On the Small Screen: The season finale of ‘Girls’

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The first (and only) line of Hannah’s e-book reads, “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.” This line seemed totally out of place in the context of the second season of HBO’s “Girls,” in which we have seen the four girls drifting apart and abandoning each other. Hannah struggled to further her writing career, and to deal with her unravelling mental state, while Marnie attempted to find a new direction in “the worst year of her life,” Shoshanna got caught up in her new relationship with Ray and Jessa completely vanished, deserting her friends and her life in New York. In the season finale, it is not in their relationships with each other that the girls find comfort and support, but in their relationships with men.

This episode seemed to be in a rush to tie up all the loose ends, and although it was nice to see the characters happy, it all seemed somewhat artificial and contrived. Marnie’s heartfelt speech and reconciliation with Charlie was followed up with a shot of them strolling glamorously arm-in-arm like a Maybelline ad, oddly inserted into a scene straight from a rom-com in which Adam ran shirtless through the streets to rescue Hannah, accompanied by swelling dramatic music. We were surprised it wasn’t raining to complete this rom-com cliché.

The storyline with Marnie and Charlie was unsettling. The power dynamic in their relationship has shifted, leaving us feeling uncomfortable with the new gendered roles they have taken on. Charlie has become sexually confident, financially stable and no longer emotionally dependent on Marnie. Their positions have been reversed, and it is Marnie who is now powerless and needy. It is painful to see Marnie, formerly the most sensible and self-possessed of the girls, now reduced to looking up to and relying on a man somewhat desperately. There was no suggestion that she was any closer to figuring herself out or finding a new direction in her career or lifestyle, but perhaps this is a more authentic representation of twenty-somethings.

Hannah’s OCD was rather abruptly introduced towards the end of this season, seemingly out of nowhere. This felt like a wrong turn — the greatest appeal of the show lay in Hannah being representative of an everywoman character that girls could relate to, in spite of her selfishness and self-absorption. However, now Hannah has become alienated, as the audience can no longer easily identify and empathize with her. Instead we feel sorry for her, without the emotional connection that made this show so powerful and groundbreaking in the first place. The focus on her increasingly unstable mental state functioned to distance her from the target audience, and what was before seen as an unexpurgated portrayal of human flaws is now dismissed as a result of her OCD, which serves to diminish her strength and power as a character and as a representation of our generation.

Although Shoshana’s break-up with Ray showed us a woman being strong and asserting herself, it also didn’t feel quite right, as we were aware of her cheating on him and lying about it a few episodes before. We couldn’t invest in this bold, self-confident Shoshana because we doubted if her decision was based on her own desires or her guilt. It was also disappointing to see that instead of finding satisfaction in her own independence, the last we see of her is hooking up with a random guy at a bar.

As we reached the end of the episode, all of the characters seemed happy and content, but there was something disconcerting about it. Yes, we are given the fulfillment of the romance fantasy with Hannah being rescued by her shirtless hunk and Marnie settling down happily ever after, but it was unsatisfying to see the characters fulfilled by their relationships and encounters with men, rather than by their friends, careers or their own autonomy.

Was this the result of Judd Apatow’s input? This is the first episode since season one that Apatow co-wrote with Dunham, and there was a noticeable difference. This finale was certainly more conventional, more Hollywood than last season’s eating-cake-alone-on-the-beach ending. Although there may have been an immediate sense of satisfaction after watching the couples we know be reunited, looking back, this ending felt wrong. Perhaps this is what Lena Dunham wanted all along.

This season, Dunham has shown herself to be profoundly aware of the cultural impact of the show and conscious of the ways in which she could provoke the audience and generate discussions. Maybe that’s what she was aiming for with this episode’s grand, sweeping gestures and safe, cliffhanger-free ending. Maybe Dunham wants us to question whether we are satisfied with this fantasy fulfillment — should we want it, and is it okay for television to shamelessly offer this kind of an ending to viewers of our generation? Are we really convinced by this rom-com ending? Is it really that both Hannah and Marnie know there is no better validation for yourself than proving you are still loved by an ex-boyfriend, whom you quite brutally broke up with? Following her rejection by her parents and this season’s regression to a childlike dependency on others, does Hannah really want to be with Adam, or does she just want to be rescued? Perhaps by leading viewers to question their reactions, Dunham is attempting to liberate viewers from their faith in and reliance on a romance plot.

Contact Meadhbh McGrath at [email protected].