Even by the standards of a messy, uneven season of television (that somehow became all the greater for its flaws), “Together” is a messy, uneven season finale and a bit of a comedown from last week’s stellar installment. This is not to say that I didn’t like it. As an individual episode of television, it’s really quite moving and lovely, despite some quibbles here and there. As a way to wrap up the season, I couldn’t stop feeling as though everybody involved in the show realized halfway through writing it that it was the season finale and scrambled to bring everybody’s arc to a kind of close. It’s a good finale to some other season of television; I’m not sure it’s a good finale to this season of television, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t get swept away by it all the same.
The episode this most reminded me of, oddly enough, was the recent season finale of Parenthood. Like this show, Parenthood has a deep love for all of its characters, though it’s not afraid to call them on their bullshit when they’re being assholes. Also like this show, Parenthood has been making do with shortened orders, compared to what’s normally ordered by its parent network. This meant that the show’s most recent season set a bunch of storylines spinning, took some time out for them for some other stuff, introduced a bunch of new ones seemingly at random, then had to scramble to get everybody to a place where they had a happy ending by the end of its 15th episode, hardly a standard season length. Some of this was likely wanting to close things off at a place where the season finale would function as a series finale—and I’d wager a little of that was going on here as well—but in practice, this played out as a bunch of unearned happy endings. The characters got what they had always wanted—or at least wanted right now—and it felt like it was happening in a vacuum.
Now, “Together” is much better than the Parenthood finale,I think. If I’m looking at storylines that just don’t work here, it’s really only the Marnie and Charlie whatever that was that failed for me. (I suspect—well, I hope—that Charlie telling Marnie he has a lot of money was meant to be some sort of ironic commentary on what these two budding yuppies really want, but I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than it being unironic.) The last 10 minutes or so—basically, the final breakup of Shoshanna and Ray, followed by the reunion of Hannah and Adam—they worked for me like gangbusters. It was just that the show had to speed everything up to get there. Shoshanna and Ray break up, for instance, and it’s a great scene, but it feels like the show has to do 5 million things to get there and only has about five minutes to squeeze them into.
Okay, scratch (some of) the above.
I wrote all of that after having watched the episode once. It left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied and wishing for something more. I thought it was pretty terrific as a collection of scenes—again, excepting that Marnie and Charlie nonsense—but I didn’t really buy what it all added up to. Worse, I worried that it was trying to argue directly for the rescuing hero idiocy that it directly debunked last week. But as I wrote the above—which I still mostly agree with—I found myself remembering the episode more charitably than I had my first time through it. This usually means that I just didn’t quite grasp what the show was going for, or it means, as it did here, that I’m blowing up some smaller moments that aren’t quite as important in the grand scheme of things into elements that sunk the show, when nothing could be further from the case.
Let me try to back some of this up. When Girls is at its best, it’s putting you in a headspace where you’re simultaneously terrified at how self-absorbed and unthinking these people can be, even as you feel an intense empathy for them because it all but forces you to. Needless to say, this is an incredibly difficult mix of emotions to pull off, and Girls wasn’t as good at it in its second season as it was in its first (when the mix seemed almost effortless at times). Fortunately, the show is pretty darn good at making you feel one or the other in given moments, so if the show is making me feel a great deal of either element, I’m cool. In “Together,” there’s really only one scene that manages this blend, when Hannah goes down to see Laird again and gets a dressing down from him, even as she’s trying to reach out to him about how lost and alone she feels. The most consistent story arc this season has had has involved Hannah pushing everybody she knows away from her for reasons both justifiable—with Adam—and not as much—with Marnie. She’s trying to get a little pity, and she’s generally getting it from me, but when Laird throws how shittly she treated him back in her face, there’s that reminder that this is a person who does horrible things, who has a lot of growing up to do. That’s the central mission of the show, and in this scene, “Together” manages the tricky blend that makes Girls go.
