Girls recap: ‘Triggering’

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Girls’ Boss Jenni Konner Talks Hannah’s Iowa Expectations: “She Has an Authority Problem”.

Here at HuffPost Women, one of the things we love most about Lena Dunham’s HBO show, “Girls,” is the incisive, witty and hilarious dialogue that Dunham and the rest of her writing team come up with every week.The Girls main character starts off the episode enjoying life in the Midwest, marveling at how much space she can rent for not a lot of money and telling Marnie (Allison Williams), “We should all move [to Iowa] and start the revolution.” But things quickly take a turn. It makes sense that Hannah’s first week in Iowa would make for an episode filled with intense reflection and deprecation on Dunham’s part—but that certainly came at the cost of any narrative momentum. “Triggering” mostly felt like a mood-setting episode for Hannah’s fish-out-of-water experience in Iowa: she rents a gigantic house for $800 a month, finds her fellow Writer’s Workshop students are unimpressed with her “personal essay” approach to fiction writing, and has fun at a frat party with Elijah, who’s tired of New York and decides to become her new roommate.

The second episode of this season did not come with a trigger warning of its own, but the viewer might have been cautioned: “Copious amounts of Hannah.” Lydia: With its cold-open flyover of endless cornfields, the episode reminds us: we are not in Brooklyn anymore. In her first session at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Hannah reads her story out loud and is criticized by nearly all of her classmates, who say it’s a seemingly autobiographical piece about a privileged girl and that it seems to trivialize abuse. For better or worse, Girls is as much about its characters as it is about what people say about its characters and the people who make it, and sometimes, as in tonight’s episode, the show engages with that discussion. Any time Hannah talks about her writing on the HBO show, you can expect an avalanche of think-pieces to roll in the next morning, asking questions about whether or not Lena Dunham’s lead character is a dismal swamp creature that’s ruining us all, and to be fair, I’ve been guilty of doing so. (See: A Facebook rant I posted when Hannah quit her job last season — but I won’t torture you with the details.) Now that Hannah has arrived in Iowa in Girls Season 4, the series seems to be confronting our supposedly “complicated relationship” with Hannah and her signature navel-gazing tendencies.

Arriving in Iowa to begin a two-year program at the University of Iowa’s prestigious writing program, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) discovers the joys of life outside New York. It can be hard to look at Hannah Horvath in isolation of Lena Dunham. (So much so that Salon asked in December whether controversy over Dunham’s recent book “affect the experience of watching her show?”) But as Ashley Fetters and I discuss in the video below, while there is definitely Lena in Hannah, they also are not one in the same. The landing is smooth: Hannah scores a house to live in for $250 a month and a snazzy new bike that she doesn’t have to lock because “this is Iowa.” A video chat with Marnie reveals that Hannah and Adam don’t seem to be on speaking terms, but Marnie promises to let her know if he goes into the hospital, (because Marnie would definitely be the first on he’d call?). The title of the episode comes from the ridiculously self-inflated warning Hannah gives before reading her work aloud, inviting her classmates to quietly leave the room if they find her writing too emotionally devastating to handle.

And that’s what brings us to “Triggering,” where Hannah faces a room of grad students lobbing criticisms her direction that sound like criticisms lobbed at Dunham. While Dunham (28) is officially famous as creator and star of potty-mouthed comedy Girls (season four just commenced on Sky One), it is via her online manifestation that fans will feel they know her. One classmate, played by the director some are calling the Next Lena (Desiree Akhavan) points out that she’s having a hard time judging Hannah’s piece about letting her boyfriend (presumably a character based on Season 1 Adam) have rough, potentially abusive sex with her.

Probably the funniest, and most brutal example was Hannah insisting that one fellow student was impacted by her story because she must be a survivor of abuse. She’s knitting a scarf for Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), her musical and romantic partner, who is cheating on his longtime girlfriend Clementine (Natalie Morales). Perhaps the first indication that things won’t remain this sunny is when it’s revealed that Hannah’s biking skills aren’t exactly up to par—she crashes, hard—but things start getting really painful when she meets someone else in her program. Because Dunham bears an uncanny resemblance to a normal person rather than a photo-shopped Glamazon, she has, since the outset of her career as writer and actress, endured brick-bats regarding her looks (among the milder insults were comparisons to a beached whale).

Hannah’s first share goes less than smoothly when her audience finds it hard to separate Hannah’s real life from her fiction and critique honestly. Pretty much the whole episode is Hannah in Iowa getting into various mishaps: her bike gets stolen because she’s told not to lock it, she loses her cellphone, and she silently pines for Adam, while insisting she’s already let him go.

