The article below contains spoilers for “Females Only” and “Truth or Dare,” the January 12th, 2014 episodes of “Girls.”
Of all the reveals in the first two episodes of season three of “Girls,” the least surprising may be that Hannah (Lena Dunham) loves Truth or Dare. As someone who has made a habit of unstinting, sometimes ill-advised and often unasked-for honesty (“I was playing Truth or Dare the first time I got fingered!”) and who is all too used to humiliation, it’s a game that plays to all of her strengths, even if Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is entertainingly awful at coming up with dares. One could say that Hannah’s whole life has been one big game of “Truth or Dare” with herself.
The most surprising aspect of the double feature may be how well Hannah is doing at the start of this new season — spectacularly well, really, given how things had been going before, and certainly since her disastrous (if irritatingly unforeshadowed) obsessive-compulsive disorder downward spiral. Premiere “Females Only” and follow-up episode “Truth or Dare” (both directed by Dunham) each kick off with scenes of Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver) in the morning — the first with the two entwined asleep in the Greenpoint apartment they now share, and the second with a bit of slapstick in which she pulls him out of bed for help renting a car to pick up Jessa (Jemima Kirke) from rehab.
Hannah’s turned things around with her ebook and editor David (John Cameron Mitchell) and she’s gotten the OCD under control, but it’s the off-kilter coupliness that feels like the major accomplishment after so much romantic self-sabotage — he makes sure she takes her medication, she pays more of the rent and together they entertain Ray (Alex Karpovsky) when they run into Adam’s ex Natalia (Shiri Appleby) and her friend, played by guest star Amy Schumer, at Ray’s new coffee shop.
The distinctive type of salty/sweet domesticity Adam and Hannah have now managed is part of what’s looking like a fairly stable relationship, at least in these two episodes. One thing the pair of installments make nicely clear, and what’s a strong point in the rest of the season that I’ve seen so far, is that despite its lurchy, drama-filled beginnings, the romance between Adam and Hannah is at a healthy but never effortless place. Yeah, maybe he can’t stand her friends, but that’s a fact that Hannah’s taco dinner makes seem like a perfectly reasonable response, with both Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna in lousy places, though only the former is broadcasting it openly in talking about her breakup with Charlie (Christopher Abbott, who left the show due to creative differences before the start of season three production). “We bought the ingredients to make grilled pizzas, and we were going to make grilled pizzas, and the day we were supposed to make grilled pizzas he fucking left me,”said a bewildered, crying Marnie in what’s one of the funnier lines of the episode.
Adam’s also obviously not thrilled to have to get on the road with Shoshanna in tow to retrieve Jessa, both because of the company and because as a former alcoholic he knows taking people out of rehab early isn’t a good thing, but he does it, and for a character who alternates between bursts of ferocious feeling and mysterious lapses in communication, the effort he’s making is notable.
Hannah and Adam seem to really like each other, and they attempt to talk out the things that bother them — like the Columbian girl who once broke Adam’s heart, or the dinner party with Marnie and Shoshanna. And Hannah feels comfortable enough with Adam’s whims that when he pulls over to go for a spontaneous hike in the woods, she can sit it out by lying on the ground listening to “This American Life.”
A lot of the charm of these scenes comes from Driver, who’s managed to make Adam into a truly sui generis small screen character, a genuine attractive oddball who feels things strongly but doesn’t always articulate them well. He’s not someone who bends easily to fit in with others, but he’s prone to sincerely felt bursts of wisdom — as in his speech about really knowing someone. He and Hannah may spend their time “fucking like two feral animals” and inadvertently killing any children they may have, as Amy Schumer puts it when she tries to shame them on behalf of the jilted Natalia, but it seems to work for them.
Hannah and Adam dominate these first two episodes, while Marnie’s mainly weeping over her abrupt offscreen breakup with Charlie and moving into a new Manhattan apartment with the help of her mother (Rita Wilson) and Shoshanna’s on a tear of partying and sleeping around. It’s only Jessa who really gets a substantive storyline of her own in these installments, as she manages to get thrown out of rehab she was sent to despite not really being an addict.
Jessa has always been a little apart from the other characters — she’s closest to Hannah, but even in that friendship Hannah seems to do more of the work — and her abrupt disappearance in the season two episode “Video Games,” in which she abandoned Hannah after a bad visit with her father, seemed almost like the show throwing up its hands with regard to how to handle the character.
But the rehab scenes are good, with Jessa going through the group sessions like a wrecking ball, provoking people and picking on Laura (Danielle Brooks of “Orange is the New Black”) with no one able to control her or dial her back. These two episode flesh her character out far more than the series had before — her line that “I figured my shit out already when I was five years old” is telling, because she believes it despite the obvious damage she bears and the impressive messes she’s been making everywhere she goes and with everyone new she meets.
Even her gesture toward making nice, apologizing to Laura and opening up to her lead not to new vulnerability but to her initiating sexual contact, and the one person she sees as on her wavelength and above the fray, Jasper (Richard E. Grant, who could be playing an older version of his character from “Withnail & I”), is both a pill addicted disaster and far from the father figure she hoped for. Jessa may not be an addict in the traditional sense, but at this point she’s the character who most needs help, and her summoning Hannah when, it’s clear, she could have just left on her own accord seems to be an indication that she’s at least somewhat aware of the fact.