Girls, Ep. 4.01, “Iowa” a surprisingly sweet coda to season 3

Lena Dunham in Girls S04E01, "Iowa"

Lena Dunham in Girls S04E01, "Iowa"Girls, Season 4, Episode 1, “Iowa”
Written by Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow
Directed by Lena Dunham
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

In many ways a direct continuation of its strong third season, Girls’ season four premiere picks up shortly after the events of last year’s finale, with Hannah preparing to leave for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Marnie continuing her musical and romantic partnership with guitarist Desi, Jessa newly unemployed, and Shoshanna freshly graduated. This is a change of pace for the series, which has previously taken advantage of the season breaks to jump its characters forward in time, with significant developments occurring offscreen (the start of Hannah’s relationship with Sandy, Jessa checking herself into rehab, Charlie leaving Marnie). Fun as it may have been to jump right into Hannah’s fish-out-of-water adventure in Iowa, it’s nice to get one more episode with the leads together, reestablishing their bonds before they’re tested.

“Iowa” is on the whole a pleasant start to the season, which comes as a bit of a surprise given Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa’s actions in the season three finale. Adam is wonderfully supportive of Hannah’s decision to go to Iowa, particularly given her ridiculously selfish behavior during his Broadway debut. After being such destructive presences in each other’s lives during the early run of the series, it’s great to see this couple so functional and happy together. Hannah is a frequently challenging character (her passive aggressive toast to her parents this week is a particularly pointed reminder of this) and it’s helpful to have that counterpointed somewhat by the good Adam clearly sees in her. The two have a strong relationship, but it remains to be seen if they can weather long distance. Given how stable they’ve been for the past season or so, the Rules of TV dictate they’ll likely struggle, though of course, Lena Dunham has a history of ignoring the Rules entirely. Either way, their separation should give both Dunham and Adam Driver plenty to play and force the writers to find new stories for Adam, as well as new characters to pair him with.

Marnie’s introduction in the episode is hilarious, continuing the series’ playful relationship with Allison Williams’ public persona and audience expectations for her (Peter Pan has left the building). Williams is doing perhaps the most under-appreciated work of the series, making her character both utterly insufferable and yet somehow, still relatable. At this point, it goes without saying that Marnie is pretty much The WORST, but when she lets herself get heckled out of her ridiculous jazz brunch, it’s hard not to feel for her. Having Elijah be the one to come talk her down, and do so by basically telling her to stop whining, is fantastic. Andrew Rannells is always a blast on the series (as is Danny Strong as the delightfully bitchy Pal) and with Hannah off in Iowa for the foreseeable future, hopefully we’ll get plenty more of him.

Last season, it was an unexpected treat to see Natalie Morales turn up as Clementine, Desi’s girlfriend, and then disheartening to see her so entirely underserved. Morales is a terrific and under-cast actress, so it’s nice to see her back here, but as it’s unlikely that Marnie will realize the error of her ways and end her relationship with Desi, there seem to be only a handful of narrative avenues open for Clementine, most of which are less than intriguing (it’s hard to say which would get older quicker, Clementine as jealous/suspicious girlfriend or Clementine as clueless girlfriend). Hopefully Dunham and the rest of the writers have something more creative in mind for her.

Joining Morales in the guest cast this week are Ana Gasteyer and Anthony Edwards as the Mels, Shoshanna’s divorced and squabbling parents. In an instant, the audience understands Shoshanna in a new way and her entire life snaps into focus. Of course she’s so neurotic and precise, and at times, full of quiet, simmering rage. How could she not be, with these parents? And of course she’s drawn to Ray, with whom she shares a lovely exchange. Watching Shoshanna face the world, her safety net gone, promises to be one of the more entertaining and stressful aspects of the season. It would be fantastic to see Shoshanna jump into the working world and hit the ground running; knowing Girls, it’s not going to be that easy.

Also looking for a job will be Jessa, who unsurprisingly finds herself unemployed after her unfortunate experience with assisted suicide in the finale. It’s great to get one more scene with Jemima Kirke and Louise Lasser, confirming that Jessa and Beadie are parting on good terms, and Natasha Lyonne is a lot of fun in her one scene, popping up as Beadie’s daughter, Rickey. One of the episode’s best sight gags is the transition from the tight framing of Rickey in the beginning of her scene, making her appear to be wearing a business suit as she’s dressing down Jessa for her irresponsibility, to the full body shot we get when Beadie enters the scene, revealing Rickey to actually be wearing an above-the-knee shirt dress and coat, with striped socks and sandals. There’s more Jessa in Rickey than perhaps she’d like to admit. This scene could easily be Beadie and Rickey’s last, but hopefully they’ll turn up again at some point.

Despite Jessa’s  hostility towards Hannah—her comments about Hannah running away feel much more about herself than Hannah at the moment, though it might be fun if they wind up being surprisingly prescient—the episode is on the whole a happy and supportive one. Marnie’s early morning visit (anyone who gets up before 6 a.m. to bring coffee to a friend who’s packing is officially a saint- I’m pretty sure that’s in the canon somewhere) is touching, particularly her and Hannah’s hug; how far they’ve come since “Boys” and “Beach House”. The light rain as Hannah leaves may be a bit obvious, but on the whole, the scene works and the final shot of the premiere contrasts well with the final shot of the season three finale. Hannah’s wide grin in the finale felt triumphant, an affirmation of self as she chose what was best for her continued development and growth, rather than defining herself solely by her relationship. Now that Iowa’s come, Hannah’s far more nervous and her faint, somewhat forced smile leaves viewers feeling as trepidatious as she does. “Iowa” is a sweet and thoughtful coda to season three, transitioning the characters and audience from the exuberant optimism of possibility to the uncertainty of looming reality and with the goodbyes now said, season four can begin in earnest.

Kate Kulzick

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