Girls has come to an end, which will be a great relief to some of you and an enormous disappointment to others. I interviewed Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner about the final season, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as I sign a contract in the womb saying I’m heading for Six Flags…
“Do you think your mom wants to tell you to do her homework? No. But that’s her job.” -Hannah Horvath
Girls and Breaking Bad don’t have a ton in common beyond being critical darlings that aired on Sunday nights, but I can’t help but think of the end of the latter while considering the conclusion of the former. It’s not the actual finishing point, since Hannah Horvath’s story has a much happier ending than Walter White’s, but the way each show used its final stretch of episodes to provide multiple kinds of endings.
There are still Breaking Bad fans who treat the despair of “Ozymandias” as that show’s ultimate conclusion, and others who wish the action had stopped right before the Nazis showed up in the desert in “To’hajiilee,” and others who wanted all the closure that the actual finale provided. With its own home stretch, meanwhile, Girls provided a trio of endings to suit three different versions of the series.
If, for instance, you considered the show primarily a love story between Hannah and Adam, then you got your ending, albeit a sad one, two weeks ago when they enjoyed one last giddy day together before recognizing that it would never work over the long haul. If you watched Girls as an ensemble comedy about a group of friends making their way in the big city, then last week’s “Goodbye Tour” was your proper conclusion with the way it illustrated how the four women had drifted apart, and with happyish endings for Shosh (engaged, and moved on to a new batch of friends she likes more) and Elijah (a Broadway leading man, so long as he can get the choreography down), after Ray apparently got his own the week before. “Goodbye Tour” also concludes Hannah’s time in Brooklyn, and the montage contrasting her last New York party with her move into her palatial new house upstate would have been a fine note to end the series on.
Those interpretations of what the series was about are perfectly fair, even if Hannah and Adam haven’t been together since the end of season three, and even if the four Girls were (per Dunham) all in the same room together only a dozen times over the life of the series. But Girls as a whole has been primarily concerned with the maturation, or lack thereof, of one Hannah Helene Horvath, and that question wasn’t entirely resolved by the time she skipped town to start her improbable new life as an college professor(*).
(*) Academics are understandably mystified by someone with Hannah’s resume (not to mention her persona and potential to invite many lawsuits) landing such a job. An adjunct or visiting professor gig? Sure, but a full-time job with benefits and a salary good enough to help take care of her son and pay for her to live in such a nice house? That’s one of those implausible things TV shows do when they have to give characters dream jobs at the end of the run; see also Tami Taylor (a high school guidance counselor who was out of work for much of her adult life, and who lost her previous job due to scandal) getting hired as dean of admissions at an Ivy League-esque college. Though more people on Twitter seemed to think Hannah’s job offer was less realistic.
“Latching” isn’t purely a Hannah solo piece, of course. There’s baby Grover — Hannah using Paul-Louis’ name idea, probably because she assumes it’s the only piece of fatherly advice he’ll ever offer — and Marnie turns up at the start to announce that she will help Hannah raise the boy, both because she has nothing else going on and because she has outlasted Jessa, Shoshanna, Elijah, Adam, and Ray in the Hannah Horvath Friendship Olympics. And Laureen arrives late in the episode when Marnie needs to call in reinforcements after realizing just how all-consuming the job is.
But the core of the finale is Hannah coming to grips with the reality of the choice she made in becoming a mother, and the way that it has finally forced her to truly be an adult for the first time. She wants to make this work — her intentions are so good and pure, in a way they so often haven’t been in the past — but Grover isn’t latching, she and Marnie are starting to drive each other crazy, and Hannah feels very much alone. Taking care of a baby is physically and emotionally grueling under the best of circumstances, by someone at peak emotional health surrounded by the other parent and supportive friends, family, and/or nannies. Hannah and Marnie seem to be mostly doing okay with it, but there’s so much pressure to breast feed(*), and as a result to feel like she’s truly bonding with her son, that you can’t blame an exhausted, overwhelmed Hannah from feeling like an utter failure because she can’t do this one task. She lashes out at Marnie for singing along in the car radio (finally giving voice to the corner of Girls fandom who could do without so much of Marnie singing), and, even worse, completely unloads on her mother about Laureen spending most of her life married to a gay man. It’s a rough moment in a relationship that’s never exactly been the warmest and kindest from either perspective, but the outburst actually does some good, as it inspires Laureen to talk Marnie into moving out to figure out what to do with her own life, rather than repeating a version of Laureen’s mistake with Tad.
