Girls lost a nice chunk of its audience to the Oscars last year, so this year, it’s counterprogrammed with Oscar nominee June Squibb. Somewhat fittingly, she starred in the Best Picture nominee the fewest people have seen (Nebraska), and it’s not like she would have been a huge enticement if she were somehow in Gravity, because she’s character actress June Squibb. This is all just a happy coincidence that lets me open up this review with some dumb jokes, because I really don’t know what to say about an episode I really, really liked but can’t quite figure out in terms that would make it easy to explain to you just why I liked it so much. Indeed, this might be my favorite episode of the season, even as I can accept that “Beach House” is a better, more accomplished piece of television.
I suspect my reasons for this stem largely from how the episode removes one of the characters (in this case, Hannah) from the context we’re used to seeing her in. “Flo,” scripted by Bruce Eric Kaplan and directed by Richard Shepard (a combination also responsible for season two’s very similar but not as good “Video Games”), features only Hannah and Adam, and it takes on one of those touchstones of your teens or 20s: losing your grandparents. It’s easy enough to evoke sentiment in this scenario, since many, many people in the show’s audience will have lost a grandparent, perhaps even ones they feel as ambivalent about as Hannah does about Grandma Flo. But what I like about “Flo” is how it skews away from that whenever possible. In many ways, this is an episode all about Hannah’s mom, as much as it’s about Hannah, and we get a picture of the life Loreen had with her two sisters before she met Tad and gave birth to Hannah. It’s also an episode, albeit indirectly until the very end, about the connection between Adam and Hannah and just how far that’s going to go when it comes to the two of them making more permanent decisions about their relationship.
Squibb plays Grandma Flo (as you’d probably expect), but she’s not in the episode a lot. She’s been hospitalized with a broken femur, and in the process of all of this, she’s developed pneumonia, which threatens her life. Hannah drops everything in New York to go and see her grandmother (who must live upstate somewhere, since Adam’s able to get there via motorcycle quickly enough), and she’s immediately re-immersed into a world she probably hasn’t had very much to do with since college. I think “Flo” nicely captures the way that you can feel somewhat isolated from a life that was once at least somewhat familiar to you. Loreen and her sisters squabble about who’s going to get what after their mother’s death. (The main point of contention is her engagement ring.) Hannah tries to bond with cousin Rebecca and mostly fails, because for as aimless as Hannah can feel, Rebecca is even more driven. She’s in medical school, and she’s got a boyfriend for only one night of the week. (He has another girlfriend, so he’s okay with it.) Rebecca is this week’s character who lays into Hannah with the voice of an Internet comments section, but in this case, at least, it’s easier to see just why Hannah is the way she is and probably doesn’t want to be like Rebecca.
I’ve often thought about Girls vaguely in terms of Seinfeld (hang with me here, everybody). Where Seinfeld was about the various things that happened to Jerry to give rise to his stand-up routines, Girls is about the experiences Hannah goes through that might add up to her first collection of essays someday. (I think it’s telling that her first collection—the one that will now remain unpublished—is full of stuff we never see on the series and stories from her childhood and adolescence.) Therefore, it doesn’t terribly bother me when we don’t see the immediate continuity from one episode to the next—like when Caroline just disappeared (though I’d still love to see her come back)—because I figure what we’re seeing is roughly an essay as it will appear in Hannah’s eventual collection. This makes her self-absorption an even bigger part of the joke, because you can make the argument that what we’re seeing is literally Hannah playing a kind of unreliable narrator for all of the other people in her life. It’s not quite Carrie Bradshaw narrating adventures she’d have little way of knowing about, but it’s close.
“Flo,” however, is probably the best episode this season (and maybe even in the show) at articulating just how annoying that kind of detachment can be. Just about anyone who makes a living by putting words on paper has dealt, at one time or another, with that moment when it seems like they’re pulled away from a big, emotional moment, because they’re figuring out how to write about it later. Rebecca may not be very nice about it, but she puts this into words as well as anyone on the show has when she and Hannah go out for a drink together. Rebecca’s not drinking, because she doesn’t do that sort of thing while she’s so stressed out, but she figured that a bar is the kind of place she would take someone like Hannah, before snapping at her cousin about how Hannah always makes everything all about her, particularly in her essays. (Rebecca didn’t find them that funny; Hannah says she specifically sent the less funny ones because she knows Rebecca’s not a very funny person.) As played by Sarah Steele, Rebecca is another chance for the show to point out that not everybody in Hannah’s generation is as self-absorbed as she and her friends are. It works far better than some of the show’s other attempts at this.
