“Daddy Issues” is all about boundaries—the necessary divisions we erect between our public lives and our private ones—and how quickly they can dissolve. As her confessional writing demonstrates, Hannah (Lena Dunham) has never been shy about sharing the most intimate details of her personal life, but now that she’s a substitute teacher, she’s expected to maintain a level of decorum she’s unaccustomed to. Given that Hannah is dealing with even more upheaval than usual, it’s no surprise she’s unable to keep her personal issues from intruding on her work life, a failure that leads to a funny, revealing exchange early in the episode. Reprimanding his employee for her inappropriately close relationship with her student (Maude Apatow), Toby (Douglas McGrath), the school’s principal, explains, “You need to be mindful of boundaries.” Clueless, Hannah replies, “I think the reason that’s been hard for me this week is because my father recently came out of the closet as a proud gay man.” Shaking his head, Toby clarifies, “That’s exactly [what] I’m talking about,” but his words are lost on Hannah, who can’t grasp why her actions are inappropriate. “Nice jeans,” she says as their meeting adjourns, and Toby, with an exasperated sigh, can only reply, “Boundaries.”
Hannah has such difficulty with boundaries because the personal, no matter how salacious, has always seemed innocuous to her. Openness is tantamount to honesty, and she can’t fathom why one would refrain from complete candidness with another person—though she gets some idea when she interacts with her parents, Loreen and Tad (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari), in the wake of her father’s announcement of his homosexuality. During an unfiltered telephone conversation, Loreen, rather than maintain a veneer of propriety for her daughter, lashes out at both her husband and herself. “You’re making me uncomfortable,” Hannah tells her, to which her mother irreverently replies, “Think about anal sex; now that’s uncomfortable!” Tad likewise overwhelms her with his forthrightness during a visit to the city. Hannah asks whether he’s ever been with a man before, and at first he answers tentatively (“There was one guy my senior year”) before prattling on to reveal that he’s reestablished contact with his former classmate. Hannah’s made uncomfortable by her father’s conflation of his personal life with his public one, a confusion reflected in the episode’s title, where “Daddy” refers both to Tad’s public role as a parent and to the gay identity he’s ostensibly cultivating in private.
Elsewhere, Adam (Adam Driver) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) deal with boundary issues of their own. After several episodes alluding to them as romantic partners, we finally see Jessa with Ace (Zachary Quinto), Mimi-Rose’s (Gillian Jacobs) former beau, who still nurses an infatuation for her. At his insistence, the pair pays an impromptu visit to Mimi-Rose’s apartment, where Adam greets their imposition with annoyance. Mimi-Rose invites them to stay for dinner, and as they dine, Ace exploits his relationship with Jessa to incite his ex’s jealousy, a feeling that takes the perpetually aloof young woman by surprise: “So this is what jealousy is, huh? I guess I’ve never really experienced it before.” Besting even Jessa for emotional manipulation, Ace continues to bait his ex, and by the end of dinner, all four diners are single, Mimi-Rose deciding that she wants to be alone and Jessa justifiably leaving Ace behind. It’s an abrupt development, particularly for Jessa, whose arc this season has consisted of a series of dots whose connections the writers has done little to dramatize. Nevertheless, in stranding her by herself yet again, the episode showcases the reluctant vulnerability Kirke plays so well, and suggests a potential alliance between her and Adam, two spurned lovers tired of being pawns.
The most dramatic dissolution between public and private comes during the climactic speech Ray (Alex Karpovsky) makes after being elected chairperson of his community board. Reacting to the news of Marnie’s (Allison Williams) engagement, he delivers a victory speech that superficially addresses his dedication to the community, but really speaks to his devotion to Marnie: “We’re at our best when we’re together…Whatever happens, please know that I promise to always, always be here.” A furtive declaration of his private feelings in the most public venue imaginable, Ray’s speech slyly suggests how our personal desires so often inflect our public declarations. It’s a thrilling moment for him (and Marnie’s look suggests she understands the message), but it’s short-lived. The episode concludes with a two shot of Ray and Hannah sitting glumly among the celebrants, each initially feigning contentment before revealing their true, private feelings: “I’m faking it,” admits Ray. “I’m faking everything,” quips Hannah. They’re statements that could just as easily be made by any of the core characters, and not for the first time, the series enters into its season finale with seemingly everyone dissatisfied, their public affectations no match for the private frustrations they conceal.
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