The problem, as I see it, is that the episode pushes everybody to an abrupt, happy resolution, one that I’m not sure it’s earned in the least. But that’s the trick of the last 10 minutes, I think. Those first 20 are all setup for the dissolution that builds in the final moments. Take, for instance, when Ray finally decides to get his shit together and impress Shoshanna by going down to the coffee shop to quit. Instead, Colin Quinn—who I guess is playing Mr. Grumpy—offers him a big promotion. Why doesn’t he manage the new location in Brooklyn Heights? It’s the kind of job that could let a man build a life, and if Ray loves Shoshanna and wants to give her money to buy bread-themed purses, then it’s a no-brainer. Ray takes the offer. He heads back to tell Shoshanna the good news.
Here’s where I soured on my first viewing. See, I had this terrified, sneaking suspicion that the show was going to say that everything was all right for these characters because they’d found the right person. Adam has Natalia to coach him into something like maturity (and her one appearance in the episode was a highlight for me). Charlie and Marnie have gone through their bullshit and come out the other side. And now that Ray’s found gainful employment, surely Shoshanna will realize what he’s done for her and be so moved as to return to their relationship. Now, even as I was thinking that, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen, because Shoshanna seemed pretty set. But I still disliked the idea that what turned Ray around, what caused Marnie and Hannah to fall apart, was finding or losing the right person.
Instead, of course, Shoshanna breaks up with Ray, and it’s not because she’s heartless or because she’s immature or because she’s fallen out of love with him or anything like that. No, to a real degree, it’s because she’s decided to leave. Nothing Ray could have done would have changed her mind because this is a thing she needs to do, the life she has to lead for the foreseeable. And maybe fate—or the pens of the writers—brings her back into his orbit again, and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe she’ll regret this moment as long as she lives, but right now, in this moment, this is the thing she needs to do. “Together” is, by and large, an episode about how having other people in our lives can make those lives more bearable, can make getting by on this planet just a little bit easier. But other people can also hold us back from the growth we need to undertake, and just as Hannah and Marnie had to push each other away, even if they didn’t understand what they were doing, Shoshanna needs to be young and stupid for a while.
There’s a quote from Whitman that I’ve always loved: “These are the days that must happen to you.” The idea behind it, in that weird, barbaric optimism of Whitman’s, is that everything that happens is a part of the grander story of yourself. And maybe that story’s mostly bullshit, and maybe you don’t particularly like the telling. But the good things that happen in life are only good because of the sadnesses and vice versa. The future is a place you’re just starting to explore, a house you haven’t moved into yet, and sometimes, you need to pull a ripcord before you get to cross the threshold. But the only way to get there is to plunge forward.
Girls does as well as any show on the air at exploring this idea, at looking at the way that life, particularly in your 20s, is about trying things and hoping they’ll work out and sometimes failing. “Together” brings the focus of the season back to Hannah, who’s been sidelined these past couple of weeks, and it concludes a season that dared to make her almost viscerally unlikeable at times, then dared us to love her all the same, while not really caring if we didn’t. Hannah’s at her worst in parts of this episode, but she’s also been faced with a massive deadline she simply can’t meet, a deadline that’s caused her to unravel before the audience’s eyes. And because she’s pushed everybody away from her, she has nobody to call on, except for maybe Jessa, who’s still off doing her thing. She hides from Marnie. She can’t talk to her father. Even Laird seems over her bullshit.
All of which leaves things down to Adam, who randomly answers her Facetime call on his new iPhone and, after finding out her OCD has recurred, races down the street in a genuinely thrilling, highly romantic sequence that I didn’t even know the show was capable of. A lot of this is down to Adam Driver, who’s revealed himself to be even more versatile than we knew in this second season, but just as much is thanks to Lena Dunham’s direction and the script she co-wrote with Judd Apatow. The idea of a guy racing to be with the woman he loves is an old one, but it still has its power when it’s executed well, and here, with the added twist of the iPhone conversation, it worked about as well as I’ve seen in a long time. And then he kicks down her door, invading her space again, but because she really does need him, and he finds her, and he tells her he’s always been there, and it’s a moment to make one swoon. If you’ve just completely rejected Hannah at this point—as I saw floating around Twitter—well, this probably didn’t work for you. But I also don’t think the point here is that Hannah should be forgiven all her transgressions because Adam’s there. I think the point is meant to be that even she deserves love, someone who will be there when she needs him. She still has to finish that book and probably won’t, and she’ll still probably be sued. She’ll still have her OCD, and she still needs to patch things up with her friends. But for now, for this moment, things can feel okay.
