How does a self-absorbed young person deal with death? Hannah Horvath’s been shielded thus far from thinking of loss as a part of everyday life, both by her upbringing and her age. So when David, the editor we last saw celebrating “40 more good years” in a bar full of people half his age, is found floating face-down in the Hudson River, our heroine is totally unequipped to deal with the emotional fallout — or lack thereof. What follows is 30 minutes of my favorite kind of Girls jokes, the ones that poke fun at its main characters’ narcissism, at her expense. As per usual, too many people will assume that Lena Dunham isn’t self-aware enough to intentionally make her protagonist such an awful person. But that’s what Hannah is: a person forced to look her own self-centeredness in the eye, and who’s forced to make up fictitious emotions rather than let those around her see her authentic self.
We find out about David’s death with the comic flourish that’s rapidly becoming Season 3’s trademark. Hannah spills the contents of her bag all over the floor of the publishing house (can you tell Judd Apatow co-wrote this episode?) before a frenzy of attractive editorial assistants starts running around the waiting area, tissues in hand. The e-book editor is dead! Long live the e-book editor.
John Cameron Mitchell’s run as a guest star had to end eventually, but using David’s death to start a higher-stakes emotional conflict than Girls is usually capable of supporting is a brilliant use of his inevitable exit. Each time Hannah talks about David to a new person, we get a different reaction and a new insight into both Hannah and whoever she’s venting to. First there’s Jessa, whose dynamic with Hannah is full of the mutually reinforcing, delusional bullshit the two of them should have left behind in their Oberlin dorm rooms. Did you know time isn’t linear and Jessa’s looking forward to dying? Of course you did, because you’ve probably watched an episode of Doctor Who at some point and that’s the most Jessa thing she’s ever said.
Luckily, Adam is incapable of either putting up with Hannah’s callousness or hiding his irritation with it. “And no one even began to tell me what was best for my e-book!” is so self-evidently absurd it probably doesn’t need a response, but Adam gives it one anyway: “Well, they probably weren’t thinking about your book, Hannah.” Combined with the wordless grunting that seems to be Adam’s primary form of communication these days, the conversation exemplifies the paradox at the root of his personality: he may be crude and animalistic, but those traits also put him better in touch with his feelings than even his girlfriend, who’s trying to make a living articulating hers.
The next morning, Adam sends Hannah off to work with the not-at-all unreasonable observation that while her reaction to David’s death isn’t a big deal, it doesn’t bode well for how she’d deal with a more major loss, i.e. his. Ray, as is his wont, puts it more bluntly, delivering one of the few true one-liners this show’s ever had. (It’s too good not to transcribe word-for-word: “Why don’t you put a crumb of human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic detachment?”) Laird doesn’t call her out directly, but sympathy from a guy who happens to be carrying around a turtle carcass serves is the best alarm bell yet that something’s not quite right with Hannah’s non-mourning.
Enter Gaby Hoffmann, who swoops in to take Hannah and Laird on a whimsical romp through the local cemetery. In Caroline, Girls appears to be taking its own stab at deconstructing the manic pixie dream girl, and while we’re not approaching Parker-Posey-in-Louie levels of brilliance yet, making up a sob story straight out of a John Green novel pulls the rug out from under both Hannah and us just as we’re starting to forget last week’s crotch shot. Messed up as the lie is, though, it’s an emotional test that Hannah fails; she’s more worried about the dead cousin’s dress size than the fact that she’s dead. Neither Hannah nor Caroline comes off looking good, and the conversation gives the disturbing sense that the two women might be drawn to each other because they’re equally screwed-up and narcissistic, albeit in different ways. And nothing drives that point home quite like Hannah’s co-opting of the Margaret story to convince Adam that yes, she is capable of empathy. It’s a lie, but it’s better than letting Adam see that even when she isn’t incapacitated by OCD, she’s still not able to reciprocate his world-blurring dedication.
Jessa, too, turns down the opportunity to do some much-needed introspection. Where Hannah refuses to confront her inability to grieve, Jessa lashes out at a former friend for faking her death instead of questioning why she felt the need to do so. There’s humor in the over-the-top stunt, sure (the friend’s name is Season, for Christ’s sake), but the fact remains that Jessa was enough of an enabler that a close friend did whatever it took to make sure Jessa didn’t bring her along on her downward spiral. And it worked: she’s got a picture-perfect life in brownstone Brooklyn, and Jessa can’t even keep her spot in rehab. That’s when Premiere Jessa comes out to play, storming out with a vicious promise: “None of this is gonna work out for you, by the way.” It’s as much a pep talk for herself as it is a swipe at her onetime friend, and it works; the next time we see Jessa, the exact moment she chooses to repress what she’s just seen registers on her face as an ear-to-ear smile.
Shoshanna and Marnie, meanwhile, continue to be the weak spots of an otherwise strong season. The writers seem intent on making Shoshanna into the terriblest person on a show full of terrible people, flattening a once reassuringly three-dimensional character back into a sorority girl stereotype with lines like, “We were always meant to be a five-some, not a six-some.” With Hannah, we get an extra 20 minutes or so of screen time to see that obliviousness play out. With Shoshanna, we get two. As for Marnie? She’s stuck in the same I’m-better-than-this warp as she was in Season 2, except with a coffee shop and a viral music video instead of a gentlemen’s club and a douchey artist. Girls has always struggled to serve some members of its central foursome as well as others, and nothing brings that point home quite like “Deep Inside.”