'Girls' Isn't About Girls, It's About Hannah, for Better or Worse

'Girls' once again enters the murky realm of Hannah's personality in an episode about How We Grieve. Except it's not "we" so much as "these specific clinically narcissistic people." 

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'Girls' once again enters the murky realm of Hannah's personality in an episode about How We Grieve. Except it's not "we" so much as "these specific clinically narcissistic people."

So David Pressler-Goings is dead. This should not come as a surprise, because "a character will die on Girls this season" + David's manic behavior last week = obviously he was going to die. Hannah's reaction to this news, the bedrock to this whole episode, is predictable in the way that Girls has been predictable all season thus far. It's like if you tasked an improv troupe with creating a Girls parody and started them off with "Hannah's editor dies." Jessa thinks it's NBD and looks forward to the day she dies. Hannah can't believe no one updated her on the status of her ebook. Adam tells her she's a narcissistic idiot. Shoshanna acts like a ditzy simpleton. Marnie has nothing to do with any of this because she's on an island somewhere, training for the Hunger Games or something.

In some ways, that the characters are so easily identified by their specific worldviews is a success. These aren't broad archetypes of women anymore. Notice how the conversation about Girls hardly ever backslides into "What is this saying about women?" the way it was in Season 1 (and the way people currently speak about, say, Looking). This isn't a show about Girls anymore, it's about Hannah and Jessa and Marnie and Shosh. That's the good part. The bad part is that, currently, Hannah is the only character who's being written in any way interestingly. Shosh is a joke, Marnie is a repository for every terrible quality a person could have, Jessa keeps showing flashes of humanity that never end up going anywhere.

Hannah, however, has a personality disorder. I'm not a doctor and she's a character on TV, so I won't bother diagnosing anyone, but last night's episode makes a pretty clear point that Hannah's problems persist even as she's gotten her OCD under control. Whereas at one time, Hannah's self-obsession may have been a reflection of our worst tendencies towards narcissism, "Dead Inside" makes a pretty clear point that Hannah might actually be incapable of empathy. It's not funny when the episode ends on Hannah parroting Caroline's (Gaby Hoffmann) fabricated story about a terminally ill cousin. It's not supposed to be funny. It's a sad and somewhat unnerving attempt to prove to Adam that she has feelings. And she can't even invent her own sad tale, she has to use Caroline's.

On one level, it's terribly interesting, in that no other show on TV is delving this deeply and un-showily into the depths of its main character. The scenes between Hannah and Caroline (and also Laird) have a pop to them, with Hoffmann doing especially good work reacting to Hannah. This kind of specificity of character is a good thing. The show is so much less interesting when it's written as a polemic, as it was in the scene where Hannah and Adam spar over the virtues of Gawker, a rather dreadful little scene that exists for no other reason that to elicit blog posts about What Is Lena Trying to Say? Particularly when what she does have to say (through Adam, who becomes ever more boring the more the show tries to make him into the Voice of Reason) is that Gawker writers are mean virgins. 

Is Hannah unlikeable? Yes. But she's unlikeable as an individual. Not "the" voice of a generation or even "a" voice of a generation anymore, but a person irrespective of generation. I'm not quite sure how far down her own personal rabbit hole this show can go before it ceases to be anything but Hannah staring at herself in a mirror, willing herself to feel, but there is literally NOTHING else compelling happening on the fringes, so Hannah is what we've got.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.