handle that. But the thing is, it’s like, there’s no way…

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It’s tough to derail someone in this much of a nosedive, but luckily Loreen has just the thing: “HANNAH. Your father is gay.”

Hannah would do well to steer clear of Elijah for a few days, because he seems like the “I told you so type of dude,” and he absolutely called this one way back in “All Adventurous Women Do.” There was something different about Tad when we saw him in “Cubbies,” which I didn’t initially notice, but many people did. The explanation finally arrives with Tad coming out to Loreen immediately after leaving their therapist’s office. He’s gay, and he’s known for many years but is only just now ready to talk through it with her. It’s the kind of revelation for which there is no “good time,” but Tad comes out at an especially inopportune time as Loreen is celebrating being granted tenure.

The scenes between Tad and Loreen (and Avi and Shanaz) are among the best of the season. The regular characters come with so much baggage, and putting these secondary characters in the spotlight allows the audience to fully enjoy the sharp dialogue and emotional acuity that make this show so great. Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker turn in some brilliant work here, as do Fred Melamed and Jackie Hoffman. One of many things I loved about the main plot is Loreen and Avi’s affair, which helped avoid the trap of making Tad’s late-in-life acceptance of his sexuality come across as a crime he’s committed against the faultless Loreen. Decades-long marriages are full of secrets, delusions, and efforts to seek fulfillment elsewhere, and Tad and Loreen’s marriage is no exception. Also: I enjoy Drunk Loreen at least as much as Drunk Shosh, and quite possibly more.

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“Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” feels so special in part because of how infrequently the show makes this kind of dramatic detour, so while it would be counterproductive for Girls to do more episodes like this, I really wish Girls could do more episodes like this.

Stray observations:

  • Cleo likes Shia LeBeouf, who lives in her building: “I think I can help him.”
  • How amazing was Shosh’s date with Scott? “I wanna know more about the future of your cock.” Those two might make it, if only because they saw the cast of The Good Wife on their first date, and that has to be good luck of some kind. “Josh Charles! He died!”
  • Shosh said “Bitches be cray” at dinner with Scott, so between that and her use of “Budussy”—which I haven’t really heard since Bernie Mac said it in 1997’s Def Jam’s How To Be A Player—I guess I should start outlining my think piece about Shoshanna and minstrelsy or whatever.
  • There’s another “All Adventurous Women Do” callback in the form of a reference to HPV.
  • I genuinely have no idea how the traditional music label business model even works these days, but a $2,000 advance? I know we’re long past the days of million-dollar signing bonuses, but I have no idea what a $2,000 advance is. That said, it seems like a pretty good deal for the pedals responsible for creating the My Bloody Valentine sound.
  • Speaking of everyone’s favorite couple, they’re engaged now. Desi: “I always swore that I’d never get married until my gay cousin Destin could, but I can’t wait any longer.” Sigh. So many sighs.
  • Ray is still in love with Marnie, and truthfully I find his war against honking traffic to be a far more interesting conflict.
  • I’d kill to read Ray’s eHarmony profile.
  • The closing song is St. Vincent’s “Teenage Talk,” which is a St. Vincent outtake she gave Dunham & Co. first crack at. Pretty cool.

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