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

Hannah and Jessa’s friendship hits the skids in a cathartic Girls

Illustration for article titled Hannah and Jessa’s friendship hits the skids in a cathartic Girls

“I’ve wanted this for a really long time.”
“Me too.”

That brief exchange between Jessa and Adam, right before they step across the line they’ve been toeing between a messy friendship and a messier romantic relationship, is the most illuminating scene in “Old Loves.” When Jessa says she’s wanted to take her relationship with Adam to another level for a “really long time,” how long exactly is really long? There was a palpable intimacy to their relationship as they grew closer in Hannah’s absence last season. But with Adam busy trying to decipher Mimi Rose and Jessa trying to claim Ace as her own, their relationship seemed more like a fraught but platonic friendship. Is that the period Jessa is describing, or does her interest in Adam predate Hannah’s stint in Iowa? Has she felt this way about Adam all along? Is that why the friendship between Jessa and Hannah has always seemed to be more about shared history than shared lives? Maybe Jessa has never been able to be kind and generous to Hannah because she’s never figured out how to stop coveting what Hannah has.

It’s hard to imagine someone envying Hannah, a woman who has been beset by ground-level life problems since the show began. She’s never managed to do more than scrape by professionally, save for her tenure at GQ, where she was disturbed to learn how talented she is at writing sponsored content for advertisers. She’s frequently broke and sometimes broken, throwing temper tantrums at terrible moments and jamming cotton swabs in her ears until they bleed. Hannah’s never looked to the audience like someone you look at and say, “Man, it would be nice to have what she has.” But Jessa is the only one of the central quartet who hasn’t had anything approaching a substantive, relatively stable romantic relationship. She doesn’t connect with men out of a desire to build healthy, lasting bonds, she uses men to affirm her beauty and as tools to create interpersonal havoc. Clearly what she’s experiencing with Adam is something different, something that speaks to a longing for a stabilizing, grounding influence, or at least someone to scratch the square inch of her back she can’t get to.

The audience has a very different perception of Hannah and Adam’s relationship than than Jessa would, having witnessed so much more of it than Jessa has. On a certain level it makes sense that Jessa could build a case for Adam in her mind using bits of information like the moment during the epic four-way fight in “Beach House” when Hannah talks about how Adam gives her everything and expects nothing in return. As a viewer, I know that’s an extremely rosy, borderline revisionist perspective of that relationship. But if you’re Jessa, who has even less information about the particulars of Hannah and Adam’s relationship than Marnie or Shosh, maybe you latch onto a statement like that one and take it as confirmation that Adam is this incredible person who devoted years to a relationship with a self-absorbed shrew. And maybe, if you and Adam share addiction issues that make the idea of a romantic relationship all the more deliciously fraught in a Sid and Nancy kind of way, Adam becomes irresistable.

At least, that’s the read on Jessa and Adam’s relationship that makes the most sense to me as I try to parse the significant shift in Hannah and Jessa’s relationship. Their confrontation at the rice pudding shop has been a long time in the making, a natural extension of the nasty fight they had in “Sit-In” when Jessa expressed no remorse for failing to toss Hannah a hint about Mimi Rose. The scene is jarring all the same. Because Jessa snipes at Hannah so often, this seemed like business as usual to me, even understanding the context involving Adam that Hannah didn’t have. But even without that context, Hannah is perceptive enough to figure out that there’s something different about the way Jessa is treating her. Jessa won’t confess, and Hannah says maybe they’re just growing beyond their friendship, and Jessa agrees rather than giving Hannah the words of affirmation she’s obviously looking for. Hannah storms out before doubling back to tell Jessa she’s “the biggest bitch I’ve ever met” and “a total cunt.”

It’s a cathartic moment considering how long Jessa has been treating Hannah like absolute shit, but it’s bittersweet too. Hannah likely sees the confrontation as an outright victory because as far as she knows Jessa is being awful to her for no reason in particular. But Jessa’s resignation, in light of her fledgling relationship with Adam, suggests she’s finally realizing that she and Hannah haven’t truly been friends for a while. People who aren’t able to celebrate your happiness and applaud your success are not your friends, and if Jessa has been wanting to have torrid couch sex with Adam for “a really long time,” then she hasn’t been Hannah’s friend for a really long time. All of Jessa’s most pointed criticisms of Hannah are nonetheless true because she was secretly pining for Hannah’s boyfriend all this time, but those criticisms were never informed by pure intentions. Awkward, unsatisfying couch sex is the comeuppance Jessa rightfully deserves.


“Old Loves” creates an interesting tension between Jessa and Hannah by having Jessa criticize Hannah out of her inner-turmoil over her feelings for Adam just as Hannah is exhibiting all of her worst traits. Hannah is feuding with Fran about their grading techniques, an argument that comes to a head when Fran grades one of Hannah’s students based on objective standards rather than prioritizing their creative flow, as Hannah prefers to do. Rather than let it go, Hannah escorts little Maile to Fran’s classroom and turns her into collateral damage in their escalating feud about what seems like nothing at all. Hannah’s issue with Fran is as much about Adam as her conflict with Jessa. Fran is not the uncomplicated “nice guy” he seems to think of himself as, but he’s a far cry from Adam, a weird, moody creative type who made Hannah feel like the normal one by comparison. Now it’s Fran who has relative rectitude on his side while Hannah is flailing by comparison. Hannah went from having her mother warn her, with an abundance of love and an absence of judgment, about the dangers of committing to a weirdo, to having a boyfriend who regularly tells her how inappropriate she’s being. She’s desperate to be right about something, and the rips in Maile’s paper is as good a gauntlet as any.

Stray observations

  • Desi is being the husband everyone expected him to be, starting a moronic construction project in Marnie’s apartment without permission, just like he unilaterally spent their label advance money on distortion pedals. Then, when she calls him on it, he makes oblique references to his troubled relationship with his mother and beats himself up until Marnie feels sorry for him. Keep it classy Desi.
  • I’m really enjoying Elijah’s newfound relationship, though he didn’t deserve awkward sex.