‘Girls’ Season 4 Episode 2 Recap: “Triggering”


Girls has proven before that while you can take the girl out of New York, you can’t take the raging narcissism out of the girl. Some of the series’ most memorable episodes have zeroed in on Hannah, and what happens when she leaves the Brooklyn bubble for her hometown (“The Return”) or her extended family (“Flo”). This time, of course, Hannah’s in for the long haul. But for now, “Triggering” is the latest in Girls’ most consistently entertaining subgenre of episode: abandoning all pretense of being about life in the city, and doubling down on the series’ true subject—the all-consuming, raging, and enraging self-absorption of its heroine.

And if there’s anything “Triggering” shows, it’s that New York isn’t a necessary setting for exploring that self-absorption. It may not even be the best setting! Because guess what turns out to be the perfect venue for skewering millennial self-importance? So perfect, in fact, that even Marnie, the least observant person on Earth, observes it’s the perfect place for Hannah?

An MFA fiction workshop.

Before Hannah rushes into said workshop, late and pajama-clad, she first has to experience the foremost (and, some would argue, only) advantage of ditching New York: the euphoria of affordable real estate. For the amount I paid one summer to sleep in the bottom of a twin-sized Manhattan bunk bed—the top bunk was filled with stuffed animals—Hannah gets an entire house she doesn’t even need to measure in foot lengths. No cell service and the occasional bird fall under “acceptable tradeoffs,” at least for the moment.

Another tradeoff Hannah seems to have taken in stride, at least for now, is her separation from Adam. She misses him enough to page through some old photos, but compared to the meltdown that followed last season’s (temporary) move-out, that’s well within the boundaries of a healthy mourning process. Which is what Hannah and Adam’s no-plan plan has developed into, judging by his conspicuous absence, Hannah’s drunken opinions on cheating in long distance relationships, and Marnie’s backfired attempt not to bring him up. Details are no doubt forthcoming, but for now Girls’ primary couple appears to be no more.

And as any writer with an almost-ebook about her embarrassing exploits knows, there’s no better way to move on than writing a thinly fictionalized account of “the time I took a couple Quaaludes and asked my boyfriend to punch me in the chest!”

Of all the weirdly meta moments Girls has had over the years, Hannah’s first workshop is possibly the most blatant. The other fiction writers—Hannah has, oddly, chosen to enroll in the fiction program, though I’d assumed she’d be in nonfiction given her experience with memoir—hate how privileged her protagonist is. They think said protagonist is a transparent, lazily constructed clone of Hannah herself. One IRL @GuyInYourMFA even objects that there’s “a lack of empathy for the male perspective.” They are, in other words, a Greek chorus of the real critiques that have been leveled at Girls (read: Lena Dunham) over the years: the on-point, the idiotic, and the blatantly sexist.

As closely as her peers’ feedback resembles real life, however, Hannah’s behavior remains true to her entirely fictional character. Before she reads her story out loud, Hannah blathers about trigger warnings and safe spaces, continuing a micro-trend that began with Ilana Wexler’s rape culture spiel from this week’s Broad City premiere. Like Ilana, Hannah is the creation of an openly feminist showrunner; like Ilana, Hannah takes a valid concept and completely botches it, as oblivious to her misunderstanding as she is confident in her political righteousness. And like Ilana Glazer, Lena Dunham will no doubt get some flak for depicting that misunderstanding, as if it would make any sense for Hannah Horvath to deploy a trigger warning in a well-informed way.

The rest of Hannah’s first day of school doesn’t go much better. She alienates a peer by asking if she’s a survivor of abuse (why else would anyone be offended by the punching incident?); she loses her phone in a creek-walking incident; she tries and fails to get in touch with her friends, who don’t know how to take a collect call, and her parents, who are too wrapped up in their game of Scrabble to be alarmed by Hannah’s question about suicide. But just in time, Elijah comes in to save the day.

Actually, Elijah’s shown up because New York is a giant bummer full of ex-boyfriends and homeless women fisting themselves on his stoop. Hannah doesn’t mind, though, because she’s just as self-centered as Elijah is—and because Elijah is the massive enabler of that self-centeredness she desperately needs. Soon enough, they’re declaring their mutual obsession (“I hate everyone that isn’t you!”), getting obnoxiously drunk to the point of jerking a straight guy off in a bathroom (Elijah)/paint-wrestling another girl in a kiddie pool (Hannah), and walking back to that massive house together, Hannah’s bruised ego intact, if not her dress. You can take the girl out of New York…