Jan 31, 2014

TV Recap: Girls - "Dead Inside"

Left to right: Adam Driver and Lena Dunham
Welcome back to the TV Recap column for the Golden Globe-winning HBO series Girls. Join me as I capture the exploits of the Lena Dunham-penned series as it ventures through another season of scandal, accidents, and life in general. Will it be another great season for the Tiny Furniture director and her growing cast of friends? Tune back every Friday to find out more.

Things were starting to look right for the show. Possibly too right. With last week's "She Said OK," it seemed like Hannah (Lena Dunham) was above her past. The struggles that have been building for the past two seasons were over, thanks largely to David. It left limitless possibilities for where the show could go next. Then, in true Girls tradition, the show pulls a curve ball: one so emotional that it took a whole episode to digest. In an already stellar season, the series may have found its best episode hidden in "Dead Inside," as it explores the death of a seminal character and most of all, the exploration of how everyone deals with loss in the 21st century.
The episode begins with Hannah walking up to David's office for a meeting. She is told that he is running late even though she was late herself. As she sits around, she notices that a crowd is running back and forth into the office building. She gets concerned, but nobody answers what is going on. As things begin to unravel, she discovers through a stray comment that her boss, David was dead. Her only reaction is that of wondering what is to happen with her e-book now.
Upon finishing up this instance, she meets up with Jessa (Jemima Kirke) to talk about the incident. She spouts some mythological nonsense about being alive and dead at the same time in order to try and put Hannah at ease. Even then, Hannah's more obsessed with why she cannot quite feel deep sympathy for the moment. When Adam (Adam Driver) shows up with a picture of Tom Hanks, he decides to talk to her about it. Much like Jessa, he is confused on why Hannah isn't grieving in private. 
She later decides to read Gawker, who reports on his death and states that they won't share the toxicology. This gets Adam riled up, as he doesn't trust Gawker as a legitimate website. Hannah's stance is that as a mediaist, she has to read it and the sister site Jezebel to get her news. She ends up going off on a rant of the significance of the comments section, which only gets Adam more upset until he walks out. They later discuss the prospects of each other dying and explain their emotional responses. Adam is more vivid with his emotions, considering that Hannah's death would force him into a blur. Hannah thinks of Adam's death as being super sad, but also would be concerned about paying rent.
Jemima Kirke
Now at Shoshanna' (Zosia Mamet) place, Jessa talks to her about her bandanna collection. They also discuss death, specifically that of a high school student that Shoshanna knew. This gets Jessa thinking about her old friends who have passed away. She thinks of Susan and calls up somebody so that she can see her tomb. She grows suspicious and eventually decides to pay a visit to the old house where Susan lived.
At Grumpy's, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) decides to confront Hannah on David's death. He is confused why he feels more sympathy towards the incident, as his only occurrence with David involved a fight. One thing lead to another and soon Hannah talked her way into going home early, as she took advantage of Ray's desire for her to confront her grief. 
Upon returning to the apartment, she runs into Laird (Jon Glaser), who is designing the wall in the front hallway. He has a dead turtle that has been shoved inside of a Pom Wonderful bottle. He seems nonchalant about death, as he feels everyone around him has died. Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) shows up, stating that she is going for a run as she normally does around this hour. She invites the two along and they take off. When Caroline confronts Hannah about why she isn't more curious about Adam, Hannah responds that she isn't all that curious, which makes her enthused. She is also concerned that her work will not get noticed now.
Jessa finally reaches Susan's (Melonie Diaz) house, where they confront each other. Susan claims that the reason she threw a fake funeral was on the grounds that she knew that Jessa wouldn't attend. They had a tumultuous friendship, as evident by Susan's history as a drug addict. Since Jessa was considered an enabler, Susan wanted to do her best to lose contact with her. This only gets Jessa more confused and worried as they finally say goodbye to each other.
Meanwhile, Marnie (Allison Williams) pays a visit to Ray. She has spent most of the episode running and exercising while blaring Sleigh Bells from her headphones. When she sees that Ray and Hermie (Colin Quinn) are watching her video of "What I Am," she grows frustrated that they are making fun of her despite them sounding enthusiastic. Over the course of the conversation, she eventually gets so frustrated that she quits. Ray, who previously asked Hannah to feel more compassion, shows little as his employee walks out while insulting the establishment.
Hannah, Laird, and Caroline decide to spend the day running around a cemetery and having fun. They throw the Pom Wonderful bottle around and do barrel rolls on the grass. It is a carefree day. They eventually decide to crash and spend time talking about death once again. Caroline shares an extended story on Adam's cousin who died of muscular dystrophy whose only wish was to attend a high school prom. Adam bought her a tiny dress and took her. Caroline claimed that this explained Adam's sensitivity towards death.
