That “Girls” Finale

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Wow. What a way to end a season.  The sight of Adam running through the streets bare-chested on his way to rescue Hannah at the end of “Girls” was one of the most thrilling moments on television this year.  And so unexpected, because you would never expect Lena Dunham to embrace such a hoary cliché.

Dunham, of course, knows exactly what she’s doing.  We’ve seen this scene at the end of a million Hollywood movies. In fact it’s one of the very oldest tropes in film: the hero saving the damsel in distress.  But it’s exactly because we don’t expect something so conventional from her that she can employ it so such good effect.

But here’s the difference between a Hollywood movie and a Lena Dunham TV series. If this scene – in which he kicks down her door and lifts her in his arms from the bed where she has been immobilized with OCD and self-pity – had occurred in the concluding moments of the show’s FINAL season, it would rightly be perceived as a feel-good sell-out to all that “Girls” has stood for.  But we know the show is returning to HBO for a third season, so this particular climax will soon be followed by the rest of their lives.  Just as there’s no “they lived happily ever after” in real life, there’s none in an ongoing TV series either.

I’m pretty sure Dunham is using this episode to send up the whole genre of the Romantic Comedy anyway.  The episode was entitled “Together” and it’s not just Hannah and Adam who are together at the end.  Now that Charlie has become an App mogul with more than 10,000 MAUs (whatever they are!) Marnie wants him back.  We can’t be meant to take their reunion too seriously.  It’s one thing when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan overcome obstacles to find true love, but it’s an entirely different thing when a couple of callow 25-year-olds go through the same motions.

Consider this dialogue, which could have come out of a Grade B Rom-Com:

Marnie: “I want you.  I want to see you every morning and I want to make you a snack every night and eventually I want to make those little brown babies and I want to watch you die.”

Charlie: “That’s all I ever wanted to hear.  I love you.  Maybe I’m an idiot for it, but I always have.  Everything good that I try to do I did because of you. Etc. etc.”

Marnie: “I just want you to know that I don’t love you for your money.”

I love that line, “I want to watch you die,” which is just the kind of slightly bizarre endearment that Marnie would THINK she should say in her new role as Hollywood heroine, because she’s been putting on and taking off personae (e.g., lounge singer and art scene hostess) all season long and always saying things that are just a little bit off

Oh, and Charlie, when someone volunteers that they don’t just love you for your money, hold onto your wallet, because as we saw two episodes ago, Marnie had zero interest in you until Shoshanna told her that you had sold your app for A LOT of money.

(Before we pivot back to Hannah and Adam, I want to make a mental note to complain to my wife for never once making me a snack at night.  Does Marnie think this is a thing wives do?)

The jury is out on whether Marnie and Charlie are really right for each other, because if Charlie lets her push him around again, Marnie will certainly lose interest again, but it’s finally clear that Adam and Hannah are soul mates.

I have mixed feelings about Adam and Hannah getting together again.  Hannah has been in a slow but increasingly serious downward spiral for two seasons now. She’s alienated her friends, found out that her writing isn’t really that good, and now has developed full-blown OCD, with accompanying self-mutilation tendencies.  She needs to grow up and learn to stand on her own, but instead she calls and asks her father to bail her out again, and his refusal to do so precipitates a serious meltdown.

Getting back together with Adam gives her yet another crutch, and yet, if she has a mental illness she actually does need a crutch.    Adam’s greatest act of heroism isn’t the dramatic dash to her apartment; it was in instantly recognizing that her OCD had returned just by glimpsing her in an iPhone video chat.  They are clearly simpatico.

When “Girls” premiered last year there was a lot of discussion about how this was going to be “Sex and the City” for Gen-Xers, but despite featuring four female friends on adventures in New York City, no two shows could be less alike: one is a fantasy and the other routinely grinds our face in the muck of reality.  “Girls” is more like “Louie”; both are shows with seriously flawed and frequently unlikeable characters who are stymied by the city and flummoxed by life. The two shows also have an unsparing approach to sex. Neither Louis C.K. nor Lena Dunham are conventionally attractive but they don’t hesitate to show off they bodies or engage in messy, squirm-inducing sex.  No one is glamorizing sex on these shows.

If possible, Hannah is more unlikeable and confused than Louie and it’s to Lena Dunham’s credit that she can maintain our interest in a main character who you can’t stand.  She’s selfish and self-absorbed; she can’t stop thinking about herself yet has no real self-insight.  And she apparently doesn’t have the talent she thinks she does. She finally gets the long-sought book deal and is incapable of delivering anything worth publishing.  She’s hardly the first writer to get rejected, but instead responding with discipline or fortitude (as you know the actual Lena Dunham would have in real life), she collapses.

In the end, I can’t object to the deliberately over-the-top rescue scene.  Not everyone has the inner strength to survive on his or her own and if she needs emotional support, Adam is perfect for her. They are both damaged but Adam has both the inner strength and true artistic sensibility that she lacks.  What a great and unique character he is! There’s never been anyone like Adam on TV.  He’s honest to a fault, maybe with a tiny touch of Asperger’s tendencies, and he tries hard to do the right thing.  Maybe next season he will provide the foundation she needs to finally get her act together.  She’s hit rock bottom, and the only place to go is up.

Some other thoughts:

—  Due to self-imposed space restraints I haven’t opined on the Ray/Shoshanna break-up, which seems both sad and necessary.  But in a cast of outstanding performers, Zosia Mamet deserves a call-out.  Remember that she played Peggy Olsen’s gay, sophisticated downtown friend on “Mad Men.” It’s almost unbelievable that the same actress is so perfect as the naïve, timid, seemingly shallow college girl on “Girls.”  She was essentially an after-thought and a bit of a joke in the early episodes of the series, but she turns out to be the one with the self-insight and we care about her a lot.  I’d rather be friends with her than with Hannah or (especially) Marnie.

—  Nice to hear that song by Fun. at as the credits rolled at the end. Lena Dunham is dating the band’s lead guitarist Jack Antonoff, of course, so good for her for including it.

—  Also note that when Lena Dunham showed up at the Grammy’s this year to cheer on her boyfriend she was sporting short hair. Now we know why – she chopped it off in this episode (on camera!) as Hannah engaged in yet another act of self-loathing.

—  “Girls” has really pushed the envelope on the sex scenes. Even for pay cable, the sex has been unusually graphic.  Lena Dunham has said that she is not as promiscuous as Hannah and her friends are, which must be a relief to her parents. I seriously doubt that she’s adding in the sex for salacious, audience-building purposes, since it seems to drive away more viewers than it attracts.  Instead, I think the sex is a shorthand metaphor for how these characters feel: vulnerable, awkward, manipulative, almost-but-not-quite grown up.  These scenes tell us where the characters are in their lives.

So hats off to Lena Dunham. This season was even better than the last.  I thought the introduction of the OCD came a bit out of now where, and it’s not really likely that Charlie would invent an App that would make him a multi-millionaire, bit these are quibbles.  I can’t wait to see what happens to the girls as they begin to evolve into women.

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