Hannah Horvath’s pregnancy has been Girls’ most confounding plot device yet.

Is Hannah Horvath’s Pregnancy a Narrative Dead End—or a Stroke of Dunham-ian Genius?

Is Hannah Horvath’s Pregnancy a Narrative Dead End—or a Stroke of Dunham-ian Genius?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 2 2017 11:00 PM

Is Hannah Horvath’s Pregnancy a Narrative Dead End—or a Stroke of Dunham-ian Genius?

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Pregnant Hannah Horvath.

HBO

There are some TV shows that are fun to fight with. Girls, now just two episodes from its series finale, has always been one of those shows. More people argue with it than watch it. Provoking, poking, willfully irritating, it wants to get a rise out of us, and it usually succeeds. Since Hannah Horvath discovered she was accidentally pregnant and decided to keep the baby, I’ve been arguing with it furiously. I’ve watched the pregnancy storyline unfold with a megaphone marked “JUDGMENT” sitting next to me, picking it up occasionally to yell “booooo” while tossing popcorn at the screen. I do not think Hannah Horvath would or should be having this baby. Have I been giving quarter to my inner mean girl, bitchily certain that Hannah, as ever, is doing it wrong? Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think Girls thinks Hannah Horvath should be having this baby either—which doesn’t mean she’s not going to have it.

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Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

Hannah found out she was pregnant after going to the emergency room for a urinary tract infection. The doctor who informs her, and does so ungently because he thinks she already knows, is none other than Joshua (Patrick Wilson), the man Hannah spent an idyllic-until-it-wasn’t weekend with in “Poor Man’s Trash,” which still sits atop the “Girls episode to generate the most hot takes” leaderboard. Joshua and that weekend were like a hallucination of grown-up life, an alternate, maybe future reality in which handsome men who know how to give orgasms live in leafy, brownstonian splendor and everyone, even Hannah, cleans up after themselves. When Joshua immediately offers to arrange an abortion for Hannah, it’s like an avatar of maturity deeming her still childish. Joshua assumes she is so wholly unprepared to have a child that she doesn’t even need a second to consider her options. Hannah’s initial reaction is unconsidered too: What does that guy know? She’s having the baby.

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In the following episodes, in the classic manner of Girls, characters have said especially odious and awful things to Hannah that are not necessarily untrue. “I’m going to say this to your face because no one else will have the guts to: You’re going to be a terrible mother,” Elijah says, before apologizing and agreeing to help raise the baby. Hannah’s mother, meanwhile, takes Hannah’s pregnancy as a personal affront, one that will forever remind her of her own looming mortality, in case you didn’t think Hannah came by her myopia honestly. Marnie is more accepting, talking about Hannah’s decision to have a baby like it’s an accessory, a good look. Before Hannah even knows she’s pregnant, a writer, played by Tracey Ullman, tells Hannah that having kids and writing is basically impossible.* The only person who seems sanguine about Hannah’s choice is the actress playing the Hannah role in Adam’s movie about Hannah, which is like getting positive reinforcement from your doppelganger. All of these horrible reactions have effectively insulated Hannah’s choice, pushing off the question of just how foolhardy she’s being by foregrounding how nasty everyone else is. God, these people are mean. What do they know? She’s having the baby.

There has been something extremely liminal about the whole story line, both as a character development and a plot device: What exactly is Hannah thinking, and, also, what exactly is Girls doing? Are they really going through with this? Girls has never been neutral about its characters’ choices. This is at the heart of most misunderstandings about the show, the idea that in portraying selfish, grotesque, privileged behavior, the show is co-signing said behavior, instead of lampooning it. But it has been genuinely difficult to read the series’ feelings about Hannah’s pregnancy, because Hannah’s response to getting pregnant, unlike her response to most everything else, has been relatively passive. She’s not having an abortion, not moving apartments, not saving money, not making any concrete plans. Meanwhile everyone else bounces off the fact of her pregnancy like a deranged pinball.

Then came Sunday night’s episode, “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?,” an installment so dreamy I think it tipped Girls’ hand: Things are about to get gnarly. As he did at the end of Season 2, when he literally swept an obsessive compulsive disorder–suffering, Q-tip–wielding Hannah off her feet, Adam swoops back into Hannah’s life like Prince Charming. He finds her at the bodega and tells her he wants to get back together. He misses her. He wants to raise her baby. Since coupling up with Jessa, Adam has been as feral and chaotic as his girlfriend, usually in his underwear, losing his temper, maniacally laughing, fetching yogurt, and moving the furniture around for sex stuff. But in this episode we are reminded of the existence of grounded, protective Adam. He immediately sets about making the baby real. He sweetly listens to it in the womb; he worries about what Hannah is eating; he starts listing the things they need to buy; he makes plans. In one afternoon, he takes this inchoate possibility and turns it into a reality: a baby that moves, that eats, that needs a place to sleep.

And so we arrive at one of the loveliest and most confusing scenes in Girls history. Sitting across from one another at a diner, seemingly as coupled as coupled could be, Hannah and Adam start talking about finding a new apartment together. Adam brings up artist housing. “They tend to favor married couples though, so it might help if we did that,” he says. Hannah counters that it might be time to join the food co-op. Adam says he could do all the shifts if Hannah does the bills. And then Hannah begins to cry.

At first, as Adam smiles at her, it seems that she is moved, crying tears of relief and gratitude. She’s not in this alone anymore. But as Hannah continues crying, it seemed to me that something else was happening: The spell was breaking. They had a wonderful day, but it was just pretend. They were playing at being grown-ups who have a sweet, vanilla sex life and do things like get married, join the food co-op, and pay their bills. But in one afternoon, they cannot fix all that is dysfunctional in their relationship or themselves. They can’t even fix the air conditioning in Hannah’s apartment.

They don’t talk about it, but something changes. “What does the rest of your night look like?” Adam asks, when moments before it seemed a sure thing they would be spending it together. Hannah says she’s going to do some writing. Adam says he’s going to the grocery store. He ends up back at his apartment, where Jessa—who has had her own sad day of falling back into old behavior that no longer works, trying to forget Adam with casual sex—smiles to herself because she knows he’s back.

I haven’t seen Episodes 9 or 10, so I could be all wrong: Maybe Hannah’s tears are of happiness and Adam’s back at his apartment to hash things out with Jessa. But I find the possibility that Girls would use Hannah’s pregnancy like a plot device in an old-fashioned sitcom—and then there was a baby, and they lived happily ever after!—as likely as Lena Dunham suddenly being beloved by everyone, everywhere. (I also can’t believe that Girls would replay the most controversial aspect of producer Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, in which an accidentally pregnant heroine doesn’t even consider getting an abortion, totally straight.) I’m never going to be wild about the pregnancy storyline—I stand by my TV-given right to find the behavior of fictional beings implausible—but there would be something deeply provocative, and therefore deeply Girls, about ending the series on the most clichéd sign of maturity, motherhood, without bestowing any actual maturity on the mother in question—or having that maturity twistedly express itself with, say, Dill (Corey Stoll) adopting a Horvath. With two episodes left, we’re either headed somewhere sweet or somewhere really twisted. I know which I’m rooting for.

*Correction, April 3: This article originally misspelled Tracey Ullman’s first name.