Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Girls: “Dead Inside”

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At this point, it will come as no surprise to fans of Girls that Hannah and company aren’t always models of human behavior. The ideal for the show is a kind of sociological detachment from the proceedings—observing the characters like they’re in a natural history museum that keeps coming to life—while simultaneously shooting that detachment through with the empathy and mortification that comes from realizing that you were/are just like that. And of all episodes of Girls, perhaps none has ever struck me quite in that way quite as adroitly as “Deep Inside” did. Hannah’s inability to feel much over the death of her editor because she’s more worried about what might happen to her book is easy enough to judge. This is a time when she should, by all rights, at least be faking that she’s moderately upset about this. But she can’t. And, man, have I been there.

Honestly, it might not even be death that prompts this sort of reaction. I think in a lot of writers—maybe even most of them—there’s a kind of critical, observational detachment, a remove that separates head from heart, so that the contents of the latter can be spilled out on the page and organized by the former when it comes time to process these feelings. At this point, the people in my life are so used to me being much better at working through my emotions on the page than via any other form of communication that they just sort of roll with it, but there have been times when I’ve been in a really sad situation, when just about anybody else would be filled with despair or rage, and I’ve, instead, found some part of my brain whirring away about how this might make a wonderful piece when I just get the time to sit down and write it. Does this make me a monster? I hope not. But it made me much more sympathetic to Hannah in this episode than I suspect a lot of people are going to be.

The death of David Pressler-Goings is a solid idea to kick off this season, as it places Hannah in a place where she’s not sure how she should feel, while everybody else around her is saying, “You should probably be sad right now.” I liked John Cameron Mitchell in the part of David, but he was hardly essential to the show, and by taking him off the grid, the series can both force Hannah to realize just how callous she can be (at least a little bit) and give her slightly more to worry about in her professional life. David was that most vital thing to a young writer: someone who really believed Hannah had a voice worth cultivating. That’s not the sort of thing that can be found just anywhere, and without Hannah’s book already out there, she doesn’t have anything she can point to when trying to get other editors interested in her work. It might seem ghoulish for her to treat this death primarily as a chance to worry about her career, but it also makes complete sense.

I think the trick to the show’s balance this season is that the series is all too willing to point out Hannah’s flaws via the other characters, but then it keeps pointing and pointing and pointing, until you might say, “Well, sure, she’s fucked up, but aren’t we all?” That’s why I’m still not certain why the Caroline character is around. She feels almost like the show has loaded the deck too much, as if Lena Dunham and all involved in the series are trying to say, “Do you think Hannah’s crazy? Well, here’s someone who embodies all of the worst things people have said about Hannah on the Internet, and we’re going to take her to the ultimate degree.” The only stories Caroline tells us about who Adam was before Hannah are fairly obvious lies—stories concocted to try to get Hannah to break down in tears—and she’s so impetuous that she turns cartwheels in a cemetery without really giving it a second thought. The show has used characters who are basically plot devices before, but Caroline is the first one to feel like she’s meant to be a fairly major one. Not to mention that I think we’re supposed to find her somewhat insightful, at least in terms of her brother.

Maybe I’ll come around on Caroline, though, because I used to think the show largely wasted Jessa, and she’s become my favorite of the supporting female characters this season. Every week for Jessa is like a journey through people who have justifiable reasons to dislike her and have taken extreme measures to avoid having to see her again, and yet Jessa seems largely unbothered by this, as if she’s just used to the world rejecting her. In a way, it gives me more insight into her character than any possible reaction she could have. Is the idea of a friend staging a fake funeral so Jessa wouldn’t keep turning up and enabling her in her addictions a stretch? Sure. But the way that she simply accepts the idea that she never would have shown up at the funeral anyway and leaves the house is telling.

