Mar 28, 2015

TV Retrospective: "Girls" - Season 4 (Part 2)

Lena Dunham
*For an in depth review of season four, please check out Part 1 here.

With that, another season of HBO's comedy series Girls has come to a close. It may have been the most uneven season, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't full of memorable moments that saw the series mature into something profoundly complicated. Yes, some characters felt inconsequential at times, but it was the season where big changes happened for many characters and discussions of merit were constantly in the fold. As with tradition of every season, the following is a ranking of all 10 episodes including commentary on each of them.

Left to right: Dunham and Gillian Jacobs
1. "Ask Me My Name"

While "Close Up" may have been the first episode to explore the dynamic of the Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) break-up, this is the one that solidifies a certain maturity and growth. With Hannah giving up on her dreams of being a writer, she confronts Adam's new girl Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs) whose career may seem great, but she is desperately trying to be loved. Between the two, it creates a compelling dynamic and explores how the struggle to have self-worth and recognition are crucial to life. It also may be the closest that the series gets to exploring the name of the series. Overall, it is packed with profound commentary, tension and plenty of rich symbolism. For the evolution that the remaining episodes feature, none are able to resonate as effectively as this one.

2. "Sit In"

It would be hard for Girls to botch this episode, specifically because so much of the series has been reliant on the Hannah and Adam relationship. It has gone through the wringer countless times before. However, there's a strong sense that this is the end and it draws out every moment painfully until the tragic farewell. While the argument could be made that they could still get together by season's end, the confirmation in "Home Birth" makes this episode all the more poetic in its tragedy with almost all of the main cast showing up in some form to console Hannah as she goes through the rough time. It may feel a little staged at times, but it still manages to capture the grieving process in a compelling yet simple way.

Left to right: Adam Driver and Dunham
3. "Home Birth"

This episode was coming off of two of my least favorite of the season. However, it managed to symbolize so much of how the series has grown this season. By giving everyone an actual achievement, the series fires on all cylinders and allows the story to not have a single ounce of filler. It may have one of the most explicit and strange central plots in the series to date, but it manages to focus on the need for people to mature and accept reality. For long time fans, there's so much cathartic about the episode which almost plays as the perfect series finale (if it was to be) down to the sad farewell of Hannah and Adam. It not only confirms the end of the series' lynch pin duo, but shows just how much Hannah has grown since bumbling her way through school in Iowa at the beginning of the season.

4. "Cubbies"

It doesn't seem immediately clear why this episode is such an important turning point for everything. True, Hannah abandons her schooling after she feels like an outcast. It is also when Mimi-Rose makes her startling debut. However, based on Tad's (Peter Scolari) advice, the entire series takes an impressive turn for Hannah. Contrary to later actions, she actually begins to mature and understand who she is. It is also likely Tad's reasoning for announcing his homosexuality. Still, it is one last great farewell to Iowa and the enjoyable supporting players as well as the irresponsible Hannah that this show was founded on. Starting in the next episode, things change majorly, which is an exciting and unexpected thing for this series to do.

5. "Close Up"

Ray (Alex Karpovsky) begins his transition into becoming a politician. Hannah becomes a teacher. However, this episode will like be remembered as the moment where Adam became a sympathetic hopeless case. His relationship with Mimi-Rose was one based on a need for comfort more than love. While the previous episode saw the final split with Hannah, this one suggests that he's even further in a hole than before. He can't live without the unstable force of Hannah and is forced to deal with a woman whose life is too much in check, technically. While this brief stretch allows Mimi-Rose to become such a memorable small character, it also proves that Adam realizes his mistake, which he unfortunately cannot take back. The episode is more tragic in the grand scheme of the season. For a moment, you root for him to be happy no matter what the circumstances.

Left to right: Dunham and Desiree Akhavan
6. "Female Author"

It is hard to rank the main Iowa episodes largely because both weren't as successful as the remainder of the season. While it is great to see Hannah in a new environment, it ended up becoming a taunting fest in which the real Lena Dunham got to express her own issues in relation to the controversy surrounding her memoir "Not That Kind of Girl." It is also tough to grade because the New York stories weren't that interesting. Marnie (Allison Williams) was probably at her least interesting. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) continued to feel unrealistic by urinating in the street. The only saving grace there was Ray's speech to her upon bailing her and Adam out of jail. However, the episode gets its big soapbox moment when Hannah gets to express why it's okay to have an identity in your writing. It is one of the series' most self-involved moments, but also one of its most striking.

7. "Triggering"

It's only the second episode and Hannah is getting used to Iowa with the visitation of Elijah (Andrew Rannells). While it is a great introduction of every new character, it doesn't really feel like much has changed. If anything, it is the moment where it feels like Hannah may be regressing too much in her new environment by attending parties and participating in raunchy behavior. It does make time for the awkward moments of moving into a strange city, but it is more of an excuse to suggest that Hannah hasn't learned a thing. This may be true later on, but for now it is simply a little sad and obnoxious.

8. "Iowa"

Since season three, it seems like the first episode has been a thankless task of setting up the premise of the remaining episodes. In this case, it is somewhat of a trick with the title not even correlating to her stepping a foot in Iowa. Instead, it focuses on Marnie's mediocre singing career, the return of Elijah, Shoshanna's (Zosia Mamet) graduation and introduction of her parents, and the feeling of disinterest from Adam. These are all fine things that remain true to the remaining episodes. However, it is more of a stepping stone episode that ties one of the most coherent seasons of the series together with a nice little bow. It is more about context than interesting narratives.

Left to right: Dunham and Peter Scolari
9. "Daddy Issues"

There's a few hoorays for the series at this point. Ray wins his election. Even the final moments perfectly summarize the episode. However, there was something about Tad's gay story line that really seemed like filler. Yes, it has long been predicted, but the way that it took focus on the series felt a little pointless overall. While it raises interesting issues regarding seeing your parents as human beings with sexual desires, it also means that it's an episode about dealing with those awkward moments. It isn't necessarily bad, but in the final stretch Tad has become someone of a sad figure for the series whose own advice for Hannah backfired upon him following it himself. Not much else worth noting is talked about with every subplot being mostly filler as well.

Left to right: Scolari and Becky Ann Baker
10. "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz"

Let's just say that this episode was full of moments that made me doubt the season as a whole. Why did we need a whole episode dedicated to Tad announcing his homosexuality? Yes, it tied into the series perfectly, but between that and the later dinner party, I didn't find much of note. I am aware that it is conflicting to make an older character announce their true intentions, but even the dinner party scene felt a little obnoxious. The whole episode was about people butting into other people's moments in unspectacular ways. Let's not even mention Hannah and Cleo's (Maude Apatow) trip to the lip piercing. It is a point of conflict for me and I feel like it warranted any disbelief that Hannah had grown at all over the season. If anything, it is up for contention against "Bad Friend" and "One Man's Trash" as my least favorite episode of the series to date.

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