The article below contains spoilers for “Dead Inside,” the January 26th, 2014 episode of “Girls.”
Death comes to “Girls” by way of David Pressler-Goings (John Cameron Mitchell), the editor of Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) ebook and a figure who went from tormenter to apparent friend as she got her act together and managed to actually produce the collection of personal essays for which she was contracted. Mitchell got to go out on a memorable note in the previous episode, crashing Hannah’s birthday party while high on something, getting into a fight with Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and borrowing a phone on which he immediately installed Grindr. News of his passing — he was found face down in the Hudson River by the Chelsea Piers, dying the way he apparently lived — reaches Hannah as she arrives at his Millstreet Press offices for a meeting, and all she can think of in the shocked aftermath is what’s to become of her book now that he’s gone.
That self-centeredness is typical of “Girls,” but the episode’s treatment of first brushes with mortality is actually less damning overall than that initial assessment makes it seem. It can be genuinely hard to come to terms with the permanence of death, especially for someone, in the case of Hannah, who has seen very little of it in her life to date (“It’s my first death, so I’m kind of numbed,” she tells Laird).
The nebulousness of her relationship with David doesn’t help — he’s someone who was close to her professionally but not all that much personally. Hannah doesn’t feel devastated, she doesn’t feel distraught — she doesn’t feel much of anything, and so she reacts to the situation as it applies to her and the project on which she’s been working. She knows exactly how to feel about the prospect of losing her first book deal, after all.
This apparent callousness disturbs Adam (Adam Driver), for reasons that turn out to have their roots in self-concern as well — he’s worried that if she’s so unmoved by this death that she’d be equally unruffled if something were to happen to him, that her biggest concern would be how she’d make rent by herself. She counters that she thinks about him dying all the time and what she’d say at his funeral (Adam apparently once lived in a tent on a roof in Bed-Stuy).
It’s another instance of her thinking about the tragedies of others through a lens of how they’d affect her, but that’s at least on the road to empathy — wondering what kind of speech you’d give in the case of your boyfriend’s death is only somewhat removed from considering how much you’d miss him.
“Girls” is essentially a portrait of how the process of growing up and developing a sense of self has been extended well into one’s twenties, and Hannah’s attempts to grapple with death are about her trying to get past the navel-gazing outlook she and her friend share, to get outside of herself and summon the “right” emotions.
She’s aware of the issues of relating everything to oneself, but not able to actually get beyond that, and has real fears that Adam will eventually figure out she’s lacking depth. It’s a sad and relatable thing to be worried about, even if the idea that there’s a correct way to react to things is a problematic one — as Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann) inadvertently proves by telling a made-up sob story about Adam taking a cousin with muscular dystrophy to a dance, just to see how Hannah will react.
The episode balances out Hannah’s fears that there’s something wrong with her for not grieving appropriately with a hilariously stinging storyline for Jessa (Jemima Kirke) in which, prompted by what happened to David, she decides to seek out the grave of her friend Season (Melonie Diaz), who “choked on vomit or something. “I used to tickle her all the time,” Jessa reflects.
But a little poking around reveals that Season is not dead — that she actually sent fake notice of her funeral (“We knew you wouldn’t come”) in order to permanently cut Jessa out of her life. She’s married, with a baby, and living in New York, and judged Jessa so toxic that she was willing to go to such extremes to get rid of her: “I was a drug addict and you were a total enabler,” Season says when Jessa manages to track her down.
As Jessa was getting kicked out of rehab, her counselor suggested her former patient is a sociopath, or at least aspires to be. Jessa’s the most perceptive of the “Girls” foursome, but also the least likely to put that gift to any positive end — she’s tends to manipulate people simply to see what happens, and the Season incident suggests how much damage she’s wrought in the past. Hannah has the self-centeredness of a child, but Jessa’s is more dangerous, has an edge of calculation and chaos to it. As funny as the encounter at Season’s is — as Jessa admits that her former friend has done well with a brownstone, baby and “cool-looking husband” while insisting “none of this is going to work out for you, by the way!” — it speaks to the person Jessa is in danger of growing up into, the kind surrounded by nothing but burnt bridges.
Meanwhile, Marnie’s (Allison Williams) working out and drinking smoothies, but her journey toward self-improvement is derailed when she finds Ray and his boss watching her music video and quits in a rage. It’s a storyline that makes you miss Christopher Abbott.