"If it hurts, you'll always remember..."
After six seasons, sixty-two episodes, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty minutes (give or take), it’s over. Girls is no more. Hannah et al have moved on, to pastures new, not necessarily together but what joy, cynicism and dark, comedic delights they left behind. Also, it's probably still in Sky box sets too if you just can’t say goodbye yet.
Following on from her success with semi-autobiographical Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham turned to television and created Girls. It never sat comfortably within a specific genre, part drama, part sitcom, like an anti Sex and the City despite covering some occasional, similar ground. Realism wasn’t always its strongest suit but the writing always felt authentic even when certain situations seemed implausible. It dealt with the complications of women (those four with the alliterative names mostly) between the ages of 24-27 - that weird age where you never feel fully adult, have left girlhood behind but still need to navigate the choppy waters of self-discovery and finding your place in the world. These were young women who had all the self-confidence but little to no self-worth, they made each other’s problems about themselves and allowed their selfish anxiety to dictate their emotions. They attempted to be independent yet were reluctant to cut the apron strings entirely.
The series covered many topics including drug addiction, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, alcoholism, abortion, motherhood, infidelity, loneliness, death, and mental health. Whilst attempting to combat or even approach some of these issues, they all - Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson, and Shoshanna Shapiro - made mistakes. Sometimes horribly, a lot of the time irreparably but that just made us root for them all all the more. Or many of you bailed on them around season 2/3 and have yet to go back…
Much criticism stemmed from the characters’ likability. That’s women for you. We’re not all sunshine and light, not all of the time, there are multiple facets, complexities that not many shows manage to depict quite so vividly. The girls’ fallibility and often cringeworthy behaviour (sometimes age appropriate, mostly grossly immature) is what made me latch on. Men have been getting away with being unapologetically “men” onscreen since the dawn of time, apparently women pose a greater problem.
Let's not pull punches; Hannah Horvath was an annoying character, the one based on Dunham, she who often spoke before thinking, she who, nine times out of ten needed that extra bit of attention. We’ve all had at least one friend like her, probably, we’re not even friends anymore. It happens. The others weren’t perfect, not by a long shot, hello Marnie? but Hannah, for all her flaws and foibles was the heart of the show. She and her friends became a talking point between you and yours - the question of their friendship and why they were friends was never far from our minds, they never did seem completely compatible but something worked. Until they didn’t. Hey ho, that’s life.
Hannah lived outside of her sexual experiences, she saw her ‘job’ to fulfil certain things so she had something to write about; situations with which to glean as much experience from. Her sex scenes were nothing if not honest, hilarious and convincing. She was weird, surrounded by a cast of weirdos; characters we all empathised with time and again. All they ever wanted was to be happy; being loved was a bonus.
For its duration Girls never seemed far from censure - too privileged, too white, too much nudity (specifically Dunham). Most moans seemed to spend a little too much time on Hannah/Lena’s body. Unapologetic in her own skin, and why not, she doesn’t look like your typical TV star, certainly not the kind of woman to shed clothes so regularly and unabashedly. It was refreshing. Finally somebody onscreen who wobbled a bit having a convincing sex life. It made little difference that she was the creator, writer, producer, director and lead actress, she was there to be body-shamed by… well, it was scary how many. Somebody like Patrick Wilson (see, One Man’s Trash S2 E05) wouldn’t f*ck any woman who looked like that, yada yada yada.
It’s a white show. Its creator, co-producer, Jenni Konner and executive producer, Judd Apatow are Jewish too if this is something of interest (side note: must research criticism levelled at Knocked Up or latest show LOVE). One of the first things Dunham did, following comments about the lack of diversity on the show, was cast Donald Glover as Sandy in two episodes (It’s About Time S2 E01 and I Get Ideas S2 E02) which depicted Hannah’s ignorance surrounding the issue of race - they also made him a Republican too. While there have been numerous characters of colour albeit, one could argue, clumsily added, and mostly in supporting, non-recurring roles; still, attempts have been made to address the imbalance. Those same critics who describe the show as whitewashing would probably now accuse of tokenism or misrepresentation. The scrutiny with which Girls was subjected to over the last six years, one could surmise, is down to the gender of its creator. I’m sure there are some male-led shows that are held to account, just not quite in the same way as those by/for/with women.
