The article below contains spoilers for “It’s Back,” the March 3rd, 2013 episode of “Girls.”
Season two of “Girls” has been markedly uneven — the swings in quality and the recently trilogy of episodes centered around characters traveling outside the show’s normal universe (to Staten Island, to a hot doctor’s brownstone, to upstate New York) suggest a series struggling to figure out what direction to take. Last night’s installment, “It’s Back,” directed by the reliable Jesse Peretz and written by Lena Dunham, Steve Rubinshteyn and Deborah Schoeneman, settled into more familiar territory while coming across as similarly scattershot in terms of the storylines it encompassed. The title could easily be referring to the return of “Girls” to the day-to-day of its characters, though it more directly cites Hannah’s (Dunham) obsessive-compulsive disorder flare-up.
I can’t remember if Hannah’s mentioned a history with OCD before (it seems like the kind of thing she’d toss off in the middle of a rambling monologue, and that would be easy to dismiss as more of her character’s usual self-dramatization), but the disorder is one that Dunham talked about struggling with in last month’s Rolling Stone cover story. Hannah’s particular manifestation of OCD draws from Dunham’s experiences with it, and the depiction feels genuine even if its appearance within the series seems out of the blue. In typical Hannah fashion, her response to the OCD is to deny and minimize it even as it sends her fleeing from that Judy Collins performance, right up to the point when someone dare describe it as “classical,” at which point she furiously elaborates on the details of how awful (and hopefully exceptional) it was.
That conversation between Hannah and the doctor (played with wry unruffledness by Bob Balaban, who really has written a series of books about a bionic dog) was the episode’s emotional highlight, showcasing Hannah’s defensiveness and her fragility, and providing a sense of how close she is to actually falling apart now that she had the writing opportunity she’s always chased after, despite her insistence that she doesn’t need help. Though she blames the breakup with Adam (Adam Driver) for her anxiety, and suggests that she’s actually not committed to never resuming their relationship, the weight of the book deal does seem an even bigger problem she’s not engaging with, particularly given how central to her identity being an author is. How much writing is Hannah actually getting done? She has the frantically busy aura of someone who knows she has a ton of work due and isn’t able to focus enough to actually do any of it.
Adam, on the other hand, seems to be moving on, getting railroaded into a date with the daughter of a woman (a welcome Carol Kane) at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that turns out to be great. His odd intensity charms not just his fellow AA member (who deems him “cuter than a dimple on a bug’s ass”) but the girl as well — played by Shiri Appleby, she’s pretty and easygoing, but mainly seems primed to provide a problem for Hannah when our heroine inevitably decides she wants Adam back after all. Marnie’s (Allison Williams) ex Charlie (Christopher Abbott) has also moved on, and to her distress has become a successful dot-commer, having sold Forbid, an app he created (because of her) that prevents you from calling people you’ve decided are bad for you. The “Girls” portrayal of a tech office, with everyone running off to do a lip dub with the company next door, is very amusing, but it too is there mainly for reasons of plot mechanics and leads Marnie to have her realization about the unfairness of the world with Ray (Alex Karpovsky).
We’ve seen before that Marnie’s low opinion of Charlie isn’t necessarily based on fact, when back in season one she went to his apartment for the first time and saw that he’d renovated it beautifully. Her assessment of him now as a “sad mess” is just as unfair as her judgment of herself as someone who has her shit together. She (like Ray) is still living in Shoshanna’s (Zosia Mamet) apartment, which appears to be either a one bedroom or a studio. She has a job instead of a career and she was recently informed by the man she thought was her boyfriend that she was basically the assistant he was sleeping with. She’s in no place to feel like the world is denying her the success that’s her due, but if she really wants to pursue the singing career she tells Ray is her heart’s desire, that sense of denial may help her weather the many rejections that come with the industry.
Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who left Hannah at her father’s house with only a note in the last episode, is still mysteriously vanished in this one, but even so it barely has time for a rushed Shoshanna plot in which, abandoned by Ray because he doesn’t want to attend a college party, she ends up hooking up with an attractive doorman. It didn’t seem very in character for a girl who not that long ago declared her love for the guy who took her virginity, but maybe sharing a tiny apartment with two freeloaders can lead you to act out in outrageous ways. If getting some “Shoshanna time” means random make-outs with strangers in hallways, it’s hard to fault her for needing an outlet outside of her crowded house, especially given how her party-throwing friend has no interest in actually listening to her. We’ve seen Jessa’s disastrous parent, Hannah’s long-suffering ones and Marnie’s oversharing mom, but never Shoshanna’s family, and at the moment, she seems most in need of support.