A review of the “Girls” season 2 finale coming up just as soon as I diagnose myself from reading Louisa May Alcott…
“You’re here.” -Hannah
“I was always here.” -Adam
A couple of weeks ago, Hannah told her psychiatrist that she couldn’t decide if Adam was “the greatest person in the world or the worst,” and “Together” sets out to show how thin the line is separating one from the other. In the season’s second episode, Adam enters Hannah’s apartment without invitation, and it’s so creepy that she understandably feels the urge to call 911. At the end of the finale, Adam literally kicks her apartment door down when she won’t let him in, and it’s the most heroic damn thing I’ve seen on television in forever.
For a show built on small, awkward, painful moments, Adam’s barechested run to the rescue – reassuring Hannah all the while via Facetime(*) when he wasn’t busy cursing out drivers who get in his way – was unexpectedly thrilling, and kind of a perfect synthesis of so many things “Girls” is about: social anxiety, the way technology transforms the nature and meaning of how we communicate, the struggle to pick a direction and identity in life and, most of all, how the very things that make us great can also make us terrible (and vice versa).
(*) If Hannah and Marnie can ever broker a peace, they may need to revisit their Totem of Chat conversation from the pilot, as I imagine Hannah would very clearly now put Facetime near the very top.
Adam’s arrival at the apartment was one of many full-circle moments throughout “Together” – which Lena Dunham directed from a script written by herself and Judd Apatow – in which characters find themselves back where we found them earlier, but in an entirely new context.
We end the finale, for instance, with Marnie and Charlie as a couple and Shoshanna as a single, just as they all were at the start of the series. But this is a Marnie/Charlie pairing where the balance of power has reversed at least somewhat, as she started chasing him after he had the best year of his life at the same time she was having her worst. Though at the same time, note that it’s Charlie who follows Marnie through the restaurant kitchen, and Charlie who just can’t say no to her despite the many good reasons to, even acknowledging at one point, “Maybe I’m an idiot” for always loving her. At the start of the season, Hannah and Elijah were the ones acting like they were sophisticated adults while Marnie was depressed over her professional and romantic prospects; now Marnie’s the one taking on grown-up airs with her talk about reaching the “endpoint.”(**)
(**) Another callback: before Marnie tells Charlie how she really feels, and he reciprocates, it appears she’s in the middle of yet another situation, like with Booth Jonathan, where she’s discovering that she thinks she’s in a relationship with a man who just thinks they’re sleeping together.
Meanwhile, Ray’s affection for Shoshanna – which a season ago helped cut through her feelings of frustration and loneliness while attending Jessa’s wedding – proves less appealing once she realizes that she’s the only thing in the world he seems to actually like. And the Shoshanna we see at the bar in the final montage (with a blonde guy, no less, despite her earlier protestations to Ray) is a much more confident person than the woman who was terrified of perpetual virginity.
But the bulk of the action, and transformation, revolves around Hannah and Adam. They haven’t been together much this season, understandably. As the episode begins, he’s actually still dating Natalia, who’s apparently forgiven him for what he put her through in the bedroom last week. Where he once seemed to appreciate her giving him directions in bed, now they’re just moving at different speeds – making a go of it out of stubbornness, rather than compatibility, and it’s not a surprise that the next time we see Adam, he’s smashing up the boat he’s been working on since last season.
And Hannah simply starts to run out of people in her life. Between her current bout with OCD and her innate Hannah-ness, she manages to offend her book editor, her father and Laird all in the same day – she’s more productive at that than she is at working on the pages she owes the publisher(***) – and she literally hides from Marnie when she comes to check on her, rather than let her frenemy see her in this pathetic state. (And this is before she butchers her hair, which Adam saved her from doing back in episode 2.)
(***) For a moment, when Hannah announced she was going to write the whole book in a day, I imagined some kind of triumphant montage where she uses the deadline and all the emotions roiling around in her thanks to the OCD and actually writes the damn thing, and writes it well. And then I remembered that I was watching “Girls.”
Laird lays into her for being “the most self-involved, presumptuous person I have ever met,” and what’s remarkable is that we should be feeling such sympathy for Hannah, who’s struggling badly with mental illness, and yet Dunham and Apatow don’t want to let Hannah off the hook that easily; they let her come off badly in the scene to the point where she has to apologize to Laird for not thinking of him as a person. Her flaws may be exacerbated by this OCD flare-up, but they weren’t created by her condition.
And yet despite all of that, Hannah is in pain, and she’s vulnerable, and she and Adam seem to fit together in a way that she never will with Patrick Wilson and he won’t with Natalia. He knows instantly what’s wrong with her when he sees her on his phone (which also means she opened up to him about her condition in a way that she apparently hasn’t with anyone else but her parents and Marnie), and he knows to literally drop everything and come running. His arrival’s not going to be a cure-all, but Hannah Horvath could sure use a friend in this dark moment, and she’s either lost or chased away all of the others.
There’s an endless debate that applies not only to this show, but to “Enlightened,” “Louie,” “Nurse Jackie,” and a lot of the other cable half-hours, which are classified as comedies because of length rather than content. There are moments in “Together” where I laughed – at Ray grabbing the Andy Kaufman cutout on his way out of Shoshanna’s apartment, and at Hannah’s hysterical (in every sense of the word) voicemail message for Jessa, to name two – but this was a very dark, serious home stretch for the season. This is not a bad thing at all unless we get hung up on labels, because what I’m asking for most out of my television shows is to make me feel something. With a more traditional comedy, that feeling is joy and mirth; with a thriller, it’s tension and fear; with a straightforward drama, it can be heartache.
“Girls” makes me feel many things – sometimes with simultaneous, conflicting feelings, like the way I find myself irritated with Hannah at the same time I empathize with her – and that concluding sequence with Adam and Hannah was one overflowing cauldron of emotion. I need some time to let it sit with me, but that was one dazzling piece of filmmaking: at once a bundle of familiar tropes and something that felt wholly new and exciting and moving.
Looking back over it, “Girls” season 2 felt a bit choppier than the first, with a number of the character arcs probably better suited to the classic 13-episode cable season rather than the 10 HBO gives this series. But holy cow did it conclude beautifully, in a way I imagine is going to sit with me for a very long time as I wait for season 3.
Some other thoughts:
* Well, now we know why Lena Dunham’s hair has been so short during the hiatus. Usually, but not always, an actress wears a wig for a butchering like this, but Dunham cut her own hair on camera.
* I love the way that even in a fraught moment like dumping Ray, Shoshanna’s always worried about how she comes across. She understandably loses her temper with Ray at one point, but immediately stops herself and returns to a more muted tone of voice because she doesn’t want to seem like someone who yells in this situation (or ever).
* Some nice understated work by Colin Quinn (an old friend and sometime collaborator of Judd Apatow’s) as the owner of Grumpy’s. Hope we see more of him next season, assuming Ray actually takes the Brooklyn Heights job now that impressing Shoshanna is out of the equation.
* On his way out of Shosh’s apartment, Ray only grabs his Andy Kaufman cutout, because of course he does. The only way that beat would have been funnier is if he had started acting out this joke from “The Jerk.”
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org