I think the show sometimes is about watching these girls get into not-so-easy situations and this is another one of those.” Actor-writer-director Desiree Akhavan plays another grad student, who Hannah seems to get along with before she goes after her story. Plus, she’s vaguely left-wing – at least what passes for left wing in American – and, thus, has earned the enmity of American Conservatives, a tribe not renowned for taking opponents’ feelings into consideration. “I deleted Twitter because I’m trying to create a safer space for myself emotionally,” Dunham revealed. “People threaten my life and tell me what a cow I am, so I decided I was gonna …

One scene that really worked for me was Hannah’s collect call to her parents, where she reels off a string of increasingly surreal fake friends she’s made (“Nagasaki, Cher…”) and asks if it’s normal for her to be contemplating suicide (her parents are too busy with their Scrabble game to really notice, which felt to me like winking commentary on Hannah’s propensity for dramatics). Akhavan says of the dynamic between her character and Hannah, “I think there’s this competitive energy between very smart, driven women in that when you recognize someone who’s slightly similar to yourself — I don’t know if it’s just women, I’ve had this experience with men as well; I went to graduate school for filmmaking — there’s this energy where the two of you cannot co-exist and one of you must be destroyed. But what I love about this episode and that she puts her classmate-critics into the same bizarro world in which she places Hannah: Yes, Hannah is myopic and unable to take criticism for a single second, but her classmates like Marin Ireland’s Logan are just as bad.

The episode worked best just as an exploration of the weird childish world grownups enter when they go back to grad school; the specifics, I’ll admit, mostly had me yawning. That’s what I channeled with this character, that she can’t live in a world where someone is as talented but slightly less polished as she, so I think she felt she had to destroy her a little.” So what makes Hannah react to the criticism she receives in this way and how does her experience in Iowa conflict with her expectations? When Chandra explains that Hannah looks nothing like a freshman, Hannah starts babbling about how she always gets carded all the time and no one thinks she’s legal “like, in the bedroom.” It’s awkward. “I’m going to break eye contact with you now,” Hannah says. Giving Hannah the condescending “sweetie” look, she uses air quotes to point out that if Hannah ever does manage to get “published” she won’t be able to defend herself to the masses, so [insert sweetie look again] she should learn how her writing comes across to [even harsher sweetie look] the reader.

Meanwhile, Marnie refuses to offer up any intel about Adam, and Iowa’s dead zone for cellphones leaves Hannah with no option but to use a pay phone to call Shosh and her parents. I watched this episode a second time before sitting down to write this review, and I was all ready to talk about how great it was that we got an episode with just Hannah and Elijah and none of the other girls. She’s not wrong about Hannah (Dunham said at her 2014 New Yorker Panel that Hannah is that writer who doesn’t want to really write), but I sure as hell don’t want to be friends with Logan either. After an ill-advised trigger warning, her story falls flat, prompting unwelcome comparisons to “50 Shades of Grey.” Hannah struggles with the format of the class, which requires her to hear critiques silently. the most satisfying notes in the Lena Dunham repertoire.

During the scene where she reads one of her stories and she’s very heavily criticized and defensive about it, why do you think that she had such a tough time with that criticism? August (Ato Essandoh), reads his story. “Gut wrenching, and not asking to wrench our guts, just wrenching them,” Chandra says. “You played with gender in a way that was really surprising and like almost offensive, but not offensive,” Chester (Jason Kim) adds.

It played resonant, hilarious chords by pairing hubris with humiliation, political correctness with tone deafness, wrapping it all up with an awesome party scene, where Hannah is always at her best/worst. Then it carries on its merry way, continuing Hannah’s weird strange trip to Iowa, where Andrew Rannells’ Elijah shows up in the most unlikely but not unwelcome of circumstances. Joe: First, let me quibble: No college party in 2015 would be playing a decade-old Ying Yang Twins song, even in Iowa, even ironically (it’s too old to be fun, too new to be a throwback). When yet another student expresses how eager he is to see more pages of the story, her comment runs more on the literal side of things: “Well, I assume the mom dies. Dunham’s character, Hannah, is Carrie Bradshaw remagined as a self-hating underachiever, toiling through a series of unpaid jobs and supported by her resentful parents.

Sure, those critics may be technically right in pointing out Hannah’s problems, but those are the character Hannah’s problems and that’s not going stop the show from being the hilarious, often cringe-inducing bit of reality-biting humor that it’s been for the past three seasons, sweetie. Forget Manolo Blahniks and cocktails with the girls – Hannah can barely scrape together next week’s rent while her love life is best described as ‘icky’ (everyone in the show seems crippled with sexual self-loathing). But unlike her on-screen character, her life has been a story of success piled upon success and she certainly can’t be strapped for cash, having reportedly received a $3.5m (€3m)advance for her recently published memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. I don’t even end up playing the “Is he Good for the Gays?” game when he’s on, mostly because the behavior of any of this show’s characters obviates any kind of respectability questions. Andrew Rannells is really funny, and Elijah brings out Hannah’s extroverted awfulness, which is always a nice change of pace from her introverted awfulness.

