Written by Lean Dunham & Jenni Konner
Directed by Jamie Babbit
Season 4, Episode 9, “Daddy Issues”
Written by Paul Simms
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
It’s been a tough year for Hannah. After her disheartening experience in Iowa, she returns home to a boyfriend who’s moved on and now, her father comes out of the closet, throwing doubt on her childhood and the one stable relationship in her life, that of her parents. While it’s likely Hannah doth protest too much, her repeated claims that she’s fine and her assertion that her father’s sexuality has nothing to do with her are pleasant surprises. Her therapist (Bob Balaban) was right- Hannah’s handling the changes in her life with shocking maturity. It may help that she’s taken to escaping into a second childhood at work. Her friendship with teenager Cleo is entirely inappropriate, with Hannah relishing the status and attention given her by Cleo as a cool not-too-much-older girl, and it’s shocking she hasn’t yet been fired. By the end of “Daddy Issues”, Cleo may no longer be idealizing her piercing-pushing (substitute) teacher, but Hannah has proven herself utterly unsuited to teaching high school, unwilling to be the authority figure in any of her relationships. Hannah is still smarting from Adam’s breakup with her and her image of her parent’s happy marriage has shattered- her ability to put on a happy face will be tested when she is inevitably fired in the finale. Thanks to the excellent work by the writers throughout the season, it’s hard to guess just how she’ll respond: with comparative grace, as in her interactions with Adam, or with a full-fledged meltdown, like the teen she’s been pretending to be at school.
Hannah’s father Tad coming out of the closet has given Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker, who play Hannah’s parents Tad and Loreen, some fantastic material to work with. Baker in particular gives a powerhouse performance in “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” as Loreen struggles to accept the new context thrust upon her decades of marriage. Throwing Fred Melamed into the equation as Loreen’s married would-be paramour Avi (a term Avi feels like he’d use) adds a nice touch of comedy to the proceedings and keeps all of Loreen’s beats from being overly dour. “Daddy Issues” shifts the perspective over to Tad, who comes to New York and spends some time with Elijah, giving Andrew Rannells the best material he’s had since Iowa. Scolari and Rannells are great together, Elijah easing Tad through his coming out process, and it’s a treat to see a more compassionate side of Elijah. He’s been through this, he knows what it feels like and how terrifying it can be, and he’s 100% there for Hannah’s dad, a man he’s probably only rarely seen or interacted with since he was dating Hannah in college. With Tad and Elijah, the writers have hit upon a wonderful, previously unimagined dynamic; hopefully they’ll continue to explore and exploit it in season six.
As Tad and Loreen’s marriage comes to an end—they’ll certainly wind up getting divorced, even if it takes a while—another partnership moves forward. Marnie and Desi’s engagement foregrounds the pair, who are the series’ most fascinating characters. Despite being wonderfully performed and believably written, Marnie and Desi are the WORST without actually being terrible people, at least since Desi’s girlfriend dumped him. It’s incredibly rare for a series to take a character as frustrating as Marnie and embrace her faults, rather than sanding them off over time. Difficult characters traditionally become more polished and likable season after season. They get funnier, they reveal a heart of gold, or they experience a traumatic event and come out the other side a better person. And it could be argued that Marnie is growing, maturing at a glacial, but recognizable pace. But she’s still the same awkward, self-involved person she was in season one and viewers still feel a pit in their stomach every time she grabs a mic. She’s at her best with Ray, a pairing most shows would grab ahold of the instant they recognized what it does for Marnie’s likability, but rather than embrace this, the writers threaten to make Ray more Marnie-like, rather than Marnie more Ray-like. Marnie and Desi feel like real people, real obnoxious, self-involved people, and Girls seems to be content with this, challenging the audience to accept them and appreciate Marnie as the (usually) excellent friend to Hannah she proves herself to be, when the need arises.
Challenging Marnie for the WORST status—and winning in these episodes, no small feat—is Mimi-Rose, who it seems has already run her course on the series. It’s a shame the character wasn’t more fully explored or given more depth before having her legs cut out from under her by her treatment of Adam. Adam and Mimi-Rose have apparently been happy and together for months, but viewers only get an episode or two with them before Adam’s punished for having chosen Mimi-Rose over Hannah, and even in those episodes, the pair get very few harmonious scenes together. Gillian Jacobs has been a great addition as Mimi-Rose and it’s been a treat to see Zachary Quinto flex his comedic muscles as Ace, but with the finale coming up next week, the timeline of the season necessitated a break-up. Season four has frequently felt disjointed and as the finale approaches, it’s hard not to wonder what a 13 or 15 episode season would have allowed, or even what the writers could have done with an Iowa season, following Hannah in Iowa and really getting to know the other writers there, rather than barely glancing at them from Hannah’s perspective, followed by a New York season, with Adam and Mimi-Rose together, Jessa pursuing Ace, Shosh strugging to find her place post-college (and maybe interacting with her parents more- how have we not seen more of them after their fantastic introduction in the season premiere?), and Marnie and Desi finding their sound and relationship, perhaps with Clementine in the mix and Natalie Morales actually given a character to play.
Cleansing the palate after the rest of the annoying to toxic relationships on the series is Shosh, whose budding relationship with Scott is downright adorable. Shosh’s insecurity with him is completely understandable, given her year, and Scott’s handling of her Jessa-inspired awkward come-on is masterful. Shosh trying to be Jessa just doesn’t work, as anyone watching would have guessed, but Shosh getting to be Shosh, as we see a moment later in their date, is wonderful. Scott has the same enthusiasm and joy Shosh does and as a small business owner, must have the same drive and dedication, and the two seem like a good match. Plus anyone who gets that excited about seeing the cast of The Good Wife out at a restaurant clearly has excellent taste (Shosh’s glee at Josh Charles is so much fun, I’ll let the spoiler slide). Jason Ritter has yet to make the impression of fellow guest stars Jacobs, Quinto, and even seemingly one-off Melamed, but hopefully Scott will be around for a while and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so in season six.
Both “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” and “Daddy Issues” are strong installments, but with the finale next week, a sense of forward momentum is missing. The season’s lack of structure or defined season-long arcing, as compared to the various mini-arcs (Hannah in Iowa, Adam and Mimi-Rose, Ray and politics), means there’s little anticipation for the finale as a culmination of events, but given the series’ strong track record, this is a minor quibble. Season four may wind up being a transitional year, but it’s been an interesting and entertaining one nonetheless.