“You can’t make things that mean nothing mean something.”
Yep, one of HBO’s most controversial comedy series is back with a whole new air--the third season is a reboot of sorts. The first episode opens, mirroring the first shot of every season with Hannah in bed with someone, indicating our protagonist’s current relationship status. That someone she is in bed with this season is Adam. These first two episodes are kind of jolting--but not in that usually Girls way. It’s jolting because we’ve never seen this kind of stability (or semblance of stability) in this group of people--this group of Girls…ever. And it feels weird and fictional and totally bewildering because this is the same universe, but the characters within it are…playing at domestic tranquility and adulthood. After that equally bewildering season two finale that seemed to tap into some romantic comedy territory oddly hinging on a happy ending, life has gone on and surprisingly there is a great deal of potential here to work with. That is what these first two installments set up--potential. Lena Dunham and her team are taking some risks in moving the show in a different place. Pretending to be a healthy grown up is something uncomfortably interesting and the back-to-back episodes of Girls (“Females Only” and “Truth or Dare”) prove that…and it feels really weird.
Hannah and Adam are surely the “happiest” that we’ve ever seen them. But one doesn’t necessarily move on without dealing with “other” things first. The other thing here is the ex-girlfriend, Natalia. The opening café run in is a real nightmare--somewhat of a well-written horror story and you kind of feel bad for Hannah because she is thrust into this hostile situation that Adam caused by not dealing with his past before concentrating on his present. I’ve been thinking about it and more and more the second season finale seems like a trap--which is brilliant because when you watch it before the first episode of season three, it tricks you into thinking that Hannah and Adam are on the road to getting it together and it‘s cute and weirdly romantic. But it isn’t. One might forget but in truth, these are two unhinged and unstable individuals leaning on each other for support. The premiere opens with this new air insisting that Hannah has mostly gotten her crap together while at the same time we’re all just waiting for everything to fall apart. It makes these two episodes oddly suspenseful and full of a weird tension. I’m waiting for Hannah to say or do something to totally destroy the deal her and her editor newly agreed on. And I’m waiting for Adam to snap--and so is Hannah. At some point, one of these rickety supporting branches will snap and the whole system will fall apart. My bet is on Hannah being the first to fall.
Natalia’s vicious candor echoes and will likely continue to echo in Hannah’s head all throughout this season until one of the two breaks. What’s terrible is that even though Natalia is in a rage, she’s not saying anything that is not true. Adam has done all of these things to both her and Hannah. The writing for that scene alone is excruciatingly sharp and the acting pulls it all together in one of the show’s most cringe worthy scenes ever (Ray is a bystander, laughing. How appropriate). Hannah is noticeably frightened that everything Natalia is saying about Adam is the ugly reality of their relationship and it kind of shatters Hannah’s façade of domestic peace--or at least cracks it. Now all we have to do is wait for that crack to spread and break the enter framework--which unfortunately, as we know, will happen. And while Hannah’s façade is busy cracking up, Adam is told at least twice during these two episodes that he isn’t normal--he’s this freak of nature that is either good for Hannah or is going to destroy her and it seems to cause a bit of stress for him as well. From first glance, one might insist that Adam is` more of a caretaker with some benefits on the side than a boyfriend. It doesn’t truly feel like a real healthy, adult relationship mostly because we know these characters and their dispositions…but at least it is their version of one.
I especially found Hannah’s therapy session interesting when the topic moves onto Adam. When her therapist asks what Adam makes out of paper-mâché, Hannah seems very standoffish and unwilling to reveal what it is he creates. I wonder what Adam does make out of his paper-mâché? It seems like Hannah is getting worried that Adam is too much of a freak to match up with her new success--he was totally fine when she was struggling, but now that things are starting to slowly look up for Hannah, she is becoming neurotic of how her relationship with Adam will match with her new career successes. And more than that, will the rest of the world see Adam the way Natalia saw him--and it is all to painfully apparent that Hannah doesn’t want that anymore, which is why she is trying so hard to alter Adam’s perceptions. In some ways, trying to help Adam see things differently wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but we all know Hannah is going to screw it up somehow. And so begins the push to change Adam. Hannah’s first push comes when she invites her friends over--something Adam distinctly rejects in his blunt and strange way. He’s more content just being with Hannah and letting her go out with her friends--we see that he has an idea about female friendships that drives him crazy. In the second episode, Adam insists the nature female friendships are confusing because they ignore all logic and hinge on being hysterical more often than not. This indicates Adam’s continued trouble in understanding people or being interesting in understanding them. If it doesn’t make sense to him, he is usually dismissive and does his own thing. But for the most part, Adam tries--a hell of a lot more than Hannah does.
