GIRLS: On Death and Jezebel

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David is dead. And Marnie maybe is anorexic. These are the two things that we learn at the beginning of this episode of Girls, and only one of them is interesting at all. And it’s not the young woman running herself ragged and living off coconut water because she has nothing good going on in her life. Eating disorders are many things, but they are not inherently interesting. Deprivation and self-punishment and the motivation behind these behaviors can be fascinating, sure, but is also just as likely to be banal. And because this is Marnie? Who sees religion in the smile of a dog? It’s just not that compelling, not even a little bit. Ugh. Marnie.

But so, far more interesting than watching Marnie run up and down the stairs is the sudden death of Hannah’s editor David, who we all remember from the last episode, in which he memorably punched out Ray after having disrespected the Smashing Pumpkins and downloaded Grindr onto Hannah’s phone. Hannah finds out about David’s death after arriving late and, as per usual, a mess to a meeting at his office, and quickly realizes that—just this once—her tardiness won’t adversely affect her career, because David will never show up to the meeting due to, you know, his death.

Death. It’s so…final. But, as Jessa reminds Hannah later, it’s also “like jury duty or floods,” in that, you know, “it happens.” As you would imagine, Jessa has a pretty healthy bizarrely complacent attitude about death due to her certainty that time isn’t linear. She tells Hannah, “I kind of look forward to the day I die. Really we’ve already died and we’ve also not yet been born.” Hannah doesn’t quite seem to grasp this because Hannah is the kind of person who is pretty certain that when death comes, it will be shocking, sure, but also just something to observe from outside her own body, just one more thing to compartmentalize. In other words, Hannah has no feelings and is maybe a sociopath.

You know who’s not a sociopath? Adam. He walks into the apartment excited about his street find of a framed Bosom Buddies-era portrait of Tom Hanks (whose co-star on the show was none other than Peter Scolari, who plays Hannah’s dad) and greets Jessa (“How’s your life of doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing?” heh) and then tries to commiserate with Hannah, saying, “Hannah, baby…that sucks shit” when he hears the bad news. But Hannah is doing just fine. Or, she is when it comes to David’s death. What she’s really upset about is what her editor’s untimely demise will mean for her career, and she complains to Adam that “no one even began to tell me what was next for my e-book!”

Naturally—because he is a human with human feelings—Adam is baffled by Hannah’s disconnection from her feelings and her lack of emotion in general. He is dismayed that Hannah only cares about when her “book will hit the stands” (even though as Hannah points out, “it’s an e-book and it’s never going to hit the stands because there are no stands”) and is further upset that when he sees Hannah reading about David’s death on Gawker of all places. Because despite Hannah’s claims that her interest in Gawker is a professional one (“I’m a mediaist”), Adam asks her, “When you die, how would you feel if a bunch of judgmental creeps, celibate against their will, snarkily reported on every fucking detail of your decomposing body?” He dismisses Gawker writers as being just “a bunch of jealous people appealing to our basest desire to see other people kicked when they’re down.” Which, well. All this seems a little out of date, doesn’t it? Gawker as the place to get media news? It’s not 2008 anymore. People go to Gawker for longform essays on smarm and finger-fucking cults or for videos of screaming goats—worthwhile things. For someone who is so in touch with what’s going on in digital media, this seems like a bit of a lapse on Dunham’s part. But then Hannah says this about Gawker, “its sister site Jezebel is a place where feminists can go to support one another which we need in this modern world full of slut-shaming.” And just like that, Dunham is prophetic again, because how was she to know that this episode would air a mere ten days after Jezebel offered $10,000 for unretouched photos of Dunham’s Vogue shoot? Ha. Nicely done, Lena Dunham. Nicely done.

Of course, this isn’t really about Jezebel or Gawker or any of that bullshit. David’s death gives us a deeper understanding into just how flawed the characters on this show are…or aren’t. Adam for one seems to have a pretty good grasp on what’s important in life, and tells Hannah that if she died, “the world would blur. [He] wouldn’t even know what a tree was.” But he also justifiably worries that if something happened to him, all Hannah would care about would be if she could make rent. Hannah doesn’t assuage his fears, despite telling him that she “thinks about him dying all the time.” It’s pretty clear that the only reason Hannah thinks about stuff like that is because she is really into the idea of speaking at a funeral. It’s just another reading, after all, only with a much larger audience than would come out in support for the debut of an e-book. The fact that Hannah “literally feels nothing” about David’s death is more than a little troubling, and had me nodding in agreement with the unfortunately soul-patched Ray when he says to her, “Why don’t you place just one crumb of basic human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic detachment and see how it tastes?” Which, even if Hannah doesn’t care about having emotions as a person, it’s a helpful thing for a writer to be able to feel things and have empathy. It’s like, if Hannah can’t be a good person  for the sake of humanity, at least she could be one for the sake of her art. Are e-books art? No. They’re really not.

