Well, So Much For Girls Getting More Grown-Up

Our roundtable discusses "I Saw You," the 11th episode of the HBO show's third season.

This week's panelists: Ashley Fetters, Eleanor Barkhorn, and James Hamblin

Fetters: Remember the old days when people hated everyone on Girls with impunity? Before the girls all started to show faint but unmistakable sparks of new self-awareness and maturity?

Well, I’m ready to call “I Saw You” a masterful return to form, as this week’s episode found all the women exhibiting what we’ve come to know as their worst, most grating traits.

Jessa and Shoshanna were tiny parts of this episode, but nonetheless showed their least likable qualities. Shoshanna blathered on and on in her oblivious way, ignoring whatever personal meltdown Jessa’s dealing with to chatter about hair masques and her postgrad trip to Lisbon, then later carelessly remarking to Hannah that all her friends are more successful than she is. And Jessa’s visit to Marnie’s workplace brought back the rude, lazy freeloader we met two seasons ago, casually snatching away things and opportunities other people have to earn.

Marnie, meanwhile, demonstrated some of her most obnoxious tendencies, too—like her phony sweetness (see: Marnie sucking up to Bede then later looking enraged when she offers Jessa a job) and her constant need for sexual validation (after meeting Desi’s girlfriend Clementine and realizing Desi is, indeed, profoundly attached to her, Marnie goes directly to Ray’s apartment and won’t take no for an answer). It’s worth mentioning, however, that she did manage to offset one recurrent complaint about Marnie: This time, instead of too-earnestly unleashing her singing at an inappropriate moment, she gave a knockouperformance in an appropriate venue.

And then there’s Hannah. Oh, self-aware Hannah who really did seem to be “almost getting it kind of together” for a second—we hardly knew ye. First, Hannah barged in on Adam in the night when he’d clearly said he needed time alone to work. Then she lost her job with GQ’s advertorial department after launching into a tirade of writerly self-righteousness, then she cruelly told a coworker who’d been kind to her to, essentially, stop being so obsessed with her, and then she turned what was a lively dinner conversation with Adam’s castmates into a depressing spectacle of feelings about getting fired.

As with almost every change of heart on the show this season, this is probably not a permanent one. Nevertheless, this regression—back to the self-absorbed, sanctimonious yet needy Hannah of yore—strikes me as the saddest regression of all.

In the first scene of this episode, Adam left Hannah’s apartment to go home after they’d had sex; she protested, and he explained to her that while he’d love to stay over, doing so would put him behind on his work. Hannah accepted that somewhat reluctantly, and I thought back to what Spencer wrote a few weeks ago about Hannah and Adam’s new challenge of maintaining their relationship now that they’re both suddenly employed: “Finally, there’s a conflict on Girls to really care about.” The ever-relatable struggle known as the “work-life balance” had come to Girls!

And to its credit, the show’s been addressing that really well for a couple of episodes now. While Adam is now rearranging his life around his work, Hannah’s getting frustrated that she can’t make Adam’s newly work-centric life more compatible with her decidedly less work-centric one. That’s a legitimate, common problem: One partner prioritizes work over the relationship, the other prioritizes the relationship over work. Personally, I don’t think either one is the wrong choice; they’re just ultimately irreconcilable. (It’s perhaps worth mentioning, though, that for reasons that will go unexplored here, I’d somehow feel differently if they were married—I’d be more upset with Adam for putting his work ahead of his marriage.)

But Hannah’s resurgent neediness is making this already challenging situation worse—and making the show more bleakly predictable. “I feel like you’re leaving me, only in such slow motion that I’m not even gonna notice until it’s done,” she moans.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Adam reassures her.

By the end of the episode, though, it seems like maybe he might, indeed, go somewhere. “I just want some space and I’m sick of fucking explaining it,” Adam later tells Ray, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets fed up with Hannah’s refusal to give him that space. I feel like Hannah needs to learn that important lesson about how not to hold a puppy: You hug it too tightly, and it squirms and jumps out of your lap.