When Marnie and Shoshanna come over for Hannah’s taco and ice cream dinner night, Adam makes small strides to understand the “why” of Hannah’s relationship with them. Let’s be honest, Hannah doesn’t really know how to be a friend. It would be safe to assume Hannah mostly keeps Marnie and Shoshanna around just to say that she has friends. As Adam points out, Hannah usually flakes out on them--and they usually flake out on her. To Adam, that must paint an unworthy picture of friendship, so what is the real use in having friends or people to call “friends” just for the benefit of having them because that’s what you’re supposed to do in the adult world--invite your friends over for dinner from time to time. Shoshanna talks about her recent decision to cycle between academics and reckless sexual escapades--something Hannah labels as “really feminist”. Shoshanna is slowly morphing into a more complex character this season for sure. Her sort of detached shallowness is highlighted in the second episode--but more than ever Shoshanna is used as a vital catalyst for most of the goings on around her. Shoshanna is still seeing and expressing somewhat unflattering truths about the people around her and is unaware that she comes off sounding like a spiraling rude child who has had way to much sugar. Marnie sits most of the two episodes, lamely trying to be “okay”, even though we’re just waiting for her to snap as well. It is clear that Marnie is still the punching bag of the show. But she’s slowly getting it together, while manically grieving over Charlie leaving her under the bleakest circumstances. All while her mother/wannabe friend critiques ever move that Marnie makes.
During the taco dinner, Adam accidentally brings up the fact that he recently saw Charlie with someone else and the ever conflicted Marnie reacts just like you think she would and starts spiraling. Her assumption that Charlie will end up having a brain tumor that makes him crazy “like that dude that had a tumor that made him a pedophile” is hilariously profound. Later during the dinner, Adam gives Marnie some very wise advice about truly knowing someone that at least momentarily calms Marnie. And it is surprisingly beautiful, in Adam’s own strange way. This is one of the show’s best features: Adam. The continued development of this character is one of the best character observations on television and Adam Driver continues to do an exquisite job portraying it. The show does well to capitalize on this character. Adam has a few more poignant moments with Hannah’s friends in the second episode when Adam is yet again forced to spend more time with his girlfriend’s friends as they venture off to pick Jessa up from rehab…
Surprise, surprise! Jessa is in rehab and not so surprising, she‘s making a mockery of it all like she does with life in general. Jessa spends a good amount of time in both episodes pushing everyone‘s buttons to get a rise out of them and ignores her own problems. Truly she thinks she so clever, but she is the most transparent of all the girls. And yet at the same time, viewers are totally perplexed at this character‘s need to shake the dust all the time. We only touched on that in Season 2 but we‘ll surely dive more into it this season. Jessa is in rare form as she attacks a fellow drug addict, Laura (Orange is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks) who was molested by her uncle when she was younger, even going so far as to out her as a lesbian. In the meantime, Jessa gets close with an older drug addict (Richard E. Grant) who sprouts all kinds of wisdom that Jessa brushes off while only half-seriously taking time to really hear another person. This older addict isn’t far off from her father--a wiser version of her father, even down to the accent: “People have to come to things on their own term. You have to learn when honesty is righteous and when honesty is just a party trick.” Jessa loves doing party tricks--she’s been doing them since she was five years old apparently. In her own version of taking her new friend’s advice, Jessa apologizes to Laura while also helping her “find herself”. Coincidentally, Jessa’s “females only” sign wasn’t a good idea. Her fraternization gets her kicked out of rehab and probably screws Laura up even more than she was before…
One of her counselors asks Jessa: “Are you a sociopath? A method-actor researching a role?” She might as well be. Jessa is so busy purposely pissing everyone off to keep her own vulnerabilities at bay that she may be losing sight of her own true self. Maybe she’s been doing this so long that she really has forgotten who she really is when she isn’t putting on a show for everyone. And she’s just stuck, which is truly makes her Girls’ most tragic character--an enigma that tells the viewer more about themselves than it does more about the character herself. This can be frustrating and Jessa is certainly one of the most frustrating characters on any series just because of that--she’s frustrating by design. All of Jessa’s experience--and there have been so many--have caught up with her and as her wise older friend insists she’s too young to “understand which thoughts are useless to her”. Jessa lives in youthful ignorance although she has the experiences and knowledge of an older, wiser individual. Jessa is often mislabeled wise, but she’s just throwing everything out there. She has her moments of poignancy, but for the most part she is floundering and one might fear that she is too far gone to come back. Jessa spends both episodes daring us to hate her, but does she know any other way, truthfully?