If I thought that was it for the show, I’d be pretty disgruntled, because I’d genuinely believe the show wanted to leave us with the notion that Hannah just needed Adam to come and fix her. But on that second watch, I became convinced that’s not the case. These people’s lives don’t end here. These are the days that must happen to them, and they include this moment, when Adam stepped outside of himself and found his way back to the space he was ejected from in the second episode (kind of like a vampire, really), just as they include all the moments when awful things happened—both in the past and to come. Adam’s run is a big moment, possibly the biggest the show has attempted, and it works, both because we know that this isn’t the end of this story—these two are going to have just as much trouble building a relationship as they ever did—and because this season has seemed dedicated to proving that nobody’s an island, that not everything is perfect and beautiful, just as not everything is terrible and awful. Yet maybe things can feel both ways, just so long as they’re undertaken together.
- Okay, but, yeah, that Charlie and Marnie subplot was pretty awful. I liked Charlie’s little speech in theory, but even as someone who was thinking they complemented each other pretty well, I thought the whole thing played out a little too much like a romantic comedy. (Carrie Raisler on Twitter said it reminded her of a commercial for a refrigerator, and that sounds about right.)
- John Cameron Mitchell has been the best every time he’s popped up this season, but I think my favorite thing out of him was when he complimented a picture of Chloe Sevigny.
- Hannah’s dad wants her to know that she should call her mom about her condition: “She’s a medical hobbyist!” (Here’s hoping season three brings much more of them.)
- Does anybody else find it weird that the second season finale circles back to basically the status quo set up in the pilot? Now, to a degree, everybody has changed enough that it’s not really the status quo from then, but it’s still a little strange.
- Marnie wants to have Charlie’s little brown babies. Which might be difficult! Just saying. Has she even looked at Charlie?
- So, going back to last week, I continue to think that it is difficult to call what happened between Adam and Natalia rape. I would say this is even more the case since they are still together in this episode, because Natalia seems like somebody who would get the fuck out of a relationship where something that even came up within 20 miles of rape happened. Adam stuck to the rules established for their sex life early in the episode, and when she asked him to stop licking her ass (the first time she says something with the word no in it), he stopped, just as he got her dress out of the way when she asked him to do that (the second time she says something with no in it). It was a shitty, terrible sexual encounter, full of terrible emotions and undercurrents, but I just do not believe it was rape.
- Yes, that final song was by Fun. (Are they lower-case?) Yes, Lena Dunham is dating the guy from Fun. Who cares?
- As a lifelong Judd Apatow fanboy, it always makes me happy to see his name pop up in the written by credits, even if it's only happened twice. This one wasn't "The Return," but, then, no season two episodes were.
- Season three will reportedly be about the characters all maturing just a little bit, and it will return several characters who’ve left throughout the course of the first two seasons. (I won’t say who, for those of you avoiding spoilers.) I think the idea of trying to mature these characters a bit more is an admirable one, and I suspect that a 12-episode season will be more conducive to that than a 10-episode order. As much as I’ve enjoyed both seasons, this one’s ambitions ended up feeling a bit clipped by the order, to the point where something like Shoshanna’s disgruntlement with Ray felt as if the show was trying to tell us about it more than it was actually depicting it happening. Some of this has to happen in any TV show, so it’s a minor complaint, but it’s still one I hope the show can smooth out with an extra hour next year.
- And with that, I won’t see you again until January! It’s been fun discussing this season of TV with you, and I’m sad we have to wait as long as we do for more (though not all that sad, because Mad Men and Game Of Thrones are back imminently). So I’ll see you then, and until then, just remember: I love you, but sometimes, I love you like a monkey in the zoo, in a really ugly cage or something.