Girls Recap: Birthdays, Nostalgia, And The Search For Lost Time

Is this how Hannah pictured her 25th? [Warning: spoilers!]

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If you weren’t too distracted by the mesmerising eyebrows, the Helena Bonham Carter hair or the truly spectacular merkin* that dominated her scenes in last night’s episode, you probably recognised the former child actress who played Adam’s sister. You might know Gaby Hoffmann from Sleepless in Seattle or Uncle Buck or Field Of Dreams. To me, she’ll always be Samantha from Now And Then – a 1995 coming-of-age/reunion movie (and ‘Stand By Me For Girls’ wannabe) that my nine-year-old self found irresistible for reasons beyond Devon Sawa at his dreamiest.


I loved the contrast between the four central characters of Now And Then, as teenage girls and as adults. In the summer of 1970 the sun is bright and the music rules but their futures are unsure; when we see them 25 years later, it’s clear their paths to adult success and fulfillment are fully contained in their teenage selves. Preening, vivacious Thora Birch grows up into movie-star Melanie Griffith, and moody, bookish Hoffmann morphs into writer Demi Moore. At the beginning of the film Sam, also the narrator, cruises back into her hometown quoting, naturally, Thomas Wolfe: “You can’t go home again”.

“[I]n Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.”

I would have sworn Don Draper quoted Wolfe directly in that incredible Kodak pitch scene, almost the last of Mad Men’s first season and probably the best. Either way, the sentiment is definitely there, and it’s echoed in so much of the best TV around right now: the vintage settings desperate to Truly Capture The Era, the protagonists swept into new worlds and cut off from their cosy old ones.

On Girls, that nostalgia manifests as that mid-20s epiphany where you realise that there are no do-overs, and you can’t just recapture the blithe, oblivious bliss of being 18 and invincible – that as life lurches forward, the good moments you’ve had so far fade and are often replaced by shitty or boring ones. People who were once kids with big dreams grow up to be Laird The Addict Downstairs (or Councilman Jamm). Relationships dissolve, and leave a hole you can’t just shove small talk and cigarettes into. Your wild hippie friend from college isn’t so delightful when you’re a little older and semi-responsible, worried and terribly mortal; a little more wise to abstract concepts like “irrevocable” and “ruined”. Your troublesome siblings turn into troubled adults, and for the rest of your life whenever they come to your house and poison its whole vibe you can’t go screeching to mum and dad for retribution.

The nicest thing about this whole episode is that, at the age of 25 — that neat-feeling, quarter-century mark — Hannah seems to have found a sort of peace, for now. The motherly equanimity in her chatter as she cuts Adam’s hair, and in her (also motherly) insistence that Caroline stay, suggests that she’s still in functional-adult mode. It’s awfully tone-deaf of her to ignore Adam’s warnings that Caroline is an emotional vortex – generally in a relationship, the rule is “my family, my call” – but perhaps it’s Hannah’s more settled mindset, looking back at how messed up she herself was a few months ago, and wanting to help.

The scene of Hannah listening sympathetically to Caroline is a neat mirror of the earlier scene where Adam gives his exasperatedly kind advice to Marnie. Marnie is quickly becoming to Hannah an echo of what “Liney” is to Adam: a link to the past, and a destabilising force.

In fact, this whole episode has an ominous feeling to it. Hannah’s party starts off full of old familiar faces (Tako with a K!), and takes a turn for the worse when her editor David, an agent of change in her new phase of life, shows up. Ray can’t cope when his Smashing Pumpkins reverie — no doubt inspired by the well-loved t-shirt worn by his dying boss (SNL alum Colin Quinn) at the beginning of the episode — is interrupted by the crass present in the form of ‘Sexy And I Know It’. Jessa doesn’t have a single line. Marnie can’t ask Charlie to take her awful video** down, and she won’t listen when Hannah tells her in the clearest possible terms that She Does Not Want To Sing Things From Rent, so humiliation ensures all round.

So yeah, it’s not where they would have pictured themselves four years after graduating college. Thanks, Shosh.

And when Adam and Hannah are alone and have a lovely moment, it’s obvious that all hell’s going to break loose. When it does, it’s in Hannah’s bathroom, where the Q-tip incident happened — only this time it’s a fistful of glass. It’s highly unlikely that the unbalancing will end there: Caroline is apparently around for a few episodes, so we can probably expect some grim insights into the Sacklers’ childhood to destabilise Hannah and Adam’s lives even further. (There’s also that whole Natalia thing, which they haven’t dealt with at all and is probably biding its time under a rug somewhere.) Adam, of all the characters on this show, is probably the one who dwells least on the past; every time we find out more about him, it becomes clearer why nostalgia isn’t something he indulges in.

* Of course one doesn’t like to make assumptions; if that’s actually Hoffmann’s natural shrubbery, more power to her.

**Amazingly enough, the song, ‘What I Am’, is actually a cover – and as Salon points out, exactly 25 years old.

*** Oh, and this is what Devon Sawa looks like now. Some things really were better in 1995.

Girls season three screens on Monday nights on Showcase.

Caitlin Welsh is a freelance writer. She has written for The BRAG, Mess + Noise, FasterLouder, Cosmopolitan, TheVine, Beat, dB, X-Press, and Moshcam. 

Follow her Girls recaps here.