The only thing is that Hannah doesn't quite grasp it. Her question is why was the dress "tiny." She was obsessed with the details. When Caroline reveals that it was fake, it doesn't stop Laird from crying. It does however help Hannah to realize what her processing is like. As she meets Adam at the end of the episode, she opens up. She considered David her champion, who got her work noticed and that was hard to deal with. She didn't want to think about a life without this moment of success. When she finished opening up, she began to tell Adam in the guise of her own experience Caroline's story of the muscular dystrophy cousin.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Left to right: Dunham, Jon Glaser, and Gaby Hoffman
I am not entirely sure why this episode somehow ranks as my favorite Girls episode to date. There is something that is implicitly poetic about it. The show has seemed insular with its struggles of four women and their friends for most of the run. Even the mental breakdown arc of last season doesn't compare to how perfectly crafted that I feel this episode is. The show has dealt with growing up in the 21st century with a lot of struggles that are both financial and emotional. However, they have always felt scattershot and only came together in the big picture of the season.
With "Dead Inside," it feels like it is essentially a subject episode. Almost everyone is dealing with a form of grief. While everyone within the inner circle of Hannah's friends knew David in some capacity, that isn't the only way that the show dealt with grieving. Jessa talks to a former friend named Susan and gets a wake-up call much like Adam confronting Natalia in "Females Only." It isn't clear if Jessa will take the positive trajectory that Adam seems have had, but the fact that she is more present and willing to share advice at least suggests that things are looking up for her. 
The opening reveal of David's death is particularly striking largely because it is unexpected. The show has thrived on the concept of "expect the unexpected" to an embarrassing degree. There have been stand alone episodes that don't add narrative continuity to a season, though they do strengthen character. In fact, maybe that is why Girls has had a great season. There is a sense of continuity. While David's death is still striking, it is largely because of Hannah. Think back to "Pilot" and how desperate she was to get her work recognized. David changed the career path for her. She was going to have an e-book published. Things were looking up.
In a way, that made the show go into more interesting territory. What would Hannah do with her success? I always felt that one of the downsides was that her popularity would lead to her exploiting her friends in uncomfortable fashion. I felt like that was the arc that the season was building to. Instead, it throws this curve ball and asks us to consider what Hannah will do with this new found freedom. Will she just pitch is somewhere else, or will she stick with the company and end up with a meaner idiot who tears her apart? The prospects feel endless.
In fact, that is what makes this episode so strong, I am not entirely sure if it pays well as a standalone episode just because of how well versed I am with the series, but it does feel like it could. It is an emotional examination of death in modern society. Where there are people who are more traditional (Adam, Ray), there are offshoots that are more challenging and think of social contexts (Shoshanna), and emotional persuasion (Caroline). Even Marnie's exit from Grumpy's feels like a death of sorts. She may continue to be a problematic background character at this point, but she does make that moment count. Also, for enthusiasts out there, the "What I Am" video hasn't necessarily been released per se, but a FORBIDCharlie1986 account does have a portion of the video up.
Probably my favorite moment in the series is the one that feels like the most candid and free that the show has ever been. In a large sense, it feels like a throwback to the hippie era with free love and whatever, but the scene with everyone running around in the cemetery captures youth so well in juxtaposition to the subject of death. The scene itself felt like an homage to The Monkees played for more realism with the upbeat track and stranger humor. In fact, I am increasingly finding Caroline more of an appealing character and one that I hope gets more screen time.
I am wondering if we are also entering a transition period. It isn't that Hannah is disowning her friends, but it does feel like she was happiest with Laird and Caroline. Maybe it will be a form of escapism, but it also feels like it is the sign of growing friendships. Caroline seems to show some affection towards Hannah. This makes sense, especially with Marnie practically almost written off the show at this point, and still listening to Sleigh Bells. Shoshanna remains enigmatic of the college experience and I keep wondering if she is meant to be a loose cannon towards the end of the season. One need not look further than "Welcome to Bushwick A.K.A. The Crackcident" in order to see what Shoshanna looks like on drugs.
It is a fascinating episode largely because it feels like the first time that an episode has addressed the process of grief from a creative person's mind. Where death has always been held as this sensitive subject, it hasn't always been easy to understand for some. The moment where Hannah questions the "tiny" dress is by far the moment of zen on the show. It explains everything and the fact that in order to appreciate death, one must first understand it. David may have been in a very limited amount of episodes, but apparently his influence made for one of the series' best episodes.
On a conspiracy note, does anyone think that we'll be coming back to David's death throughout the season? Not as a central story, but occasional moments of follow-up? It does seem like his strange death is somehow connected to that party, whether it be based on who met via Grindr or just that he was too drunk to care about where he was going. The show has left far worse cliffhangers out there, but with the sense of continuity this season, it could possibly happen. Much like this episode, its only way of success is if it is a curve ball to Hannah's growing success.

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