‘Iowa’ & ‘Triggerings’
HBO’s Emmy award-winning comedy drama Girls returned to television screens on both sides of the Atlantic last week with its much-hyped season four premiere.
Girls is the brainchild of twenty-eight year old Lena Dunham, who co-produces, writes, directs and acts in the show. First aired back in 2012, Girls has won many accolades, attracted widespread critical attention, propelled Dunham into the public eye and garnered a love-it-or-hate-it reputation, as Dunham and her vision have been in equal parts praised and criticised.
Girls focuses on the lives of four girls in their early twenties, chronicling their attempts to find their place in the world post-college. Dunham’s character, protagonist Hannah, is an aspiring writer whose career and personal life has changed and developed over the three seasons. The season 4 opener sees Hannah preparing to travel to Iowa to accept her place at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. Hannah bids farewell to New York, her friends and her boyfriend Adam (soon-to-be Star Wars star Adam Driver) who is now a successful jobbing actor.
Girls’ key strength has always been its depiction of human relationships and the realistic, imperfect way the characters behave. This strength is particularly evident in this opening pair of episodes. In ‘Iowa’, Driver and Dunham astutely depict the dread their characters feel at the upcoming separation: they avoid the topic, avoid a formal goodbye and agree the plan is “not to have a plan”. The viewer can’t help but route for the pair, who have found a happiness and stability together that they struggled to achieve apart. It’s hard to watch their separation and it will be interesting to see how their relationship survives as the season develops.
Hannah and Adam’s goodbye is actually less poignant than Hannah’s farewell to her on-and-off best friend Marnie (Alison Williams). Over the course of the three previous seasons, the relationship between Hannah and Marnie had grown increasingly strained and difficult. Mutual betrayals and an increasing lack of common ground had lead to a seemingly irreparable friendship. In ‘Iowa’, it’s Marnie who helps Hannah leave: calling round at 6am with a Starbucks in hand and helpful packing tips (sitting on the suitcase always works!), Marnie demonstrates that her friendship for Hannah is unwavering. The moment was truly touching and a spot-on depiction of the love and regard you have for old friendship, no matter how complicated it may have become.
The rest of ‘Iowa’ is concerned with reacquainting the audience with the characters and their current situation. As usual Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna steals every scene she’s in, remarking to her former boyfriend Ray (Alex Karpovsky): “You, like, totally picked the best one of my friends to bone because I never really liked Marnie anyway.” Shoshanna explains she only went to Marnie’s concert in the hope she would bump into Ray and have the opportunity to apologise to him because in general “female folk singers remind me of being car sick when I was little”. Time will tell whether Shoshanna and Ray will repair their relationship, was that reconciliation or was a final goodbye?
Meanwhile Marnie is still entwined with cheating singer Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and their folk double act is as cringey as ever, failing to make waves on the jazz brunch circuit. Marnie’s awkward encounter with Desi’s girlfriend seemed to ensure that her affair with Desi is bound to end in tears. Then there’s Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who is forced to say goodbye to her employee Beadie (Louise Lasser) and it seems uncertain what lies in her future.
Episode 2, ‘Triggerings’ was a wonderfully realistic depiction of the conflicting emotions associated with moving to a new place and feeling alone. Opening with shots of cornfields and tractors, it is clear Iowa is an entirely different world from New York City.
Hannah is initially thrilled at her new house, which is so much bigger than what her budget can get her in NYC. She’s quick to embrace student life, complete with a bike and rucksack.
The initial thrill at her new life soon wares off, however, and it’s not long before Hannah’s sleeping in the bathroom after a bat invades her huge new bedroom, her bike has been stolen and she is struggling to adapt to the critical process of her creative writing seminar. Her attempts at FaceTiming Marnie aren’t entirely reassuring – as soon as Marnie starts talking about Adam, the signal cuts out (this was particularly refreshing, internet connectivity problems are so rarely depicted on screen). Meanwhile her attempts at phone calls home to her parents, Jessa and Shoshanna don’t help much either.
To top it all, Hannah’s confidence in her writing suffers a blow when her fellow students rip apart her creative writing piece, in a scene that encapsulates the awkwardness of university seminars. Hannah is bad at taking criticism, which doesn’t help matters.
There is also an interesting meta moment when a fellow student criticises Hannah for being completely unaware of how her story might be perceived by readers; the student points out that the reader reaction is just as important as her authorial intention. This was an interesting observation in light of the fact Lena Dunham’s best-selling book Not That Kind of Girl came under some fire for the way her stories were perceived by readers.
In an attempt to cheer Hannah up, Andrew Rannells’ Elijah surprises her by turning up to in Iowa. This is followed by an entertaining scene involving the two crashing an under-graduate party: although it’s clear Hannah is relieved to have Elijah joining her, and the two enjoy the party, it’s not clear how things will pan out over the next few weeks. Will Hannah stick it out at Iowa? Will her relationship with Adam last? And what does the future hold for Jessa, Shoshanna and Marnie back in NYC?
All in all, these two openers were highly enjoyable episodes of Girls and set up some interesting plotlines and ideas for the upcoming weeks.