I get a special kind of joy watching the girls of Girls deal with their families. It’s always nice when Hannah’s parents are around, but I specifically enjoy the one-off episodes where we leave NYC for family time, like when Hannah visited her hometown in Season 1 or the episode in Season 2 with Jessa’s dad in the bumblefuck countryside.
It makes for a very relatable, unique setup. It’s a different kind of suffering when family comes to visit you and they’re on your turf. When you have to go visit them, there’s the regular awkward horribleness of family with the added horror of being trapped with them in a situation that you have no control over. Where you go and what you do is mostly left up to the family you’re visiting and you’re invariably going to spend the bulk of your time there in their company. It’s a highly concentrated dose of family, which can be awfully goddamned intense.
And it doesn’t get much more intense than the situation presented in “Flo.” Hannah’s mom summons Hannah to—well, I’m not sure where exactly, but it seems to be somewhere in upstate New York—because her grandmother is dying. Nearly the entire episode takes place in the hospital or the grandma’s house with Hannah’s relatives constantly present. Specifically, it’s Hannah’s mom, Loreen (the continually awesome Becky Ann Baker); two of her aunts, Margot (Dierdre Lovejoy) and Sissy (Amy Morton); and her cousin, Margot’s daughter, Rebecca (Sarah Steele). It’s kind of weird Hannah’s dad isn’t in the episode (surely he had some kind of relationship with his mother-in-law), but the setup allows for the episode to focus heavily on the dysfunctional relationship between Hannah’s mom and her sisters.
Margot and Sissy seem like Hannah’s mom halved into two people and amplified. In the dynamic of Hannah’s parents, Loreen is often the hard-ass, but she also clearly wants to nurture her daughter’s artistic side, so Sissy is the hippy-dippy one who’s unmarried and unemployed, while Margot (whose husband is incarcerated for insider trading) is pissed off and drinking all the time. Margot’s character is a little thin and seems largely defined by inserting “fuck” liberally into sentences, but the fun comes more from watching the sisters (dys)function together rather than learning about who they are individually anyway. Plus, Margot’s played by the Assistant State Attorney lady from The Wire! How cool is that!
This is also a great Hannah episode. Aside from enduring her mom and aunts’ behavior, she also gets some great scenes with her cousin Rebecca who is going through the motions of trying to connect with Hannah but makes no effort to hide her hatred of her. Rebecca is a humorless character and all her conversations with Hannah are awkward and hilarious exchanges of bitterness. These culminate in an argument in Rebecca’s car in which Rebecca claims that when they were kids, Hannah forced Rebecca to touch her “chachi.” That this argument will climax in a car crash is telegraphed and kind of forced (surely one of them would’ve thought to glance at the road even briefly?), but it mostly gets away with it because of how it is to watch Hannah annoyingly pawing at Rebecca, saying, “There’s chachi all over my hands.”
Hannah’s moments with her grandmother are also good as they manage to be sweet while still highlighting Hannah’s pseudo-inability to be properly emotional in these kinds of situations. When Grandma Flo says she has pneumonia, Hannah replies, “Fuuuck. Grandma, that’s the worst.” Adam also gets roped into the proceedings when he has to drive up to make sure Hannah’s okay after her car accident and then feels obligated to, at Hannah’s mother’s urging, lie to Grandma and tell her he and Hannah are getting married. These are all funny situations, but they also lead to some very frank, ominous scenes where Hannah and Adam are forced to truly consider the future of their relationship as well as one conversation in which Hannah’s mom weighs in, gravely, on what life with Adam might be like: “It’s not easy being married to an odd man.”
With the last three episodes I’ve been tossing out the high ratings kind of will-nilly, but this 5 out of 5 is the realest of the real. I’m never going to stop extolling the virtues of these short-film style, non-NYC- based episodes that Girls does and “Flo” is a fantastic example of why they’re so awesome. With a downsized, localized storyline, the show can ignore the heavy lifting of juggling plot threads and stay focused on the comedy and dramatic tension that always flows so perfectly and authentically from its characters. Simply put, people getting pissed off at each other coupled with sporadic moments of sweetness is a huge part of what initially drew me to this show and “Flo” is a big, fat hunk of that good stuff. I’d call it the best of the season so far.
Oh, and lastly, I love the final moments of this episode. That shot of Hannah standing in the middle of a crowded New York City sidewalk confused and uncertain whether to go forward or back again feels like a very deliberate and accurate depiction of pretty much everyone in the 20-30 age range. Or maybe even just everyone.