“Ask Me My Name” traces the course of a single night that spirals unpredictably out of control. The episode opens with a brief prelude to the evening that presents Hannah (Lena Dunham) in a position of newfound stability: She’s landed a job as a substitute teacher and displays surprising confidence in the classroom. Following a lesson on Oedipus Rex (the inspiration, she informs her students, “for the whole concept of the MILF”), she has a meet-cute in the teachers’ lounge with fellow teacher Fran (Jake Lacy). They flirt, he asks her out, and the show’s title card appears on screen accompanied by a burst of exultant melody. Both professionally and romantically, Hannah seems primed to flourish.
That evening begins with a promising first date that goes awry after Hannah invites Fran to an art exhibition we quickly realize is Mimi-Rose’s (Gillian Jacobs). As Hannah and Adam (Adam Driver) squabble over the appropriate boundaries ex-lovers should abide, Fran wisely ducks out. “I’m feeling a bit used,” he mutters, and when his remark elicits no acknowledgement, he nods his head decisively: “All right, I am out.” Now dateless, Hannah accepts Mimi-Rose’s impromptu invitation to accompany her, Adam, and her ex-boyfriend, Ace (Zachary Quinto), to an after-party on the other side of the city. The remainder of the episode pairs Hannah with Mimi-Rose as they share a cab that grazes an old lady, quarrel in a bodega while Hannah stockpiles snacks, and share a heart to heart in a laundromat where Mimi-Rose composes an extemporized poem for a stranger.
The loopy, punch-drunk quality of these scenes gives the episode the feeling of being extemporized, but “Ask Me My Name” remains carefully controlled, its chaos indexical of Hannah’s own inner turmoil. If her initial exchanges with Fran betoken a desire for stability, her conversations with Mimi-Rose suggest a yearning to rekindle the creative spirit she abandoned when she left Iowa. At first, Adam’s new girlfriend appears as an object of jealousy, an artist who has both the confidence and the resources to follow her muse—even if, Hannah contends, the work she produces is bullshit. Indeed, when she tells our protagonist the premise of the book she’s working on (“a psychosexual thriller told from the perspective of a dead woman who solves her own murder using hologram technology that she invented”), Hannah’s eye-roll response suggests both disgust at the crassly commercial nature of the project and envy at Mimi-Rose’s ability to follow through on her impulses. As the hours pass, however, Hannah comes to see that her companion is just as insecure as she is: “I know that you hated my show,” she tells Hannah, “and the way that you see me—I’m afraid that’s the way that everyone sees me.” It’s not surprising that vulnerability would be the quality that finally melts away Hannah’s antagonism, but it’s notable that Mimi-Rose’s revelation prompts her to discouragingly reassess her own new trajectory: “I couldn’t [be a writer] so I quit. Now I’m going to live a boring life like my mother and be dissatisfied and be normal…”
If there’s a silver lining to Hannah’s recognition of her own dissatisfaction, it’s the rapport that develops between her and Mimi-Rose, an unexpected pairing that showcases the former’s evolving maturity and deepens the latter as a character. In the span of two episodes, Mimi-Rose has emerged as one of the show’s richest creations, a bundle of contradictions—aloof but empathetic, resolute but capricious, earnest but manipulative—that Jacobs’s superb performance makes sense of. The compassion she extends to Hannah seems at odds with the picture Ace paints of her as a controlling phony, but it’s entirely in keeping with the theme of her art show, from which the episode takes its title. As Mimi-Rose explains, “I think it’s so easy for us to get so wrapped up in ourselves and our own lives that we completely lose our empathy. We don’t want to know other people…It’s easier not to know someone’s name.” As it plays out in her exhibition, the sentiment is undeniably dopey, a plea for collective understanding tendered by a privileged navel-gazer, but the episode momentarily suggests it may have some merit. After all, Mimi-Rose and Hannah have, improbably, connected through their own openness with one another.
Not everyone is so receptive to that sort of directness, however, and the episode concludes with a pair of failed attempts at connection. In the first, Hannah tells Adam about the genuine appreciation she now has for his girlfriend, only to be rebuffed with taciturn disinterest. In the second, still wearing a smock bearing the exhibition’s title, she orders a falafel and is asked by the cashier, “What’s your name?” Smiling, she looks down at her attire and responds with enthusiasm: “My name is Hannah. What is your name?”—only to realize the man simply wants a way to identify her order. She leaves despondent, and the episode’s final shot conveys a resurgence of her dissatisfaction: Her back to the camera, Hannah walks away into the Brooklyn night and tosses aside her smock as she’s eclipsed by a passerby. Her name, Hannah realizes, doesn’t matter a whit; without a boyfriend or a literary career, she’s just another anonymous New Yorker, and for her, no amount of stability can make that bearable.
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