Parental failings and failing your parents, on Girls

He said, she said: talking points on Girls, season 2, episode 7

He said, she said is a discourse on the second season of Girls from two points of view. (Find previous conversations here.)

Episode summary:

Jessa invites Hannah, who is suffering a urinary tract infection, along to visit her dad and stepmother (Petula, played by Rosanna Arquette)in the country. But the father-daughter reunion does not go the way Jessa had hoped it would.

He said, she said:

She said: The beginning reminded me of Stand By Me in a really nice way; a sweet way, you know? Two girls on an adventure.

He said: I think it was four boys on an adventure in Stand By Me.

She said: Ah, don’t tell lecture me on Stand By Me. That movie informed my youth. Did I ever tell you about the time in Grade 7 when a friend and I hit the railroad tracks behind my house–

He said: Yeah, yeah and a train came and you guys cooked wieners over a camp fire. I’ve heard it before. Can we agree that it was just nice to see a pastoral episode?

She said: Yes, and it was nice to get to know Jessa. When she’s looking at the old issues of Penthouse and comments that the best thing a woman can do is to usher a boy into manhood. That wasn’t so subtle I suppose–that in a sense, she’s still trying to do this with her dad: make him grow up.

He said: She’s trying to make her dad grow up and Hannah, of course, sleeps with a 19-year-old later in the episode, which is funny in a lot ways because I think they self-consciously think of themselves as women but the big thing about this episode is that–

She said: They’re girls!

He said: That they’re girls and also that you’re always your parents’ kid and then as you’re getting older and navigating towards adulthood that is a very difficult thing to maintain. Sometimes being with your parents you just become a kid again. Everything comes back.

She said: With you, especially! You revert to a six-year-old around your family.

He said: It’s funny because she’s a character that I first thought was so much better without a back story. But it’s nice in a very human way to flesh her character out like that. And there’s this sort of point/counter point in this episode where you’re seeing Jessa with all her parental failings contrasted with someone like Hannah who has failed her parents.

She said: Whoa!

He said: Because you get the impression that Hannah is just a genuinely selfish asshole. There can be no doubt of it at this point.

She said: She’s still likable. How is that? I guess that’s the trick with any flawed character. Put enough relatable negative traits in there and you’ll stay with her/him. And with Jessa, this storyline almost validates her poor behaviour in past episodes.

He said: She makes her failings seem like they’re part of some sort of grand philosophy when in actuality they’re just failings. And that’s as opposed to Hannah, who has a grand philosophy that causes her to be such a failure.

She said: [Laughing] That is really good. Holy smokes.  I felt for Jessa. Don’t you ever feel when times get tough–when you work too much, when you have to make dinner and pay the bills–don’t you ever say under breath, SOMEONE PLEASE TAKE CARE OF ME!?!? I think about it all time, how good I had it. And Sometimes you need your parents more in your early twenties than you did when you were a teenager because your parents don’t know anything when you’re 16. You do. And in your twenties, there’s that realization that they’ve lived before you. Jessa hasn’t just learned that but I think she’s mourning the fact that she missed out on being taken care.

He said: And there’s that idea that Hannah has abused her parents so much with her constant manipulating and scheming and over-analytical selfish bartering that she can’t even pay her parents a genuine compliment without them perceiving some sort of really perverse selfish motive behind it.

She said: She’s got to need something. I LOVE that the mother is the mom from Freaks and Geeks. I never caught that in the first season.

He said: That’s because we hadn’t watched Freaks and Geeks yet.

She said: That’s true. Anyway, she’s great in those few moments as Hannah’s mom when she makes it clear that she’s not going to fall for any of Hannah’s bulls–t. That was really funny.

He said: It was also very funny when they are driving around, doing whip-its, acting crazy. Sort of like this moment where they are trying to recapture a bit of youth and it sucks.

She said: Adults trying to be like kids.

He said: And later on you see Hannah being so “grown-up” about the sex she had with the step-brother in the cemetery. They’re kids trying desperately to be adults. The problem is, there is nothing exterior in the culture that is going to make you be an adult. Even the characters we’ve seen who are sort of successful, like Thomas-John, who is the ultimate example of somebody who has done all the possible things that someone could do to become an adult on paper and is still ultimately still a fucking kid.

She said: That reminds me of the way Jessa lied to her dad about how her marriage with Thomas-John ended, as though it was all his fault–he didn’t take the vows seriously or even try to fix it. That’s bullshit. There was nothing to fix because it was an impossible relationship.

He said: People get to a point where that’s not really a lie that you tell to other people but it’s a lie that you tell to yourself.

She said: And she probably believes it, saying it, which is something we’ve all certainly done. You say lies or exaggerations out loud and suddenly you think they’re true. It’s quite sad.

He said: There’s also funny bits of back and forth–and it’s childish but also totally acceptable–where Hannah asks if the rabbit they’re eating is the same rabbit they were cuddling with earlier. And Jessa is basically like, ‘Grow up and eat it Hannah; it’s food.’ There’s that cynical, very jaded adult side of Jessa, which is terrifying, because you get the feeling that she never had the chance to be a kid.

She said: That’s true. I also wanted to say how sad that delusion is that Jessa’s father is labouring under–that he needs to keep all those old computer hard drives and he can’t have a cleaning service because somebody might want to steal his ideas. And we know that he probably hasn’t had one of those in a very long time–not one worth stealing at least. That was depressing. And I wonder if there’s something–and this is something that I remember my dad talking to me about before, which is kind of weird–but that there’s nothing written that says we have to like our parents. We don’t have to. You wonder if Jessa would be better off without that struggle of trying to create a relationship with her father where one never existed, really, before. Should she pursue it?

He said: There’s obviously a void though, and when you need to fill a void like that you don’t think rationally about what’s going to fill it. You just think in the most linear way. And I think that’s how people function. And obviously parents are expected to provide certain things and there’s pressure for them to do it. And when kids find out that they’re lacking something–you remember when she’s laughing, sort of, when she tells that obviously very ugly anecdote  about being little and her father is throwing steak at her while she’s sitting in a corner?  It just seems so natural that her dad would be the source she would go to for blame and for comfort. He’s the first logical choice.

She said: And then she leaves.

He said: But that seems to be her character’s MO–there’s nothing shocking there.

She said: Ammo?

He said: MO–modus operandi?

She said: Oh, yeah. MO. Cool.

He said: [Shaking head]