As Season 3 of "Girls" drew to a close, we left Hannah pondering the possibility of life outside New York. Holding her Iowa acceptance letter to her heart, she clenched her fists and smiled, her fears of being forced to find new friends and a "new place to buy yogurt" seemingly left by the wayside. In the past weeks, she had quit her job and inched ever closer to a final breakup with Adam. The potential of Iowa presented an escape from those failings, but beyond the hope of a fresh start start, there was a palpable feeling of relief in Hannah's ability to admit that she didn't necessarily have to make it in New York.
Really, making it in New York as a 20-something is what "Girls" has always been about. Despite its issues, there have been some truly raw (and occasionally gross) notes, which hit upon that struggle and the self-involvement it requires. But not everyone can build a life for themselves in the city, especially as an artist. Truly, leaving New York is not the same as simply moving ... it's quitting and admitting (at least to yourself) that you really couldn't survive the absurdly high rent of your furnished closet, while traveling to pursue your dreams on a crowded subway that somehow always smells like pee.
Bucking against the pressures of becoming a (professional) writer in New York is the most realistic and melancholy way that Lena Dunham could end Hannah's search for self and adulthood. There is something strangely brave in refusing to participate in the necessity of success found in such a competitive setting. In a sense, Hannah's departure to Iowa would be liberating in its defeat. Given her fiercely egoistic pursuit of a writing career, Hannah's willingness to give up her ideal version of that dream is the closest thing we've seen to character development.
The most flawed aspect of Hannah's hunt for success is her sense of entitlement. After not one, but two (essentially failed) book deals, she is able to find the well-paying advertorial job at GQ, one that any struggling writer would be happy to have, at least as a financial buffer. Surrounded by co-workers who embody the sort of literary accomplishment she has always strived for, one might have assumed Hannah would be bolstered by her company. Instead, she is further defeated, assuming "real" writers would not succumb to such a creatively stifling setting. It is ultimately her conviction that she has some greater right to the poetic life (coupled by a strange dinner party with Patti Lupone and her husband), that lead her to intentionally get fired from the most practical iteration of success she could have hoped for.
Acknowledging that she might need to pursue another path, then, is an epiphany as far as Hannah's delusional dogma is concerned. The realization that she might need another option is largely aided by her crumbling relationship with Adam, but for once her selfish preoccupation with being a writer has been assuaged by a concession. She does not deserve to write books of personal essays. She'll have to fight to be a writer in New York and maybe that means relinquishing certain aspects of the ideal -- if doing anything other than writing doesn't let her "flourish" creatively, perhaps she'll have to begin the struggle in a different zip code.
Of course, that sudden insight won't end Hannah's story. "Girls" has been renewed for a fourth season and when it returns, we'll maybe have to track Hannah to middle America. She'll make jokes about potatoes while on the phone with Marnie. Maybe Shosh will join her for a road trip to visit Jessa (now giving tons of cunnilingus in jail, after being convicted of assisted suicide). But while the arc of the other characters requires a bit more storytelling, there'd be all the more beauty in Hannah's tragically vindicated acceptance of Iowa, if it were the final moment of her story. To watch her grow stubbornly sick of the cornfields by Episode 3 will surely detract from the statement.
When you're done reading, this post will go to the special Internet file for all of the think pieces written about "Girls." It's shoved somewhere between the thighs of a naked Hannah Horvath meme, asking rhetorical questions about privilege, diversity and awkward sex scenes. But of all the clashing opinions regarding the show, there is one that has remained (mostly) unscathed by backlash: Dunham's portrait of 20-somethings trying to make it in New York is the most frustratingly "real" account of what it's like to hunt for success (and adulthood) in such an unforgiving (and expensive) environment. To that end, it has grappled to strive for the pursuit of its own ideal, presenting pain and suffering as an inevitability. Yet, "Two Plane Rides" wonders aloud if there are other options, eschewing its own presentation of prototypical 20-something success and acknowledging that there is, in fact, life outside New York.