You won’t ever get me to stop harping on the changes in tone from episode to episode of Girls because it’s the most interesting aspect of the show and a huge part of what keeps it exciting and fresh. “Ask Me My Name” returns to an emotional space the show excels in: horrible awkwardness. Nearly the entirety of the episode is about putting Hannah in the spectacularly uncomfortable position of being alone with Adam’s new girlfriend, Mimi-Rose Howard, and then observing the social suffering that blossoms from that dynamic. That being said, some heartfelt sincerity comes out of the whole mess too.
If there are any problems with “Ask Me My Name,” it’s that sincerity, which at times comes dangerously close to being outright cheesy. Take the opening scene, which has Hannah—having announced her intent to be a teacher in the previous episode—already employed at a private high school. I feel like I should note that, though entertainment media tends to simplify and speed things along, this isn’t wildly unrealistic. First off, she’s a substitute, though every school needs them, and it’s a thankless position no one actually wants. That she seems to have landed at a rather cushy school for upper to upper-middle class kids is a bit more surprising, but then again, it’s probably easier to teach at a private institution than a public one. Hannah even makes mention of the certification needed to get on the public teaching circuit. Sorry, I’m probably boring you, but as someone who stupidly got a degree in English, I admire there’s some attention paid to the details of how these systems actually work.
And as someone who taught English, it also feels real enough that the class is going well and that the students seem to actually quite like her. As I said, there’s a worrying bit of cheese here that everything seems so gosh-darned nice at first. But, simply put, if you’re young and you’re more honest than you should be (Hannah in a nutshell), kids find that quite novel and refreshing. It is, however, kind of corny that she seems to only get funny, clever contributions from her students. Students like that are anomalies.
Of course, being the honest, young teacher makes you cool, but it doesn’t necessarily engender respect. Hannah’s approach works fine in this episode, but, knowing her and this show, I don’t expect it to last.
“Ask Me My Name” doesn’t spend a lot of time in school though, falling into chaos based on Hannah’s hugely unwise idea to, on her first date with a fellow teacher (who’s a guy named Fran because this is Girls), go to Mimi-Rose’s interactive art show. MRH’s show is about walking around a large room hearing scripted stories from various people embodying different characters. Hannah goes with the intent to mock it, but, in truth, it’s not nearly as pretentious or ridiculous as your average weird-y New York art show can get.
I admire greatly how genuinely difficult things are in Girls. Just coexisting with people is hard as hell and, even though she seemingly accepted Adam and Mimi-Rose’s union two episodes ago, the vindictiveness still roiling within Hannah becomes evident. Showing up to your ex’s new girlfriend’s art show with a date on your arm is a terribly bitchy move (one that makes Fran feel so used that he promptly takes off) and a prime example of the sort of behavior the characters of this show exhibit that so turns some people off of this show.
While I don’t admire Hannah for what she does here, it’s great example of what makes the characterization on Girls so fantastic. People are complicated and stubborn. They’ve got a lot stewing inside them and it takes multiple teachings of a lesson they think they’ve already learned for them to truly internalize it. As such, a person who once claimed understanding and acceptance of a situation may pull some passive-aggressive bullshit a few weeks later. Sometimes people don’t even know why they dot the awful things they do, as Hannah admits when Adam asks her why she’s there.
Hannah seemingly reaches another plateau of understanding by the end of “Ask Me My Name” as she’s forced to spend a significant chunk of her night alone with Mimi-Rose. MRH is turning into an increasingly complex and weird character. Her ex-boyfriend, Ace (played by Zachary Quinto) describes her as having Asperger’s (though he also claims it’s a hollow act). Mimi-Rose is off-puttingly detached at times, especially when she schemingly suggests that Hannah might be able to get Adam back through a combination of MRH systematically distancing herself from him and some undefined creative project that could be developed between Hannah and Adam.
Even though this freaks Hannah out, she ultimately comes away believing that Mimi-Rose Howard is a legit personality—someone who puts genuine feeling into her art and actually wants to get to know what makes everyone tick, even if doing so is an uncomfortable prospect. It makes for an interesting disconnect to watch Hannah get on board the MRH acceptance train as that’s where I was an episode ago, but now personally find her odder and more inaccessible.
A stranger part of her life still is her ex, Ace, who is an obnoxious, far-too-energetic hipster who keeps a toothbrush tucked in the corner of his mouth for no good reason. He feels like a real brand of person, not a caricature; he’s just a hugely unlikeable one and Adam gets forced into a cab with him at one point, having to endure Ace’s contradictory insults of Mimi-Rose’s character and proclamations that he’ll get her back. Adam isn’t in the episode a ton, but I do love his role here. He’s the straight man, following the established societal rule that trying to be comfortable with your exes and their exes is a fucking uncomfortable prospect, while everyone around him is acting like it’s the new thing to do. It’s a pretty amazing place for Adam to be, when you think about his character in full over the whole course of the series. He used to be easily the weirdest sonofabitch on the show.
Overall, I dig the uncomfortable space “Ask Me My Name” put me in. It also has some extremely funny bits, like Elijah happily shouting “I’ll do it too!” when Hannah says she’s going to masturbate before her date. I also love the running gag of Mimi-Rose asking everyone she meets their names, since that’s her current obsession/art project, as well as how she manages to make friends with a woman in a Laundromat during the two-minute period Hannah’s in the bathroom. Again, there are some moments of cheese here; aside from the fresh-faced school kids at the opening, bits of Hannah’s heart-to-heart with MRH also made me cringe a tad, but, being a cold-hearted misanthrope as I am, that may just be a personal problem. And, besides, it functions well as a payoff to see these characters find some respect for one another after trudging through a wasteland of awkward animosity.