“I’m not the person you think I am,” explains Hannah (Lena Dunham) to Fran (Jake Lacy) in a telling exchange in “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz.” She’s attempting to disabuse her co-worker of the idea that she’s “dramatic” so he’ll consider a date with her, but Fran’s response inverts her charge of ignorance: “I think you are exactly the person that I think you are. I think you’re not the person that you think you are.” He’s right, of course, and at some level, Hannah realizes it, but she persists in her initial self-conception: “I’m not dramatic…I’m a person who really gets a lot out of life,” she tells her mother (Becky Ann Baker), rather dramatically. Like much of this season of Girls, the episode focuses on the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us, but it advances that theme in interesting ways by considering how we respond when that gap becomes perceptible to both ourselves and others.
For Hannah, that entails reverting to the trademark immaturity she’s largely grown out of this season. Though she continues to thrive in the classroom as a substitute teacher, she’s struck up a chummy relationship with Cleo (Maude Apatow), a 14-year-old student whose precociousness doesn’t diminish the fact that she’s more than a decade younger than Hannah. When Cleo suggests they ditch class (“You want to get something pierced?”), Hannah succumbs to not-quite-peer pressure. What follows is one of the more gruesome scenes in the series, as Cleo gets a frenulum piercing while Hannah watches, having made a pact to get one as well. Unsurprisingly, she chickens out, the blood and screams accompanying the procedure enough to make her renege on her promise: “Listen, as an older woman, a great lesson I can teach you is that it’s okay to change your mind,” she declares, a facile piece of advice that highlights her own childishness. The stoicism Cleo displays post-piercing simply sets into relief the other’s tendency toward melodrama.
While Hannah retreats, Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) tries to compensate, albeit disingenuously, for the shortcomings Marnie (Allison Williams) sees in him. After she rebukes him for blowing their $2,000 advance on a set of German guitar pedals, Desi storms out in a characteristic fit of anger: “I cannot believe you’re being such a fucking bitch about this!” he exclaims, before adding, with no less hostility, “Thanks for ruining my day, raincloud!” Their disagreement is rooted in his inability to consider others’ needs, but rather than actually grapple with that self-centeredness, he sidesteps it with a romantic gesture; proposing to Marnie, he tells her, “Today was the very last day of my life that I want to make a decision without you,” a pronouncement that might resonate more if it weren’t immediately preceded by his recommendation that she “shut up for a sec.” Their relationship continues to be this season’s most frustrating arc, a doomed romance between two unlikeable people the series never gives us reason to care about, and their engagement seems to promise more of the same. The problem is that, like Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) ill-advised nuptials at the end of season one, it’s clear the trajectory this plotline will take, and the only response it seems capable of eliciting is a schadenfreude at odds with the empathic engagement that characterizes Girls when the series is at its best.
That engagement is on full display in Tad (Peter Scolari) and Loreen’s storyline, in which the former declares he’s gay, an announcement his wife initially greets with skepticism (“I call bullshit on this”), before Tad’s insistence finally convinces her otherwise. Poorly timed to coincide with a party in celebration of Loreen’s newly acquired tenure, Tad’s revelation inspires her to respond with a combination of disbelief, self-pity, and malice: “So you want to suck a dick now, that’s what you want? You want a dick in your mouth?” she asks with disgust. It’s unbecoming behavior, to be sure, but one of the show’s strengths is its ability to make the most horrific conduct not simply believable, but understandable. Loreen views her husband’s admission as an affront to the life they’ve built, something that impinges on her identity as well as his: “It’s not not about me,” she tells him in a particularly poignant scene. Tad is receptive to his wife’s remarks, but he seems more concerned with carving out a new life than in dwelling on his current one: “How late is too late to change?” he wonders.
As well observed as the scenes with Hannah’s parents are, Ted’s admission of his homosexuality makes more sense from a thematic standpoint than from a narrative one. Certainly, his declaration fits with the season’s interest in characters’ increasing recognition of their suppressed yearnings, and it retrospectively makes his behavior in “Cubbies”, wherein he urged Hannah to follow her feelings regardless of the consequences, more understandable. Nevertheless, it’s an odd plot development to introduce at this late stage in the season, particularly when there are so many balls in the air and when Hannah is already faced with so much tumult. More to the point, it threatens to shortchange the promising arcs of the other core cast members, particularly Jessa, whose storyline (as seems to be the case at this point every season) has all but disappeared. Marnie and Desi’s subplot aside, the episode is sharply written, but like so many of the characters themselves, the choices it makes portend an unsteady future.
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