“Someday, you will look at him, hating him with every fiber of your being, wishing he would die the most violent death possible. It will pass…”
With age comes wisdom and then death. Apparently a touchstone of one’s twenties is losing their grandparent(s). This means awkward family reunions at inopportune times. It’s not ideal, but it is unfortunate ground we all must tread through at some point in our life. Hannah’s grandmother, Flo (Oscar-nominated, June Squibb) has been hospitalized with a broken femur and has also recently developed pneumonia, threatening her life and preparing Hannah’s family for the worst. Naturally, Hannah drops everything in the city and ventures off to partake in all of the loving and unstable dysfunction. Past seasons have dictated that some of the best episodes of Girls happen when they remove our main characters from the usual surroundings of the show’s default universe. This is no different. What “Flo” observes so well is how easily one can be so removed--so isolated from a life that was once so familiar before college. It’s like walking into your old childhood house only to find that it has been taken over by a gaggle of dysfunctional, bickering mother hens, including Hannah’s mother, Loreen (Becky Ann Baker). The effect is disorienting, causing Hannah to feel out vaguely familiar surroundings in excruciatingly clumsy fashion--this episode is sort of an "August: Osage County" lite. The different generations of Loreen’s complex matriarchal family present some character defining moments, giving us a brow-raising look into the dramatics and messy love of a specific side of Hannah’s family.
In this episode, we find a lot of things happening around Hannah rather than her being the center of the drama and still this story of familial strife finds a way to work its way into observing the ever shifting relationship dynamics of Hannah and Adam. The exaggerated of feelings that one has to process during a time of impending loss lays fertile ground for a cornucopia of clashing perspectives. The remaining matriarchy definitely clash throughout this half-hour. Hannah gets to uncomfortably observe her mother and her sisters awkwardly pull together, find out what happens after death. There are always old issues in families that were never truly put to rest and they tend to arise whenever there is a crisis that calls for dreadful family reunions. Loreen and her sisters, Margot (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Sissy (Amy Morton) fall into the agitated bickering almost instantly allowing the audience to observe just what kind of upbringing Loreen has endured and have us compare it to Hannah’s, as well as Hannah’s cousin, Rebecca (Sarah Steele).
One of the most interesting segments of the episode focuses on Hannah and Rebecca’s interaction. It makes one wonder where these two cousins left off before all of this. When was the last time Hannah saw her--when was the last time Hannah saw any of this side of her family and enjoyed it? Rebecca is impersonal, steely, a bit taciturn and agitated given the circumstances. On top of entering med school, a fact of which Hannah momentarily diminishes by correlating Rebecca’s endeavors to the romantic dramatics of Grey’s Anatomy, Rebecca has to juggle the emotions of those around her and it is obvious that she isn’t totally as confident in her own skin as she thinks she is. Hannah’s back and forth with Rebecca is hilarious and truthful--even as they hurl backhanded insults at one another there is still this familial bond that keeps them together. This is a time when family needs to be together even if they do not really get along. Rebecca attempts to reach out to Hannah by inviting her to the bar--a genuine need to be with someone who she isn’t familiar with anymore veiled in agitation and mixed emotions. These societal layers keep individuals from expressing themselves openly, especially for young siblings who struggle to express that they do actually care for one another. It is an overall arc of the show in general: the inability to be genuine in one's surroundings. That unfortunate truth is amplified here.
The character of Rebecca is kind of a fascinating, or at least what we see of her in this episode is the makings of a potential fascinating character to add to the universe of Girls. She has a very different temperament from the main girls we usually see on the show. I doubt we’ll ever see her again, but she makes an distinct and refreshing impression. The scene with Hannah and Rebecca in the bar and later in the car before their accident is pretty golden--(chachi hands!)--rife with hilarious cousin rivalry that is only just slightly expressed. Of course, we find out that Hannah informed Rebecca that her father was found guilty of insider trading and that she would never see him again, so there is enough reason for Rebecca to feel some sort of resentment towards her zealous cousin. It makes one want to gauge Rebecca’s own upbringing. It is alluded to multiple times that Grandma Flo wasn’t always the cuddly older lady she is today. She use to criticize Hannah about her weight and somehow affected the growth of her daughters, as Loreen insists Flo turned her sisters into “poorly misshapen people”. I love that we don’t get specifics here. We all have imperfect elders whom we still love dearly. People from different generations that think differently than we do--and we fail to understand their point of view, but there is still valuable wisdom to be expressed from these people. In fact, all three generations of this family have perspectives that clash, yet still make sense. The three sisters have an interesting dynamic; Loreen plays mediator for the most part, Margot is the hot-tempered and criticizing aunt, and Sissy is the religious and oversensitive caretaker. In the end, they are there to help and hold each other in the wake of losing their mother, even if emotions are heightened and tension is escalating.
