Season 1 of HBO’s Girls (which emerged triumphant at the Golden Globe Awards last weekend, winning best TV comedy or musical series, and the show’s creator/star Lena Dunham taking best actress in a TV series) has been acclaimed for showing unconventional characters – a group of girls in their early 20s “almost getting it kind of together” – who often seem more genuine and relatable than other characters on television.
It’s difficult to completely love or hate any of the girls of Girls because they each have qualities that can be viewed as both repulsive, yet delightfully endearing at the same time. But just one episode in to Season 2, we can already see that the girls are becoming more self-aware… attempting to figure out who they really are and what they really want out of life and the people in it.
All recent college grads living in the big city, each member of the Girls central foursome – Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa – has reached a very complex impasse in her life… the one that comes post college, when you are suddenly thrown into adulthood, but don’t really have the emotional skills or life experience to be or behave quite like an adult just yet. Though they’re all united by the same insecurities that come with this early 20-something territory (i.e. trying to navigate relationships romantically and with each other), it’s how they deal with their problems and assorted humiliations that’s the really interesting part.
So Season 2 picks up in the aftermath of the confidence shattering moment each girl suffered at the end of the previous season and its first episode laid the groundwork for just how dramatically different their approaches to self-reconstruction will be as Hannah, Marnie and Shoshanna confront their respective issues.
Newlywed Jessa didn’t have much of a presence in episode 1, so we’ll have to wait and see what Season 2 has in store for her.
Hannah, the show’s heroine, finds herself caught between three men in the Season 2 opener: she shares a bed with her gay ex-boyfriend and now roommate, Elijah; she caters to Adam, the former object of her Season 1 affection, out of some form of guilt or obligation; she has found a new romantic interest, Sandy, who she instructs to never mention the word “love”.
Hannah seems to be putting herself in a situation that is only the beginning of a recipe for disaster as she desperately tries to maintain these relationships with enough of a distance to make her feel independent of all three of them. But, her new motto “I feel how I feel when I feel it” gives us a sense of where she’s now coming from, which is the polar opposite of her very dependent sounding mantra about love from last season, “I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, thinks I’m the greatest person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me.”
As Hannah struggles with what being on her own means to her, she will also likely begin to see that juggling many unrequited relationships will not work in her favor. As much as Hannah “talks the talk” about being strong and self-reliant, this season will test if she can also “walk the walk”.
Then there’s Marnie… the girl who once prided herself on her relationships with her friends, significant other, and job. Now at the start of Season 2, she finds herself very alone in all three respects. Her ex-boyfriend of four years has replaced her; Hannah (Marnie claims) has been “blowing her off”; and she is fired from her job at an art gallery.
Marnie’s attempts to repair her relationships in this first episode seem more like a way of shielding herself from having to confront who she has been in the past: selfish, in a word. However, her rather sudden kindness towards others could also be coming from her most genuine self, one who is very lost and vulnerable… a side of her that was hidden, out of plain or obvious site, behind her previous, often “uptight”, facade. As Marnie navigates feeling genuinely lonely, we will hopefully see her emerge as a stronger, smarter, and more compassionate Marnie than we have ever seen before.
Perhaps the healthiest approach to confronting issues comes from Shoshanna, the youngest, most innocent of the Girls, who was “deflowered” at the end of Season 1. When she runs into her virginity taking, ex-lover, Ray, she easily advocates for herself. She tells him that:
1. He deeply hurt her when he didn’t want to date her after he had no problem taking her to bed
2. She doesn’t want to be subject to his bad Ray-ism habit of hurling a criticism only to attempt to soften its sting with a follow-up compliment
3. Most importantly, “I only want to date people who want to date me because that is called self-respect.”
Shoshanna, though hurt from a recent blow to her confidence, has reflected on what made her most upset and furthermore, has learned what type of relationship she should not be involved in.
The path to self-awareness and “becoming who you are”, so to speak, is a long process and is full of growing pains. Girls‘ creator, Dunham, has often described her show as a set of girls enduring a final experience at “rock bottom” because they need to have a last, extraordinarily painful experience before they can rebuild themselves to be stronger than ever before.
While Season 1 showed that each of the four Girls was continually being knocked down, in this follow-up season, I think (and hope) we’re going to see Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa begin to rise up and reconstruct their identities as they learn from their mistakes and according to their strengths.
Girls airs Sunday nights on HBO.