HBO’s “Girls” returned for its fifth and penultimate season on Sunday, and there is a telling moment between Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Hannah (creator Lena Dunham) in one of the early, upcoming episodes:
Jessa: You’re going to wake up one day and realize you wasted your entire life on dumb websites.
Hannah: You’re too late. That already happened.
Jessa: Your brain is rotting. You used to have interesting ideas, and now all you do is browse the Internet. Maybe that’s why you stopped writing.
This is obviously not the case with Dunham, whose HBO show continues to be a unique, feminist, unapologetically bawdy comedy. I read this as a pointed remark about the psychological toll the Internet, and its rabbit-hole of hate, can take on a person who lets herself get sucked into it. I found myself wondering if it was a reference to what happened with Dunham offscreen last fall, when she went off Twitter after a barrage of terrible comments on a picture she Instagrammed:
“I didn’t want to cut off my relationship to [Twitter] completely, but it really truly wasn’t a safe space for me. I think even if you think you can separate yourself from the kind of verbal violence that’s being directed at you, that it creates some really kind of cancerous stuff inside you. Even if you think, ‘Oh, I can read like 10 mentions that say I should be stoned to death,’ and kind of laugh and move on. That’s verbal abuse. Those aren’t words you’d accept in an interpersonal relationship. And those aren’t words that should be directed to you, ever. For me, personally, it was safer to stop.”
The internet hasn’t been a safe space for “Girls” right from the beginning; Dunham’s body, which she always gleefully featured in various states of undress (and continues to do this season), has been called every offensive name in the book. Even supposedly feminist sites like Jezebel became hostile territory:
“I used to read Gawker and Jezebel in college and be like, ‘I can’t wait to get to New York where my people will be to welcome me,’” Dunham said. “And it’s like, it’s literally if I read it it’s like going back to a husband who beat me in the face — it just doesn’t make any sense.”
So perhaps there is a bit of a nightmare scenario in Hannah’s comment: What if Dunham had let the misogyny of the Internet get to her? What if the trolls won?
Well, they didn’t. The new season of “Girls” is great, kicking off with the self-aware rom-com trope of a wedding — Marnie’s (Allison Williams), no less. Things are, of course, going to get ugly.
Now that its four young women are, as the trailer says, growing up, the series does feel a little less manic. Hannah is in a stable relationship with Fran (Jake Lacy), a fellow teacher, who seems like a pretty good guy (though this is called into question by a development in the second episode), and at the very least is less volatile than Adam (Adam Driver). He, meanwhile, is nursing a crush on Jessa, who, when you think about it, might have been better suited to him all along. Marnie — well, she’s just as Marnie as ever, throwing a wedding that manages to look artisanal in the most cloying way possible and marrying a guy (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who clearly seems destined to be a total nightmare.
Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), who’s basically been the ugly stepsister of this group since the beginning, finally gets a decent storyline: After the blow up a couple seasons ago, in which she excoriated her friends for being terrible, she’s moved to Japan and feels more at home there than she ever did in New York. To quote one of the songs this show popularized: I love it.
From the four episodes I’ve seen, this season looks to be a somewhat more subdued chapter in the evolution of the four main characters, with perhaps more moments of genuine, sweet emotion between them. Even Elijah (Andrew Rannells) gets a shot at romance with a new character (Corey Stoll) who, while not without his issues, seems to treat Elijah more like a real person and less like a cartoon character (which he’s sort of been up until this point).
But getting back into the groove with this show also reminds me how perplexed I’ve always been by those who dislike it so much. Because it seems to me that the main argument against it has always been that Hannah is unlikable/shameless/irritating/a bad person/doesn’t speak for millennials. Subjective as all of these judgments are, I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue that Dunham’s character is a role model — but when has that ever stopped us from loving any other show? “Mad Men” didn’t seem to suffer from having a terribly damaged, arguably terrible person at its center. Neither did “Breaking Bad.” Or, veering closer to Dunham’s milieu, any of Woody Allen’s early work, which — while, yes, hilarious — showcases the musings of a neurotic, misanthropic misogynist. Hannah Horvath too off-putting? Give me a break. To quote the character herself, in the third episode: “I am NOT being too much. I am being just enough.” Agreed.