The friends you have at 15 or 25 or even 35 are rarely the friends you have your whole life. Growing up is a process of self-discovery, and as it goes along, it can be easy to forget that everybody around you is learning the same things about themselves. If you’re lucky, you find one or two people who grow and change in ways that nicely complement your own growth, but that’s about it. We have our families, whom we’re stuck with, and we have the handful of people we accumulate along the way. But other than that, friend groups fissure and break. People change and crack apart. What once seemed like Pangaea splinters into many continents, each with their own vibrant forms of life, yet separated by oceans.
In “Two Plane Rides,” Girls reveals that that’s been the story of season three all along. It gave Hannah every temptation to abandon her dream of becoming a writer, only to reveal that when she got a huge step forward for that dream, it was still the first thing on her radar, even above being able to be in the same place as Adam. It’s Marnie who doesn’t have the first clue what she’s doing, ending up stuck in a number of ways, though Desi’s come along to distract her from that somewhat. Shoshanna, having decided to have a walkabout year, finds that she’s three credits short of graduation, stuck in the NYU limbo she’s been in all year and hoping to pick up with Ray right where she left off, even if the intermission has perhaps been too long. Of the four women, only Jessa still seems lost, trying to help ease an old woman into death, only to have her realize that she’d really rather, when it comes down to it, be alive. These are the days that must happen to them.
The trick that Girls has been pulling throughout its third season turns out to be withholding information. This is a dangerous thing to do if the information being withheld would make us think about everything that’s happened differently, but I think it worked here, because applying to the Iowa Writers Workshop is exactly the sort of thing Hannah would do and also exactly the sort of thing she might not tell anybody about, afraid of jinxing it somehow. This season, then, turns into a long series of reasons for Hannah not to go to Iowa, from a steady, well-paying job to a boyfriend who loves her and has some great shit of his own going on that he can’t leave New York for.
Yet if the season two finale angered some of the show’s fans because it suggested that Hannah might be too dependent on the man in her life, the season three finale seems intent on underlining that Hannah’s ready to proceed on her own adventure, and if Adam isn’t ready to come along, then that’s just too bad. The relationship between Hannah and Adam is clearly important to both of them, and they’d be just as likely to stay together as drift apart under other circumstances, but having hit some new level of professional success at the same time, they seem far more likely to trend toward the latter. Part of this, of course, has to do with Hannah’s terrible timing, telling Adam about her acceptance into Iowa right as he’s about to make his Broadway debut, thus throwing his performance in such a way that he deems it terrible. If she had waited to tell him until after the show, maybe everything would have proceeded apace.
But I sort of doubt it. Don’t you? Adam and Hannah are strangely compatible, yes, but that’s the versions of themselves that haven’t gone off to Iowa for two years or become big-time stage actors, respectively. These experiences can’t help but change the two of them in ways they can’t even begin to anticipate, and if that final fight in the alley behind Adam’s theater trends more toward a break-up than a “Let’s wait and see,” well, maybe that’s the best for both of them right now. This is a big moment in both of their lives. They could seriously damage their forward momentum by trying to keep the relationship together, come hell or high water. It’s sometimes tough to realize in the middle of something, but things don’t have to last forever. We’re resilient and adaptive. The whole ground could disappear underneath us, and we’d realize we still know how to swim.
What’s nice about “Two Plane Rides” is that it’s the kind of season finale that makes so much else in the season snap into place, thus reminding us of how good this show can be. I’ve complained a bit about how the season didn’t have many of the more experimental things that made the show so occasionally audacious in its first two seasons, and I still think that was the case. But “Two Plane Rides” reveals so much more about what was really going on this season that it manages to tug some things together I didn’t dream the show would be able to. It’s enough to raise the whole season a grade point or so, in my mind, and it’s also enough to make me eagerly await the fourth season of the show. Weirdly, the previous TV episode it puts me most in mind of is Mad Men’s third season finale, “Shut The Door, Have A Seat,” which closed a season I found often meandering and pointless in such a way as to reveal the long con the show had been playing on its audience all along. It was masterful TV; “Two Plane Rides” is too.
