A review of the penultimate episode of Girls coming up just as soon as I show up dressed as a member of the Teen Mom cast…
“We were all just doing our best.” –Hannah
“The best was awful.” –Jessa
It’s funny: the title and the marketing of Girls have often made the show appear like the story of a close-knit quartet of friends navigating their way through young adulthood and life in the big city, but that’s never really what the show has been about. All four women weren’t even in the same room together until midway through season one, and according to Lena Dunham herself (as part of an interview running next week), there have only been 12 scenes across the entire series, counting the engagement party here in “Goodbye Tour,” to feature all four of them. (She knows it’s 12, “Because I have OCD and I don’t care for the number 12.”)
This makes sense if you step back from the poster images and think about who these women are, how they met, and how they feel about one another. Hannah became friends with Marnie and Jessa in college, but the other two have always hated each other, and Hannah has had extended rifts with both of them. Shosh is Jessa’s cousin, but Jessa has always treated her awfully, and Shosh is both slightly younger than the other three and has very different interests. In many ways, the question isn’t why we haven’t seen them together more often, but why they stayed even loosely connected for as long as they did.
“Goodbye Tour” is primarily about Hannah saying farewell to New York and most of the people she cares about there as she prepares to take a teaching job at an upstate college, and to the phase of her life when she was a young woman trying to make it in the big city. While walking around the campus, she discovers she’s already become the awkward adult who tries to seem cool to the kids, and while shopping back in Brooklyn, her attention is drawn by a pair of enthusiastic girls new to town who can’t help but remind her of how excited she felt to be here once upon a time, before recognizing, as she admits to Elijah, that “New York hasn’t brought me anything but misery.” This is the right move for her, both as a mom-to-be who needs a stable income and benefits and as a woman who has never entirely figured out what she wants to do with her life, but has found some personal satisfaction and success from teaching. (And if she assigns Goodbye, Columbus to college students, it’ll raise fewer eyebrows.)
But the heart of the episode comes from the climactic sequence a the party celebrating Shosh’s engagement, which Hannah is stunned about because A) She wasn’t invited, and B) She didn’t even know Shosh had gotten engaged. Of the show’s major characters, the final season has certainly done the least with Shoshana, who outside of a subplot in the second episode has barely appeared, and usually as a minor player in Ray’s story. That’s a shame, given how good Zosia Mamet has been over the years, and how Shoshanna has had one of the more interesting evolutions of the four Girls, but the fact that we in the audience also had no idea she had gotten engaged, or was even seeing someone, does serve as an effective way to not only put us in Hannah’s shoes for the party, but to illustrate how far removed she’s become from the whole “gang,” if said gang ever really entirely existed. She’s mean and cold here, but her rant about wanting to be friends with “pretty girls who have jobs and personalities and purses” speaks to how she never really fit in with the others, and became their distant fourth-place member out of circumstance more than anything else. The friends you make in college, or in the years immediately after, can stay with you for life, but usually some of the friendships fade, or end so abruptly it can be surprising that you were close in the first place. Of the three friends I spent the most time with in my mid-20s, one I see as often as is possible given that we live in different states now, one I keep swapping texts with about how we really need to get together if our schedules can ever align, and one I simply lost touch with through no fault of either of us. That’s life, and these final Girls episodes are transitioning Hannah, and the others, from one phase of it to the next.
So when Marnie demands a group meeting in the bathroom — a surprising number of key Girls scenes have taken place in bathrooms over the years — to fix whatever problems exist between the four of them, it’s already a lost cause. Even when everyone was seemingly at their friendliest (say, circa “Beach House”), there were still fundamental tensions that were never going to go away, and they’ve grown worse due to both time and various actions and omissions, like Jessa dating Adam or Hannah never telling Shosh about her pregnancy. They were never all BFFs; Shosh is just blunter and nastier about admitting that than she or the others have been in the past.
The unexpected miracle of the failed bathroom parley is that it does heal one wound, and seemingly the deepest of them, as Hannah and Jessa both cry and admit mistakes were made by both parties. It’s not a bygones-be-bygones moment suggesting they’ll be fully present in one another’s lives again — Hannah’s still moving away, and Jessa’s still with Adam, and that will never not be awkward on some level for all three of them — but it’s an acknowledgment that they still matter to each other, and that’s enough for now. Lena Dunham’s been getting some really meaty dramatic material to play these last few weeks, and she knocked it out of the park again here; the writing and directing skills were already there from the start of the series, but she’s really grown as an actress, especially on the serious side, over these six years.
The goodbye tour concludes beautifully with a montage that allows Hannah’s two lives — dancing uninhibitedly at a party in a cramped city apartment, then moving into her relatively palatial new house upstate — to temporarily overlap. She is, for the moment, alone (at least until the baby comes), but seems impressively at peace with that: She looks happy to watch her friends go about their business at the party, and when she hugs herself at the end of the episode, it’s not a sad and lonely hug, but a contented one. This isn’t the life she might have planned for herself, but maybe it will be okay?
Though we’ll have to wait for next week’s series finale to see exactly what Dunham and Jenni Konner have in store for the last Girl standing.
Some other thoughts:
* The farewell tour does not include Adam, but last week’s episode sure played like a final interaction, at least as far as the series is concerned.
* More interesting in his absence, for multiple reasons, is old man Ray. I can imagine Shosh being uncomfortable inviting her ex-boyfriend to her engagement party, even if they’ve been getting along well lately. (At least until he started showing interest in Abigail.) And the show has waxed and waned on how much Ray and Hannah care about each other, so it’s not shocking that she wouldn’t go visit him, either to seek his advice on the teaching job or just say goodbye. Still, it’s funny and a bit sad that their last scene together was when her unrequested attempt at oral sex caused him to crash his truck last season.
* Instead, we get the return of Gaby Hoffmann as Caroline, frustrating as ever even as she’s returned to help take care of Sample. As with many things Caroline, her intentions and even her advice are good (Hannah should take the job, and does), but her rationale for it is her own skewed view of the world and herself.
* Does it count as meta if Elijah refers to New York as “the greatest city in the world” if Andrew Rannells was in Hamilton for a while, but not as one of the Schuyler sisters? Either way, things between Elijah and Hannah end on better terms than she gets with many of her other friends, and he gets a happy ending by landing the White Men Can’t Jump musical role. He’ll just have to learn to dribble and dance.
* Esteemed Character Actress Ann Dowd has become a favorite of HBO casting directors the last few years, between The Leftovers, True Detective, Olive Kitteridge, and (Cinemax, but part of the larger HBO family) Quarry. Nice to see her add Girls to the portfolio, even at the very end, as Hannah’s new boss.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com