Early this year came rumblings about the impending end of Girls, with sources close to the production claiming Lena Dunham plans to make the sixth season the show’s last. It’s generally a mistake to conflate text and context, but doing so is especially tempting with a show like Girls, which shuffles along so casually that it’s difficult to conceptualize what an endgame might look like. That might sound like an insult, but it’s actually a compliment to how credibly Dunham and co-showrunner Jenni Konner have rendered this narrow slice-of-life. Adult life—especially when it’s just beginning—is difficult, weird, messy, and confusing, and it doesn’t comport to the rules of dramatic structure. Girls captures that quarter-life uncertainty in an authentic way, but the consequence of that authenticity is an often frustrating viewing experience, even for those most passionate about the show. The fits and starts and fumbles and recoveries feel relatable and emotionally true, but they don’t always make for satisfying television.
There was plenty to like about season four, including “Sit-In,” which ranks among the best half-hours Girls has ever done. Considering the unusual structure of the season, necessitated by Hannah’s Iowa flameout, the show held up admirably through a potentially disastrous period. That said, season four is easily the most frustrating run of episodes, and the season that, more than any other, made me question the show’s value. At its core, Girls is a coming-of-age story. Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna want to become more mature and secure in who they are, figure out what they’re most passionate about, and find a loving, stable partner with whom to share the journey. And through that tumultuous process, the girls want to hang onto these formative friendships that may not be sturdy enough to withstand the pressure as they naturally drift in different directions.
Season four seemed like it might be the one in which watching these characters ram into the same brick walls would begin to pay off. Instead, Hannah snuffed her dream of becoming a writer and spiraled after her breakup with Adam. The once relatively self-possessed Marnie dove headfirst into a dubious music career and a dysfunctional relationship, all while beating her high score in being judgmental. Shosh, easily Girls’ most likeable character, watched her sense of self crumble during a bruising job search. Jessa devolved from a free-spirited hippie chick who used to hurt people by being indifferent to their needs to an actively malicious agent of chaos. Just when Girls seemed to be creeping toward its version of catharsis, the characters made bigger messes of their lives and bore less and less resemblance to the characters introduced in season one. (Seriously, watch an early scene of Marnie complaining to Hannah about how much Charlie annoys her. It’s like a different show.) The girls changed, but not always for the better or in ways that made them stronger, which made season four feel like a story about arrested development rather than maturation.
“Home Birth” foreshadowed the kind of progress the story has been tacitly promising since Girls began. Hannah rebuffed Adam’s attempt to rekindle their relationship, while Shosh toyed with a life-altering relocation to Japan. Marnie discovered the depth of her resolve when Desi stood her up at their showcase performance, and Jessa assumed doula duties for Caroline, a reminder that there’s more to her than selfishness and hostility. “Home Birth” also jumped ahead in time—a Girls first—to show a beaming Hannah frolicking in the show with her new beau Fran. The final scene was intriguing, but it wasn’t easy to invest in. After all, the prior season ended with a hopeful Hannah clutching her letter of acceptance into the writers’ workshop, wholly unbothered by Adam’s inability to share her excitement. It couldn’t be taken for granted that the time jump or Hannah’s new relationship symbolized the next phase of Girls, the one in which the characters more consistently show glimpses of the women they’re becoming.
“Wedding Day” suggests those signs might not be false alarms after all, especially when watching it within the context of potentially being the penultimate Girls season premiere. If the reports are true, Dunham and her team are talking through what the show’s endgame looks like, and “Wedding Day” feels like the beginning of a triumphant end. It’s not a superlative episode, but it suggests a season of hard-fought progress, and that makes Girls worthwhile even if it’s no longer vital. Sure, the characters’ most irritating foibles remain, but they’re taking baby steps in the right direction and making a better case for why they deserve the lives they’ve been chasing for four seasons.
The episode has a certain momentum to it, despite the fact that not a whole lot actually happens and all the action takes place in one location. It feels brisk because of the occasion, Marnie and Desi’s wedding, a union no one outside of the couple is particularly excited about. Though the title and the early promotional photos gave away the fact that Marnie and Desi would wed after all, it comes as a bit of shock. When we last saw Desi, he was being verbally deflated by Ray, who told him in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t deserve to be with Marnie. Desi didn’t disagree, not completely, and Ray’s speech put him in such a negative headspace, he apparently couldn’t bring himself to show up to the showcase. “Home Birth” felt like a series finale in a lot of ways, and perhaps that’s why Desi’s exit felt final. Or perhaps it was because of what we know about the characters. The show has yet to introduce Marnie’s father, who is nowhere to be found even as Marnie gets married in a ceremony too formal to casually flout a tradition like the father-daughter procession. If Marnie is harboring resentment toward her father or grappling with fear of abandonment, apparently those issues weren’t triggered by Desi’s disappearing act during a crucial moment.
