A mere five episodes after “Dead Inside,” the episode in which Hannah was at her most unsympathetic due to her callousness toward her editor David’s death, Girls is back to the death theme already. This time it is with someone Hannah knew a lot more personally–her grandmother–and as a result she at least shows some genuine emotion this time around. The show itself, though, seems to mostly be going through the motions.
This is another one of those one-off episodes that largely takes place outside of the main continuity of the show, much like “Beach House” two episodes ago. If it weren’t for Adam being at rehearsals for his Broadway play, there would be nothing to place “Flo” within the larger context of this season. Unlike “Beach House,” though, “Flo” leaves out Jessa, Marnie, and Shoshanna. The result is a Hannah-focused episode that, while it makes Hannah more sympathetic than she was earlier in the season, is still somewhat emotionally unsatisfying.
The problem is that the “death in a hospital” motif has been done… well, to death. This is true not only of TV, but also of film, literature, even music. The reason for this is that it happens to everyone. We all at some point have to confront death, whether it’s the death of a friend, a family member, or even our ourselves. For that reason, if the motif is done well it can really resonate with audiences. If it’s not, though, it can come across as exploitative.
This episode of Girls was somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t a tearjerker, nor did it really try to be. In that sense, it did not come across as exploitative because it didn’t seem to exist just to try to elicit an unearned emotional response from viewers. That’s a good thing, because Girls has always been a more emotionally nuanced show and it would be a real shame if the writers lost sight of that. But there is little emotional growth during the episode, little new understanding of Hannah as a character. In short, it has very little reason for existing, and combined with the restrained emotion of the episode it leaves the whole thing feeling a bit underwhelming.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things to like about the episode, though. A lot of the family dynamic between Hannah, her cousin, and her mother and aunts is very true to real life. This is especially true of the bickering between Hannah’s mom and aunts over her grandmother’s belongings (even down to her leftover medication). A death in the family has a way of bringing out all of the simmering tensions between family members and can lead to petty squabbling at a time when they need each other most.