HBO’s Girls Highlights a Painful Truth in “The Return”

Before Girls got mired in controversy (it’s too white, it’s too entitled, etc.), what struck me about the pilot were the aspects of Hannah’s life that so closely mirror my own; in fact, in the world of Girls, Hannah is only ahead of me by one year. She has been out of college for two years, purportedly writing her memoirs but really just stumbling through life with her college friends in New York. She has an internship that quickly disappears when she asks to be paid for her duties. Her parents have just informed her that she is cut off; it is time for her to start paying her own way through life. My year of interning away from home is an obvious, hard-to-ignore parallel. But seeing where the comparisons end is at least encouraging – I do not inhabit the same oblivious, self-important world of Hannah. There are some people you encounter and instinctively know: I would never interact with this person or have the occasion to interact with this person in my normal life. We exist in totally different worlds, which makes the show all the more interesting.

This week’s “The Return,” however, hit the nail on the head; it encapsulates my current life in a running time of 30 minutes. (As usual, standard caveats apply; my life is nowhere near as absurd as Hannah’s). And while it is hard to escape the bubble of “this is so me, it’s scary,” it is interesting to see so many others (in particular, television critics that do not share the same traits: older, male) having the same reaction. And their reactions, coming from a place removed from the space Hannah and I both inhabit, resonate even more with what I have long suspected: it’s over. You really can’t go home again, at least home as it was for your formative years. You no longer belong there and in the end, you no longer want to be there for any extended period of time. Take these two, very illustrative breakdowns of what Hannah experiences in “The Return”:

“Sleeping in your childhood bedroom and having your parents take care of you is always a nice fantasy when you’re in your 20s, but at some point, that fantasy has to end, and you have to get back to the process of playing at being a grown-up. Not everything will fit, and maybe someday you go back to the life you once led. But you have to try. You have to give it that shot.” Todd VanDerWerff at The AV Club

“The sleepy, narcotic return to quasi-childhood. The sleeping in and fridge-raiding. The ways tiny things your parents say can set you off (“I said, I wasn’t hungry! You don’t know about me!”–just before said fridge raid). The meeting up with old high school friends and realizing you can’t really be in the same place as before. The evenings in front of the TV; the old room, frozen in time. (Here, with a Goo Goo Dolls poster and late-’90s vintage iMac.)…She’s taking a vacation in her past–the sights, the food, the music.”James Poniewozik at TIME

If you substitute the Goo Goo Dolls poster for a hundred other posters that I refuse to take down then you would have my room. One of the last links to my life of old. The moment that really resonated with me was a shot of Hannah, standing amongst fellow members of the class of 2006, attending a benefit (that she had only just heard of that day) for a missing classmate. I recognize her facial expression; I’ve had it. I enjoy going home and seeing the few friends that I have kept in touch with there. But when it comes to interacting with anyone else from my past in a place I no longer frequent, I feel out of place. It is especially disorienting to be someone that left. There are so many people from high school that just carried on, hanging out with the same people in the same places as if graduation was hardly a blip on their radar.

And thinking back to how I wrote my generic college admissions essay on Garden State and consider it one of my favorite films, I already have an inkling of what the next round of realizations entail (mid-late 20s feelings):

Large: You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Large: You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

So I will check back in on the final step (of home no longer feeling like home) probably after grad school. Instead, what do I plan to do this summer? Take an extended vacation into my past…because I know it will be one of the last chances I get.

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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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