I also appreciate “Flo” for giving us so much time with Loreen, one of my favorite recurring characters on the show. Becky Ann Baker is such a naturally warm and generous actress that it’s fun to watch the show push her to places where she’s having petty squabbles with her sisters and using the word “fucking” with aplomb. Loreen and Tad have been such constants in Hannah’s life—even when they’re disappointing her—that she almost always slots them into the “parent” role. But “Flo” gives us a chance to get to know Loreen as a daughter and as a sister, and in both roles, she’s hilarious. I’m not sure there’s a Girls fan other than me who wishes the show had far more middle-aged women arguing with each other about all manner of stupid things, but I loved how “Flo” gave the characters the sorts of arguments that might arise as a parent’s death approached. Who’s going to get all of the stuff? And how are we going to divide up all this wonderful prescription medication? Girls often surprises me with just how generous it is toward making even the slightest of recurring players into an actual character within the show’s universe, and getting to know this much about Hannah’s mom helped explain both her and her daughter better to the audience.
But there’s another moment when Loreen draws focus, and it’s when she’s having a conversation with Hannah about just how long-term her prospects with Adam might be. Loreen, who’s spent most of the episode first trying to convince Hannah and Adam to lie about being engaged to Flo, then being very nice to her daughter’s boyfriend, tells Hannah that she thinks Adam is very nice, but he’s also odd and angry. He bounces from one thing to the next. He’s not, in other words, terribly stable. That was certainly the picture we got of Adam in season two, but season three has been controversial to some because of how many of the character’s rough edges have seemingly been sanded off. But, no, we’re back in unreliable narrator land, where Hannah, still in the honeymoon phase of this relationship, has back-burnered all of the stuff that could make Adam harder to take in previous seasons. Hannah gets angry with her mother for what she says, but she still has to listen and consider. Because, y’know, it’s her mom.
This plays nicely off the episode’s closest thing to a “plot,” in which Hannah and Adam have a veiled discussion about the future of their relationship via decisions about whether or not to lie to her grandmother about being engaged. Neither of them is particularly ready for marriage, nor does either of them particularly want to be married. But it’s clear that they’ve never even thought about that possibility, and that news affects both of them in ways they’re not immediately ready to deal with. They’re both living in an era when getting married much later in life than they would have even 50 years ago is totally acceptable, but they still live in a world where marriage is something that most people eventually at least attempt. And do the both of them really want to be married to each other? I’d say by the end of the episode, it’s clear that Adam would like to be with Hannah someday, but it’s not so clear the feeling is reciprocated.
Or maybe I just like this episode so much because of the elegance of the ending. After the argument with her mother, Hannah’s family is called in to see Flo, who’s unexpectedly shaken off the pneumonia and eaten a cheese sandwich. The celebration passes, and Hannah has a moment with Flo before she leaves for the city again. “You don’t look good,” grandma says, and Hannah insists she’s fine, just happy to see that she’s okay. The doctors were wrong. “People aren’t always right!” says Flo, and Hannah agrees. But when she gets back to the city, Rebecca calls: Flo has died after suffering a heart attack, and Hannah needs to get back right away. It’s a button that closes off everything in the episode: People can be wrong, yes, but it’s usually a bad idea to completely tune out those who know what they’re talking about.
- Deirdre Lovejoy (whom most of you will know as The Wire’s Rhonda Pearlman) as Aunt Margo and Amy Morton as Aunt Sissy (perhaps better known as Sissy Spacey). I would very much like to see both of them again, if only to watch Loreen rub it in that she’s the only one with a marriage that stayed together.
- Everything about the car crash is perfect, from the way that Hannah actually turns it into more of an inevitability by harping on Rebecca about texting while driving to how Adam races into the hospital full of worry, then yells at Hannah to never, ever just text him “Car crash.”
- My main complaint with this episode: The final song was too syrupy sweet for the rest of everything that had happened. (Actually, I found the score in this episode fairly obtrusive on the whole, which is not something you can always say on this show. But I tend to prefer minimalist scoring to a fault.)
- I think there’s much more for this show to make over ambivalence about marriage on the part of the characters, and I hope it gets more into that. (Except, of course, in the case of Marnie and Ray, who should be married immediately.)
- When Loreen told Hannah that being married to a man like Adam is hard work, do you think she was speaking from personal experience? Do we think that young Tad Hovath was very Adam-esque? Now I’m trying to imagine a young Peter Scolari playing Adam Sackler.
- Hannah wants to know if Rebecca works with a lot of hot doctors. She’s seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Rebecca wants to know why people keep asking her that, as if she’s just going to medical school to find a husband. Cue concerned expressions.
- Just three episodes left. Is there any way Hannah and Adam’s relationship survives the season unscathed?