Girls – Iowa – Review

Mark Rocks

‘The only way to grow is up.’

That’s the tagline for this, the fourth season of Lena Dunham’s critically acclaimed and often reviled TV series Girls. It’s an undeniably exciting prospect, as the idea of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshana taking more responsibility for their actions is in stark contrast with the humiliating life experiences they’ve accumulated in the first three seasons. And while I have no doubt that the four protagonists are going to develop a lot in this season, this premiere episode didn’t show that much growth at all.

At the end of season three Hannah was finally offered a place at the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Marnie was having an affair with her singing partner Desi, Jessa became the carer for an aging artist and Shoshana was getting ready to graduate from college.  ‘Iowa’ would have worked quite nicely as the season three closer, as instead of opening on Hannah in her new surroundings, we are instead shown her final couple of days in the city before she leaves. She has dinner with her parents (a scene that was no doubt filmed to demonstrate how much Hannah has gotten her life together since the pilot), and reassures Adam both that his career is moving in the right direction (it’s not) and that long distance relationship will be good for them (it won’t).  In many ways, it made sense to start the episode at the end of Hannah’s time in the city. Like it or not, she’s the heart of this show, so to begin season four with her far away from her friends might have been too jarring for an introduction.

While it may seem like Hannah has her life together for the first time in four seasons, the only moment when she seems entirely full of doubt is when she’s sleeping with Adam.  Sex scenes are always utilized to expert levels in Girls, and the clear juxtaposition in ‘Iowa’ is between the silent, stilted sex of Adam and Hannah and the heated, surprising sex of Marnie and Desi. Marnie’s downward spiral has extended far longer than I initially expected it to, but it’s transformed from an extremely awkward character shift (yes, I mean that Kanye West cover) to a surprisingly natural one.  The choices she’s making seem to be driven solely by how they are going to make her feel, which is somewhat admirable given that prior to her meltdown in season two she was clearly living her life for everyone else. Would it be easier to like her if she wasn’t hurting other people in the process? Sure, but in real life you can never please everyone, and for that reason Marnie is quickly turning into the most relatable character on this show (whether you like it or not).

Shosh wasn’t a major player in this episode, but with her college career no longer something that sets her apart from the other three friends, she’s the character with the most to lose in season four.  She’s always reminded me of a slightly more manic Marnie, and I have a feeling she’s going to end season four the way Marnie started season one; in a relationship, with a good job and relatively happy with her life (upon writing this down, I realise it’s wishful thinking. Hopefully not).  Jessa is also gearing up for a fall, and her rant at Hannah perfectly sums up the collective fears of all four friends.  While Hannah may see her move as an incredibly brave thing, Jessa sees it as “pussying out”, as abandoning the myriad issues she’s gathered in New York to ignore them in Iowa.  It’s clear that Hannah is concerned about these issues as well, and I have a sneaking feeling that when she finds out what her true motives are she won’t be in Iowa for very long.

Given the many controversies Lena Dunham has faced in the last year, it makes sense that she would open the fourth season of this, her most popular creative exercise, with a light and inoffensive half hour. Relationships are re-examined, and the girls are placed in their respective roles once again.  The only way to grow is up, and these four girls clearly have a huge ascension above them.

Favourite moments:

1. I’m glad my prayers to get Ryan Murphy’s ‘New Normal’ cancelled worked because it means Elijah and his acid tongue are back on Girls! “Those are the laziest bulimics you will ever meet.

2. Marnie’s mother singing along to her daughter’s folk ballad, while showing off her knuckle duster iphone case.  Just in case she needs to straighten out any hecklers, I assume

3. Natasha Lyonne playing a role she’s been playing all her life; “Awesome woman who makes poor fashion choices.” Her diatribe against Jessa sounds like something Lena herself has heard many times, and I’m sure it was hard for some viewers to hear (this one included).

Rating: B+

About Mark Rocks

Hi there, I'm Mark! If you need me, I can usually be found writing about pop music while I wait for the next Girls Aloud reunion.