The language isn’t particularly interesting, and Hannah reads it in a self-satisfied way that seems to imply she thinks it has more impact than it does. Dunham was the subject of a glowing New York Times profile aged 16 (about a vegan dinner party she threw for friends) and was just 23 when she shot and starred in art-house comedy Tiny Furniture.

Lydia: Perhaps I am giving Lena Dunham too much credit, but I read this episode less as a response to her critics than as a way to bring those critiques into the show in a legitimate, plot-driven way. One writer, Priya (Zuzanna Szadkowski), says, “It’s about a really privileged girl deciding that she’s just going to let someone abuse her.” Chester compares it to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The pivotal scene, the actual workshop part of the Writers’ Workshop, was almost painful to watch. (No, actually: it was definitely painful.) Hannah’s extremely earnest trigger warnings about her extremely earnest writing. And yet sometimes the snark is unavoidable – especially for someone so active, until this week, on social media. “It’s hard in this day and age to avoid criticism, especially when your well-meaning friends say to you, “I can’t believe Howard Stern said those horrid things about you,” she revealed recently.

So I can’t really ignore it, but I try my best to bury my head in the sand. “The solution, she evidently believes, is to hide in plain view, by decoupling her real-world fame from its internet manifestation. Those students’ discussions of Hannah’s privilege and, according to one of them, her “lack of sympathy towards the male perspective.” Hannah’s initial refusal to go for drinks with her fellow students (the excuse: She wanted to “metabolize” their notes). Her decision to react to all the criticism—to make her presence felt, even when she wasn’t allowed to speak—by crunching loudly on potato chips. Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. Indeed, when the class piles on to Hannah, the black student comes to her defense, perhaps knowing what a performative sham it all is, saying, look, who cares?

I did like that scene, though, as a nice—if, again, horribly, squirmingly awkward—crystallization of the debates we’re having right now in the culture at large: questions of identity, of who gets to speak for whom, of the definitions and limitations of privilege, of the extent to which “trigger warnings” are valid in the first place. Dunham believes in the power of using personal experiences in one’s fiction, especially as a woman, and, of course, doing so is not an inherently bad thing. There can be a kind of nihilism to those discussions, sometimes, and the workshop’s version of it, with all its terse references to feminism and sexism and so many other -isms that are merely implied, captured that perfectly.

August brings up, saying, essentially, who cares if some of this is written from the author’s own perspective? “We can’t squash her voice of what she’s trying to say,” he says. Joe: While I did appreciate Elijah creeping in like a home invader to save us from an all-Hannah, all-neuroses episode, I think I may be in the minority when it comes to the gay bestie/ex-boyfriend character, and the way Mr. And yet, while we the audience haven’t read Hannah’s work, the show does seem to make the case that maybe Hannah should stretch her literary muscles—or at least produce better work about herself. It’s too broad a caricature for me, all affect and no heart, verging uncomfortably close to a stereotype from an earlier era of television — “Sex and the City” had some of these problems — especially when “Girls” is followed in the Sunday night HBO lineup by a show as nuanced as “Looking.” Lydia: On this we certainly agree: That glimpse of Jessa and Shoshanna watching “Scandal” and failing to accept a collect call from Hannah was not nearly enough of the girls for me.

It’s a self-satisfied revelation that’s Hannah at her most delusional. “You don’t know what I’m talking about,” Hannah says. “You don’t know what you’re talking—” Logan tries to interrupt. Hanna continues babbling: “And my story isn’t about the time that I took a couple quaaludes and asked my boyfriend to punch me in the chest,” Hannah says, to which Logan replies “TMI.” This prompts a mini rant from Hannah about the futility of TMI. (Dunham has also spoken about hating the phrase “TMI,” but in a far more eloquent way than Hannah does in this moment. A Skype conversation with Marnie, who is knitting Desi a scarf, early in the episode yields the knowledge that Hannah hasn’t really been in contact with Adam.

When Hannah calls Shoshanna (collect because her phone broke), Shosh and Jessa are in the middle of watching Scandal and can’t be bothered to be figure out how to take her call. “You motherf–king c-nts,” Hannah says as she hangs up. Hannah tells her that they are in a long distance relationship and therefore she needs to “snap out of it.” Tall order from Hannah, who has not snapped out of her relationship with Adam.

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