As Grandma Flo’s health continues to plummet, Loreen grows desperate to send her mother off happy and asks Hannah to act as though her and Adam are engaged. As a result of all this, we get to observe how Hannah might find herself in a bind when making personal decisions about her relationships, especially with Adam. She doesn’t know what she wants with Adam--at least not at the moment. It reminds me of Hannah’s epiphany from Season 2’s “One Man’s Trash” where Hannah admits to the handsome doctor that she does just want society’s ideal view of happiness. But then her realization at the end of the episode that society’s ideal view of happiness is rather hollow. Would Hannah like to marry Adam or is she still trying to detach her life away from what society expects of her? When Loreen presents Hannah with this request, she immediately dismisses it as "non-progressive" but shows signs of anxiety later on when she brings it up to Adam on the phone. This is old ideals clashing with new circumstances--this is old lives clashing with new ones. We have different roles and perspectives when it comes to our family and then to our friendships and romantic relationships. For Loreen to play with Hannah and Adam’s relationship for the benefit of her mother just further screws up Hannah’s way of thinking about her future with Adam.
Last week’s installment saw the beginning of Hannah’s anxiety rising when Adam began his new Broadway career--everyone around her insisting that Adam will more or less detach himself from her in the process of reaching his career goals. Hannah will become number two on his list of priorities. Right now, Adam is still sort of the thing keeping Hannah grounded amongst all the various happenings around her, we saw that reality highlighted when Hannah pushed Caroline away to have Adam all to herself as her own sort of “anchor” if you will. As much as Hannah is trying to be an adult and living the adult life, she still has a tendency to have a childish, self-centered way of viewing things: she forgot about her family. We tend to do this sort of thing when we are living our own adult lives and we dread when a familial crisis occurs because it forces us to reel ourselves back into the family mindset that we left behind--it is uncomfortable putting those old shoes back on and walking that trial. Adam does show up after Hannah and Rebecca’s small car accident (stop texting and driving, people) and he even grants Loreen’s wish, insisting to Grandma Flo that he and Hannah are indeed getting married.
It’s an incredibly selfless thing to do and Adam does it with loving confidence. The advice that Grandma Flo gives the two odd young lovebirds encompasses the general theme of the episode: We all have times when we want to kill the people we love but we still need them and their wisdom in times of crisis. This applies to family, friendships and romantic relationships. However, Loreen takes a slightly cynical stance on Hannah and Adam’s relationship. Apparently, Loreen asserts that Adam might hold Hannah back from really experiencing her world and herself. What Loreen says about Adam isn’t wrong: He is odd, angry, uncomfortable in his own skin, and he jumps from thing to thing. It would be hard being with someone like Adam because of that, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Interestingly enough, this makes one question the current state of Loreen and Tad’s marriage and if Loreen herself has any regrets about it--marrying an odd man. What is also interesting here is that Hannah’s reaction is not as “progressive” as one might expect from her early sanctioning of her mother’s request. It makes one wonder if Hannah is beginning to consider fully committing to Adam. Seeing as how her anxiety about his career possibly taking over their life is giving her pause. It’s also interesting to note that this time it is Hannah’s mother who triggers her anxiety and yet Loreen is totally oblivious of it, just as she was last season. Grandma Flo even takes notice as the episode comes to a close insisting: “Hannah, you don‘t look good”--the last scene Hannah and her grandmother have together before Flo finally passes on after seemingly rebounding from her pneumonia.
This entire episode is quirky catharsis at its best, which isn’t surprising because quirky catharsis is something Girls does very well, but probably best here. There are many heartfelt moments that acknowledge the strange and annoying detachment--the sort of detachment in which one is inexplicably pulled from huge emotional moments in life because of the various life stages they individually travel on. Another thing that is great about the episode is the fact that we get to see Hannah’s mother, Loreen not just as a parent, but as a sister and a daughter. We see so many different life perspectives--intake wisdom from different generations all at one time and it is almost too much to take in from a half-hour episode. However, it is also something that is very rewarding to dissect and observe. In the end, one probably shouldn’t totally detach or dismiss themselves from their old lives full of familiar faces, different perspectives and valuable wisdom. One might be running around in life asking all of the big questions and usually the answers are so, so simple. And usually sad. “Flo” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2014