Know this: there will be a fifth season of Girls, regardless of the diminishing returns of a mostly disappointing – and, often, genuinely baffling – fourth season, one that just closed out in shockingly high style, thanks to a season finale that foisted big choices and bold maturations on a cast of characters that have mainly avoided such changes in the past. In short, no one has really changed during the series’ past four season – at least, none of the eponymous girls have – until they all did, quite suddenly and mostly for the better, in one neat little thirty minute package. HBO announced its renewal plans for the series nearly a week before its fourth season hit the airwaves, a vote of confidence in the material at hand that ultimately seemed to be extremely misguided, at least considering the repetitive, confusing, and just plain angering material that made up the majority of this last season.
Lena Dunham’s series has always ended its seasons on high notes, thanks to plot movements so massive that they could almost be considered cliffhangers – the cliffhanger, of course, was if the series could capitalize on all the bold, late-season stuff once the show returned for a new season, which it never did – including weddings, reunions, graduations, and so much more. Girls has consistently saved its best stuff for last, and the fourth season finale, titled “Home Birth,” was no different, delivering the kind of character changes and decisions that would elsewhere be deemed natural evolution (a birth?), and are here expected to serve as some kind of twist to keep everyone hanging on for more. This time, however, it might have all worked a little too well – because “Home Birth” could very well have served as a series finale, and it’s too bad it wasn’t.
Still, Girls is not without its merits, and even as this season faltered, mostly thanks to its decision to violently jettison its one good idea (make Hannah go to Iowa), an idea that quite notably sprung from the previous season finale (again, where all good things happen), there have been plenty of strong moments. The fifth episode of the season, titled “Sit-In,” is one of the best the series has ever made, one that showcased strong writing, precise acting, excellent directing, and the kind of emotional intelligence that often seems to be missing (or just incomplete) from the series. There were a number of strong supporting turns from rising and established stars like Desiree Akhavan, Jake Lacy, Zachary Quinto, Gaby Hoffmann, Jason Ritter, and Gillian Jacobs. At one point, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) got her heartbroken. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) got into local politics. We got to see Marnie (Allison Williams) get her a – , well, you know. The series respectfully addressed Hannah’s dad’s coming out. And, of course, Elijah (Andrew Rannells) was there, but not nearly enough (there will never be enough Elijah).
For all its charms, though, one major issue has long stymied Girls: none of its girls have grown. Over the course of four seasons and three years, the women of Girls have refused to change in marked ways, consistently reverting back to their worst – and possibly most true? – selves, to the detriment of both the show itself and to their own best interests. It’s not just annoying (and, yes, it’s deeply annoying to spend a weekly half an hour with characters who don’t change), it’s also not believable anymore, that four twentysomethings living in the big city would not mature or evolve past an emotional age of about twenty, given all the things thrown at them in the course of a time period meant to facilitate them growing into full-fledged adults.
Think of it this way: Girls premiered on April 15, 2012. Think about who you were and what you were like on April 15, 2012. Now think about who you are and what you are like today. Chances are, even you will be able to identify a bevy of changes – emotional, physical, psychological, professional, etc. – that you’ve gone through over that nearly three-year period, and you don’t even have a character on a television series to show for it. (Another exercise: think about how much Lena Dunham has changed in just three years.)
Yet, in just one episode, Dunham and company (including her fellow producers Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow, who wrote the episode alongside Dunham, who also directed it) piled entire years of growth and maturation on the show’s central characters, and not just a temporary evolution, but one that seems to have stuck even six months on (well, for at least one of the girls, but that’s a hell of a win on its own). “Home Birth” tied together (and tied up) nearly every lingering issue from the season: if Hannah and Adam (Adam Driver) will get back together, if Marnie will marry her dimwitted musical partner, if Jessa will ever do something even remotely human, if Shosh (Zosia Mamet) will find a job, if Ray will profess his love for Marnie, and so on. Not only did “Home Birth” answer those issues, it did so with wit, emotion, and honesty. (Need a key for these answers, here you go: no, no, yes, yes, sort of.)
Was every question fully answered? No, but every issue was addressed in a compelling way, with characters showing a depth of thought and consideration most of them have previously balked at exhibiting.
Most of all, Hannah said no to Adam (even when he issued a very genuine and emotional plea for her heart), demonstrating a maturity we have never seen from her before, an ability to think beyond her desires and really examine what is best for her (and this is a girl who previously thought it was okay to take a student to get her tongue pierced and later called her a bitch, that’s how lacking in social graces and abilities Hannah is, was, and seemingly was always going to be). The show ended with everyone moving forward – everyone! not just one or two people who used the finale to make some grand announcement! – thanks to decisions that were mostly, well, good. Good decisions don’t happen too often on Girls, and to encounter a whole pack of them at once is nearly shocking.
And there was also that flash-forward, which moved us six months into the future – a first! – and also took place during a CGI-snowed winter – also a first! – and imagined what the repercussions of Hannah’s anti-Adam choice would be. It was happiness, and we felt it, too.
Related Topics: Girls