Lena Dunham’s GIRLS has been all over the place this season, so it made sense that its season finale would come out of nowhere. We knew last week that when Jessa (Jemima Kirke) got a talking-to from former employer Katherine (Kathryn Hahn) about growing up, it was making an impression–but who would have thought that once the message worked its way through Jessa’s brain cells, it would lead to her marrying Thomas John (Chris O’Dowd), the yuppie mash-up DJ who wanted to have a threesome with Jessa and Marnie (Allison Williams)?
Nevertheless, it was a lovely reception, especially put together on a moment’s notice. Hannah (series auteur Lena Dunham), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Marnie were as shocked as we were, and all responded in different ways. Shoshanna hooked up, and apparently was finally going to get the deed done, with Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who in the depths of his acerbic heart–he had a great time putting Hannah down earlier in the episode, when she tried to cut out of work on the pretext of having taken some bad Mylanta, not realizing he’d also gotten the text invite to Jessa’s wedding–had fallen for her. Marnie came awfully close to casual sex, first with ex Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and then with the wedding’s likable MC (Bobby Moynihan, from SNL).
And Hannah… well, so much of how one feels about Girls revolves around how one feels about Hannah. And Dunham as well, because one of the reasons Girls can be uncomfortable to talk about is that it’s unclear just how autobiographical a character Hannah is. (Obviously not completely, since Hannah can barely finish an essay, and Dunham is writing and/or directing almost every episode of a big-time television series.) Dunham, over the past few episodes, has accomplished the nearly impossible feat of making Adam (Adam Driver) into a semi-likable character, and this week he called her out just as Marnie did in the last episode. Adam was ready to move in with Hannah after Marnie left (oh, that happened too–Marnie wasn’t kidding last week, she moved in with Shoshanna; she’s still friendly with Hannah, but now there’s a distance between them), and rather than let him, Hannah offered the apartment to her now-gay ex Elijah (Andrew Rannells). She told herself and Adam that she was doing him a favor, letting him off the hook on helping her with the rent, but Adam knew he was ready to go all in on their relationship–and she wasn’t. She admitted to being afraid, but not to what may be the deeper truth, that she isn’t committed to him. (Adam justifiably nailed her for chasing him like he was the Beatles for weeks, then running away when he was finally going to jump.) This led to Adam, grazed by a car, refusing to let her in the ambulance with him (“Family only! You’re not family!”) and Hannah riding the train all the way to Coney Island and sitting on the sand eating what must be some pretty gnarly wedding cake. And is that Hannah’s misery we’re watching or Dunham’s commentary on Hannah’s drifting self-pity? Hard to say–maybe both.
One of the remarkable things about Dunham, as we’ve watched this first season of Girls, is that although her style seems casual and semi-improvised, actually she’s quite good at genre. Every episode of Girls, even the ones that don’t seem to be about much, has been tightly structured and paced. Dunham knows how to hit rom-com beats and yet subvert them, which is very different from just subverting them. It’s become increasingly clear why an old-pro comedy guy like Judd Apatow has gravitated to her, because their talents are less dissimilar than one would think. That’s what makes the show satisfying entertainment even when you’re not sure you’re getting it.
After weeks of Girls, it’s still not clear entirely what Lena Dunham is saying, how much we’re to sympathize with her protagonists and how much they’re meant to infuriate us, or for that matter whether Dunham even knows herself. What is clear is that, along with Louis C.K., she’s got one of the most distinctive voices in TV right now, and every episode of Girls, even the ones that make you want to throw something at one or more of the characters, has been unmissable. In a sitcom year that was billed as the season of the woman, with shows like Whitney, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, Best Friends Forever, Suburgatory and Are You There, Chelsea?, Dunham has turned out to be that woman.