The article below contains spoilers for "It's About Time," the January 13, 2013 episode of "Girls."
Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) manages to end up in bed with three different men in "It's About Time," the season premiere of "Girls," but she's actually only physically involved with one of them — new addition Sandy (Donald Glover), who seems both into her and even-keeled, though she's still holding him at arm's length with the presumption he'll turn out to be a bad guy. "Why do you have so many rules?" he asks her when she insists he not mention love, among other guidelines to supposedly help her "make logical, responsible decisions" while in reality just making her look a little nutty. Hannah does not, despite these attempts to take control of things, actually have her life any more together than when we last left her — she's still working at the coffee shop, still sort of seeing Adam (Adam Driver), who's managed to keep her near him as a nursemaid/errand girl thanks to her guilt over his having a broken leg following their wedding break-up, and still in a bit of a Cold War with Marnie (Allison Williams) after the tiff that led Marnie to move out.
The show, however, feels more solid than ever in terms of tone, still allowing its characters to blithely stumble into saying revealingly terribly things as well as off-centeredly poignant ones, as when, watching "Bye Bye Birdie" with Adam, Hannah says half self-consciously that she's always liked a "world where people burst into song." The episode, directed by Dunham, leaves out the newly married Jessa (Jemima Kirke) in favor of focusing on the three less externally self-assured characters as they converge at a party being thrown by Hannah and her new roomie/ex turned gay bestie Elijah (Andrew Rannells).
While Hannah's still generally floundering, it's Marnie who takes the brunt of the punishment in this first installment, an intriguing development for a character who's taken comfort in her own perfection before. First she gets taken out for a chatty lunch by her boss at the gallery, one that goes so pleasantly that the woman neglects to tell her she's getting fired until they're walking back. And it's Marnie, not Hannah, who gets the most awkward sex scene with her half hook-up with Elijah, who briefly convinces himself he's bisexual after an incident with his older boyfriend George — an excruciating and funny sequence in which he accuses her of rolling her eyes when he starts, er, losing interest.
Zosia Mamet gets to showcase Shoshanna's appealing oddness as she charms Ray (Alex Karpovsky) by steadfastly ignoring him at Hannah and Elijah's party, hurt that he rejected her sometime between seasons after taking her virginity. Whether greeting him with a theatrical "Oh, hello… goodbye," or ending up the only one (beside George) to step up to the karaoke machine to sing Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," she never looks anything other than uncomfortable, and its that inability to pretend otherwise that seems to pull her once, as she puts it, lover in for what's a pretty sweet scene in the coatroom, despite Ray's tendencies to neg. Shoshanna, the youngest of the four main characters, also has the smallest barrier between how she feels and how she behaves, which in the context of the show is a privilege — she's a noticable bundle of nervousness and emotional vulnerability, not sending out the conflicting mixed signals that Hannah does in the episode.
Everyone's a little uncomfortable at that party — Marnie has that run-in with her ex Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and his moody new romper-wearing girlfriend, and then another surface-cheerful one with Hannah in which she confesses that she feels like her best friend is slipping away from her. Hannah has to run out for what turns into a flat-out hostile re-break-up with Adam that's finds her having to counter what her in love self said to him a month ago. And Elijah is embarrassed by his drunk boyfriend, who berates the twentysomething partygoers who are acting like people twice their age by yelling into the mic "You guys are all so fucking boring! Too fucking cool to do one song." He's actually boozily stumbled onto one of the major themes of "Girls," which is that the characters struggle constantly with how they're supposed to behave versus how they actually want to, weighted down by the burdens of expectations they've shouldered. It'll take a long time, or some serious imbibing, to free them from that enough to allow them to cut loose with a song.