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Hannah learns to give in Girls’ quietly effective series finale

“This is reality. It’s happening now. And you suck at it.”

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Lena Dunham (Photo: HBO)
Lena Dunham (Photo: HBO)
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Girls

"Latching"

Season 6 , Episode 10

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Several pop culture publications and trades printed stories this week about the fact that some combination of Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke, Andrew Rannells, and Adam Driver wouldn’t appear in the Girls series finale. Those stories struck me as a savvy move on the part of HBO’s communications team. The absences are disappointing in theory, but as I thought about it, most of those characters have gotten some kind of resolution, or at least what feels like a natural resting place. Shosh is getting married, for Christ’s sake. But I wouldn’t have considered that if I wasn’t forced to reckon with the fact that I’d seen her sweet, vicious face for the last time. Without the expectation of seeing those characters, “Latching” becomes its own thing that doesn’t necessitate the perfunctory check-ins and montages usually expected of a series finale.

Despite expecting an episode that focused on Hannah, her baby, and her new life upstate, I was initially underwhelmed by “Latching.” So much of enjoying Girls is about finding that sweet spot where you’re annoyed by the characters, and amused by them, and surprised to find their myopic little adventures relatable. “Latching” makes it tough to find that sweet spot in its first third, which is all Hannah and Marnie being awful to each other despite the best intentions.

Marnie decides she’s going to dedicate herself to Hannah and the adorable little Grover. The gesture is basically the most Marnie thing ever—sweet and loving in theory but also self-serving and needy. Marnie prides herself on the idea of being a great friend, and moving in with Hannah and her new baby Playing House style is the cliché best friend thing to do. But also, Marnie didn’t seem super jazzed about crashing on her mother’s couch, and she seems a bit too eager for a new project after the untimely ends of both her marriage and her family band.

Hannah agrees to Marnie’s offer because what does she have to lose? As Marnie bluntly points out, Elijah is nowhere to be seen. He was angry and hurtful when he first found out about the pregnancy, but he quickly got on board and agreed to make it a wacky girls-who-love-boys-who-love-boys adventure in the city. But for Elijah, who’s getting his big break in the White Men Can’t Jump musical the world didn’t know it needed, the “in the city” part was the most important aspect of whole idea. Once Hannah got it in her head to move to a bucolic college town upstate and raise the baby outside walking distance from a 16 Paddles, the deal was off. Adam and Jessa are probably off somewhere snuggled in a love cocoon after nearly being derailed by Adam’s brief return to Hannah. So there’s only Marnie, who is loyal and present and won’t let you forget for a second how lucky you are to have her around.

The relationship disintegrates rapidly, which is to be expected, since Marnie’s insistence on singing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as they drove from the hospital is basically an unprovoked act of war. But to be fair, most of Hannah and Marnie’s conflicts aren’t about each other, they’re ultimately about Hannah’s anxiety about not being able to properly breastfeed Grover. What makes this show beautiful is how hard Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow work to make sure the writing is true to the characters, even when the result is maddening to watch. It would be tempting to show motherhood as a cure-all for Hannah’s less-than-helpful personal quirks. But really, Hannah the mother is just Hannah with a kid. Her germophobic tendencies crop up instantly and she panics about how every action or inaction is affecting Grover. Hannah is absolutely the mom who would panic about what trauma she might be inflicting on her child by feeding him breastmilk from a bottle.

She’s also the person who would analyze everything her baby does as a statement on who she is as a person and a mother. In one terrific sequence, Hannah tries to force Grover to latch and gets frustrated to the point of cursing in the baby’s face. She’s convinced her own baby hates her. None of this is fun for Hannah, and she doesn’t appreciate being forced into the indie rom-com Marnie is picturing in her head. Marnie summons Loreen to the house for back-up, and Loreen isn’t able to break through Hannah’s fog. Only a classic Girls device—steering Hannah into a one-off encounter with a stranger—will do the trick. In this case, it’s a girl in some kind of undefined distress who ran away from home without clothes and desperately needs to get in touch with her boyfriend Justin.

At first, Hannah is warm and motherly, a routine she’s been doing a lot of lately in situations like Loreen’s edible bender. She even gives the scantily clad youth her shoes and jeans, which she insists are big on her too. But the girl reveals herself to be an entitled brat, not unlike Hannah, who refuses to see how good she has it as a kid with parents who love her irrationally and just want her to have a happy life. The girl runs off with Hannah’s jeans, so she’s stuck walking home with neither pants nor shoes on. A cop sidles by and accompanies her home. Marnie and Loreen are there sitting on the porch, and they have every right to be pissed off at her. Instead, they hand her a glass of wine. She has permission to lose it sometimes. Hannah tries again to get the baby to latch, and when he does, a look of accomplishment spreads across her face. The sound of Grover suckling runs over the end credits, along with bits of Hannah singing “Fast Car” to the kid.

“Latching” is a bold ending for Girls, more like a season finale than a proper end to the series. While the episode is a bit disorienting, it also seems fitting to do what feels like the season finale for the season that makes you wonder what else there is for the show to do. It’s like a complete thought with an ellipsis at the end. The early scenes are disturbing in a Grey Gardens: The Next Generation kind of way, but the scenes that follow are true, and painful, and great. Loreen’s conversation with Marnie, who’d just gotten caught rubbing one out, is one of the best scenes of the season. And Hannah’s come-to-Jesus talk with the wayward youth, combined with the look of satisfaction when Grover latches, offers objective evidence that Hannah is trying to do better. That’s all we can ask for.

Stray observations

  • Read Esther Zuckerman’s interview with Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner for more insight into why they went with this non-traditional ending.
  • I have so much respect for Marnie’s commitment to her FaceTime sex character. I wonder if there’s some sexual gratification to be gotten from putting an oxygen mask on someone’s penis. Doesn’t seem like a winner.
  • Lena Dunham’s performance is amazing as always. What she does with her face in the final few seconds is astonishing.
  • The scene with the cop is shot kind of weird. The way he’s sitting in the car and the angle of the camera makes it look like he’s being a creep, which I’m not sure was intentional.
  • Thanks for hanging out and talking about Girls with me for the past few years. I had a great time and grew up a lot. Friends forever?