The usual cast of characters gets thrown out the window this week; it’s all about Hannah and her relatives. When it looks like Grandma Flo will die, Hannah’s mother, two aunts and cousin gather at the hospital. What follows is a shockingly useful and somewhat accurate portrayal of the bad behavior that ensues when family members are put together for long periods of time in an exceptionally stressful situation. The consistent blindness to others’ needs and emotional immaturity on display give a sense of how Hannah could have grown up (if we can even use that term) to become who she is.
Speaking of Hannah’s mental age, doing a regular recap won’t work this week because we don’t have the usual group of girls. Instead, let’s explore four key moments that inform us about this family.
Arguing over belongings is par for the course. When a relative dies, especially a parent, there will be squabbles over who claims each item. It makes perfect sense that items like the heirloom engagement ring elicit multiple shouting matches. But the first time we see the woman doling out shares, they’re not talking about Grandma’s furniture: they’re talking about her medication. I almost physically recoiled when I realized what was happening. Think about what it must be like to be raised by people so disconnected from their feelings that they have to ensure they’re all equally drugged.
The other young person present during this experience is resentful cousin Rebecca, who is eager to stress how diligently she is working to make it through med school. Though her educational endeavors suggest that she is quite a bit more informed than Hannah (who doesn’t know where the femur is), she’s no smarter in terms of basics like looking at the road while driving. Her main differentiator, however, is her forthrightness. Where Hannah has been raised to be extremely self-conscious, Rebecca has an almost supernatural confidence, saying exactly what she thinks without a moment’s doubt as to its validity. It’s weird to think that Hannah could have turned out like her. They have the same foundational capacities, just turned in very different directions.
We learn at the hospital that Hannah’s mother is exceptionally observant. It doesn’t seem as though she’s met Adam many times, and yet she has a laser-accurate read on who he is, not to mention the perspective to assume who he’ll become. Her talk with Hannah about the downfalls of marrying an odd man is filled with the wisdom and regret of someone who has walked that path. She loves Mr. Horvath, but she knows what that entails, and she thinks her daughter can do more. Not surprisingly, Hannah would rather wither and die than listen to good advice, not because she doubts her mother, but because taking that suggestion would mean admitting that she was wrong, which triggers all of her insecurities at once.
First off, can we talk about the fact that June Squibb was nominated for an Oscar? What is she even doing here? But secondly, the character of Grandma Flo is essentially a blank mask. She says only the blandest things, asking for a cheese sandwich or saying that the secret to soft skin is “hand lotion,” and yet she gets the whole world projected onto her. She ruined her daughters. She was wise and sweet. She wants to hear about Hannah’s fake engagement. Everything we know about the woman, we know from what someone else said, usually in anger. I can’t tell if that’s bad writing or great writing.