Tuned In

Girls Watch: She Takes the Cake

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, wear something nice, get all your estranged friends together and watch the season finale of Girls.

“Your dreams are not what you thought they’d be!” —Jessa Johansson

If one line sums up the spirit of Girls‘ season finale it’s that. No one is exactly where they thought they’d be at the end of this season, or exactly where I expected to find them. (Well, maybe Shoshanna and Ray, since her losing her virginity seemed to be her arc this season, and their hookup looked preordained a few episodes ago.) Jessa’s wedding is the big surprise of the day, of course, except in the sense that doing wildly unexpected, impulsive things seems to be standard for Jessa. But more than that, “She Did” ended the season on the theme of being surprised by your own life and your own desires—discovering that, just as you can fall in love with someone who first disgusts you, you can also get precisely what you’ve wanted and find that it terrifies you.

You could say that theme of going in unexpected directions is true to an extent of the series itself. The series has always been a comedy, but the pilot started off as something darker than the series developed into over ten episodes. For starters, it became more straightforwardly comic and funny, even slapstick, than the examinations of humiliating sex and unemployment the show began with. The remainder of the series didn’t have as purely strong a run of consecutive episodes as the first three, which I saw before the season began—but, as the series developed more of a light, even occasionally romantic touch, it also became a little easier to take. Girls became something a little different, a little more unpredictable, but if I see a better new series than this one this season, I will be very happy.

The final episode of the season left questions open as to how the story and relationships might head next year, but it also did an excellent job fusing Girls’ comedic and poignant, light and dark sides, as it built to an ambiguous but frankly gorgeous ending. (I don’t know if this was the intention, but it would have worked well as a series finale if it came to that.) And what powered it was the terrific showdown between Hannah and Adam, as we see their positions reversed from those early scenes of booty calls and pedophilic roleplay.

Seen from the perspective of the first episode, Adam’s declaration of love for Hannah might seem like Jessa’s getting married, an out-of-nowhere reversal. But over the course of the season, we see that we’ve known him from a third-person-limited perspective, learning about him only as Hannah does. And while he may still be obstinate and sometimes insensitive, and a little overly familiar in the shower,* he’s also capable of intense feeling and commitment.

* (This episode, by the way, includes one more scene of someone conversing with another character on the toilet, something that might seem to be there for sheer novelty or shock value but also seems to be a running theme in Girls—a way of showing the lack of boundaries among friends and characters, even if they’re closed off in other ways.)

When I interviewed Lena Dunham this spring, after having seen just three episodes of the show, I was surprised when she told me that Adam was her favorite character on the show to write. But now I can completely see it. He’s odd, he’s inappropriate, but he’s not a joke, and he’s not an utter heel. And as he’s become more interesting to watch—Adam Driver, by the way, kills in this episode—he makes Hannah more interesting as well. We began the season wondering why Hannah would tolerate a guy like Adam, but it came to seem that he represented a kind of idealized version of her own life—the artistic stance and self-sufficiency she wants to be capable of.

So when it turns out that he wants to commit, it terrifies her: his willingness to be a bad boyfriend, to see her only in sex binges in his apartment, was a kind of safety that she’s now lost. Every anxiety she has, about her self, her ability to be loved,  her ambitions is intensified by the idea of actually trying to pick a thing and stick with it, even—especially—if that thing is the guy who she “chased like [he] was the fucking Beatles for six months.” Their final blow-up in the street strikes the kind of balance this show does at its best moments, both funny and played totally emotionally straight. (“You think because you’re 11 pounds overweight you know struggle?” “I am 13 pounds overweight and it has been awful for me my whole life!”)

Adam’s last words about Hannah: “She’s a monster.” Is she? One thing that has divided people on this show is the notion of whether we’re meant to root for Hannah or dislike her. These last couple episodes have not made that much easier: we’ve seen her get very ugly in her falling-out with Marnie, and in case anyone wasn’t clear how self-absorbed she can be, this week she tells us that “I’m more scared than most people are when they say they’re scared.” I don’t need a TV character to be good or likeable to like a show—else I would not be counting the days for Breaking Bad—but I don’t think Hannah is a bad person so much as a screw-up, an unformed person. I’ve said it before, I think, but I don’t need to root for her here so much as I root for her to become better.

Which is entirely a possibility. The ending of the episode, besides being lovely—a plangent Michael Penn original song, plus the lonely beauty of Coney Island too early in the morning—takes Hannah down, figuratively, to nothing. She’s woken up, groggy and lost, in a heaven at the end of the F train line where the angels make fun of your belt.  She and her friends are moving forward, she sees, but maybe in different directions. She’s broken up with Marnie and, it seems, with Adam; she’s lost her purse; she has nothing except this sunrise and this cake from her friend’s surprise wedding—and she eats it intently, squinting at the new light, as if she can’t wait to get rid of it.

“You’re forming,” Adam told her, “every time you shed a layer,” and she has shed an awful lot. It’s a beautiful summer morning. It’s going to be a long walk home.

Now for the hail of rice:

* “I think it’s from this expired Mylanta I drank?” Worst excuse ever?

* I kind of regret now that I got married too soon to have my wedding song be “Yankin’.”

* The show is called Girls, of course, but I have to say again just how stunning Adam Driver has been this season. I like Lena Dunham as an actress, but in the way I like a singer-songwriter who writes very well for her own voice and its limitations; I’m not sure I’d be especially eager to see her act in something anyone else had written. So Hannah and Adam’s climactic showdown was effective, but it can be jarring to see the two of them in a scene like this, because he simply works on another level. (That said, I also think that Dunham’s starring in the show is essential to its working—I don’t think I would want to see someone else cover her material here, so to speak.)

* And speaking of singer-songwriters, can whoever is in charge of such things see to it that Michael Penn gets a lot more soundtrack work?

* Thoughts on the surprise wedding? Yes, it seemed to exist to throw a curveball and give the season a climax, but it does not seem out of character for Jessa (who simultaneously is like an impulsive teenager and a woman in her thirties), and the vows just killed me: “Jessa, the first night we met, truthfully, I thought we were going to have a threesome with your friend Marnie…”

* As did, by the way, Shoshanna’s mortification/anger at the wedding: “Everyone’s a dumb whore!” Mazel tov, everyone!