For the past three seasons, Girls has splintered the cast and their relationships in wildly different directions. There have been blindsided breakups, coming-outs, secret affairs, and wildly romantic make-ups. While characters may have walked in and out of each other’s lives in various formations, no one episode of the show has dealt squarely with the consequences of these muddled relationships until tonight’s season 4 premiere.
Hannah Horvath finally has a path, a clear-cut one, filled with syllabi and teachers. After the dead-end jobs, the botched book deal, and the lack of actual written words materializing on her laptop screen, she’s decided to go to Iowa Writers Workshop. The two-year intensive MFA program feels like the first tangible and overall secure win for Hannah’s writing career — and, potentially, the last chance she’ll get to prove her talent to herself, her family, friends, and the show’s viewers.
Arguably, most of the Girls’ characters at the start of this season seem to have their shit relatively together, a development that might make them more approachable in the eyes of “likeable character”-hungry watchers. Shoshanna is newly graduated, no pomp and circumstance, just a quick photo snapped by her parents and her diploma on its way in the mail. Marnie’s singing career with Desi is taking off in some direction, albeit one that ends with them playing for the brunch-crowd at a sports bar populated by noisy children. Adam is getting more serious about acting, with a comically banal depression-medication commercial under his belt. The friends may be growing up a little, but that doesn’t mean this premiere isn’t painting every inch of their growth in hilarious shades of self-aware humor. If Girls does one thing well, it’s reminding every 20-something that the road to real adulthood is paved with many embarrassing cobblestones, commercial gigs, graduation photos, and all.
The hole Hannah stands to leave in her New York City crew reverberates throughout the entire episode as the rest of the cast deal with their own losses. While season 3 left Shoshanna practically begging for Ray to take her back, this season she just wants to be his friend. For all her Valley Girl-isms and wacky outfits, she’s responsible when it comes to apologetically smoothing out the edges of their breakup until an actual adult friendship between them blossoms. This stands in sharp contrast to Marnie, who is sleeping with the very much involved Desi, refusing to admit she’s the other woman. And, Jessa’s photographer boss Bee Dee decides to leave New York for Connecticut. His daughter Rickey (played by Natasha Lyonne) orders Jessa to stay behind, calling her a dangerous influence.
While Shoshanna and Ray seem set to enter clearer, platonic waters, and Marnie fumbles through her adultery, Adam and Hannah’s impending two-year separation hangs like a cloud over the entire episode. “I thought the whole separation thing would be easier if we had a clearer-cut plan,” Hannah says to Adam. She worriedly attempts to formulate one for their long-distance relationship, or at least prompt a deeper conversation. Adam nods at each prod and assures Hannah that technology will keep them together.
The four young women may be entering new realms of so-called adulthood, finally, seriously pursuing their careers, but they’re definitely not all on the same page when it comes to relationships. The season 4 premiere is less about the pursuit of new love or friendship, and more about how these characters struggle hold on to the relationships they’ve already cultivated. Some of them do this maturely, while others gravely miss the mark.
Jessa tells Hannah she’s “pussying out on this whole thing” by leaving, this "whole thing" meaning life and trying to make it work “where you are.” This is somehow the most childish utterance in the entire episode, yet gives context to how the others are "pussying" out on each other. Will Marnie realize Desi isn’t giving her what she deserves? Will Shoshanna pursue a serious friendship with Ray? Will Jessa finally find someone she can count on to be there for her? What’s clear is that nobody wants to be left in the dust. At the start of this new season, the characters of Girls are still not acting like the adults they could be, but the seeds of maturity have been planted, and they begin to contemplate what it means to be close to each other in a way that’s healthy and real.
It’s a good direction for Girls to go in, and one that makes the discussion of “when will Girls grow up?” much more complex. Because these characters stand to grow in ways beyond just book-writing and fewer calls made to their parents; they stand to change in how they treat each other, not just themselves. If the premiere is any indication, much more growing and changing is to come.