TV

‘Girls’ Isn’t Going To Give Us A Neat Ending, And We Shouldn’t Expect One

This show still loves to mess with us like Real Life -- where there is no foreshadowing or narrative irony, just hindsight and regular irony.

Spoilers for Girls!

One of Girls’ greatest strengths is its ability to mess with our expectations. It sets up storylines seasons in advance, only to bring them back with the obvious revelation — like Tad’s coming out, as gloriously called by Elijah in season one and revealed in season four. It saves crushing revelations for the last minute of the episode — like Hannah’s grandma’s death after she appeared to recover, and Mimi-Rose answering the door upon Hannah’s return from Iowa, so you’re blindsided just as Hannah is in that moment. This is how things tend to happen in Real Life, where there is no foreshadowing or narrative irony, just hindsight and regular irony.

The show is still finding new ways to do this. This time, upending expectations in a single scene after spending several episodes dwelling on the warm and fuzzy possibility of Adam and Hannah having a neat happy ending after six seasons of their weird, lovely connection.

After all, that’s what we’re all hoping for, isn’t it? Someone who finds you wild and weird and wondrous. Someone who’ll walk into your life and declare that they want not to fix your problems, but to take on half the weight of carrying them, because they’d rather walk weighed down next to you than unburdened and alone. Someone who’ll sprint across a city when you need them, and doesn’t know how to quit you.

Adam’s speech in the bodega sounded romantic in the way third-act speeches should. It sounded like he wanted and loved Hannah; like the news of her pregnancy had clarified things for him, and he was over the mad lust of his thing with Jessa and ready for the real work of everyday living and child-rearing and loving one another even when things are unsexy and prosaic.

Hannah might have proclaimed to be confused, but the hint of a smile in her expression and the fact that she immediately jumped on board the domestic-bliss train — mere minutes after giving Adam a very satisfyingly bitchy speech about using their relationship for self-indulgent artistic fodder — suggests that she bought into the rom-com neatness of it. It’s easy to do that. We’re trained by lifetimes of storytelling to recognise those moments as significant, to respond to grand gestures and proclamations, to reclassify our best and worst moments as plot points rather than just shit that happened along the way.

But the thing is, Adam knocked an enormous hole through their relationship, and you can’t just rebuild that in an afternoon. We don’t see the half-arsed spackling Elijah and Hannah performed on that wall-sized metaphor in her bedroom, but we don’t need to.

Their day of playing pretend was as bright and sweet and ultimately as artificial as a lime Jarritos. In so many ways it echoes last season’s ‘The Panic In Central Park’ (AKA The Marnie Episode). It shows a main character reconnecting with the man she loved in her early twenties, exploring through him and the comfort of their connection the possibility of diverting her path — away from the strange and scary version of adulthood she’s somehow found herself in, and towards a reconciliation with something familiar from a simpler time in her life — only to realise that it just can’t be that simple.

There are waves of emotion in the way Dunham’s face crumples so slowly in that diner scene, so that at first you wonder if it’s she’s suddenly overwhelmed by what could have been interpreted as a genuine suggestion that they get married. What it actually is is just the culmination of the process that started in the store earlier; the realisation that she and Adam are still as broken as they were when he attempted a reconciliation over his newborn niece’s humidicrib two years ago (Adam is clearly very clucky).

These guys give good Breakup Face.

Adam’s speech might have been romantic where Laird’s attempt at the same grand gesture was unintentionally hilarious, but in retrospect, they’re both offering the same absurd fantasy of narrative neatness and destiny. Shared history doesn’t just magically create something functional. It’s like reaching into a messy knitting bag and expecting to pull out a finished scarf in neat stripes when before there was only a jumble of tangled wool.

Meanwhile, Adam doesn’t seem to be feeling that guilty about leaving Jessa, and perhaps it’s because he actually bought into her spin that he’s a good guy following his heart, that he’s not doing anything wrong. Jessa’s version of Wrong could be a million different things — and Lord knows she’s entitled to feel a little put out that her boyfriend wants to offer his child-rearing services and companionship to his ex who’s pregnant by some Bolivian zipliner. (Note: I’m reminded, in this first scene, of Jonathan Safran Foer leaving his wife for Natalie Portman without checking with Natalie Portman first, which remains one of the funniest stupid things a smart man has ever done.)

But even the Teflon Hippie is still a human woman with feelings and she’s lost Adam to Hannah, and Hannah to her own shitty behaviour. Of course, though, it’s being on the phone with the cable company that sends her retching to the bathroom. (Something something the modern condition.)

In what appears to be a deliberate callback to a notorious first-season episode, she then decides to try and avoid confronting an emotional situation by going to a bar and picking up a stranger to fuck in the bathroom. Season-one Jessa managed to luck her way out of actually having to decide to go to her abortion appointment because her period appeared during the hookup; season-six Jessa is forced to deal with her feelings when they overwhelm her, because you can’t just casually strip off your pain like it’s a mohair bikini top.

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Escaping problems in bar bathrooms since 2012.

Of course, Jessa still gets a reprieve of sorts, because Adam returns to her at the end of the episode. But the moral of her day of reckoning is that she actually does care about Adam, very much. Her smug philosophical stance on predictable monogamous normie possessiveness (“I’m not a zookeeper”) is — like so much of her smug philosophical stances — both something she wants to believe in and probably does, on an intellectual level, but is also designed to prevent anyone finding out she has perfectly reasonable human emotions.

It might feel bittersweet to her that Adam returns — presumably to the relationship as well as the apartment — but there’s definitely an argument to be made that it’s romantic. She let him go and try with his conscience relatively clear, in what was genuinely a fairly selfless gesture even if it served her own self-image, and he came back because it wasn’t going to work. That doesn’t make her second prize, exactly; offering forgiveness and understanding is not undignified or weak. They’ll have to rebuild trust and respect between one another, but to be honest, they had a fair bit of work to do on that anyway. It’s not a clean slate, but they actually have a chance at some closure on The Hannah Problem — and maybe, and it’s a big maybe, Jessa has rebalanced the ledger a tiny bit by letting him try.

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In Brooklyn, Juliet has a weird backstory.

Healing through the end of a really meaningful relationship (and that includes friendships) isn’t just a process of duct-taping your heart back together and putting it aside while it magically repairs itself. You’ve got to drive your heart around like a shitty old car, feeling it sputter and whine beneath you every time you have to go uphill, hoping you don’t get rear-ended or spring a leak, because it’s the only one you’ve got to get around with. You’ve got to tinker with it in your spare time.

Hannah’s still in that process, still healing through her anger and sadness after Adam and Jessa and her parents and Iowa, and now there’s a baby in the metaphorical backseat to worry about. Her numb expression in those final moments, as she lies on her bed in the same position she did in her storage unit after ‘Sit-In’, is neither relieved nor devastated; she knows she’s done the right thing, but she’s also processing a deeper reserve of sadness over Adam she might not have acknowledged before.

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Sadness.

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Sadness + 1

This — the actual end of Adam and Hannah as an idea, the final dissolution of it — should be sad, and it is, even if you weren’t rooting for them to end up together. It is sad when things end, and when they don’t work out the way you planned. It’s okay to do a little La La Land dream sequence in your head about the way things could have worked out, and mourn lost futures. But the idea of the happy ending — the fixation with endings and closure in general — is a trap that keeps you driving in circles looking for a finish line. Girls is not going to give us a neat ending, and we shouldn’t expect one.

Girls is on Showcase at 8.30pm Wednesday nights and available to stream on Foxtel Play.

Caitlin Welsh is a freelance writer who tweets from @caitlin_welsh. Read her Girls recaps here.