Disappearing at the precise moment he’s expected to show up is a pattern for Desi according to his long-time friend Wolfie, who shows up to offer spiritual and moral support in Desi’s time of need. In a moment of frustration as Desi’s anxiety gets the best of him, Wolfie reveals that Desi’s engagement to Marnie is his eighth one. Not only that, but the ring he used to propose to her was originally intended for Clementine. Fran, who’s forced to mingle with the boys after Marnie banishes him from the bridal suite, mentions Desi’s inauspicious marital history to Hannah, who concludes (probably accurately) that Marnie would pull out of the wedding if she knew Desi’s past.
When Hannah goes to break the news to Marnie, she’s interrupted by Marnie’s slight meltdown about how their relationship has crumbled over the years. Marnie accuses Hannah of not taking an active interest in her life anymore and accuses Hannah of silently judging her choices. Hannah has totally valid reasons for talking Marnie out of the wedding, but instead, she apologizes and concedes Marnie’s point. Your friends aren’t supposed to make their support contingent on your willingness to make the same choices they would make if they were in your shoes. They’re supposed to support you, to root for you to succeed and help you to your feet if you fail.
Hannah probably didn’t make the right decision, but she made the wrong one for the right reasons. There’s no question that, at the very least, Marnie would have wanted the opportunity to decide for herself whether Desi’s past was important to her or had bearing on her decision to marry him. But in that moment, Marnie is asking her dear friend for unequivocal support as she’s on the cusp of making an enormous commitment that might indeed turn out to be an awful mistake. Marnie is fully aware her marriage could end in misery—she might overlook Desi’s flaws, but she’s not blind to them—and that’s precisely why she needs her friends to support her.
A big part of maturing is learning how to push through fear and commit wholeheartedly. Jessa got married under much weirder circumstances. Hannah tried on Iowa, despite fearing what the distance meant for her and Adam. Even flighty Shosh has moved to Japan and is maintaining a long-distance relationship, presumably with Jason Ritter’s Scott. Marnie is an incredibly judgmental person, but she has supported her friends in their commitments in the way she knows how, and she wants her friends to return the favor. Years ago, the conversation would have led to a series of recriminations, with Hannah and Marnie sparring over which of them is the “Bad Friend.” They’re a little bit older now.
Another part of maturing is letting go of relationships that no longer serve you, and that’s the part the characters of Girls seem to have the most trouble with. Inviting Ray to this wedding is basically the most insane idea ever, and yet here he is, bitterly sulking and inadvertently talking Desi into going through with it. Adam has much better reasons for attending, namely his friendship with Desi, but his presence is awkward all the same. He and Fran can barely have a proper conversation with each other because the tension hangs so heavy in the air. A different kind of tension now informs Adam’s relationship with Jessa, which apparently took a dramatic turn somewhere in that six-month jump. It’s not a surprising development considering how Adam and Jessa grew close in season four, bonding over their addiction struggles and their disappointment with Hannah’s relocation to Iowa. But this group of friends has become incredibly incestuous, and losing a couple members might be the best thing to happen to them. One grown-up step at a time, I suppose.
- Marnie is in top form here, though considering how demanding and needy she can be on any given day, she’s much less of a bridezilla than I expected. On the other hand, a passive-aggressive bride is arguably harder to deal with than an outright hostile one.
- Marnie says her wedding theme is inspired by a vision in an Edward Sharpe video, presumably this one.
- Ray, on Adam and Fran’s awkward exchange: “This conversation sounds like a fucking E.E. Cummings poem.”
- I wish I understood what Ray is even talking about when he refers to Marnie as the love of his life. Dude.
- Desi, on Elijah: “A comic persona as skilled and radical as Lucille Ball.”
- Poor Fran sounds so pitiful when Desi can’t remember who he is, even after their bike ride together.
- First Amy Schumer appeared on the show, now her close friend comedian Bridget Everett joins the Girlsverse as Bebe the makeup artist. She’s pretty damn funny.