Given how functional their relationship had become earlier this season—and how truly cute and enjoyable to watch—I think it’s a shame to see their relationship in jeopardy again. But Eleanor, I’ll turn it over to you: Is it fair for Hannah, who values her relationship with Adam much more than she valued her job, to want the same from Adam? What’s next for them? And is it OK to quit a decent, well-paying job because it makes you feel dead inside?

Barkhorn: Hannah quitting her job was the most frustrating part of this frustrating (but still quite enjoyable) episode. I found it frustrating because I don’t think it was motivated by Hannah feeling dead inside. We’d seen her get fulfillment from this job in past episodes: She’s good at it, so she’s praised by her peers and her boss. Plus, it pays well—it allows her to buy new clothes and not worry about her rent. Before this episode she’d expressed reservations about the job and its implications for her creative life, but I hadn’t seen much evidence that she was actually withering away inside. She seemed to be pretty happy, on balance.

What caused her to quit wasn’t so much creative stagnation as much as it was raging short-term insecurity. Adam has moved out to focus on his work. This makes Hannah worry that for the rest of her life, she’s going to have to sacrifice her career for his. (An unfortunate dinner with Patti Lupone and her sad-sack husband doesn’t help in easing these fears.) There are, of course, several ways Hannah could have responded to this concern: She could have resolved to take the time she’s not spending with Adam right now and use it to write more. She could have read about “see-saw” relationships, where couples alternate over time between whose career takes precedence. She could have broken up with Adam altogether. But instead, she takes the most drastic course of action, a step that will make her more needy and vulnerable, both emotionally and financially. (She later claims she got herself fired, rather than quitting, so she could collect unemployment—I’m not sure I believe the plan was that pre-meditated, but maybe.)

So that’s a long way of saying, yeah, of course it’s OK to quit your job if it’s truly making you feel dead inside, and you have another way to pay the bills that will be less soul-draining. But I’m not convinced Hannah was so unhappy at her job, and we’ve already seen her alternative to the GQ job: working at Grumpy’s and being miserable.

One possible silver lining in this episode: a rebirth of Marnie and Hannah’s friendship. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, since I am rooting for them, but I found Hannah barging in on Ray and Marnie to be a weirdly hopeful moment in their friendship. Hannah yells at Marnie, “You will never judge me again.” (In other words, Ray is gross, plus he’s Shosh’s ex, how dare you ever look down on me for the guys I sleep with.) Sure, this statement highlights the problems in the girls’ relationship. Marnie’s uptight and imperious, and Hannah feels like she can’t be herself around her anymore. But maybe seeing Marnie vulnerable like this, at time when Hannah herself is a little shaky, will cause the girls to bond again. Just a theory.

What do you think, Jim? Was Hannah’s job fiasco actually a good move for her? Is Adam being a jerk to Hannah, or is he just being honest about his needs? Did this episode mark a permanent regression for the characters, or was it more of a “one step forward, two steps back” pattern of maturing?

Hamblin: I just kept feeling like Hannah was in the worst of her anxiety disorder, and everything she did was a pretty classic manifestation of that. Her symptoms ebb and flow, and the tide was just fully out this week. It might have been painful to watch Hannah quit her job, and that definitely was not in her best interest, but anxiety isn’t a rational thing. Disrespectful and unprofessional as she was, if I were her boss I’d have suggested she go home and clear her head, because something was just not right.

Adam lives with this sort of tension between the person and the illness, and he’s conflicted about letting Hannah’s irrational behavior upset him. That’s probably relatable to anyone with friends and family who have an anxiety disorder. You spend a lot of time trying to justify to yourself that the way that person is acting, especially when they’re suspicious or mistrusting or distrusting, it really has little to nothing to do with you. There are times when someone with OCD is sticking a Q-Tip fully into their ear and it’s obvious to everyone that something’s wrong, but most of the time the suffering is more insidious, from more subtle manifestations that don’t seem quite “crazy.”

Anyway, you guys know I’m not one to withhold contempt for some of the things these characters do, but watching Hannah in this episode I felt pretty much pure sympathy. Let’s hope next week in the finale she’s doing better and everything is rosy.