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Girls Review: “Triggering”

(Episode 4.02)

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<i>Girls</i> Review: &#8220;Triggering&#8221;

Lena Dunham isn’t necessarily one to jab at her critics—and she has many. If you read Not That Kind of Girl in public, you might already know a few.

From Girls’ premiere back in 2012, Dunham’s media foes have harped on stuff like on-screen nudity, an unrelatable sense of privilege and a limited POV. And for the most part, Dunham’s shaken it off in the time it takes to throw a bedroom dance party. From Dunham, we don’t see mean-spirited shots against critics of her show or, less intelligently, her body or on-screen nudity. And she seems to be a pretty friendly, non-confrontational interview. [Usually So, I can’t say I didn’t cheer for the Girls team in this week’s episode, because they took their critics’ statements head-on—not in a live Q&A, or through the Twittersphere. No one asked Hannah why, so often, she was naked in her own apartment.

With Hannah’s first session at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Dunham and producer Jenni Konner penned a scene that shows how the Internet sounds when it talks about Girls.

Now, we’ve skipped forward in the episode—and I’ll backtrack soon—but I loved this scene enough to address it immediately. Hannah’s at her first workshop meeting of the year. A man named D’August shares his own tale, a booze-soaked story of a woman with a nasty cavity. Hannah reads next. It’s a paragraph of, eh, descriptive prose based on her and Adam’s early relationship—the rough sex moves he was into at the time, to be more specific. While Hannah starts off with one of her pre-reading expositions, we feel bad when she winds up on the group’s chopping block because we’ve heard the lines before, just behind Internet comment sections:

“It’s about a really privileged girl deciding she’s going to let someone abuse her.”

“How are we supposed to critique a work which is directly based on an author’s experience?”

“I mean, look at her. She’s obviously her.”

And then:

“I definitely felt a lack of sympathy toward the male perspective, and there’s this stunted feminist idea…”

Woof.

It’s a great nod, especially to those who tune in to the show regularly. Hannah finds herself silenced during the critique, while the tale we’ve all heard before in some form—booze and menthols, and how they relate to a person working at a grocery store—is praised without question. What a cool opportunity for Girls writers. And while the story is told with our lead Hannah in mind, maybe we can suspend our own disbelief enough to see that, through Hannah’s eyes, the black-and-white critiques felt that rough. That’s the only way it works, but I do think it works. (Plus, we kind of already guessed that any situation where she wasn’t immediately praised would end this way, anyways.)

The remainder of the episode is all about possibilities, and that’s reinforced by bookended shots of wide-open, natural spaces, which are a rarity when you consider the claustrophobic New York setting. We see Hannah counting space in diagonal square feet as she explores her housing options at the start of the episode. We see Hannah and Elijah walking through an intensely green, empty Iowa field as the episode ends. For Hannah, Iowa is a new frontier, and as she says to Marnie: “We should all move here and start the revolution.” It’s a place where the houses are cheap and huge, the scenery goes on forever and no one, ever, steals bikes.

That space isn’t always for the best, though, and we see Hannah come to those terms the second she can’t get reception on her cellphone. She lives in a dead zone, some guy on the street explains, and he delivers a line that perfectly sums up the sadness of small town living: There’s a battle of the bands, she should come and “I’m drumming… in both bands!”

It gets worse. She spends a night looking at old photos of Adam. Then a bat gets trapped in her house. And instead of embracing her fear, forming a new identity as a superessayist fueled by the loss of her parents (who aren’t dead, they just abandoned her in a big city to pay her own rent), Hannah crumbles. She spends the night on her bathroom floor, only to wake up, and go under fire in front of her peers. And then, what must be a first in Iowa: her bike is stolen. All is lost until Elijah shows up.

We could see Elijah (played by the hilarious Andrew Rannells) was more or less done with New York in the last episode, when he complains to Marnie about his “small and gay” ex-boyfriend. He took a flight out to Iowa on a whim, and someone said he looked like Blake Lively’s husband. Consider Elijah sold.

What this means for the two in the long term isn’t really clear (like, is he gonna stay there forever?), but for the time being, they did what they do best: party like undergrads. The scene, set at a frat house rager, is fun enough. I’m always down for seeing Hannah and Elijah tear shit up (last time, they did cocaine for one of Hannah’s writing assignments), but it seems out of place for Hannah, who’s trying desperately to nail this whole grad school thing. I understand it’s hard to carry a show with the main cast member displaced by a thousand miles, but as fun as The Booze-Fueled Elijah Experience was, it felt like a bit of a stretch for Hannah to go barreling back into undergrad mode in her first week out of New York—especially when the time could be spent showing her interact with a new set of characters. But maybe it’s all a setup for something bigger.

“Triggering” was a good episode of Girls that, instead of resorting to the heavy-handedness of its last season, managed to keep things light. That was even true when Hannah suggested she was having suicidal thoughts after calling her parents collect. This season’s managed to sustain a less harsh tone for our women, without dulling down its storytelling, and it’s felt sharper and easier to digest as a result. “Triggering” wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot of fun—and that’s something I’ve been missing for some time in the Girls world.


Tyler is a writer at Paste. His only experience with Girls comes thanks to HBO. You can follow him on Twitter.