Girls, Season 2, Episode 8: “It’s Back”
Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
Directed by Richard Shepard
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO
Too many Freaks, not enough circuses – AA counselor’s t-shirt
Introducing a new aspect to an established character is a tricky business. You run the risk of continuity problems with what’s come before, not to mention potential backlash from anyone who’s come to associate with your character. In “It’s Back,” we find out that not only does Hannah Horvath have a history of fairly severe OCD behavior, but that those tendencies have now cropped up again for what appears to be the first time in quite a while. It’s a testament to just how supremely neurotic Hannah is that it’s not until her parents arrive and notice that the “counting” had started up again that I was briefly convinced that Hannah had merely adopted a set of new tics in the hope of gaining some arcane insight for her possibly-nonexistent e-book.
“It’s Back” is one of the more tonally diverse, even chaotic, episodes of Girls to date; it finds some of its characters in freefall, some charting a new course, and others making potentially damaging decisions. The warts-and-all nature of Girls‘ take on growing up, of course, means that our concepts of which characters those labels apply to may not hold for long. The Hannah portion of the episode is by far the most worrisome of the bunch, which isn’t surprising, given Dunham’s apparent desire to have Hannah stripped down in every sense – physically, mentally, emotionally – as often and as thoroughly as possible this season. The reveal about her mental state takes some adjusting, given that there’s been no explicit foreshadowing of the diagnosis (beyond Hannah’s generally obsessive nature), but it works thematically because it complements what we already know about Hannah, rather than contradicting established behaviors.
The rest of “It’s Back” is a mixed bag – even moreso than usual. The most straightforwardly winning segment of the episode belongs to Adam – not surprising, since he’s been AWOL and missed for several episodes now. After failing to reach Hannah (for likely the umpteenth time), he retreats to an AA meeting, where a “ferocious” woman sets him up with her daughter Natalia (Shiri Appleby, likely the first and last Life Unexpected cast member to make an appearance on Girls). It’s tempting to assume that this storyline can only have one possible ending – Adam ultimately falls back in with Hannah after deciding he is too taken with her peculiarities to accept a more straightforward coupling – but for now, there’s an unalloyed joy to seeing Adam be pleasantly surprised about anything.
Continuing with the motif of the show’s boys bouncing back more readily than the girls, we find Charlie as a small-business operator, having successfully conjured a popular app that makes you pay a fee to call or message people you know you shouldn’t. (If this app doesn’t exist already, it surely will within days of this episode’s airing.) This, of course, drives Marnie furious, as she had pictured years of profound devastation in his future. Those beats all work, but the notion of following Marnie as she attempts a singing career already feels needlessly depressing; sure, she’s got a fine voice, but not the sort to build a career around without some serious creativity, of the sort we haven’t really seen Marnie exhibit as yet.
Shoshanna’s portion of the episode underlines a persistent flaw in the second season: the rather schematic pacing of the show’s relationships. No pairing – from Adam and Hannah, to Jessa and Thomas-John, to Shoshanna and Ray – is allowed to explore a stable position for any real length of time until the seams begin to show. Accordingly, Shoshanna spontaneously hooks up with a (“surprisingly handsome”) bellboy after Ray decides to sit out a college party due to his relatively advanced age. Despite this complication, there’s a strong sense that Shoshanna and Ray have the most genuine emotional bond of any of the show’s couples, so it seems unlikely that this will result in a permanent schism.
But the heart of the episode belongs to poor, lost Hannah, who begrudgingly is made to admit that her OCD tendencies are in fact returned, Introducing this sort of character dimension is a big step for the show to take, and one it’s hard to imagine Dunham will want to approach lightly. Dunham’s canny use of audience manipulation (even, on some occasions, outright trolling) should result in some intriguing friction in the show’s future. For now, though, a moment to appreciate the lovely and talented Judy Collins, who makes a cameo here, providing a nice bit of symmetry to Marnie’s new career choice.
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