Spoilers for the season finale of Girls follow:
A man gets a call from the woman who broke his heart. She’s moved on. He’s moved on. But now she’s low, despondent, sick and alone. She needs him. He sees where he needs to be, drops everything and runs shirtless through the streets of New York City, kicking down her door to be with her. He scoops her up, they embrace. End credits.
Is this really a happy ending?
It’s shot that way. The story’s told that way. It’s scored that way, with a romantic closing song by fun., the band employing Lena Dunham’s paramour. And it may be that Dunham, who directed the Girls season finale, meant us to take it entirely that way: as a closing moment of uplift after a season that had taken some dark turns. But Dunham also, as the co-writer of the episode (with Judd Apatow), gives us plenty of evidence to believe that Hannah and Adam are a really, really terrible idea right now.
Look at the journey Hannah takes to make that fateful FaceTime call. Struggling with OCD, isolated from her friends and up against a hard deadline, she reaches out to people one by one to support her, bail her out or, in so many words, clean up her shit for her. (As she says in her self-pitying but perceptive confession to Laird, she’s struggling with being at the point in life where she’s the one who has to sweep up the broken glass.) She appeals to her editor, to her dad, to Laird, and by voicemail to Jessa.
Each of them in turn—excepting Jessa, who’s not there at all—tells her to get it together herself. But… Adam. Adam wouldn’t ask that of her, right?
Right. So yes, you could read the closing moments of the second season as the end of a romantic comedy, in which our heroine and hero realize, after all their wandering, that they are meant for each other. Or you could see it as Hannah, needy and wanting to be served, reaching out to her fifth choice—who is having his own relationship issues because his girlfriend is uptight about being called a whore—in order to re-establish their relationship on its most toxic terms. Maybe the best symbol of that is Adam’s kicking down a door that Hannah, in her tent of self-pity, could have opened for him: except that on some level, she needs to have him take agency and kick the door in, and he, on some level, needs to be the guy kicking in her door.
Where I ended Girls’ first season moved by the powerful, brilliantly written and performed breakup scene—Hannah confessing her fear, Adam opening a vein of emotion on a city street—I finished “Together” wishing Adam would run like hell in the other direction. I mean, I’m still interested in Hannah and Adam. I like how Dunham has complicated them and made them sympathetic and irritating at once. The continuing achievement of Girls is that we don’t have to like the characters to love the show.
On the other hand, more than any time over the series’ run, I just felt: You are a grown-ass woman with a book deal. Sweep up your own damn glass! And where Girls’ first-season finale was the powerful culmination of several building stories, the season-two finale felt more forced toward its resolutions, after a bracing, adventuresome season that had several outstanding episodes but didn’t some together as well as a whole.
Season two was exactly the same length as season one–ten episodes–but it felt more rushed at the end, with its climactic resolutions seeming to happen less because it was organic than because the season had to wrap up. In part, it may have been the strengths of those individual episodes that worked against the larger season: there were several strong explorations of individual characters that may have crowded out the development of the ensemble’s stories overall. Hannah’s OCD is a case in point: it’s believable as part of her character history and as a present-day challenge for her, but the way it was suddenly dropped into the story, it felt like a way of instantly placing her in a more sympathetic frame without building to that. It was “plausible” in the clinical sense–conditions like that do erupt that way–but that didn’t make it more effective as a narrative choice.
But “Together” did at least pull off a neat reversal, whether intentionally, through rushed storytelling, or both: it gave us a couple of romantic happy endings–Hannah/Adam and Marnie/Charlie–that are, on reflection, quite possibly terrible outcomes for all concerned. (Likewise Shosh and Ray, whom I wish every happiness—separately. In terms of romantic combinations, this show is like the opposite of Friends.)
And that, whether by design or not, does underscore a theme of this season of Girls: that getting what you wish for is not necessarily a great thing after all (be it Hannah’s book deal or Marnie’s hookup with Booth Jonathan). Just as season one ended with Hannah alone, broke and eating her last piece of cake on a beach–and yet felt surprisingly hopeful and filled with possibilities–season two’s rom-com finish does not necessarily portend happily-ever-after. I don’t expect season two’s happy endings to mean a happy beginning for season three. Let’s hope that’s a good thing.