25 April 2016
I was a season one Girls hater, for all the reasons why so many people stopped watching Girls after that zeitgeist-busting debut. When I try to explain to one of said people why modern day Girls is not only worth returning to but might just be one of the greatest televisual creations available to the modern consumer, I understandably get some pushback. The trick to overcoming the skepticism is to explain one thing: Girls approves of Hannah Horvath no more than you do. The heroine who seemed meant, at least in season one, to embody Lena Dunham’s brave voice of millennial strife is a brutal narcissist, a self-righteous flake and just plain childish pretty much all the time. Late Girls works in large part because it’s become increasingly clear that the writers don’t condone this behaviour. This is not a cut and dry voice-of-the-author show like most star-run vehicles are assumed to be; Dunham is not Horvath and it’s therefore acceptable to like Dunham’s show and detest the character she plays. The other characters certainly do.
Permission to judge Hannah is like a gateway drug back into Girls; it gives you room to appreciate the other characters, even if they’re in opposition to the lead, it opens the door for the show to examine larger cultural phenomena (gentrification, unemployment, the generation gap, culture of competition) without defaulting back to a privileged white girl as a “victim” of said phenomena, it places Girls in the top echelon of feminist entertainment not for the bold sex storylines, the number of women on screen, or the occasional issues-based monologue but for the simple fact that we’re expected to watch Hannah even if she’s neither hot nor admirable (when nearly every leading woman on TV is expected to be both).
Happily hating Hannah, I’m impressed with modern Girls often. The writing in the past few seasons has been fantastic (how fun was that season premiere!) and the ensemble has settled into their deeply defined roles beautifully (it’s telling that superstar-on-the-rise Adam Driver still calls the show that discovered him home). But every once in awhile, Dunham and her team take away that aforementioned permission to judge and it’s when they manage to make this work- to carve some kind of sympathetic humanity out of their cautionary tale- that the magic really happens.
Girls takes a relationship built on the general consensus that Fran is “all in all, a great guy — and an inevitably wonderful heart that Hannah is going to somehow find a way to break” (quoted from the great Marc Snetiker’s EW recap of the season 5 premiere) and zooms in until we see something completely different without really changing anything. It places petulant Hannah in the way of an easy-to-root-for, seemingly meant-to-be romance between two beloved characters then turns us to her perspective with my favourite line of the year: the loaded, heartbreaking “I love them both so much I don’t know who to warn about the other one”.
I hate Hannah and, 99% of the time, I believe it’s my hatred of Hannah that makes room for my love of Girls but that 1% (okay, maybe it’s more than that) is when Girls isn’t just something I enjoy, it’s something I grapple with and am knocked over by and can’t get out of my head.
In last week’s two-part season finale, Hannah finally freed herself from a (sneakily) toxic relationship, connected with her former nemesis (Jenny Slate in a brilliant reprise of a long-forgotten role), gained some key perspective, took a major career step forward, got a (Much Needed) wardrobe makeover, and, most importantly, forced herself to be the bigger person in dealing with the Jessa & Adam of it all. I worry that this growth may push the show’s sixth and final season into “Hannah’s really not that bad” territory that might put a strain on the magic but complaining about character growth is the last thing I want to do so good on Hannah.
Marnie, however, not so much with the growing. She’s back hooking up with Ray (whom I still believe belongs with Shoshanna) but now she claims she loves him. I doubt Marnie is capable of love so… we’ll see.
Speaking of Shosh, she had an awesome season. Used sparingly as all great, broad supporting characters should be, Shoshanna had one big feature episode that lovingly captured her year in what felt like her motherland but was actually just Japan. Forced home because “emigration is hard” (Girls making a comical but notable point about the crippling immobility of the modern citizen, specifically American citizen), a lost and overqualified Shosh finally finds her place helping remake Ray’s Cafe as an anti-hipster haven. Shosh with her shit together is one of my favourite characters on TV so I’m so very psyched to see said shit getting back together.
And now at the end… Jessa. This was a big season of growth across the board (except Marnie because she’s Marnie and her story is one of regression if nothing else) and Jessa was no exception. She went back to school with a clear career path, she dedicated herself to AA, she kept her head and stood up for herself in dealing with crazy, unfair, selfish Hannah… she embarked on a relationship that seemed like a good idea. But the thing about Jessa is the same as the thing about Adam- the self destruction is a chronic condition they can never grow out of. The absolute destruction of Jessa and Adam was a brutal, perfect, pathetic, true thing that came from the very heart of who these people are and yet still caught the audience by surprise. Their slow dance, deep dive and ultimate crash might just have been the most startling and stunning season-long relationship arc I’ve seen.
Amidst this knock-down, drag-out fight, Jessa says of Hannah “I will never be done with her”. Jessa had finally put her foot down with Hannah’s needy, manipulative, draining, total crap friendship. She’d taken a romantic leap for herself, knowing Hannah would never forgive her. They appeared done forever. But the best friendship between Hannah and Jessa is true love and that runs deeper than anything, or at least it’s supposed to. Hannah is so so hateable but my Girls love is true so I, too, can never be done with her.