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Student Becomes Teacher

On ‘Girls,’ Hannah gets a taste of motherhood in an unexpected place

Miranda Cooper
March 13, 2017
Craig Blankenhorn
Lena Dunham and Becky Ann Baker in Season 6, Episode 5 of 'Girls.' Craig Blankenhorn
Craig Blankenhorn
Lena Dunham and Becky Ann Baker in Season 6, Episode 5 of 'Girls.' Craig Blankenhorn

This week’s episode of Girls, “Gummies,” was reminiscent of Broad City Season 2 Episode 3, “Wisdom Teeth,” when Abbi gets her wisdom teeth removed, then accidentally gets high on a double dose of pain medication and a weed milkshake, sneaks out of her apartment, and hallucinates a giant version of her prized stuffed animal Bingo Bronson. After getting notified that Abbi has made unusual charges on her credit card, a frantic Ilana finds her about to spend more than a thousand dollars at the Gowanus Whole Foods. It’s hilarious and, I think, one of the series’ best episodes.

But on the latest episode of Girls, it’s not one of the the four ‘girls,’ but instead Hannah’s mom, Loreen (Becky Ann Baker), who eats too many edibles—weed gummies, hence the title—and disappears in Brooklyn. As Hannah, who recently discovered that she is pregnant, searches the city for her misbehaving mother, we see a amusing role reversal: the child taking responsibility for the parent’s well-being. While Broad City’s shenanigans are about two twentysomething women trying their best to look out for each other, Hannah’s panic over her mother missing in the city, ordering extra crispy egg rolls who-knows-where, gives her an early taste of the kind of responsibility she would be undertaking as a parent.

Hannah being forced to practice her maternal skills on her own mother isn’t the only role reversal we see in this episode. Shoshanna, who was clearly written as an annoying, immature JAP, has somehow become the most reasonable female protagonist. In a moving scene, she goes to visit Ray following the death of his longtime boss Hermie, the owner of Cafe Grumpy. She expresses her condolences, sincerely, and then assures Ray that she’s never going to die. It’s classic youthful folly, and yet she is entirely self aware here. She understands how Hermie’s death has made Ray consider his own mortality, and she finds a way to express her sympathy in a way that feels authentic. Shoshanna—unlike Hannah, Marnie, or Jessa—has come a long way since Season 1. It’s also increasingly obvious that she is everything that Marnie is not. In this episode, Marnie and Ray finally break up (Baruch HaShem!) because Marnie is so darn selfish and inconsiderate about Ray’s grieving process. Shoshanna, not Marnie, is the only one who understands. Props to Ray for finally realizing Marnie does not care about him whatsoever. (Now only if he and Shoshanna would just get back together!)

Jessa and Adam are really making their memoiristic film about their love triangle with Hannah, and we are treated to a scene from it: Adam, playing himself, in a kinky sex scene with a Hannah stand-in. (Jessa, naturally, hates the scene, and goes full-on jealous partner by refusing to accept that Adam and Hannah’s relationship, despite its flaws, might have had any real passion.) Roleplay of various kinds frequently figured into Hannah and Adam’s intimate scenes, so seeing another person playing the character of Hannah—and taking on a sexually submissive role within that role—resonates on a meta level.

It’s odd to see a realized caricature of a character who in many ways is already a caricature, and it’s a sly, Rothian move by Dunham: as a writer and actress who is often conflated with her character, she cleverly makes a point by creating an alter ego within the fiction. And this narrative device has a brilliant visual manifestation at the end of the episode, when Hannah encounters fake Hannah perched on the steps of her apartment building. She joins her alter-ego, and they sit together, wearing similar yellow floral sundresses, discussing motherhood (the young-looking actress has three children). As the viewers see her physically mirrored by a not-quite-but-almost doppelgänger, Hannah gets a glimpse of one of her potential futures, from someone who happens to be acting out a version of her past. Given the ubiquity of Roth—and his looming literary legacy—on the show this season, Dunham may very well be channeling the writer’s use of his alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, to weigh Hannah’s various options. We’ll have to wait and see which version of her life she chooses.

Miranda Cooper is an editorial intern at Tablet. Follow her on Twitter here.