Hannah, Adam and Shoshanna’s road trip to pick of Jessa turns out to be some fantastic comedic gold, while also exploring so many other facets of the character dynamics. I think I found my new favorite: Adam and Shoshanna. Between the two of them, they both display a great deal of odd pathos and logos that bring the show to life. This pairing is one I can watch for hours. If Lena Dunham simply made an episode where Adam and Shoshanna get accidentally locked in the café storage room overnight I would be a happy camper. Shoshanna’s inconsequential and spontaneous ponderings bounce off of Adam’s clumsy wisdom and rigidness with comedic elegance and poignancy. The two almost cancel each other out in a fascinating fashion. They have more exciting moments together in the second episode than Adam and Hannah. The whole trip Hannah is too self-centered to appreciate the experience she is having with friends or the fact that she is going to see her friend whom she hasn’t seen in a long while. Adam again, tries to handle all of the excruciating situations with grace and stability, but Hannah’s whining is something that would drive anyone mad. The small moment in the hotel where the trio tries to play truth or dare is hilarious (we all know Adam would have done any crazy thing Shoshanna would have suggested) but even outside of that failed game of T or D, these three characters are being dared to reveal truths to one another throughout their trip…
Adam dares both Hannah and Shoshanna to reveal the truths about female friendship to him. And we definitely see some of Shoshanna’s truths and her irreverent shallowness is a bit off-putting. After all, they are on a trip to get her cousin out of rehab, but she’s just along because she thinks its fun and interesting and in the meantime she is taking the situation a lot less seriously than Adam thinks it should be taken. The best scene of the second episode comes when Hannah and Shoshanna sit at the vending machine chatting about their perceptions of Jessa’s truth. For Shoshanna, Jessa is perfect because she's pretty. She sees her cousin as someone who doesn’t have a real problem--apparent to Shoshanna her cousin is doing all of this just to have fun, which is a dangerous outlook, especially concerning Shoshanna’s latest decision to be sexually reckless this season. It kind of makes one worry about where Shoshanna will be headed as the season transpires. If she is so aloft with this situation, then what kinds of things will she get into later? Hannah’s perception of Jessa’s truth is a lot sadder, but even Hannah isn’t sure how to read Jessa. The story she tells about Jessa in college being scared to be alone is very telling--but telling of what exactly one can‘t really pinpoint. Especially when the trio arrive to pick Jessa up from the rehab center and Hannah realizes Jessa could have left on her own accord but rather called out for help.
Jessa always seems to find ways to call out for help even from people she’s pissed off or abandoned. Hannah is pretty much Jessa’s little sister and she will likely always forgive her. As much as these girls sometimes are insufferable to one another, they have this unbreakable bond. All for of the girls can be monstrous to one another when bored and boxed in, but at the end of the day, they see one another's truths and Adam also gets to see that as well. Adam gets to see the true nature of female friendship beyond the supposed hysteria and dismissal of logic. There is a warmth there that even he can’t deny and I think it warms him up to Hannah a bit more--seeing her true caring side with Jessa. It sure took long enough after all Hannah could do is complain about being stuck in a car and unable to write. This only makes one more concerned for the ticking time bomb that will inevitable erupt. Hannah and Adam seem comfortable now, but it will not last and that tension alone, although predictable, is strangely fascinating and dooming--cynical. Making this season hard to watch for sure. However these truths that lie in between all of the cynicism and solipsism is something to be loved.
Girls makes a promising return, rebooting and configuring all of the potential that this season has with a comedic and poignant flare. The underlining tension that starts ticking the moment the title shot appears with uproarious fare is something that already highlights this season with a new confidence and formula unlike the free form and spontaneity of the two previous seasons. This isn’t a bad thing, a little formula is needed when a show enters its third season and Lena Dunham and her team seem to have proven with these first two episodes that their confident hold on the show and its characters are just as appeasing, only in slightly different ways. While I liked these two installments, I feel as though they haven’t really started the roll necessary to kick the season into high gear yet--what these two episodes are however, are nice palette cleansers that prep the viewer for a new meal. What other daring truths will we discover about our lovely female characters? If nothing surprising, than certainly something intriguing, after all these Girls are excellent at making nothing mean something. Welcome back! “Females Only” and “Truth or Dare” gets 4 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2014