Criticism: In Which We All Make Bad Decisions And Shame Spiral Occasionally // A GIRLS Finale Recap


It's been a week, and the season finale of GIRLS was still a little more than I can handle. After On All Fours, and all of the spectacular shame spiraling that occurred, I was weirdly looking forward to some season-ending closure for these girls: some indication that they had learned something from this season of hardship and emotional struggle. But, nope. All we got was more of the same. Hannah's self indulgence, Marnie's near deliberate obtuseness, Shoshanna's innocence (more on this in a bit), and Jessa's flightiness.

The finale made sense in the context of this season's larger story arcs, but it leaves the audience, (okay, me) with a sense of dissatisfaction. With the exception of Shoshanna, each of the players is essentially right back where they started in the pilot, and it feels like regression much more than progress.



Hannah has become consumed with the reemergence of her high school OCD, and is falling apart at the seams now that she's finally been given the opportunity to do exactly what she's been saying she wants to do all along: write. Why is it that the opportunity to live her dream as an author is the very thing that sends her over the edge? Not her breakup with Adam, not her fight with Marnie, but the living incarnation of her most sacred dream: a book deal. And while the final montage of Adam dashing through NY to "save" her, is heart-swelling in its sweetness, the aftermath is the sickly feeling that she's learned nothing in these past months. That in her refusal to take responsibility for her life, and insistence that someone else swoop in and piece the "broken glass" back together, she's ended up right back with the guy who treated her like shit and pushed her around. Hannah and Adam may be compatible, but only in a destructive way. They are only compatible in that their individual neuroses form one barely functioning adult.

And it's not just Hannah who has regressed with this reunion. Seeing Hannah in the street affects Adam so much that he starts drinking again, after just having returned to AA. After their breakup, he was of sound mind enough to recognize that it hurt more than he was willing to admit, and that he needed help to balance himself. He was adult enough to try to piece himself back together and move on the way that people do, starting afresh with Natalya. But one phone call from a tragically derailed Hannah was enough to send him sprinting through the streets? Hannah and Adam are drawn to each other in that toxic way that young lovers always are, and it likely won't end well for either of them.


Marnie is easily my least favourite character. Because while Hannah's self-centeredness is all consuming, and she genuinely thinks the world does in fact exist in relation to her own life, Marnie knows better, but tries to force it to do her bidding anyway. The experiences that Marnie has over the course of this season should have been a great opportunity for Marnie to grow. She's typical Type A: Always ready with a plan and a clear vision of where her life is going. Having her lose her job and her boyfriend in the same short space of time should have been an excellent way to shake up her worldview. But instead of the Marnie who learns and grows, we got the Marnie who schmoozes and manipulates.

Not only does she spiral horribly, but the entire way down, she insists that she's fine, and tries to drag everyone down with her. The fact that she has spent almost the entire season trying to be someone's girlfriend (first Booth Jonathan, and now back to Charlie) says something about the way she sees herself: in relation to a guy. It's like Marnie doesn't know how to exist without a guy around to situate her. Her behaviour with Charlie is so high school that I don't know what to do with myself. After breaking up with him for being "too nice", then trying to get back together in season one only to dump him again almost immediately, season two has her crawling into his bed in the middle of the night, turning up at his office looking like a hobo on several occassions, embarrassing herself at his office party, and fucking him on a desk.

Charlie loves her. He literally owes his success to how much he loves her. But she can't ever love him back because his kind of love is smothering. She doesn't want it, but she doesn't want to be without it either. She doesn't know how. She is stringing him along and settling, because he's all she's ever known and she needs one thing to be familiar and fine. But to treat Charlie like a disposable toy, and to ignore his feelings for so long, only to reel him back in at her convenience makes her abhorrent to me. She literally has a tantrum at the suggestion that they are not immediately a couple again after having hooked up. Her naivete is appalling.  And poor Charlie loves her so much he can't even see straight, and he will come along for how ever long Marnie decides this latest ride needs to be.


Having ditched Hannah at her family's home after her marriage ends and essentially disappearing into thin air, Jessa may just be the worst of them all. See, Jessa is the quintessential bohemian  She doesn't believe in rules, or order or anything really, except existing, and being happy in the moment. But unfortunately for her, the world doesn't work that way, and that realization is driving her into hiding. What can you do when your ethereal free-spiritedness is no longer tolerable? You disappear, and you re-evaluate.

That episode at Jessa's house showed us that Jessa has a lot of family issues that she's never bothered to face, and that there is a reason that she refuses to commit to anything at all and why her marriage failed. It's all well and good to do what feels good in the moment, but life goes on, and responsibilities stack up, and when that happens, you're forced to deal with them, like it or not. You can't pin down someone who's determined to run away. The only thing is that Jessa hasn't quite figured out what she's running from. I predict a hard dose of reality for Jessa next season as she has to figure out how to navigate a divorce at 25.


