'Girls' Recap 8: OCD and AA in an Episode That's All Over the Place

Television
by Beth Hanna
March 4, 2013 12:33 AM
2 Comments
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Lena Dunham in "Girls"
"Girls" Episode 8, “It’s Back,” works hard to juggle four different storylines. Two are successful, and two are cringe-inducingly out of left field.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Hannah has obsessive compulsive disorder, which rears its head in the wake of her impending ebook deadline. Her parents, Tad and Loreen, are in town for an academic convention, and sense over cocktails at a Judy Collins show that Hannah has “begun counting” again. While Dunham carries the weight of depression effectively throughout the episode, and while Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker are always welcome additions on “Girls,” nothing can fully distract from the complete randomness of this plot turn. Like many other aspects of “It’s Back,” Hannah’s OCD smacks of a late-in-the-season narrative need for stakes to be raised. It’s not enough for her to whip an entire manuscript out of thin air in under a month -- our lead heroine needs to be compulsively counting to eight at the same time!

A bit of cohesion is found in the scene with Bob Balaban (always good), here playing a therapist Hannah visits at the behest of her adorably concerned parents. As Hannah tells him of her high school history with the disorder, it’s as if she’s looking into an anxiety-heightening magic mirror.

Balaban’s shrink is calm, organized, and succinctly admits that he’s written a children’s book about a bionic dog -- “I think it sold 2.5 million copies.” In other words, the placid, bespectacled man is an embodiment of everything Hannah feels incapable of achieving. When he labels her symptoms as “classical,” she retorts that masturbating eight times every night as a pre-teen is far from it. This was a nice callback to Hannah’s massive fight with Marnie in Season One, in which Marnie bellows that she would never give away Hannah’s darkest secret -- namely, masturbating excessively to “stave off diseases of the mind and body.”

Marnie suffers from her own hairpin-turn storyline. Ex-boyfriend Charlie has created a successful app, Forbid, which keeps the heartbroken from calling their trigger people. After stalking Charlie at his new multi-office entrepreneurial suite, where plenty of cute interns are keeping him busy, Marnie returns home. Crestfallen and frustrated, Marnie whines to Ray that the slackers of the world are conquering, while the deserving A-types  -- i.e. Marnie -- aren’t getting to live out their dreams. This brings us to Marnie’s dream: Singing. Singing? I can see the discussion in the writers room: “Allison Williams did that great ‘Mad Men’ video! We have to incorporate her amazing singing voice at some point in this series.”

But now on to the good: Ray is at home because as a 33-year-old he feels uncomfortable accompanying Shoshanna to a college party. So Shosh goes solo, with her short red dress and Beyoncé braid. When her friend Radhika (Anjili Pal), or She of the Ironic Rollerblades, is obviously bored by Shoshanna’s relationship gripes, Shosh skips out of the party early and -- oops! -- hooks up with the handsome doorman. This development feels organic to me. It was only a matter of time before Ray’s self-loathing and Shoshanna’s near-virginal sexual curiosity would irrevocably come to loggerheads.

Much as I loathe Alcoholics Anonymous confessional scenes, Adam’s monologue at his AA meeting is both well acted and well written. It puts his obsession with Hannah into a perspective that finally makes sense: Her insistent and persistent company in their relationship was at first an annoyance, but then became an addiction. He confused the relief of having her around with love. He’s approached after the meeting by fellow AA member Cloris (Carol Kane), one “fierce” mama who practically orders him to date her daughter, Natalia. Luckily for Adam, Natalia (Shiri Appleby) is hot, down-to-earth and has an enticingly kooky job working for a private eye.

One of the things I admire about this season of “Girls” is its willingness to let Adam be his own person, not just a supporting character existing in relation to Hannah. His stalker behavior from early in the season, which quickly ran its course, was appropriately dropped and has made way for Adam’s life without Hannah -- chopping wood, stealing dogs, and now meeting someone who excites him. Good television lets characters grow as opposed to keeping them tied to a rollercoaster of contrived narrative. This is something the other half of this episode could learn from.

Bits and pieces:

  • "It's Back" is directed by Jesse Peretz, and co-written by Lena Dunham, Steven Rubinshteyn and Deborah Schoeneman.
  • Best line goes to Tad Horvath: “Come on, now. You’re not anorexic, that’s ridiculous. I’ve seen you in a bathing suit.” But the name Shoshanna gives to the doorman is a close second: “Sha-na…?”

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2 Comments

  • Benchmark | March 6, 2013 10:02 PMReply

    I think you've forgotten one key key moment that came in the Pilot. Remember when Marnie says 'I hate when Jessa turns up because when she leaves, you fall in a heap and I'm left to pick up the pieces' (Or words to that effect)... Well Jessa left and yes, Hannah has fallen to pieces... I didn't equate the 'collapse' necessarily with the e-book... I immediately thought about Jessa... I don't think this is left of field (As you mentioned yourself the masturbation argument) or a late attempt at building to a cliffhanger finale at all. It's 'Girls' everything has it's place even when it doesn't completely make sense (Jessa's Wedding?). I do agree with you about Adam, and I also think the development of Ray outside of Shoshanna is great too... Still not as awesome as Season 1, but hey I'm still watching it and I look forward to your review just as much the next day...

  • Beth Hanna | March 7, 2013 12:10 AM

    @Benchmark -- Thanks for your comment. You make a good point re: Jessa leaving and possibly triggering Hannah's mental/emotional collapse. I think what signals to me that the looming ebook deadline is the major culprit in her OCD relapse is her conversation with the therapist (Balaban). She first claims to have been stressed out about her breakup with Adam, and then more uncomfortably -- and genuinely, I'd say -- confesses that she's under this newfound career pressure. I think the idea of Hannah suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder is interesting, but I wish more clues had been planted throughout the series thus far. With a show like "Mad Men," for example, each new plot development can be traced back to a myriad of red flags from earlier seasons, even if those red flags weren't obvious at first. I think this is what "Girls" needs to work on -- planting seeds earlier and more thoughtfully for future developments.

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