We’ve come to expect that when a TV series rooted in innovation and risk takes its final bow, it will do so with a final, grand flourish. The series finale has become a site for elaborate overreaching (Mad Men’s Coke ad bliss out), absurdism (The Sopranos’s fade to black), and dreaminess (take your pick: the Seinfeld cast in jail, the group-hug on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the entire run of Newhart being a dream). How interesting it was, therefore, to see Girls wrap up on Sunday night with what, in this context, is a big surprise: just a well-written and well–acted episode of Girls, without gimmicks or flash.
True, the finale jumped into the future, but it was only five months ahead. Hannah (show creator Lena Dunham) had had her baby — a bouncing, 13-pound boy named Grover — and, for once true to her word, has moved out of New York City. She’s accompanied by Alison Williams’s Marnie, and the trio has settled into a kind of makeshift marriage: two exhausted partners caring for a newborn, with the adults alternately supporting each other emotionally, or squabbling and falling apart. A call for reinforcements was placed, and Hannah’s mom, Becky Ann Baker’s Loreen, arrived to provide an extra pair of arms and a lifetime of wisdom.
The finale — written by Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow — was crammed with funny moments. Dunham was never credited frequently enough with how good she is at layering jokes — very good, old-fashioned sitcom jokes — into Girls. I thought of that as I laughed at Hannah’s dismissal of Marnie’s desire to go into town to see a “live jazz trio”: “The only thing worse than a jazz trio would be a jazz quadrangle.” The exchanges between Hannah and Marnie about the pros and cons of breast-feeding had a Ping-Pong energy.
I really enjoyed a Girls that had been stripped of its most extreme characters. I didn’t need to see Adam Driver bellow as Adam anymore, didn’t need to sit through more of the self-indulgent rudeness of Jessa (Jemima Kirke). This season’s soupçon of Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna was just fine with me — a little of her goes too far. The nice thing about the way Dunham and company structured the end of this season is that the previous episode allowed us to say goodbye to excellent characters such as Andrew Rannells’ Elijah and Alex Karpovsky’s Ray, which gave the finale space to be more of a ruminative mood piece but with spark and fizz.
From the start of Hannah’s pregnancy, when Elijah spoke the truth no one else would utter — that Hannah would probably make a terrible mother — the question hung in the air: Was she capable of growing up and out of her self-absorption sufficiently to take care of a child? The show had been built, from the very start of its run, around the comic notion that Hannah was an infantilized 20-something — her degree of self-involvement was at once the main source of the character’s humor and the frustration of viewers who wanted to give her a kick in the pants.
The finale resolved this by contrasting Hannah’s struggles as a new mom with her maturity in dealing with a bratty teenager she encounters during a nighttime walk. Without banging us over the head with it, the message was clear: Hannah has now separated herself from adolescent angst; she recognized in the teen girl the girl she no longer was.
On this final night, Hannah’s meltdowns seemed like the perfectly reasonable reactions of all first-time parents. It was wonderful of the show to give Baker such a superb final showcase, dispensing advice without turning into a hectoring scold. For me, the biggest surprise of the finale was its decision to spotlight Marnie — the character who, in my experience discussing Girls, has always been the one fans like to dump on. I always found Marnie poignant, underratedly strong and effective as a young woman who wanted to fit into the world rather than rebel against it. As she said this night, pondering why she wants to go to law school, “I f***ing love rules.” How interesting, therefore, to see Hannah come to realize that, of all the girls, Marnie was the one capable of being the best friend at this point in their lives. At the same time, Girls was careful to articulate — through that conversation Marnie and Loreen have while Hannah is off on her stumpy-legged walk — the ways in which Marnie still has to grow and mature without being dependent on Hannah or a man.
If you didn’t like this finale, you can ignore it and look at last week’s episode — which brought together all the main stars of the show — as the “real” finale. I liked this episode a lot; it was so well-constructed, so well-performed, and so sure of its own instincts. Usually when a series ends, I’m ready to close the book on it, leave it and move on to something else. This finale made me want to go back and start watching the first season again, to see Hannah when she was still the bratty young girl she now would advise to “grow up.”
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