Shape-Shifting Identities in Girls' Powerful "Love Stories"

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Shape-Shifting Identities in <i>Girls</i>' Powerful "Love Stories"

In Girls’ eighth episode of this season, “Homeward Bound,” Hannah exhibited the kind of characteristics we love to hate from her. In recent weeks, the discussion about Hannah Horvath having become one of the most unlikeable characters on TV has reached new heights and “Homeward Bound” basically confirmed everything we’ve been saying about her all along: she is a narcissistic, spoiled brat who thrives on bringing toxicity into every positive aspect of her life. Her ditching Fran not even half-way through their road trip was not her finest moment—even if it was the honest thing to do. But what really took things to the next level was the way in which she dealt with the aftermath of the situation. When she first turns to Ray to be her knight in a shiny, new coffee truck, it’s quite endearing. There’s always been a familiar connection between them, with Ray filling the role of big brother. His unconditional support is palpable in the situation, but Hannah being Hannah, can’t help but to shit all over it. Sometimes I wonder whether or not Hannah is merely afraid of sharing real, emotional bonds. Her tendency to sexualize and scandalize everything and everyone is beyond off-putting, but I’m truly starting to believe that this is her own contorted defense-mechanism as well as a means of finding recognition from unwarranted sources—like her boss, or Ray.

What’s worse is that, up until the penultimate episode, Hannah seems oblivious to how her actions may affect others and the way she is asking people to see her. In a sense, that is exactly what made Hannah intriguing in the first place: her ability to [seemingly] not give a flying fuck about what others think of her. But deep down, we all know that she does care; not all adventurous women do, but Hannah, as much as she hates to admit it, really does care. She just has a weird way of showing it.

Now, “Homeward Bound” negates this theory in every possible way, but in “Love Stories” Hannah takes an unexpected turn. After having caused Ray to crash his car, following an unsuccessful attempt to let it roll (as described in Jim Morrison’s “Roadhouse Blues”), she has no problem ditching him on the side of the road with five hours to kill before the tow-truck arrives. Hannah seems to have no understanding of what it means to work hard towards something—the value of things mean nothing to her and her reaction to Ray’s concern over his truck’s repairs made that blatantly clear. Instead of sticking with Ray, as any real friend might do after the lengths he’d gone through to pick her up, she decides to hitch a ride and ends up in potential danger, only to call on another friend (Marnie) to talk her through her chosen drama of the day. In other words, “Homeward Bound” is all about another day of Hannah’s bullshit. Fortunately however, Hannah seems to have acknowledged the indecency of her recent behavior, and is tackling her army of demons with new-found maturity and calm collectedness in “Love Stories.”

I was genuinely impressed by Hannah’s final split with Fran. The conversation in the opening minutes of “Love Stories” was pleasantly surprising. While Fran is still struggling to come to terms with their break-up and all her childish antics that have made him go “fucking insane,” Hannah is totally at peace with her decision and all the truly deserved insults he throws her way. Fran has always identified himself as a chill kind of guy and an amazing boyfriend, and this was always a box he felt comfortable in. But even though Hannah whole-heartedly admits to her own faults and self-sabotaging proclivities, she pushes Fran to question his own sense of self-awareness. He refuses to see his faults—even in the mere fact that he is dragging out a fight in which everything has already been said—and there’s the implication that he is genuinely pondering his own short-comings. We’re well aware of the fact that Adam and Jessa’s budding relationship is what set Hannah off on this path of acceptance, but her inner turmoil hasn’t been quite as apparent. Instead, we are reconnecting with Hannah’s emotional journey when numbness has already set in. We didn’t actually witness any major emotional outbursts, there was no screaming or crying—at least not in the way we would have expected from her in previous seasons. But there has been a process for Hannah; it has just been atypically silent.

Sometimes it takes a person completely unrelated to your immediate environment and relationships to spark life-altering conversations and, in Hannah’s case, this person is her archenemy Tally Schifrin. Jenny Slate’s presence and overall performance in this episode was a thing of beauty. Slate knows how to tap into characters with the type of raw energy that overpowers all hints of insecurities to the bystander—a trait she may have picked up in her role as Jess on FX’s Married—and it was her performance and new-found dynamic with Hannah that made “Love Stories” one of the best episodes of the season.

Hannah had just quit her teaching position when she randomly bumps into Tally on the street. Her reaction to Tally’s warm greeting immediately has us anticipating classic Hannah; she goes on the defense, her twitching eye acting as the proverbial ticking time-bomb. At this point, there is absolutely nothing Tally can say without making Hannah feel attacked.

A simple “How are you?” on Tally’s side translates into a “What the fuck have you been doing with your life?” in Hannah’s head.This prompts her to launch into a petty explanation about how it’s all a work in progress, like it is for everyone, “big and small.” Her statement couldn’t have been more loaded, but Tally blows right past it because even she—regardless of how “big” she is in the world of literature—is feeling the pressure. The blow we were expecting from the onset of this scene does not happen, but the result is by no means anti-climactic. By joining Tally on a hotdog binge Hannah is actually turning a page in life.

It’s easy to see why running into Tally, at this point, of all times, would be particularly unnerving for Hannah. Though she is in a much better place than she was during her writer’s residency, not writing at all was not a decision she took lightly and was something she continued to struggle with. Her professional aspirations have taken a backseat this season but, in meeting her archenemy again, she resorts back to measuring her own achievements against Tally’s novel, her collection of essays and her book of poetry. But Hannah’s perceived image of Tally couldn’t actually be further from the truth. Yes, Tally has done a fantastic job at branding herself and creating a literary monster for everyone to look up to. But, in focusing her entire life on perfecting an image, she has not allowed herself the opportunity to discover her very own being, her own truths.

They say you should never meet your heroes but, perhaps it would be nice if everyone could sit down with their former rivals once they hit their late-twenties. Our generation is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between emotional, physical realities and digital perception, and we are becoming more and more prone to measuring our own self-worth against fabricated standards. You no longer need to be a public figure for your identity to be warped; all you need is an online presence.

This struggle with identity and how the people around you can eventually end up defining you was a central focus for “Love Stories” as well as the final episode of the season, “I Love You Baby.” Each character is going through what Tally might call a “total identity switcheroo”—some more so than others. Hannah’s biggest accomplishment in these episodes was to shape-shift in a way—defying the expectations of others by discovering a healthy form of self-control. During a very adult conversation in which we finally got to learn more about her real feelings for Adam and Jessa, she willingly admits to her need to grow up and move on:

“I could do what my instinct is and run around and destroy things and try to throw myself in front of a van to make a point, but at the end of the day that would just be me fulfilling all their expectations of me, and I’d love to surprise someone sometime.”

And that she has. Perhaps this is all part of Lena Dunham’s plan for next years’ final season of Girls. They are all quickly moving out of their twenties and into their thirties. Maybe now these characters can begin this new, final chapter with an established sense of self and a healthy attitude towards past and future relationships.

Whatever that means…

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.