More and more, the show I’m reminded of as I watch this show is The Sopranosnot necessarily because it’s so groundbreaking or anything like that, but because it’s asking you to understand the characters via the absence in their lives that’s present in other lives. When Jessa goes to Susan, she’s got a husband and baby. Susan has obviously pulled her life together from the point where Jessa last believed her to be alive. The foremost debate over Girls has always been whether Dunham is aware of her characters’ privilege—whether she’s dissecting how little that prepares them for the “real” world (whatever that is) and how much it insulates them from the way people without that privilege have to live. But like The Sopranos—which constantly held up off to the side the people whose lives were casually ruined by Tony, or showed people who were able to change their lives when Tony and the gang weren’t because of the corrupting influences of money and crime—Girls is placing people who’ve either lived without privilege or had that privilege punctured by something on the fringes this season, and it’s showing how much more able they are to build rewarding lives on their own terms than Hannah and company. (And, honestly, Hannah’s so much more stable this season, perhaps because she’s been living on her own terms for a year or so at this point.) It’s not always the most subtle technique—look! Susan has a baby! And a husband!—but when it works, like when it worked on Sopranos, it can be almost more insightful than directly telling us that these characters are sheltered and their own worst enemies.


Except maybe somebody needs to straight-up tell Marnie that, because she’s circling the drain and doesn’t seem to realize it yet. It’s been interesting to watch the show shift the things that Hannah used to say early in season one into the mouth of Marnie, who really seemed to have her life together at that point. (Or, at the very least, she had gainful employment and a seemingly devoted boyfriend.) One of the themes of Girls is wanting what someone else has, and Marnie followed that to a place that blew up her life. Blowing up your life can often be a good thing, because it allows you to build something else atop the rubble, but Marnie’s not yet realized that this might ultimately be some kind of turning point. So many times when we see Marnie this season, Allison Williams is wearing this tightly wound smile, and I’m waiting for it to shatter.

All of this lets us circle back around to Hannah, whose inability to know what to feel when it comes to this death marks her, once again, as the show’s emotional center. Season three increasingly seems to be shaping up as a season about how one is supposed to live—about finding the right partner and line of work and having all the right responses to all the right things. It’s impossible to say just how genuine Adam and Ray’s responses to the death of David are supposed to be. In both cases, they’re at least better at faking the accepted emotions than Hannah is, but they also have less on the line than she does. Without her book, Hannah is literally back at square one. There is some bit of compassion inside of her—we almost see it creep through when she talks about how much he meant to her before immediately launching into the story of Margaret at the end—but her own self interest is constantly getting in the way of that. Critics of the show often complain that they have trouble relating to Hannah, but in this moment, in this idea of how hard it can be to set aside the self and simply grieve in a moment like this, Dunham is reflecting one of those universal experiences we’d probably all rather not think about. Some deaths are easy to mourn, but some deaths you have to learn how to grieve.


Stray observations:

  • When is HBO going to post the full video of Marnie Marie Michaels’ performance of “What I Am,” he said, not having checked YouTube to see if it was up there.
  • Hannah and Adam’s argument about whether Gawker is a necessary news outlet taking a critical look at the media world or just a bunch of snark merchants blathering away on the only platform that will have them was this week’s moment when the show seemed to be having a conversation with its harshest critics, made even more surreal by the whole thing with Jezebel trying to get the unretouched photos from Lena Dunham’s Vogue cover shoot these last few weeks. That said, Adam’s argument felt a little too much like something David Brooks might advance in one of his columns. Hannah would absolutely make people she considered to be dear friends in the comments section, though.
  • That said, “Goings, Goings, Gone” is pretty much the perfect Gawker headline.
  • I’m sure there will be the usual cries for more Shoshanna, but I think the show is using her in just the right amount in these episodes. Her scene with Jessa where they talked about losing friends was one of the episode’s funnier scenes precisely because of her presence.
  • Also: Ray is one of those who tells Hannah that she needs to be more compassionate in mourning David’s death, but when it comes to being compassionate toward Marnie in a time where she’s obviously flailing, he more or less fails. We all have our giant blind spots.
  • When Hannah starts telling Adam about Margaret, his body language seems to be like he’s going to call her on her bullshit because he’s heard this from his sister before, but it doesn’t happen. CLIFFHANGER?!?!?! (It’s not.)
  • I only now realized when checking the episodes list that episode six is written by Paul Simms of NewsRadio fame. I knew he would be joining the show this season, but I didn’t realize he would be getting a solo script. Hooray! (His work on the show reunites him with his old Larry Sanders Show colleague, Judd Apatow, who has his third script credit on the show tonight, shared with Dunham.)