Last night, Girls wrapped up its fifth season with a two-part finale, and in keeping with the slightly more grown-up vibe the series has been rocking this season, there were no cliffhangers, no easy resolutions, and no dramatic reversals.
Shoshanna’s post-Japan existential crisis proved to be short-lived, as she quickly gets back on her feet by organizing a rebranding for Ray’s Coffee House. I’m sympathetic to the idea of the anti-hipster coffee shop, maybe because I recently stood in line for coffee behind a guy who rejected the usual paper cup, stating, “I have a strong preference for glass, ceramic, or stoneware.” I still haven’t recovered.
But Ray was too busy basking in the return of his other ex to focus on the rejuvenation of his business. As improbable as Marnie and Ray are as a couple, with his overbearing self-righteousness and her complete self-centeredness, Marnie is as much of a straight shooter as Ray and Ray is as vain as Marnie. I loved Marnie’s “love dream” — it’s so very much of this show and of this moment for Marnie to see the desire for sex as entirely shameless and normal while somehow managing to be surprised by her own desire for love. It made sense that Marnie was paired briefly with Elijah to explain this newfound drive, as his entire story line with Gil this season has been leading up to a similar realization, and Gil’s rejection was as warm as such a tender feeling deserves. (Presumably this means we’ll be saying good-bye to Corey Stoll for good, which is a hell of a bummer because he’s been love dream material all season long.)
As fun as it was watching Elijah commiserate his loss with the elder Horvaths, I have to say, I’ll be disappointed if Loreen and Tad break up — but not because I want Tad to stop exploring his sexuality. So often, conversations about queerness and marriage frame the developments of the last decade or so as a massive reimagining of the institution of matrimony itself. But while people are now allowed to marry regardless of the gender of the person they love, the norms of marriage have changed very little. The idealized marriage is a partnership that encompasses romantic, sexual, and congenial love, and it lasts through sickness and health, until death do us part. In a typical fit of selfishness, Hannah tells Loreen and Tad that they’re depressing, but as their daughter, maybe she’s not in the best position to judge the viability of the decisions they make.
It can be hard to acknowledge the full humanity of our families, especially if you’re fortunate like Hannah and your family is a stable one. We don’t live in a society that readily offers unconditional emotional support or interest-free financial fallbacks — when our families show signs of instability, there is little in society and even less in the state that will offer comfort in their absence, and it can be unavoidably destabilizing when your parents stop occupying their role as your parents and simply become fellow human beings. Are Loreen and Tad depressing? I don’t think so. I think it’s possible their relationship is the most transgressive on the show, and as much as Hannah talks shit about squares like Fran, she’s being a bit of a square about her parents. Loreen and Tad are trying to construct a relationship that fits them as co-parents, friends, and lovers beyond the expected roles of husband and wife and mother and father. Is it tragic to seek the different kinds of love you need from different people, or is it tragic to hold on to the ideal that one person shall be held accountable for all of your needs regardless of their ability to fulfill them?
The problem of relying on one person to care for all of your needs strikes Jessa and Adam hard, and the pressure of Caroline’s baby and isolation from their friends boils over after hints last week that paradise has its limits. If we spent much of this season with Adam and Jessa as they explored the boundaries of each other’s generosity — in bed, in love, in platonic support — this fight was a test of boundaries, too. Jessa refuses to let go of her attachment to Hannah and her resentment at being the one who betrayed her friend. Her fight with Adam escalates into physical and emotional violence, and they destroy Adam’s apartment — breaking lamps, throwing bikes and porcelain at each other, pushing each other around, and screaming and trading insults.
For a brief moment, after he has beaten a hole in the door like The Shining — no ax necessary — Adam relents self-consciously, questioning for a moment whether he’s gone too far. But Jessa’s capacity for ugliness can’t be overestimated. These characters understand each other like few others really can, but this episode was a look at the trade-off that comes with finding comfort in someone who shares your same tendencies.
“I’m sorry if I scared you.” “Oh, I’m not scared.”
Jessa and Adam are fighting about their principles, boundaries, and unacknowledged anger throughout their fight about Hannah, but, naturally, Hannah only hears the parts that pertain directly to her.
Hannah started the episode tying loose ends: kicking Fran out of her apartment and quitting her job at the school. But her plans for aimlessness are rerouted by an encounter with Tally, a wildly successful fellow Oberlin alumna and old rival.
Is Tally supposed to be terrible? I can’t tell, because smoking weed with Jenny Slate seems like it would be such a blast that I can’t be objective, but if Tally was introduced in the first season as a cartoon villain, this episode was a kind of Behind the Music, giving us a portrait of the human being behind the success story. I was just starting college when the first season of Girls premiered, so when Tally was introduced, I assumed that Hannah’s competitiveness toward her was a universal experience — I’m finding I still can’t relate. If you’re doing original work, what’s the point of getting jealous of someone else’s success? But if I didn’t understand when I was younger that original work isn’t competitive, I also didn’t really understand that Hannah’s work isn’t original, and neither is Tally’s. I think the first time I heard someone give Tally’s speech to Hannah about letting her life inform her writing was on Gossip Girl, and regardless of pedigree, it rang as hollow here as it did there. There are places where Hannah’s writing and Lena Dunham’s writing sharply diverge, and Hannah and her circle’s insistent focus on personal experience is one of those divergences.
They might make a show about self-centered people, but Lena Dunham and her co-showrunner Jenni Konner clearly have creative interests that expand to the world beyond them — and if Hannah and her spiritual sisters are seemingly trapped in a cycle of myopia, Girls as a TV show has been able to explore the joys, weed giggles, pink highlights, and impromptu dance parties of female friendship alongside the frustrations. And what better way to honor female friendship than with an homage to female friendship manifesto Now and Then? Girls has a reputation for exploring feminism and complicated women, but it’s just as concerned with human behavior and narrative storytelling, situational comedy and existentialism. This mostly outstanding season has proven that Lena Dunham still has something to say with this series even five years after its premiere, but as Girls prepares for its final season, it’s time to start asking the same questions of its characters. After spending five seasons watching her do nothing but take, are we ever going to find out what Hannah has to give back to the world?