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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season four episode of HBO’s Girls, “Triggering.”]
How quickly things have changed for Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Iowa.
The Girls main character starts off the episode enjoying life in the Midwest, marveling at how much space she can rent for not a lot of money and telling Marnie (Allison Williams), “We should all move [to Iowa] and start the revolution.”
But things quickly take a turn. In her first session at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Hannah reads her story out loud and is criticized by nearly all of her classmates, who say it’s a seemingly autobiographical piece about a privileged girl and that it seems to trivialize abuse. Hannah gets very defensive both in class and with her classmates at a bar afterward. And soon she’s asking her parents over the phone whether it’s normal to think about ways to commit suicide just so she can get out of her situation. Later, Elijah (Andrew Rannells) shows up and takes her to an undergrad party where she realizes, as she tells him the next morning, that she wants to go back to college and not stay in grad school.
When asked about the conflict between Hannah and her classmates, one of the other grad students, played by Gossip Girl alum Zuzanna Szadkowski, tells The Hollywood Reporter, “I feel like [Hannah’s] made this hard sort of life decision, and she’s going to have to learn something new about herself. So I think we kind of serve that end. We’re not easy on her. I think the show sometimes is about watching these girls get into not-so-easy situations and this is another one of those.”
Actor-writer-director Desiree Akhavan plays another grad student, whom Hannah seems to get along with before she goes after her story. Akhavan says of the dynamic between her character and Hannah, “I think there’s this competitive energy between very smart, driven women in that when you recognize someone who’s slightly similar to yourself — I don’t know if it’s just women, I’ve had this experience with men as well; I went to graduate school for filmmaking — there’s this energy where the two of you cannot co-exist and one of you must be destroyed. That’s what I channeled with this character, that she can’t live in a world where someone is as talented but slightly less polished as she, so I think she felt she had to destroy her a little.”
So what makes Hannah react to the criticism she receives in this way and how does her experience in Iowa conflict with her expectations? And where did the other girls, whom viewers don’t see much of in the second episode, go? THR talked to Girls’ co-showrunner Jenni Konner about that and more.
Do you think that Hannah had expectations of what the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was going to be like that weren’t realized?
Oh, definitely. I mean, I think it was a real disappointment to her, the way that she thought she would be the star of the program and be highly valued and not get a lot of criticism, and it didn’t work out for her in that way.
During the scene where she reads one of her stories and she’s very heavily criticized and defensive about it, why do you think that she had such a tough time with that criticism?
I think that she has an authority problem, and I think it was just so different from her expectations that she gets very, very defensive. And I think also, the idea that a lot of them are struggling with is this idea, like, “Does it matter if it’s based on real life?” That kind of idea, which, one of our writers went to Iowa and that was a consistent argument. And that is something we face all the time too,: “How close is it?” all of those kinds of questions. That would be the thing that would drive Hannah insane, that she wasn’t allowed to call it fiction.
During this episode, a lot of time is devoted to Hannah’s experiences in Iowa and the other characters’ storylines are kind of, like you don’t really get into those in this episode, and you come back to them in subsequent ones. Was that a conscious choice or did you try to jump back and forth and it felt like it wasn’t working?
That was a conscious choice. We knew that we were just going to be with Hannah [in Iowa]. That was something we wanted to do.
There’s a lot of discussion and ideas in this episode about the difference between undergrad and grad school. Do you think that Hannah thought that it would be more like undergrad?
No, I don’t think that. I don’t think that she thought it would be like undergrad, but I do think that she feels more comfortable in an undergrad setting.
What did you think about the episode? Sound off in the comments section below. Girls airs Sundays on HBO.
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