In season five, episode eight of Girls, Hannah abandons her and Fran’s road trip (and their relationship), only to realize that she is now stranded in the middle of nowhere. After Marnie rejects her call for help, Hannah turns to Ray to come pick her up. When he arrives in his brand new coffee truck, Hannah tries to thank him with a friendly offering of road-head, only to assist Ray in crashing the truck on the side of the road. After hours of waiting, Hannah jumps in a car and rides back to NYC with a stranger, a man whose existence she honors initially only as a means to her end, but eventually as someone she is afraid of. As they pull in, he screams with excitement at the realization that he is finally arriving in the city, and Hannah again feels safe. She opens up and begins asking him about his life.
This is everything you need to know about Hannah Horvath, and really the whole cast of characters, summed up in one episode. She sees this man as a solution to her problems, then after getting too deep in, realizes she may have made a mistake. From there, she learns about him, about the real problems that he has faced. Her fear turns to something else – a slight appreciation for his problems, but more so a sense of relief that she will be ok.
“I really care about you and I don’t want to anymore because it feels too shitty for me.” – Hannah
In a similarly encapsulating scene from the current season, Hannah meets a famous author who she has written a take-down piece about, coming in with all the preconceptions of a self-righteous, newly-employed 26 year old writer looking to validate her worldview. Only she is disarmed by him. By his experiences, and how he parlays them into a suitable defense. By his appreciation for his daughter, a woman. Women, after all, are who he is accused of attacking. She slowly comes to realize that she may have been wrong about him all along, a possibility she could not have fathomed when she first arrived.
Hannah’s inability to step outside herself for even a moment is the defining trait of her character. But it’s also a trait often-associated with an entire generation of people. A generation I am a part of. Millennials get a bad rap for lots of things, but in particular their perceived “Me first” attitudes and lack of perspective about real hardship. These are pretty easily debunked for most of the generation, but there are still others who embody them. That’s what Girls does so well. It balances this caricature of a millennial group of friends, with the absurdity of the very notion that we are as bad as the reputation that precedes us.
Girls does something that is near-impossible with an exceptional sense of nuance. It walks the tightrope of reality and abstractness, of subtlety with with an “OMG ROFL” text. They have made us feel so many ways about these characters, to the point that it is often difficult to remember that the actors are not actually their characters.
Friends had a way of making you feel like you were one of them. It was comforting to tune in and grab coffee at the Perk. But Girls captures something different. We don’t want to be a part of their self-obsessed world, because we’re busy living in our own. We see them doing the same things we do, or at least exaggerated versions of them, and think, “what narcissistic assholes”, all the while not realizing that their stories are only slightly embellished versions of ourselves.
“What is the meaning of this fucking cunt parade?” – Desi
While framing important societal ideas, Dunham still allows the absurdity of her character, and thus the absurdity of who she represents, to shine through. A microcosm of a generation exposed to information from day one, encouraged to be involved and have opinions, but still guilty of a lack of self-awareness and the various other crimes of young-adulthood. Perhaps this is what the show does best – remembering that this generation probably isn’t any less self-aware than those before, but with access to information and the ability to make an impact, these flaws are magnified.
As with all great shows, we’ve been taken on a journey with these seven people. They’ve gone from being close friends whose only hope for survival was to hang on to one another, to a group of loosely connected acquaintances whose experiences have forced them to become self-reliant, if not entirely tolerable. Maybe it’s because the timeline in their world has mirrored my own, including how things have changed so drastically in only the blink of an eye, but it feels right to be moving on. The characters have all found at least a small sample of their own version of success, or at least adulthood, a hallmark of the transition from post-grad wandering to a new chapter of semi-guidance.
It can feel unsettling to give Dunham credit. And even more unsettling to feel unsettled about praising someone who created something that I enjoy so much. Perhaps I am falling victim to the very misstep that I warned others about, failing to discern between Hannah and Lena. Or perhaps she is an immensely talented individual who also suffers from the “Separate the Art From the Artist” dilemma, an affliction that has been ruined by the internet and in particular, the spawn of Hannah Horvath.
There used to be room for discussion around separating a brilliant work from the psychopath who made it, but we’ve entered a world where giving even a small bit of praise to a masterpiece created by someone of questionable makeup is tantamount to treason. Perhaps in another time, she would have been given the benefit of the doubt, and made the grade as an up and coming tortured genius: a Woody Allen without the horrendous sexual stuff. But the generation that we’re a part of, that Dunham helped foster, has looked upon Girls with its vicious binary lenses and decided that it’s either an important societal piece about the struggles of Millennial America narrated by a true visionary, or its a self-obsessed piece of garbage that exemplifies everything wrong with an entire generation of people, and in particular with Lena Dunahm.
Whatever. The brilliance of Girls has been its ability to master nuance in an age where that is not an acceptable thing to do, and I’ve really, really enjoyed watching it.