Whether you loved, hate-watched, or just felt “meh” about Girls as a whole is likely the same lens by which you watched the series finale. The conclusion of Lena Dunham‘s HBO series was designed, somehow, to fit into exactly all three of those expectations. It wasn’t really a series finale, either, so much as an epilogue — as has been pointed out since “Goodbye Tour” last week, that was really the end of the series. We had seen what happened to most of the major characters in those last episodes: Ray (Alex Karpovsky) unexpectedly found love, Adam (Adam Driver) is presumably back with Jessa, Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) came back to take care of Sample, and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) got the lead in White Men Can’t Jump. The core girl group officially broke up (finally), and that was the last we saw of Jemima Kirke‘s Jessa and Zosia Mamet‘s Shoshanna.
For fans on the fence or who have occasionally hate-watched the show (this was me throughout most of the first seasons, though I did genuinely enjoy Season 5), the show might have won some kudos with that as the finale — but it didn’t stop there. Instead we got the coda, “Latching,” which was all about Hannah. It’s fitting, of course, but also frustrating. “Latching” was an inverse of the pilot episode where Hannah is kicked out and forcibly removed from her parental teat. Here, she has a child of her own (Lord help Grover) and that, it seems, is the only thing that will force her to grow up. Maybe.
Looking back, Hannah’s time on her own in New York wasn’t particularly successful. “Think of all the great friendships you made” Elijah says in the penultimate episode. “Oh wait, that’s not a thing!” he cackles, and Hannah does, too. Marnie reinforces that notion to her later. The show still gave Hannah a kind of golden parachute though, with a job in academia that there is no way (as every think piece told us last week) that she would be offered or even remotely qualified for (and even if she was, it wouldn’t even exist with those perks and allowances). And per usual, in the end we see Hannah being overly rewarded for just acting, for brief moment, like an actual human being. Imagine!
Girls has seemingly been the most beloved in the press over the years by Gen X writers, because the show confirms their worst fears about Millennials as vapid, selfish, and entitled. The show would have worked better as a satire, but it clearly wanted to create emotional connections with its leads from the start, which muddied the waters. That choice had varying degrees of success for viewers, as the show’s wandering, vignette style never gave equal time to build up its stories (Jessa and Shoshanna were often woefully underused, especially in these last two seasons). The boys, somewhat regrettably, often had better arcs and were more compelling. But it’s really Allison Williams‘ Marnie who comes out as the show’s most beguiling character, someone so completely self-absorbed in a way that she finds sacrificial that it’s become art. (I’m a Marnie apologist; to get people to hate your character that much is an actual talent, and Williams has had us where she wants us for quite some time).
As for the show’s legacy, I don’t yet know. It was so firmly of a time I don’t know that it will age particularly well, and its ultimately pessimistic viewpoint doesn’t really make it ripe for repeated viewings. It’s not really a feel-good show, nor ever really was. But what it did do was help redefine what a half-hour series can be, and eschewed traditional narrative formats for its own New Wave-y style of storytelling, especially in later seasons. There were a few fantastic stand-out episodes that were character capsules (“Japan,” “Panic in Central Park,” and “Boys” being the best), but mostly the show was a visual representation of how confusing life in your mid-20s can feel … especially for those who are privileged enough to afford an indulged, esoteric existence.
And in that vein, Girls ended both exactly as it began and as it has always been — frustrating, mostly naked, but with a few worthy moments (like Becky Ann Baker as Hannah’s mother giving that incredible speech, and Marnie’s new levels of devoted bossiness — “I’m your best friend! I win!!”) But the real goodbye came in the episode before, where each of the girls danced on their own in their own style — freely (Jessa), self-consciously (Marnie), absorbed in someone else (Shoshanna), and as a perturbed observer (Hannah). Some of the show’s best moments through the years revolved around the girls dancing, though whether they were alone or together didn’t matter. It was never about friendship. It was always about finding your own way. Love it or hate it, Girls succeeded at that.