Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!

Image Credit: HBO
Image Credit: HBO

Girls did not start out particularly well this week. Hannah doesn’t own a suitcase? Really? If she’s a middle-class girl from Michigan, her parents own approximately 22,000 suitcases. Every piece of luggage I own is a hand-me-down from my father, who incidentally went to Michigan State, which leads me to my second point. This episode hit a little too close to home. I grew up outside a college town in Michigan. I am trying to make it as a writer in Brooklyn. In my early twenties, I often considered how much easier living in Michigan would be only to realize I couldn’t exist outside of New York for more than a few months. Also, my name rhymes with banana. It was a little freaky.

In the past few episodes, especially in the handsy boss storyline, Hannah’s self destruction was not so much funny as unbelievable and pathetic for the sake of being pathetic. Girls has been termed “inventive” and “daring” because it showcases the type of acerbic, normal looking, awkward girl we never see on screen. However, if this girl is incapable of eliciting desire or achieving even a modicum of happiness, then the show isn’t doing much more than reinforcing the female fear that existing outside of conventional gender norms will lead to a lifetime of unanswered texts and uncomfortable attempts to sleep with your sixty-year-old boss. Hannah may still be a mess in East Lansing, but in the tree-lined and strip-mall filled Midwest, she finally reveals herself to be the kind of maturing mess we can root for back in Greenpoint.Hannah begins the episode laced with entitlement, and I found myself once again siding with her mother even as I wished the writers would stop portraying her as such a shrewish cliché. Clearly, Dunham was not only stalking me in my early twenties but can now read my mind because, by episode’s end, Hannah’s mother had become the more sympathetic figure as she pushed her daughter to accept the challenges of her difficult chosen path. Hannah’s father’s more mawkish support turns out to be the result not of greater love but of the fear that Hannah is not sufficiently talented. It is Hannah’s mother who thinks her daughter is perfectly capable of making it on her own—and will be a better writer for it. We begin to see a bit of Hannah in her mother and hope that Hannah will one day also be having hot middle-aged shower sex with someone she loves. But her mother knows what all smart women know: if you want to live life on your own terms, nothing will be assured, and your life is first going to suck.

Hannah’s parent’s conversation about whether or not she is capable of surviving without their support is obviously the script of her internal monologue. As Hannah watches the skinny blond girl gyrate on stage at the “benefit” and mentally notes exactly how she will mock her, you simultaneously see her worrying that the lyrics of that Keri Hilson song might be true. Maybe the wispy pharmacist really is thinking that this conventionally attractive blonde is the woman he wishes were about to hop into his bed. Maybe Hannah’s attempts to exist outside of the standard female template with her ironic humor and odd clothing choices will always leave her feeling inferior to someone who memorializes a dead girl in hot pants. Most frightening of all, maybe her “I’m cool because I live in Brooklyn” guise is just that: a sad performance hiding her own insecurities and failures.

This brings me back to the eerie familiarity I felt watching Hannah proclaim her Brooklyn identity upon returning to East Lansing. Midwest transplants everywhere can relate to the moment when Hannah stands in front of her mirror and says that she is inherently interesting because she lives in New York. Her claim is, of course, untrue (people in New York are pretty much the same as people anywhere, only more annoying), but we tell ourselves this I-am-a-New-Yorker-and-thus-cool mantra for a simple reason. When you see former high school friends buying homes with more than one bathroom and marrying men who will actually return their calls, you sometimes look at your own life and think…seriously? I have to pay for storage because my bed can’t fit inside my $1,000 bedroom in the apartment I share with three other people, and I now can’t walk down Dean Street at night because there are too many rats. My longest recent relationship lasted three months and took place almost entirely over text and gchat. Why am I struggling so hard to live in a city that doesn’t seem that into me?

Hannah’s face expresses this anxiety as she watches the seemingly well-adjusted twenty-somethings standing around her smiling in their MSU T-shirts during the ode-to-a-dead-girl burlesque. In reality, there isn’t exactly a surfeit of successful, self-satisfied post-graduates in recession-ravaged Michigan, but Dunham is using Michigan and the cute but oh-so-boring pharmacist to suggest an easier, more conventional life. The Midwesterner in me bristles at this because I know too many women living in the Midwest whose lives aren’t exactly simple. However, this episode isn’t really about location. It’s about young women who won’t, and simply can’t, follow the well-worn path of comfort attained through male support, whether it be parental or matrimonial. It’s about women who realize that if they want to live a more interesting life, they are going to have to grow a pair.

When I was in my early twenties, I briefly moved back to Michigan, which both forced me to grow up and reinforced my belief that I should never leave New York. Similarly, it took getting Hannah out of New York for the show to finally turn her into a less masochistic and more relatable heroine. When she maturely helps her naked father awkwardly into bed or refuses to ask her parents for money, she is—without words—acknowledging that she is not the same girl she was in the pilot. Additionally, when she has the most boring sex imaginable with the pharmacist, you begin to see why she keeps calling Adam.  Adam’s eventual call should make the feminist in me say “now, you know he is just going to go back to being a dick the minute you hang up,” but the young estrogen-crazed girl in me can’t help but sigh and smile. We have all been there.

Adam is clearly representative of New York and the creative path Hannah is attempting to follow: they are all difficult, frequently frustrating, and rarely seem worth it until she tries the alternative for a few days and realizes she would rather have a challenge than dull sex and a safer plan. I’m back in Hannah’s corner after this Midwest sojourn. Now she just needs to buy a fucking suitcase.

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