[Editor’s Note: Details of Sunday night’s Girls finale, “Latching,” are discussed below.]
In many respects, last week’s penultimate episode of Girls (“Goodbye Tour”), was the standard issue Hollywood ending to a successful series. The group of four girls splintered apart in the downbeat portion of the episode, and Hannah then left us with a soft smile, leaving Brooklyn for an idyllic teaching job at Bard College, her new life beginning as a single mother-to-be.
However you felt about Girls, you knew that writer and director Lena Dunham (assisted by co-writers and producers Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow) couldn’t leave it at that. Her six-season excavation of love and selfishness amidst interpersonal belly flops would, of course, require something more than a happily-ever-after ending.
Girls fans would have felt cheated after skirting, then stumbling, over life’s most difficult spots along with Dunham.
Hannah’s portrait and the fade-to-black in the final shot of the finale, “Latching” (top), having finally gotten her infant son, Grover, to breastfeed after months of rejecting her, was trademark Girls – a tight, conflicted moment of having won this first trial of motherhood, but simultaneously full of trepidation at what lay ahead.
Earlier in the episode, in frustration over Grover’s preference for Marnie’s (Allison Williams) attention, Hannah complains to her mother Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) that his fussiness means the infant hates her.
Loreen scolds Hannah in a moment that all Girls haters probably enjoyed, summarizing the narcissism central to the series exploration of modern, young adults, untied from having to conform as children, free to wallow in their smallest of wants, smallest of fears. She says, “You want to act like this whole thing was an accident? Like it happened to you? That’s fine, Hannah, but it’s not honest. You made a choice to have this child, and guess what, it’s the first one you can’t take back. You can’t get your tuition refunded. You can’t break the lease. You can’t delete his phone number. Your son is not a temp job. He’s not Adam, and this is it, honey, this is forever.”
Hannah leaves and ends up walking all day, into night. She encounters what she thinks is a young girl crying, in a sweatshirt and panties, running away from an unwanted sexual encounter. Hannah gives the girl her own pants and shoes, now assuming the girl’s previous ensemble.
Except Hannah learns the teen has just run out of her house because she was upset that her mother was forcing her to finish her homework, not allowing her to go to her boyfriend’s house.
She then gives the girl more or less a paraphrased version of the scolding she had just received – that life isn’t supposed to be easy, or fun, and that you make choices, you have people you’re responsible to and for.
In that moment, Hannah and the Girls audience perhaps got their final reward: Hannah’s entry into a real semblance of adulthood. She left behind her clothing and finally, her self-absorption.
In that respect, Dunham left Girls much as she began it, naked (several times this episode), fiercely critical, and persistently trying to get at the root of her real feelings, ugly at times as they often were.
That nakedness, both physical and emotional, has been the better part of Girls, much like its preceding male version, Louis CK’s Louie (2010-15), which also took no prisoners in pursuit of truth, no matter how harsh the road was getting there.
That’s probably the best we can ask for, and receive from performing artists – their willingness to strip themselves, literally and figuratively, sacrificing the vanity of appearing attractive and desirable and smart on television, so that we might access our own similar fears a little more deeply, a little more authentically, and learn something while we are in the role of witness.
As Girls closed, Hannah’s future now laid on her lap in front her.
It wasn’t about a new boy, or a new job, or a new apartment… or herself.