The art historian Meyer Schapiro wrote that while certain artistic conventions are very culturally specific (the dragon as emblematic of good luck in China versus the English St. George slaying an evil dragon) others are universally understood due to a shared psychological predisposition.
Now what does an art historian have to do with this episode of Girls? Well “Sit-In” starts off with a wonderful shot by Tim Ives, a frequent Director of Photography for Girls, where Hannah (Lena Dunham) stands off to the left, making a face that could be described as smelling rancid milk while trying to hold back tears, and looking down off screen engaging neither Adam (Adam Driver) nor the audience. An off center composition has been identified as a commonality for art made by emotionally disturbed children because it conveys a destabilized discomfort, which funnily enough is exactly how Hannah feels upon returning from Iowa to find Adam shacking up with Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs).
The fanciful montage of Hannah in a taxi heading back to New York at the end of last week’s “Cubbies” feels so far away from her current reality. Nobody is in the wrong because it’s unrealistic for Adam to have waited the projected two years for Hannah to return, but it still stings that he moved on so quickly. I object to the title of “Sit-In” because I think it devalues the historical weight of Civil Rights sit-ins, especially in light of the show’s notable lack of diversity, but I’m sure Hannah would see the difference in magnitudes as negligible. My political grievances aside, I think writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman did a mostly convincing job of telling Hannah’s breakup by hitting some notes that are often missed in the breakup story. For example, this episode is almost entirely a bottle episode, or one that takes place in a confined location, and Adam is missing from the story except for the beginning and the end. This atypical plot structure allows the audience to get re-acclimated to the NYC crowd by a communal response during Hannah’s time of need.
The confined setting is enlivened by a parade of Hannah’s friends who show up to support her as if her mother just died. Shosh (Zosia Mamet) comes over and plays up the role of the ‘true friend’ greeting Mimi-Rose with, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care to know and that’s all I have to say about it.” Later the now pregnant Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) and Laird (Jon Glaser) appear in Hannah’s apartment and subtly offer a threeway as emotional support. The move to lighten the tone works by shaking up the pacing and not by completely buying into Hannah’s overblown doom and gloom.
Every one of the main cast stops by to pay Hannah a visit, yet what truly relates the show’s cynical tone of voice is that that almost every character shifts the conversation to be about themselves. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) relates Hannah’s unjust breakup to his frustrations with the city council board he joined as per Shoshanna’s advice, even rambling on after Hannah yelps from a bacon grease burn. The only one who doesn’t do this is Jessa (Jemima Kirke), though it turns out she was the one who introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose. Jessa’s compassion for Adam marks a clear shift in the dynamics of this friend group and belies perhaps the first sincere relationship we’ve seen on her part so far in the show.
Tim Ives does a great job with shakier handheld camera work than we normally see on Girls that makes Hannah confinement to her apartment a more dynamic experience. In addition to the cinematography, the inclusion of so many other characters makes us forget we’re stuck in an apartment and deftly draws us out to their respective lives across the city. This more dispersed focus certainly makes the episode more enjoyable, but her friends’ support and Adam’s consistently considerate behavior made me lose some sympathy for Hannah’s stubborn behavior.
The final few minutes of the episode contain both the strongest and the weakest points of the episode. When Adam finally returns to find Hannah ready to move on after watching an inspirational talk online by Mimi-Rose, the two have an honest discussion that bring’s Hannah’s meltdown into perspective. As Adam re-wraps Hannah’s burnt hand, he finally echoes what Marnie (Allison Williams) said earlier — that they probably weren’t meant to be a “forever couple.” Adam Driver’s few scenes this episode were all superbly acted, but he really tugs at the heart strings when telling Hannah he needs to see where this Mimi-Rose things goes. I felt the final scene, however, where Hannah settles on her couch in the claustrophobic storage room Adam bought for her to the tune of an overwrought indie ballad was overdone. Strong directing, acting and writing coalesce into a compelling and relatable episode, but I hope the break-up doesn’t mean Girls breaks up with Adam Driver.