by Jeremy Grossman
Just when I thought “Girls” had proven itself as an incompetent mess of a show, it comes out with an episode that may not be perfect, but definitely more curious than anything the show had been giving us lately.
The problem with last week’s episode was how everything about “Girls”—specifically, Hannah’s character—had become unrealistic, unlikable, and simply, uninteresting. “Girls” worked best as an honest show about post-college life in 2012, but Hannah had become more of a cartoon character than an actual college graduate. There was nothing about Hannah that merited any sympathy or interest as she slowly destroyed her life based on what would seem like the logic of a five-year-old.
And now, with “The Return,” Hannah has become a character that spending 30 minutes with isn’t so awful. In fact, in a shockingly bold move for the show at such an early stage, the episode focused entirely on Hannah, completely ignoring any of the other girls. It was a move that worked—Hannah’s character was in desperate need of special attention, and this episode allowed the audience to obtain more of a connection with such an intangible person.
Hannah returns to her hometown in Michigan to celebrate her parents’ 30th anniversary, in the second appearance by Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker. The bittersweet feeling of returning to your hometown after being away is an incredibly true emotion, so already “Girls” is back to maintaining a sense of reality.
The tension is understandably high for Hannah, as her relationship with her parents is still sore after they cut her off. But while the pilot episode introduced her parents as cold, unforgiving individuals, “The Return” paints them in a more sympathetic light, as two nice people trying to maintain a relationship with Hannah, who rudely texts while they’re all watching a Netflix movie.
Hannah’s parents are especially hurt when Hannah ditches their evening plans to go out on a date with an old classmate, Eric. Eric is much better than anything Hannah’s used to—he’s sweet, kind, adorable, and has a great job. He asks Hannah out on a date, and it seems like the first good thing to happen to Hannah in her entire life.
Of course, what would an episode of “Girls” be without an awkward, emotionally damaging sex scene? Although Eric insists right away that they don’t need to have sex, Hannah insists that they do, and we’re left to assume that the sex was so uncomfortable that all sparks between the two of them are gone forever. This is not the first time that a relationship has been destroyed by sex on this show. Just last week, Jessa and her ex-boyfriend seemed to be rekindling their relationship, but completely abandoned each other after a “quick screw.” And the week before that, Shoshanna is rejected by an old friend from camp because “he doesn’t have sex with virgins.”
It must say something about Hannah’s miserable life (and New York life, in general) that she feels pressured to have sex with Eric on their first date, even though it isn’t any fun. While this type of ending has become trite for “Girls” (see above), at least it’s an ending with meaning, tying into how empty and lifeless urban relationships have become.
Compare that to the relationships of Michigan, which have much more heart than any relationships Hannah’s used to in New York. In Michigan, everyone seems to love and support each other, and have friendly conversations over coffee. Even Hannah’s parents, who engage in what may be the show’s most awkward sex scene to date (involving full-frontal nudity from both actors), are able to overcome their awkwardness, because, well, they love each other.
And “love” is a very alien feeling for Hannah, who openly criticizes her friend’s awful dancing, even though this is the same friend who bought Hannah coffee and had nothing but kind things to say about her. Hannah calls Adam at the end of the episode, and the two struggle to say that they both miss each other. It’s an adorable scene on its own, but I’m still not convinced that these two have anything resembling a healthy relationship.
And as for Hannah and her parents, they’re able to achieve some sort of an emotional understanding, as Hannah’s mother apologizes to her for cutting her off. Hannah never does get that rent money from her parents, but at least she has something much more valuable—their love (it’s cheesy, but true).
An episode like this was exactly what “Girls” needed after last week’s nonsensical installment, though I do find it strange that I enjoyed watching Hannah in Michigan, on her own, much more than watching her in New York, with her friends. Whatever it is that Hannah and the writers found in Michigan, I hope that they’re able to bring with them back to New York.
Jeremy Grossman is entertainment editor. Email him at email@example.com.