If you’ve never bothered with it, fair enough, I would implore you to check out the bottle-neck episodes for a riveting taste of just how good the show can be, One Man’s Trash, Flo (S3 E09), The Panic in Central Park (S5 E06), American Bitch (S6 E03). Girls showed women in all their complexities, fallibility, humiliations and vulnerabilities. It was dark, cynical and sometimes depressing; not always a comforting watch but funny - I don’t think it’s given enough credit for its humour. Or for its ability to write men. Specifically Adam Sackler. To listen to Dunham, their show was a collaborative effort, replete with improvising so who knows the *true* author of Adam, regardless he remains amazingly written; the epitome of the sensitive, complicated, masculine male. A man in AA; his sobriety sometimes a battle. His dark, sexual, almost deviant behaviour and the temper… oh the temper. That which exploded usually to save him exposing his vulnerability. He was deep, complex and - just like the rest of the show’s characters - grew, evolved, shifted. It was a joy to watch, Adam Driver is a joy to watch. He (Sackler) was, is, for all intents and purposes, Dunham’s finest creation.
So, how to end it all?
We saw all four friends go their separate ways in Goodbye Tour (S6 E09), a finale in itself. The title of the last Latching suggests that baby boy has trouble breastfeeding but also relates to friends too and weaning yourself off a friendship.
For the fourth time in Girls history, the pan shot focusses on the two sets of legs in bed and works its way up. It started with Marnie and Hannah, hit Adam and Hannah, then Elijah and Hannah and now, finally and again, perfectly bookended, with Horvath and Michaels.
Marnie, knowing that she hasn’t got that much going for her in New York has moved Upstate to help Hannah raise her baby - she’s still pregnant at this point - and although initially hesitant, Marnie states her case. Something about best friends, loving her the most, being the only one equipped and capable of friending her. The fact that Marnie yells “I win” after Hannah says yes, is bizarre. Who is she in competition with? For the first time, there’s a jump, five months later states the intertitle. Baby Horvath has been born, mixed feelings on why we were spared, what I’m guessing was, an excruciating labour as he tipped the scales at 10 lbs. Grover is beautiful. Yes, Mama used the name suggested by Papa, Paul-Louis.
Hannah’s anxious as most new mothers can be, worried about germs, about weight gain (his) and why he won’t breastfeed but will drink breastmilk from a bottle. (NB. Hannah’s Proton Pack breast pump is outstanding.) He’s not latching and she’s damn near hysterical abut their potential lack of bond. Marnie’s a help around the house, however, she tends to take over and Hannah lets her while nearing breaking point because she’s made to appear incapable. It’s unbearable to watch, Marnie’s not particularly happy with their little set-up; the regressive co-dependence is back. There is a reason why they ceased living together at the end of season one, best friends they may be but they’re not great for each other, especially living in such close proximity.
While the first half of the episode is somewhat underwhelming, it quickly find its imperfect feet quickly. Hannah reverts to the childish behaviour we thought she’d managed to suppress and move away from. Motherhood is much harder than she thought (obviously) and something she has yet to experience completely alone, thanks to Marnie and now Loreen (who also turns up for moral support). She wants the help (which she has), wants to be able to do it all herself (she can if she stops stressing), and yet wants Marnie to never leave her alone (until she starts to annoy). Nightmare. Hannah should, not only, count herself lucky, but stop putting so much pressure on herself and the kid: “You think you’re the first man to reject this? Well, think again, you’re not being that original.” She's convinced Grover hates her; another man to reject her all while simultaneously freaking out about what kind of man she will raise.
What may have started as an insipid episode becomes quietly perfect, it ends with numerous possibilities; no doors are permanently closed. It’s touching without being overly sentimental; a non-traditional ending unlike any TV series and yet typically Girls. Like all previous episodes, however improbable they start, there’s always an aspect which is so convincingly written that any disbelief is suspended. Here, the debate surrounding breastfeeding is addressed, without picking a definitive side, and in such an authentic way. The conversation about best friends between Loreen and Marnie is pretty wonderful too.
Hannah is granted the realisation she needs to get a grip on things, she just needs to let go, and get home to her son. What’s beautiful upon her return after being absent all day, trouser-less (it’s Hannah), is the fact that she is welcomed back into the bosom of her mother and BFF, passed a glass of wine, no questions asked - outside of pants - no judgement. And when her son starts crying, she ascends the stairs and soothes him, opens her shirt and offers him her breast. He latches on.
She finally, and unconditionally, gives.
I will miss Hannah and the gang immensely (even Marnie). The girls may have been maddening and mortifying but we loved them; through their imperfections it allowed us to disengage from reality for a bit and embrace our own flaws.
Adulting can be hard. Womaning harder.
"If it hurts, you'll always remember..."