Hell, this episode is so good that it kind of makes sense of whatever the mess that was Shoshanna’s storyline is supposed to be. Because of her year of living dangerously (or whatever she’s calling it now), Shoshanna ends up failing a class she needs to graduate, which means that, for once, her id bursts forth from her tightly wound exterior and ends up destroying her apartment, just in time for Marnie to come in and reveal that she’s been sleeping with Ray. (Zosia Mamet’s facial expressions in this scene are sublime. Check out the look on her face when Marnie changes the subject from Shosh’s school issues.) Shoshanna’s storyline ends up mirroring Hannah and Marnie’s in microcosm, but with a particularly Shosh-ian twist: You can’t plan your life down to the smallest of details. It just sort of has to happen to you, and you have to learn how to adapt to the winds that threaten to sweep you away.
Marnie, meanwhile, ends up in the position Hannah was last season, where she seems only too happy to have her life boil down to a guy. On the one hand, things have gone rather poorly for her this year, and it’s nice to have Clementine around to deliver the kind of rebuke to her that Hannah got in the premiere from Natalia. On the other hand, it would be nice to dig more deeply into the way that Marnie’s expectations of her life have differed from its reality. Every time she comes close to doing so, she veers off on some other plot development, whether sleeping with Ray or deciding to record an album with Desi (and sharing a kiss with him backstage). I feel like season three flirted with showing us the “real” Marnie, then pulled back here and there, and I’m interested to see what the show does with her in season four.
If there’s a character who was ultimately ill-served by all of season three, even the finale, it’s Jessa, whose storyline concludes with her racing to call 911 to save Beedee’s life. I think I’ve said this already this season, but Jessa’s storyline feels a bit like a placeholder for whatever the show plans to do with her later, which it hasn’t yet figured out. Particularly after a season two that used the character in some really great ways and after “Beach House” was a really good episode for her, it makes the use of her in season three feel all the more disappointing. I don’t know why the show seems to have lost sight of how to write for Jessa even on a theoretical level, but it’s probably the most pressing concern the series has headed into its fourth season.
That doesn’t really matter, however, in the face of how wonderfully the finale wraps up the story of Hannah’s pursuit of her dream, which turns out to be the season’s buried spine. Hannah hasn’t grown up considerably—she’s still feckless enough to tell Adam her good news on the verge of his debut, and that scene at GQ last week was a Hannah meltdown for the ages—but she’s matured just enough for this good news to feel earned, and when she decided to do this for herself, I was incredibly happy for her, in a way I haven’t always felt for the character. I don’t know what this show looks like with Hannah at Iowa. I know that things can’t be the same, and I know the characters will probably continue to drift. But that’s okay. That’s natural. And in the event that they need each other, well, Iowa’s not the end of the world, even if it might as well feel like another country entirely from Brooklyn. Hannah’s not setting off on some voyage after which she’ll never see anybody again, except she might as well be, because when she returns, she’ll no longer be the person she was. She might be just two plane rides away, but for Adam and Marnie and the others, she might as well be moving to one of those other continents, drifting slowly toward some better, more distant land.
Episode grade: A
Season grade: A-
- Where was Caroline all this time? It turns out she’s shacking up with Laird, and the two of them are having a baby. This is the most blessed event in television history, and I am sure that child—whose labia Caroline can feel forming right now—will have only the finest of upbringings.
- I really liked Hannah telling Adam how proud of him she was, particularly the way that he teared up hearing her tell him. It was a nice lead-in to what we all knew she would do, which was make his big moment about herself in some tiny way.
- Elijah butting his way into the cast photos on the red carpet was very funny. I’m glad Andrew Rannells is going to be a regular on the show next season, even if he increasingly looks 10 years older than everybody else.
- The final song was “Good Girl Down” by Michael Penn, the show’s composer, which both explains why the music led into it so nicely and why I can’t find it on Spotify. HBO will almost certainly make it available on iTunes soon enough, I would imagine.
- Hannah’s parents’ barely concealed irritation at the idea of her not going to Iowa was pretty great. I particularly love how much this season has made Hannah’s mom a character in her own right, and I hope we get a full episode with her and her sisters next season.
- Full disclosure: I applied to the Iowa Writers Workshop in my last year of college and did not get in, so I hate Hannah so much right now! (Actually, while I may never be a good enough writer to make it into Iowa, I really didn’t put my best foot forward by submitting a bunch of stories I had written the night before applications were due, then just sort of half-assing the application essay and stuff, too. I always vowed that I would try again, but then I started making money, and, well, it was nice to have money, you know?)
- As always, I have loved the chance to talk Girls with you, especially in this season when it feels like the fervor around the show died down quite a bit. It’s not a perfect show—God knows—but it’s the kind of show that does things I find really interesting and fun to pull apart. I’m glad so many of you feel the same way, and I’ll see you next January, most likely.