Do you remember what you wanted to be as a kid? I wanted to be a teacher. I thought that, as a teacher, I could help cultivate the future leaders of America, transform kids’ lives, you know, all that stuff. And for the longest time, I fought for that, fought through school, through internships, through interviews with principals and administration that I either didn’t like or were racist or didn’t seem to care. And when I became a teacher, I wasn’t happy. Not only wasn’t it what I wanted, I started wondering what it was that I actually did want. I still don’t know. Now I’m living around Boston, working some full-time job that pays the bills, reading and writing in my spare time, and exploring other desires of mine. And there’s a happiness to be found in the exploration, in simply experiencing life. Because if you think that achievement will bring happiness, well, maybe for a time, but you’ll always keep wanting. That never goes away.
The season premiere really focuses on Hannah, and how she feels doing the thing she has always wanted to do. She got published in the New York Times and is now fielding offers from other media outlets. She’s had this triumphant moment that she thought would kickstart this glorious career. But her assignment is to go surfing and write about it, the implication being that she’s going to hate it because she’s an pudgy city girl. More than being a writer, she’s a trope being exploited. And while part of her plays into that, part of her resists it. Hannah has always wanted to pave her own way, and to have somebody else tell her who she is bothers her. She goes out of her way to unapologetically be herself, even if that works to her detriment. But she ends up going on this trip anyway, caving to the insulting demands of her assignment, fully intending to hate every second of it.
What’s interesting about this episode is how Hannah sabotages herself, how she plays into this concept of herself that others have reinforced and that she feels comfortable in. There’s comfort in her identity as a pudgy city girl who always screws things up, putting on the wrong wetsuit, leaking sunscreen into her suitcase, forgetting to put a bathing suit on under her wetsuit, getting sunburned. The list goes on and on. She feels comfortable being that person, but does she really like that person? She thinks she does, and of course she would. Her entire writing persona revolves around that person. How is she supposed to change, or even to figure out who she is, if her writing is so reinforced by a perception of herself that might not reflect who she is? She doesn’t really know how to be anybody else. But that changes when she meets Paul-Louis, who opens her up to a new way of experiencing the world around her.
It’s not necessarily that new. Hannah has always toyed with this carefree demeanor, but Paul-Louis moves through the world in this very fluid, experimental way, where he focuses less on achievement and goals than he does on experiencing and spreading love. He likes spending time with Hannah because it brings both of them a sense of joy, not necessarily for anything deeper than that. And that attitude bring Hannah out of the identity that she has crafted for herself. She dances with Paul-Louis, sleeps with him, and runs across the beach with him, enjoying life because she’s not so concerned about making it an “experience”. Because when she works so hard to make something worthy of being called an “experience”, she doesn’t actually get to enjoy it. But that fun comes to a halt when she hears that he’s already in a relationship, even if it’s open. Despite being able to come out of this barrier that she’s put around her, she’s still the same person she’s been for almost 30 years. And she’ll go home to the same people she’s known for years. And how is she supposed to change or become anything new when she’s living the same old life?
The rest of the cast is placed into the episode for the sake of introducing their plotlines for the season, even though their opening scenes do a strong job reinforcing the central theme of the episode. Ray and Marnie are still together. Marnie wants some space to herself and is nervous about Ray getting with Shoshanna, so she ends up having an affair with her ex-husband, Desi. Not her most shining moment. Jessa and Adam are still together, having lots of sex and enjoying their time together. Everybody supposedly has what they want, but there are these little fissures creating a general sense of anxiety. Marnie sees this spark of connection between Ray and Shoshanna, but is there actually a spark there or is Marnie imagining it? A lot of this anxiety comes from Marnie self-sabotaging because she’s so terrified that the connection she made with Ray is another failure, just like it was with Charlie and Desi. She has what she wants, Ray, a start to a music career, but she can’t help but panic about what comes next, what more she wants.
This is the final season of Girls, so we’re supposed to be coming towards some sense of conclusion for these characters? With the case of Hannah, the character who believed herself to be the “voice of her generation”, who always wanted to be a writer, what does that conclusion look like? To Hannah, that conclusion looked to her like becoming a teacher looked to me. Once the goal is achieved, what more could their be? But there’s always more, always something else to achieve, always some sadness or anxiety or personal failure to attempt to correct. For Hannah, she might be a writer now, but she’s not happy. And it’s a lot harder to figure out what makes you happy than it is to get the job you think you want.
What did you think of the premiere? Do you think Hannah is going to have another revelation of sorts before the end of the series? Let me know in the comments!