A review of tonight's “Girls” coming up just as soon as I photograph your breasts for a project on globalization…
We're almost to the end of season 4, and while this show has always had very strong finales, it's hard to imagine next week's episode being so incredible as to alter my view on this season as a whole. Because up through “Daddy Issues,” it's had some terrific individual moments and even episodes (with the bottle episode about Hannah coping with the Mimi-Rose news as a series highlight), but on the whole has been much more jumbled and uneven than previous years for the show.
Two things happened at once going into this year: 1)HBO asked the producers to go back to making 10 episodes instead of season 3's 12 (10-episode seasons is the channel's new model, just as it sounds like Cinemax will be doing more 8-episode seasons), and 2)Hannah went to Iowa for 3 episodes. I think if only one of those happened – either a longer season or a shorter stint in Iowa – everything might have worked out. In this combination, though, it took a show that's traditionally had a tough time keeping emotional track of the supporting characters and magnified that to the point where even Hannah herself feels a bit lost in the shuffle.
“Daddy Issues” was perhaps the most balanced ensemble piece of the season so far, with everyone – including Tad and Loreen – getting a moment, and with most of the characters winding up together at Ray's victory party. And while there were some really sharp and funny moments throughout the episode, the whole thing felt like we were rushing through significant character arcs, whether it was the disintegration of the Adam/Mimi-Rose relationship, Ray's rekindled feelings for Marnie (and Shosh's reaction to same), Hannah's substitute teaching gig catching her between childhood and adulthood again, etc. I don't know that every one of these would feel completely fleshed-out if the show had a couple of extra episodes to play with (whether in a longer season, or one where Hannah bombed out of Iowa more quickly), but a lot of what happened tonight felt like “Girls” had missed a step or three along the way to these various climactic moments.
That said, if it feels like we've rushed into Hannah's new substitute teaching career, the show continues to get good comic value from her complete inability to view herself as an adult – in an episode where her father refers to her as a kid (and a few episodes after she asked Adam to stop using “kid” as his nickname for her) – and as someone who should exist separately from kids like Cleo. When the principal tries to teach her about boundaries, he might as well be speaking in a foreign language to her. Hannah only recognizes a lack of boundaries when they're making her uncomfortable – as happens throughout the episode as Elijah (who told Hannah in his very first appearance that her father was gay) helps Tad embrace his move out of the closet, in all sorts of ways that make “famous liberal” Hannah nauseous. And the episode does a nice job of paralleling Hannah's discomfort with her mother's outright disgust (“Think about anal sex! Now that's uncomfortable!”), just as you can see a bit of Hannah herself in the way that Tad just gives himself over to Elijah's advice, regardless of how wise that might actually seem.
It helps, of course, that Hannah is always the central character and the one “Girls” has a grasp on no matter what else is happening in an episode or season. Other parts of the episode – the election (and Ray reacting to Marnie and Desi's engagement), the horrible double date at Mimi-Rose's apartment – were bumpier, and I wish we hadn't raced through Adam and Mimi-Rose's entire relationship in the space of four episodes. But the subplots didn't lack for squirm-inducing moments, like Marnie doing a creepy rendition of the Marilyn Monroe “Happy Birthday,” or Jessa somehow finding herself in a scenario where she is not by far the most loathsome human being in a room. And I did like Ray turning his victory speech into a strange plea for Marnie to take him back, especially since he preceded it with a Ralph Nader quote.
Given how crowded the show is at the moment, maybe it would be best to spin Ray off into his own show about a young-ish guy dealing with the headaches of being on the lowest possible rung of city government. Even if we're done with Mimi-Rose and Ace, “Girls” as a whole has felt out of balance this season, and I hope next year figures out a better way to use all the remaining characters in the 10 episodes allotted.
Finally, HBO isn't sending the season finale out in advance (they have tended to keep the show's finales under wraps), so don't expect a review until sometime on Monday.
As for “Daddy Issues,” what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com