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Girls, Ep. 4.03-04, “Female Author” and “Cubbies”: Everything old is new again

Girls, Ep. 4.03-04, “Female Author” and “Cubbies”: Everything old is new again

Girls S04E04 promo image

Girls, Season 4, Episode 3, “Female Author”
Season 4, Episode 4, “Cubbies”
Written by Sarah Heyward (Ep. 4.03), Bruce Eric Kaplan (Ep. 4.04)
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

Well that was quick. After only three episodes, Hannah is out of Iowa and back in New York and while the end of “Cubbies” promises plenty of knotty, interesting developments to come, it’s hard not to be disappointed. Girls coped very well with Hannah’s lack of proximity to the group. In the age of Skype, there’s no reason she couldn’t have stayed in close communication with the entire New York crew while exploring her surroundings a bit more and coming to grips with herself in this new context. Most of Hannah’s peers at the Writers’ Workshop remain undeveloped and it’s unlikely any of them will return any time soon. In Iowa, Hannah is surrounded by fellow writers who can challenge her and force her to reevaluate and either commit to or adjust their artistic and personal choices. Unfortunately, Hannah retreats from this challenge and, after a lovely dinner with her Dad, makes another substantial life choice without consulting Adam.

While Hannah’s attempt to return to a safe space at the end of “Cubbies” appears to have backfired, the end of episode twist shifts narrative focus from Hannah’s artistic and professional struggles back to her romantic ones. This will be a new hurdle for Girls OTP Adam and Hannah (though whether Lena Dunham and the writers view the couple this way remains to be seen) and the series has had tremendous success with this relationship throughout its run, but seeing Hannah’s triumphant, excited smile in “Two Plane Rides” come to this—a three episode stint in academia and a new relationship wrinkle—is underwhelming. That being said, Dunham and company have delivered a fantastic season thus far and they may very well have something far more interesting in mind for Hannah than another season of professional insecurity and Adam-inspired relationship drama.

Dunham gives a nuanced and heartfelt performance in “Cubbie,” beautifully capturing Hannah’s self-doubt and guilt over her unhappiness while also keeping Hannah just as defensive and obnoxious as ever. Revealing her acting out as being fueled by a subconscious desire to get kicked out of school is a nice touch, contextualizing Hannah’s behavior. As disappointingly uniform as the other writers’ reactions to her are in both “Female Author” and “Cubbies”, these scenes are effective, with cringe humor and physical comedy giving these episodes some of their best moments (Dunham’s slide off the couch in “Female Author” is particularly delightful). Elijah, such a welcome presence in “Triggering”, barely gets any screen time and if the show’s Iowa days are indeed behind them, his continuing adventures as he conquers the campus (spinoff, anyone?) will certainly be missed. Hannah could have used a truth bomb or two from Elijah of the sort he gave Marnie in the premiere—here’s hoping Andrew Rannells is more prominent back in New York than he wound up being in Iowa.

Elsewhere, Jessa and Adam are new sober buddies, to Adam’s eventual chagrin, and Ray wants everyone to grow up a bit. As long as he doesn’t have to buy non-bulk-buy tee shirts. The Jessa/Adam dynamic in “Female Author” is fantastic, a previously unexplored and potent combination for the show. As for Ray, his scenes with Shoshanna are lovely, as the two acknowledge their significance to each other and move to a new phase in their relationship. Shoshanna’s travails on the interview circuit, from her hilarious practice interview to her disheartening seventh rejection, are great and Zosia Mamet’s performance throughout is excellent. Shosh could easily become one-note, but Mamet layers a frustrated, insecure, and regretful core beneath the character’s brittle exterior, exploring new aspects of her with each episode.

Which leaves Marnie. She may not be all the way there yet, but to tempt fate, it seems like Girls’ utterly non-self-aware jazz brunch chanteuse is finally maturing and gaining some perspective. Her refusal to stay in a romantic relationship with Desi on terms she doesn’t accept shows significant growth for her, as does her awareness of the subtext to Desi’s tearful professions of love in “Cubbies”. Yes, she takes him back in the moment, but even having the wherewithal to question Desi’s motives is progress for Marnie and with any luck, she’ll be dumping (such a violent term!) him soon.

Four episodes into the season, most of the characters appear to be retreading old ground. Hannah’s home, Ray and Shosh are on friendly terms, and Marnie and Desi are back together. Rather than embracing the status quo however, these beats reinforce just how far the characters and their relationships have come. Girls is having a very strong, consistent fourth season thus far and with Hannah back in the mix, the next stretch of the season promises to be just as entertaining.

Kate Kulzick