Anyway, Hannah isn’t the only one going through some stuff. David’s death struck a chord with Jessa as well, because she never properly grieved the passing of her friend, Season. Jessa tells Shoshanna (of whom the less said the better, because while Hannah might be a sociopath, Shosh is not even recognizably human with all the stupid shit she says in this episode, all while folding her “array of bandanas”) that Season “was my favorite friend. She was so funny and cute and I used to love her a lot. I used to tickle her all the time. She choked on vomit or something.” Jessa decides to get in touch with Season’s mom, who tells Jessa that Season is not actually dead. That’s right. Season faked her own death just to get away from Jessa. Ouch. Although, honestly, if someone tickled me all the time? I would very seriously consider faking my own death as well. Anyway, Jessa tracks down Season, who lives in a gorgeous brownstone with her baby and “cool-looking husband.” Season is not happy to see her old friend, and reminds Jessa, “I was a drug addict and you were a total enabler. I told you I was a drug addict and you took me to an ayahuasca ceremony.” That sounds like Jessa! Some things never change. Jessa reacts exactly like you’d expect and bitterly says to Season, “You think you’ve got it all figured out with your brownstone and baby and cool-looking husband…none of this is going to work out for you, by the way. Don’t call me when all of this falls to shambles.” But Season is so far beyond all that and simply says, “I won’t.” As Jessa walks away, a smile plays on her lips, and I hope this encounter triggered something in Jessa so that she can avoid the path that Hannah is on. You know, the one full of lies and emotional detachment and compartmentalization.

Also on that scary path? Adam’s sister Caroline, who takes Hannah and Laird (LAIRD!) on a jaunt through the local cemetery, during which we find out that when Laird was a child, he used to call his penis “nickel the pickle.” Also, we learns that Hannah worries that Adam “is going to feel bored or stifled by being with someone who can’t match his depth of emotion.” Which, maybe! Because Hannah really does seem to be pretty dead inside. After Caroline tells her a whole sob story (like, literally, Laird is SOBBING) about how Adam took care of their disabled cousin and even took her to his senior prom before this cousin died, Hannah still can’t feel emotion. Even Caroline—vampiric, somersault-turning Caroline—is impressed with the depth of Hannah’s numbness. But it isn’t enough that Hannah doesn’t feel things the way other people do. Hannah is actually even more fucked up than we had realized, because when she gets back home, she sees Adam and sits down with him on the stoop. Hannah starts off by saying to a skeptical Adam, “It always takes me a little while to process my emotions…it’s hard to realize that my champion is gone.” And then Hannah goes on to explain why she has a hard time processing her emotions. And the reason? Hannah had a disabled cousin who died right after Hannah took her to the senior prom. Adam (being human) responds to this sad story and embraces Hannah, thus mending the temporary rift in their relationship, and the episode ends with Nancy Sinatra’s voice singing “Sug…Sug…Sugartown.”

I think a lot of people will probably use that last scene as evidence that Hannah is an irredeemable character—not only personally repellent, but also probably afflicted with a personality disorder or two. I’m not so sure, though, that she’s as bad as her actions sometimes suggest. As reprehensible as it is to steal a (fake) sob story and adopt it as part of your own personal lore (which, very reprehensible!), the reason that Hannah does this is not because she doesn’t care about people, but because she does. Namely, she cares about Adam. She cares about Adam so much that she is scrambling for a way not to alienate him. She knows that she has a hard time feeling as deeply as he does—a problem that might actually be a side-effect of the medication she’s on to help her with her OCD—but rather than shrug her shoulders and accept that she might lose Adam to someone who is more emotionally available, Hannah contrives a tale that is designed to bring Adam closer to her. Hannah isn’t a sociopath, even as she does terrible things. On the contrary, Hannah has a lot of feelings for Adam, but she’s not capable of acting on them in a positive way. And so I look forward this season to seeing how their relationship develops, especially if Hannah stays on her meds and remains healthy in one way (capable of working, not overwhelmed by counting to the number 8, etc.) but deeply flawed in others. For Hannah, learning how to live with and treat her OCD wasn’t the end of her problems. Or, it was the end of one problem, but now there are others cropping up that she’s having to deal with, and it will be interesting to see if she deals by continuing to concoct fake stories designed to garner sympathy, or if she will be able to address the bigger, deep-seated issues that loom threateningly overhead.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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