"It's Back" is the title of last night's episode of Girls. It refers most obviously to the reappearance of Hannah's OCD, which she faced as a high school student in a pretty paralyzing form. We start the show out with Hannah counting: Counting trees, counting door-slams, counting potato chips, counting chews, everything in numbers of 8. It's back for Hannah because of the stress of writing her book, and maybe, too, because she's never really dealt with what happened with Adam. Because in life there are triggers, and often they cause us to revert back to old patterns or behaviors, even though we think we've outgrown them, treated them, or simply successfully blocked them for a while.
Hannah's OCD is, of course, a disorder (The AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff has some really interesting writing about this as a plot point). I viewed it more symbolically, and also thematically, because as a phrase "it's back" applies to pretty much every major character in this episode in some way or another. It's back for Jessa, which is to say, she's taken off after her trip to her dad's house, and no one knows where she is. (Marnie's not worried, though: "This is what she does," she says.) It's back for Adam in that he's feeling like he might start drinking again, and gets to an AA meeting to talk about that. It's back because of Hannah, he says there, and the way that he didn't even care about her at first but then, suddenly, he did, and now she won't respond to his texts.
It's back in that Shosh is slowly realizing she's given up a part of her life and herself for Ray, and she doesn't want to be someone who "people think is dead" because she has a boyfriend. It's back for Marnie, though it never left: She can't figure out why other people are winning and she's not. Faced with Charlie's success—he created an app and started a company—she feels even worse, as though somewhere along the way she was bilked of her due. It's back for Ray, because he still feels like a loser and can't seem to figure the way out of it, even though he's the "old man" of the group and should know by now, he thinks.
Each of our characters confronts his or her regression in a different way. Shosh sees an old friend who invites her to a party. Ray refuses to go and Shosh goes alone, talking her friend's ear off as only Shosh can: “I just think this living experience is a really good opportunity to find out what it’s going to be like when I’m an adult" is one great nugget. She doesn't get the reaction or support she wants from that friend, and takes solace in making out with a doorman. "It's back": her doubts about Ray, that is; her feeling of not having lived enough yet; her desire to experience all there is for herself.
Adam goes to the AA meeting, introduces himself, and tells his story, which focuses on Hannah ("I wanted that chance to show someone everything, but she changed her mind about me that fast. I’m exhausted," he says). After the meeting, a woman at AA (Carol Kane) sets him up with her daughter (Shiri Appleby). Lo and behold: Adam and the girl, Natalia, have a really great date, and it's pretty cute. I'm rooting for these two.
Marnie finds Charlie at his office and makes him take her on a tour. "It's back" for Charlie means Marnie. He knows she's up to something, this ex of his who inspired him to create the app that's led to his company. ("People are really responding to software that protects you from yourself," he said; his is an app that prevents you from calling people, like exes, you have wisely decided ahead of time you shouldn't call.) But he can't "Forbid"—the name of his app—Marnie from re-inserting herself in his life, so he asks her, "Do you need money?" She goes home to her apartment and Ray's there, reading, so she rants to him about the unfairness of life. “It doesn’t matter how right you do things," she says. "You know who ends up living their dreams, sad messes like Charlie. The people who end up flailing are poeple like me, who have their shit together.” It's back: Marnie is clueless.
Ray snarks first—"Marnie learned another life lesson, how adorable," but then, I think, seeing something of his own issues in her, asks her what her dream is. Singing, she says, and when he asks to hear it, serenades him with a few bars of Norah Jones. He is a little bit surprised: "Your voice, it’s nice," he says, and then delivers some Ray-advice. "If you want to sing, you have to sing. You’re never going to look this good again. The clay is drying. If you want to sing, you should sing now." Of course, he's speaking to himself, not of singing but of the opportunities he feels he's lost. It's back for him, too.
With Hannah, it's not just the OCD that's back. It's also her parents, who are in town and bring their own ways of relating to their daughter that have existed, presumably, for much of her life. Her dad, forgiving and ready to make excuses for her lateness; her mom, calling her on her bullshit, knowing when something's wrong. At the dinner table at The Carlyle as they wait to see Judy Collins sing, her mom notices right away, "You’re counting to 8." A second later, she defends her parenting: "We don’t know why you had OCD. It’s not our fault.” Hannah responds, "It's the ultimate your fault; it's genetic." We see her in profile looking off into the distance, blinking, before leaving the dinner to count at herself in the mirror at the hotel, saying, 8 times each, "You're fine and good," before she switches to "You're good and fine." That this is happening belies the truth.
Her parents take her to a doctor (Bob Balaban). When he calls her OCD presentation in high school "classical" she explains adamantly that it was far worse (it's a matter of pride for Hannah to be unique). The OCD is back, she says, because she's writing a book, and also, she just went through a breakup with someone whom she can't decide "if he’s the greatest person in the world or the worst." She asks the therapist to just tell her parents she's fine. "Are you?" he asks. Again, that this is happening belies the truth. At the end of the show, Hannah and her parents are on the subway together, uncomfortable and unhappy. Hannah says, "I hate that you look so concerned about me," and looks away, trying to hide that she's counting.
I thought this was a pretty poignant episode about a universal experience; not perfect, perhaps, but well done and moving. As we grow up we like to think we get over the things that afflicted us in our youth. We become better adults. We learn from our mistakes. The people we were when we were younger, those fools doing all those stupid things and hurting, we don't need to associate ourselves with them at all. But it's never really gone, the way we were. It comes back, in various ways, for any number of reasons, even when we think we've got it licked. You can never really leave the past you behind. Figuring how to coexist and be O.K. with those ghosts of ourselves, though—whether that means going to AA or seeing a therapist or committing yourself to pursuing your dream or talking about life incessantly with your friends (or just being honest with yourself)—is the only way to be good and fine. Or fine and good.
Winners: Well, I hate to think that Shosh and Ray may break up, but her hookup with the sexy doorman is definitely a way for her to get a little more life experience. And, Adam and Natalia's great date was really fun to watch. Also, hooray for Hannah's therapist, who sold 2.5 million copies of a book about a bionic dog, because of course he did. Bob Balaban!
Losers: I felt a lot for Hannah and her parents in this episode, and seeing Hannah vulnerable/out of control but aware and trying so hard to rein it in is a powerful thing. Usually, we see her out of control but unaware. Getting this backstory puts her in context and makes her a far more empathetic character—but not too empathetic; Dunham is careful to make her a little bit of a jerk to her therapist, and to that poor guy at the show at The Carlyle (that scene made me laugh) who she hits 8 times, lest we stop believing altogether. I also weep a bit for Ray, who can't seem to get it together enough to take his own advice. He's still fighting what he can clearly point to in Marnie as a problem, and he's years older. Of course, age is just a number, and sometimes it's not worth counting.