Shoshanna is the only one who manages to get out of this without the stink of failure. While she's still young and hilariously high-strung, she's the only who seems to have gotten any growing done this season. Her relationship with Ray is new and confusing in a way that relationships at that age don't have to be. Not only is Ray the first guy she's been with, he's also significantly older than her; an age difference that can be disastrous when you don't yet have any idea of who you are.

Shosh's insistence that Ray should have more ambition may seem mean to some, but it's spot on as far as I'm concerned. While it's admirable that Ray went out and got a promotion just because she asked him to, Shoshanna shouldn't have to ask. The fact that he is crashing at her house (without even asking) because he's too broke at 33, to be able to afford his own place is significant. Shosh's life is on an upward streak. She's looking to take over the world, as soon as she figures out the best way how. Ray's lack of motivation is holding her back. She loves him, but she was entirely right when she said that she couldn't be the only thing he liked. Because not only does Ray not appear to have any life of his own outside of their relationship, he actively hate everything that Shoshanna loves, and is constantly vocal about it. It isn't fair to ask her to balance all of his needs as well as her own. She's too busy living her life, and figuring herself out to have time to guide his life in the direction he should have been going in before he even met her.

Vocalizing her concerns with their relationship is a huge jump in maturity for Shoshanna, and I love her so much for it. Because regardless of their actual situation, there is always a power dynamic in play in which Ray is more than a decade older than her, and knows more than she does, and has more experience. It can be hard to say something about how you're feeling when you think you aren't entitled to them. Shosh's outburst was both adorable and necessary. She needed to assert her own identity, and she realized that in doing that, she didn't have room for Ray too. She needed to focus on her. I can't wait to see how much better off she'll be now that she sees that sometimes you have to put yourself first; no matter how much you love someone.

*****

You see, the error that I think most of the audience makes when analyzing these characters is in expecting to like them. We presume that the characters on television are supposed to be aspirational across the board to such a degree that it is a legitimate shock to the present culture that these girls are just... NOT. And I don't think they were ever meant to be. Instead, they were supposed to be reflective; mirrors in which we could see, inspect and analyze our own flaws with greater detail.But no one likes being reminded of their imperfections, and that's why GIRLS strikes such a chord with so many people. It is not that we hate these girls because they're such shitty people. We hate them because HOLY SHIT we are them, and admitting that fact means admitting that maybe, just maybe, we're a little bit shitty too.

The truth is that as much as I hated where the arcs of these characters landed at the end of this season, (particularly the reconciliation of the two primary couples), I believe them. I believe that at that age (okay, this age, I am 22 after all) you will make stupid life decisions that will only make things worse for you, even if they feel better in the moment.

We've all been there. We've all been inexplicably drawn to an ex that was bad for us (Charlie) or hung on a little too tight to a partner that treated us badly (Hannah) or settled for someone who we knew wasn't who we wanted because they were familiar and comfortable (Marnie) or been sucked back into a relationship that was draining us emotionally (Adam). It happens. It happens to the best of us. And even though we, as the audience, can recognize them as bad decisions now, as they happen to other people, it's not as easy to avoid them when you're young, and confused, and consumed with the monumentally self-absorbed task of discovering who you are, and who you're meant to be for the rest of your life. Hindsight is 20/20. It's not as easy to parse out the details when you're crying in your tub over your failed marriage at 25, or hiding from your publisher while battling recurring OCD.

The thing is, GIRLS reflects the 20-something experience in a very real, raw and unvarnished way, and it's not always pretty to look at. The girls are largely INSUFFERABLE, and that's because they're young and stupid, and don't know any better, even though they should know better by now. They are caricatures of ourselves and the people we know. They are premonitions of the people we know we will become if we never manage to get our shit together.


As I watch this show, and move through my twenties, and come up against my own personal existential crises, it becomes easier to empathize with the girls and their struggles, (Hannah especially) while simultaneously admonishing them for not having it figured out. I am by no means as well of as any of the characters in GIRLS, but I did get a good education, and ample opportunity to succeed, so I often fall into the"but what am I doing with my life" pit. It's a fairly shallow pit, but it's hell to get out of. The thing is, in this day and age, your twenties are about self discovery, but they're also about figuring out how to function as an adult when no one ever actually took the time to teach you how. There are so many chances to do something, to be somebody. How will you ever know which somebody you're meant to be?

It makes sense to me that these girls are so lost and unaware, and so desperately clinging to the familiar as they feel their lives and their sense of control spinning so violently away from them. But it also makes sense to me that they're pretty quickly running out of time to use that as an  excuse. The hard truth is, life goes on, even if you're not ready to face it. And I suspect that Season 3 will be all about the rude awakenings that come with bad decision making and rehashing of old habits. But only time will tell I suppose.

Until next season, GIRLS.