(*) The parenting class my wife and I took before our first child was born did a Nursing Vs. Bottle Feeding class, which consisted of us watching a pair of videos representing each side. The nursing video was long, colorful and happy, full of one testimonial after another from moms who felt closer to their babies because they nursed them, and could extoll all the additional health benefits it provided. The bottle feeding video was short, filmed on an overcast day with the production values of a Soviet industrial training film, and, if I recall correctly, had only a single testimonial, from a sad-looking woman who kept trying to uptalk her way into believing the script about how she could never get her baby to latch, eventually switched to the bottle, and realized that this was kind of okay if it was her only choice. I am assuming both films were secretly produced by Big Nipple.
And while Marnie and Laureen are bonding and opting to give Grover some formula, we get to witness the full Hannah Horvath Experience one last time, but differently from before. Yes, she winds up in public without any pants on, draws the attention of law enforcement, and doesn’t even seem to get through to the girl whom she mistakenly thought she was saving from assault or abuse. But as she’s scolding the girl for not listening to her mother on a relatively low-stakes issue like doing homework ahead of schedule, she finally comes to grips with the important, all-consuming nature of the job she has taken on as mom to Grover. It’s a lovely bookend to the opening scene of the series where Hannah shrugs off her own parents’ objections to what she’s done with her life, but never too self-consciously sentimental because it’s presented with the usual dose of awkward humor and semi-nudity. That she’s then able to go home and successfully nurse her son is perhaps too symbolic, but it also feels emotionally earned, and the perfect, simple note to conclude the story of Hannah’s transformation from Girl to Woman. This isn’t the life she might have dreamed of — she’s not writing, though I imagine she’ll be pitching a single motherhood memoir by spring semester — but she’s content with the choices she made, and finally strong enough to do it on her own up in the woods, just her and Grover.
Between the title, the pedigree (being put on HBO Sunday nights is still a big deal), the “voice of a generation” line in the opening scene (which was meant to be making fun of Hannah, but interpreted as believing in her) and all the hype around Dunham herself, Girls was expected to be all things to all people, rather than the very specific, frequently uncomfortable story of this one woman who very clearly didn’t have anything figured out about life, romance, or what she could be whenever she decided to grow up. Those expectations — and, if I’m being fully self-aware, some of those early reviews — did the show no favors, and the series at times could be as imperfect as its heroines, particularly as it morphed back and forth between the three different versions of itself represented by these final three episodes. But it had full command of both its own voice and Hannah’s far more often than it didn’t, and it could be thrilling to watch the series evolve right along with Hannah, like how much Dunham improved as a dramatic actress, or seeing how tonally ambitious some of the later spotlight episodes like “The Panic in Central Park” and “American Bitch” could get.
Girls was never designed to be the big, divisive deal it became. It was, at heart, a pretty small and simple coming-of-age story, filtered through the sensibilities of Dunham, Konner, and Apatow. And the ending — particularly the way the closing credits played without music (other than Hannah singing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” — which she’d earlier objected to when Marnie sang along with it in the car — as a lullaby) and just focused on the sounds of Grover eating and Hannah whispering encouragement — was very small and intimate and entirely on point.
Girls could have ended many different ways, and kind of did over these last few weeks. But “Latching” sure felt like a proper, and lovely, conclusion to our time with Hannah Horvath.
Some other thoughts:
* So, indeed, Ray and Adam’s final appearances were two weeks ago, and Elijah, Jessa and Shosh’s were last week. Everyone more or less got closure, but they mostly just drifted away, rather than getting big farewell scenes with Hannah. That’s the way life works, but it’s not usually the way a TV show works, and is reflective of the way Girls tended to go back and forth between being Hannah’s story with the others as accents to it and being a more pure ensemble. Had Ray always existed on the fringes, for instance, it would feel less weird that he and Hannah didn’t interact at all this year.
* A nice touch for the final opening title sequence to feature a collage of so many different Girls logos from over the years.
* Marnie Michaels, simultaneously nurturing and vain: when the doctor says that Grover is the perfect weight, she beams and coos at the baby, “That’s like the greatest compliment a person can get!”
* You know, Hannah’s breast pump backpack does make her look a little like a Ghostbuster. And casting Lena Dunham in that remake would have elevated all the “Stop ruining my childhood!” teeth-gnashing to a whole other level.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org