The third season of HBO’s Girls ended on an eerily familiar note – with nearly every co-star’s latest plot trajectory coming to a foreseeable and well-crafted head, while leading lady Hannah (Lena Dunham) found her life thrown into a suddenly new direction by the revelation of some massive information that had not been previously disclosed to the show’s audience – the kind that feels a bit like a cheap trick. The second season utilized this narrative device to drive Hannah into some negative territory, using the season’s final three episodes to unveil a previously obscured secret: that Hannah had suffered from OCD since high school. Although some hints as to Hannah’s condition had been previously evident – a stray comment from Marnie, a weird tic from Hannah – the news came as an unearned shock, and while it initially provided some new plot points for the show to play with, its ultimate payoff seems weak even a dozen episodes on.
The third season finale, “Two Plane Rides,” went the same route, though its seemingly out-of-nowhere plot twist seems like a mostly positive move for Hannah. Hannah’s “career” as a writer has always been central to her identity, even as she’s suffered some big setbacks (oops, your editor is dead), sabotaged herself at a job that involves both money and writing (it’s too bad that advertorials couldn’t satisfy her), and struggled to find time to develop her craft (remember her short-lived plan to write after work?). Which is what makes the show’s big reveal, that Hannah had been accepted to the country’s most prestigious creative writing graduate school program, such a big shock.
When did she apply? Why did she apply? Why didn’t she tell anyone? And, honestly, could she even get in?
What is the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?
It’s the University of Iowa’s two-year residency program, their grad school track for earning an MFA in creative writing. Students in the workshop write a creative thesis – one that depends on their specific aims, from a novel to a book of short stories to a collection of poetry – that ideally results in their receipt of their very own MFA and the ability to brag about being an Iowa grad forever.
Even Marnie knows that Iowa is the very best, making it the sort of thing that would obviously appeal to Hannah’s inflated sense of self in a big way.
Who else has graduated from or taught at Iowa?
Some of the biggest names include John Cheever, Philip Roth, tracy Kidder, Robert Lowell, Louise Gluck, T.C. Boyle, Raymond Carnver (thoug he didn’t graduate), Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and that’s just a small sample of the program’s most distinguished faculty and alumni. Graduates and teachers of the program have so far pulled in 17 Pulitzer Prizes for their work, along with plenty of other writing prizes of varying degree.
Really, it’s the best.
What sets the ideal candidate apart?
As the program’s own website tells it, “each year the Workshop faculty selects a class of fiction writers and poets from a large and impressive pool of applicants. The manuscript is by far the most important part of any application. We do not look for any particular style of writing, but rather for strong work that shows evidence of talent and individuality.” (Emphasis ours.)
Hannah does have some talent, but we’ve seen scarce little that shows that there is something truly outstanding and unique about her work. What could she have turned in that struck the selection committee so much that they had to admit her?
What is the application process like?
Here’s what Hannah would need to submit by January 3 to get into the workshop: a manuscript (we’re betting she’d send in a selection from her never-published ebook), a personal statement (one that includes a big section on professional goals, which Hannah has never been able to clearly define, beyond just being a writer), an official copy of her college transcripts, the application form, some financial aid applications (if interested, though knowing Hannah, she skipped this, expecting her parents to foot the bill), three letters of recommendation, optional GRE scores.
Is there any way Hannah could have done this under the radar?
Sure. She certainly hid her OCD well enough, but that’s a fair bit different. Even if Hannah did this without telling anyone else, how come we never got to see her picking out her manuscript selection or stumping for recommendations (honestly, who would recommend her? her dead editor? Ray? Patti Lupone?) or dealing with getting her college transcripts. Hannah definitely never took the GRE, and there’s no indication she had time to easily gather her materials, at least not without some Hannah-styled drama. Also, if Hannah didn’t have time to even write after her workday, would she really have time to put this stuff together? Hannah suffers from some big motivational problems, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine she’s overcome them for something like this.
Why wouldn’t Hannah mention this previously?
There’s the real rub. Hannah has frequently shown that she is the center of the entire universe, so it’s hard to picture her not letting any of this slip out, either to Adam or Marnie or at her hated corporate job. Hannah is so self-involved and self-aggrandizing that we would expect her to huff and puff about even applying to such a prestigious program. Hannah has never held her professional aspirations close to her vest, why would she start now?
But could she really get in?
Hannah does have some cool credentials, including no less than two book deals (though they were for the same book, and neither ever came through), a kinda cool corporate job that shows versatility (you know, before she quit in a blaze of non-glory), and some fun website credits. She even did coke for a story once! Hell, maybe she could — but we seriously doubt she’d even complete the application process without either a) totally screwing it up or b) telling everyone she knows.
We remain dubious, even as we celebrate the very idea of advancing creativity.
UPDATE: The program’s director, Samantha Chang, chatted with Variety about Hannah’s possible acceptance. Take a look at what she thinks!