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Girls: “She Did”

“She Did” wraps up a first season that was one of the better first seasons I’ve ever seen. With the exception of a few scenes and moments here or there, Girls was almost relentlessly in control of its tone and what it wanted to say. It always knew roughly where it was going, and it was always waiting for us to catch up before moving on to the next thing. Even when I didn’t like something the show would do, I was impressed at its sheer poise and confidence in doing it. It wasn’t a perfect season of television, by any means, but it was as promising a debut season as I can think of, and it ends with a finale that makes me very much want to see where things end up in season two.

I’ve watched this finale twice now—I always try to watch stuff twice when I have screeners—and what bugged me the most the first time through struck me as one of the strongest scenes the show has done the second time through. I’m speaking, of course, about Jessa’s wedding to “Thomas John,” the finance guy who wanted to have a threesome with her and Marnie two episodes ago. I found that scene—and Chris O’Dowd’s performance in it—rather clumsy the last time around, and this time out, I couldn’t fathom why she would do something so impulsive as to marry him. But taken with the scene last week in which her old boss tells her she needs to be serious about something, I think this makes a certain amount of sense.

The first time I watched, I was so focused on the other characters’ reactions to what was happening that I didn’t spend a lot of time watching Jessa. But when you do, you see someone who’s not nearly as confident in what she’s doing as she’s pretending to be. (This has been generally true for the character all season long.) Jemima Kirke’s facial expressions are just about perfect here, as she tells everybody she knows what she’s doing, that she’s really happy and in love with this man, even as you can read the intense uncertainty in her eyes. My favorite moment of this is when the audience applauds after Jess and Thomas kiss at the altar. Everybody seems happy, but there’s just a flicker of doubt across Jessa’s face. She doesn’t really know if she wants to do this, but she has to act like she does, just to save face and maintain her persona. She thinks she’s being the person her boss told her to be, but she’s still the same old Jessa. Sooner or later, that will bite her in the ass again.

I think what I liked best about this season is that the characters haven’t really changed. They’ve been through life-changing experiences, and they’ve done stuff that seems like they had been changed, but when you get right down to it, the characters in the finale are the characters from the pilot. Yet now we know so much more about them that we have a better read on the situations they get into. We can see how much Hannah defeats herself and keeps herself from accomplishing her goals. We can see how Jessa’s impulsiveness gets her into situations she can’t easily bluff her way out of. We can see how Shoshanna’s relative innocence and naïveté keep buoying her up, rather than dragging her down. Of the four, only Marnie seems willing to embrace anything like change, as she takes an impulsive chance on the overweight officiant at the wedding, and that might have as much to do with her drunken, continued despair over Charlie as anything else.

Some might read this lack of change as a bad thing. Long-form narrative is supposed to be about characters growing toward something else and becoming more self-aware, right? And, yes, there are some series where that’s very much the case. Yet I think many of the best TV shows are about people who fundamentally don’t change, who remain more or less the same, yet continue to reveal new sides of themselves to us. They don’t change so much as our viewpoint on them does. I’d say Girls more than meets this challenge in its first season. We know these people better than we did in episode one, even if they’ve remained basically the same people. If you go back and watch that pilot, knowing what you know about the characters now, it’s obvious that Lena Dunham and her collaborators knew who these people were and were just letting us get to know them slowly. Someone like Adam—who was seen by many of us (including me) as a “bad guy” back in the early days—now plays completely differently, since we better know who he is. It’s a really tricky feat to pull off, but when it’s done, there’s nothing quite like it.

The climax of tonight’s episode involves Adam and Hannah having a messy fight over her passive-aggressive rejection of his offer to move in. Instead of saying she’s not ready for that step or isn’t sure if he’s serious about it, she simply offers the extra room to Eli, who needs a place to crash until his boyfriend’s son graduates. Adam’s devastated by this, and she doesn’t realize just how devastated until she goes to talk to him outside of the wedding. She brings him a slice of cake, and he calls her out on everything, on how she doesn’t think she’s pretty or a good writer or a good friend, when she’s all of those things. It’s a hard moment to watch, because Hannah’s so trapped by her own limited vision of herself that she can’t see herself the way others see her. He was ready to commit, hardcore, but she just rejected that because she’s so scared. Join the fucking club.

Adam’s clipped by a car, and he has to go to the hospital. He doesn’t allow Hannah into the ambulance, and since she’s not family, she’s kept out. She gets on the train and falls asleep, purse at her side (as a helpful close-up inserted lets us know). When she wakes, she’s out by Coney Island, purse gone, foil-wrapped cake still in her lap. She’d gotten the cake for Adam, who doesn’t like sweet things, since she thought it was so good he might enjoy it. She walks down to the beach and sits there, slowly eating it, watching the waves roll in. She’s lost almost everything, and it’s a pretty despondent place to end the season for somebody who seemed like she might have gained an ounce of self-awareness at some point.

Of course, she did. She’s going to be better in the next situation like this because of what happened here. Part of life is just getting the scrapes and bruises and cuts you need to know not to do something again, and Hannah will probably never be this callous about something like this again. But Adam has a point—as do all of the characters who’ve laughed at the characters’ reckless youth this season. Time is a rubber band. The more you stretch it out, and the more you put off what you really want in favor of indecisiveness or not pissing anybody off or… anything, really, the more likely it is that it will just snap and hit you in the eye. You’re going to get hurt one way or another. Why, though, is it so often that the wounds are self-inflicted?

Finale and season grade: A

Stray observations:

  • Shoshanna loses her virginity to Ray. I liked the show playing around with the idea that he might not be comfortable as her “guide” to the world of sex, then having him immediately admit that, yeah, he was comfortable with that. I love his lack of filter. (Him rolling his eyes at Hannah’s request to go home early was also great.)
  • I’m really glad the Charlie and Marnie scene didn’t lead into a hook-up between the two of them. She doesn’t need him in her life right now. I also enjoyed her flirtation with the officiant, which was fun to see on both ends.
  • The show somehow kept Thomas just as much of a dick as he was in the earlier episode, yet made Jessa’s attraction to him somehow explicable. I’m not sure how, but it worked for me.
  • It was nice to see everybody at the wedding. What a great reminder of how well Dunham and her collaborators have populated this world in the first season! Now, let’s see if they can’t expand that world even further in the second season. I suspect that will be the case.
  • Thanks again for reading these reviews! You’ve been the best, and I’ll see you all in 2013 sometime. 

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